Indie issues, Kinect concerns, and E3 yearnings: Ben and Andrew discuss the Xbox One announcements
The day we've all been waiting for has now come and gone, and Xbox One is now an official product. Surprisingly, a number of details are still up in the air, and Microsoft themselves seems to be a little unclear on how their internet-connected console will work, and how the used game system will be implemented.
So for now, let's focus on the details that we know for sure, and that which was discussed at the press conference. What did you think about what we saw on stage yesterday, Andrew?
I know there’s been a lot of disappointment out there over the reveal of the new console, but I wasn’t that horribly disappointed. I see where people were coming from, but I think my expectations were tempered by the fact that I don’t really do all that much gaming on my Xbox 360 anymore.
I mean, what were the last big Xbox 360 exclusives? Halo 4 and Gears of War Judgment? I’m not interested in either of those, and as a result my gaming time on 360 has fallen dramatically. When I do play 360 games it’s because I went to GameStop and picked up a 3+ year old game from my backlog.
So when Microsoft spent most of the conference talking about connected console features and all-in-one entertainment box hype, it seemed pretty natural to me because that’s really what I use it for right now.
It’s obvious that Microsoft held a lot back from this event. Even though it was tightly-packed with information, it was obvious that this was only half of the story, and I think they’ve confirmed that now. At E3 we’ll get the rest of the picture of Xbox One as a gaming machine. For now, I’m pretty OK with this machine if that was only half the story.
What about you? What was your read on the announcement?
We need to remember that this reveal was not for the hardcore gamer, and most of the information we care about will be coming from E3. This was about selling the console to as wide an audience as possible, and to try to position it as a media box. Once you take a step back and look at it again with those goals in mind, I think Microsoft did well.
On the flip side, I'm annoyed that the new Kinect is now mandatory. That adds cost to the system for everyone, and brings features that many either don't want, or don't care about. You no longer can just hook up the system and start to watch something or play a game, now you have to worry about installing a camera in your room.
Also, everyone at Microsoft seemed to have a different answer to the problem of “used” games. A few things are clear though: The current market for used games is going to change dramatically, it will become harder, if not impossible, to loan a friend a game, and Microsoft will have much more control over how and when you play the games you buy. These are not minor changes, and the fact they had so few good answers for how all these things will work is maddening. Not only that, but the Microsoft folks at the event would often contradict each other when you asked them even simple questions.
I have two Xbox 360s in the house right now, one in the living room and one in my office. Will it be possible for me to play a game I buy on both systems without paying for it again? How will this work across multiple accounts? These are basic questions that should be easy to answer, and Microsoft should have agreed on strong messaging for things like the used game issue. Instead we have a muddled mess of information, and that never looks good, especially when it's concerning changes and policies that appear so anti-consumer.
So Andrew, what didn't you like?
I didn’t like that so much of the stream was dedicated to obvious gimmicks. Microsoft seemed more proud of voice control, hand-waiving gestures, and a TV guide than any other aspect of the console, the games included.
And despite being happy that the Xbox is expanding its broader entertainment goals, I am still disappointed that this presentation had so little to do with video games. This was a real let-down for hardcore gamers. I was happy to see that Microsoft is going to diverge from Sony in this generation, as opposed to the last gen where they were, from the user’s standpoint, very similar consoles. At the same time, it would have been nice for Microsoft to reaffirm their relationship with video gamers as their number one customers before moving on to woo the average media user.
However, I do think what they did was smart. They needed to capture the attention of the mass public during a grand reveal when every news outlet would be paying attention. They’ll have a second chance to convince gamers to love Xbox One, but they wont get another chance with the general media user.
It also doesn't seem like Microsoft is interested in dealing with smaller developers. I was told Xbox Live Arcade is going away, or at least the branding is. Moving forward, a video game is a video game on the Xbox One, which is how it should be. I don't think of Mark of the Ninja and XCOM: Enemy Unknown as being two different “tiers” of games. They're both titles I love and bought through Steam. This whole differentiation between “downloadable” and “regular” video games is outmoded.
But why the hell does Microsoft still require a publisher for the Xbox One? Sony allows developers to publish their own games on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, and that's led to some amazing titles. It's also a better business decision for many smaller developers. Publishers can be incredibly helpful in some situations, but not all, and saying you need to shack up with a larger company to get onto the console is asinine and backwards. I'm going to write about this at length later, so I won't go into it for much longer. It's a bad decision.
So now that this event is in our rear view mirror, we have to look ahead to E3. What, ideally, do you want to see out of Microsoft at the show?
Andrew's final thoughts
I really want to see Microsoft reaffirm a strong devotion to video gaming as the center of the console. Their E3 show should be about absolutely nothing but video games, because they need to offer a bit of penance for what went down yesterday. Even though I wasn't personally disappointed, I know a lot of people who were, and if they're not careful they're going to allow Sony to maintain the momentum they've been building for the last two months.
I want to hear a lot more about what the secret 15 titles in development at Microsoft Game Studios are, particularly the 8 that are said to be new franchises. Little tidbits like that got the gaming community very excited for a new console generation, and that's what I want to see Microsoft do: get us excited about consoles as the drivers of new franchises and innovation that they always have been.
Ben's final thoughts
Yeah, but again, I'm not sure we're the target market for this console, and we might need to make peace with that fact. I'd like to see a price point at $350 or lower, as I think anything higher is going to cause Microsoft to be in a world of hurt. The world has changed since the Xbox 360, and I'm just not seeing a huge pent-up demand for a brand new, expensive consoles, especially with so little known about what we can and can't do with the games.
I want to see one or two games that really blow me away visually, and that I can't get anywhere else. I don't particularly care for sports games, and EA offered the same tired marketing speak that they give us every year. I love the fact that Remedy has a new title coming out; anything they want to work on, I want to play.
If I had to characterize my feelings towards the system, I would say I'm nervous. It's uncomfortable when a company of this size doesn't seem to have its act together on messaging or basic usability concerns. I'll hold judgment on games until after E3. I think not becoming more hospitable to smaller developers is a terribly short-sighted decision. You want the next Minecraft to come from your system, instead of waiting for it to be a hit and then bending your own terrible rules to allow it on your platform.
These days companies need to be flexible, adaptive, and offer products that are affordable and easy to use. In many ways Microsoft continues to play to their own strengths: Size, power, and money, instead of the reality of the new video game market. We'll see how it plays out but yeah, I'm nervous.