Xbox One: An Aftermath Recap

UPDATE: Xbox One Pulled a 180

Back on May 21, 2013 Microsoft revealed their next-gen gaming console in the first of a two part reveal. This is to be the gaming console to replace their current product, the Xbox 360. After much speculation and many unconfirmed rumors, it was revealed that the new system was to be named “Xbox One“. And with that, the official reveal had begun. 

As you may have read on various other sites, the response to this reveal has been less than pleasant for Microsoft and the Xbox team. Before I get in to what the reveal had included, a two points need to be addressed:

  1. It had already been stated that this reveal was to focus on the console itself and its capabilities. A Part Two of the reveal is to take place at E3 Expo in the coming weeks.
  2. Leading up to this event, Microsoft had been planning on making this console become an integral part of the living room, and not just simply a gaming console.

For those of you who missed the reveal, you may view the entire event here thanks to IGN.

This post will be split up in to 4 sections:

  1. The Good: Because there is plenty of it!
  2. The Bad:
  3. The Ugly: That’s right. I’m skipping the bad and going straight to ugly, because that’s how bad it got.
  4. The Damage Control: What needs to happen before or at E3 for Microsoft to fend off the gamer’s fury.

THE GOOD

As for sticking to their plan, Microsoft did a fantastic job. The majority of this presentation focused on displaying the non-gaming features that have been built in to the consoles functionality. As I go through this list, it should be noted that for the most part the Xbox One was multi-tasking these features.

Skype

The integration of Skype is what struck me as the most interesting on a personal level. Granted, it’s simply the adaptation of an existing technology, but to have it done so in a pre-packaged way makes its use that much simpler. Also, the user is able to use Skype at any point, including during TV/movie watching. This will make watching NFL games much more enjoyable if I’m able to call my brother in Miami and see his reaction in real time as the Bills blow yet another game in the final 2 minutes!

Enhanced Kinect

During the reveal, Yusuf Mehdi activated the console by Voice Command. While this in itself isn’t all that impressive, what is impressive is what came next: It recognized his voice, and automatically logged in to his profile. Not that that hitting a power button and controlling over to your onscreen avatar is a huge encumbrance, but to have this automatically is indicative of greater power behind the scene! Other things that display the Kinect 2.0’s enhancements were displayed as Yusuf used casual hand gestures to pan across panels in the Home Menu. Later in the reveal, during the EA portion, the resolution of the new camera was demonstrated as it gave a digital comparison of how it tracked different types of body movements. In a previous article, I had discussed how Valve was working with Biofeedback to enhance a gaming experience. Also, the scientists at USC are in the process of developing Ellie as an AI to analyze and diagnose depression in soldiers using biofeedback, with their main piece of hardware being a Microsoft Kinect. Clearly, this kind of tech has been in development for a while and is being continuously refined. Depending on how much raw data is shared amongst teams, we should be prepared to have games become much more interactive. Much further than simply choosing a selection from a dialogue option and wait to see the NPC’s reaction!

Enhanced Xbox Live

Here, many of the new Xbox’s functions are grouped together. The new Xbox Live is designed to be active during all activity on your TV, be it watching a movie, playing a game, streaming on Netflix, or listening to music. A few times during Yusuf’s section, you see him “grip” the sides of the screen and “pull” them together to reveal the Xbox home screen active behind whatever it was he was doing prior. This allows the user to access other features of the system, including browsing the internet, while doing whatever it is they’re currently doing. Along with this, it was also shown that Xbox Live can be synched with your Fantasy Sports teams to give you updates on when your players score. Again going back to my sibling rivalry, to be able to see my QB chalk up another TD and readily call my brother on Skype to rub it in just that little bit more, well, I am ready to hand over a few more dollars for the opportunity!

Another key point regarding the online aspect is the number of servers. During the reveal, it was discussed that there are currently 15,000 servers active for Xbox Live as it stands in its current state. With Xbox One, that number is getting jacked up to 300,000. That’s a 4x increase! What could possibly require that much power? In an article on the WSJ, it was discussed that the idea is to have the Xbox Live servers render and handle the environment that the players are in, while the Xbox One itself handles the on screen character, its appearance, and its immediate interactions. Thus, Xbox One will be using the remote servers as a form of “Distributed Computing” platform to further enhance the capabilities of the beyond that of simply only the console. My question is, if these servers get upgraded or more are added, will this indirectly “upgrade” my console as well?

The Xbox Smartglass was also discussed during the reveal. Currently, I have Smartglass already installed on my (Android) phone, but it’s so clunky I never bother using it. Microsoft had such grand plans for it, but it just never panned out to anything worthwhile. Hopefully, that’s because they decided to direct its development toward the Xbox One application so it will be actually worthwhile, and not just a gimmicky add-on with no real function. I will admit, the few times I have used it for its full keyboard it made typing a message much easier, but that was a total of…..twice? Maybe?

Other Exclusives

During the reveal, they routinely mentioned several exclusive that they will be offering. The first is one with the NFL. What they are promising is to have exclusive footage to Xbox Live and Fantasy team integration, along with all the smack talk benefits I’ve previously mentioned. The other main, HUGE exclusive to Xbox users is going to be the Halo TV series, with the help of by none other than Steven Spielberg!

THE BAD

Yep. The bad is so bad it all got sent straight to THE UGLY!

THE UGLY

And here’s where things have gotten oh so very ugly for Microsoft. Unfortunately, these things have far outshined any of the other features that have been discussed thus far. The three things that have gotten the most attention are (1), the always online connection requirement, (2) Kinect Requirement, and (3) Used Game usage. Let’s take a look at what happened

Always Online

While the world anxiously anticipated the reveal of the next generation of gaming consoles, it was speculated that they were going to require an always active connection to the internet. When the PS4 was announced, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that this would not be the case. With that news, everyone assumed that Microsoft would follow suit, as it has been quite obvious that NO ONE in the gaming community wants this to be a requirement. Leading up to the Xbox Reveal, it was stated that the always online requirement would, in fact, not be a requirement! Joy and cheers all around! That is, until the official reveal where it was discussed that it doesn’t require a constant connection, just that it will need to make a check-in every 24 hours or so….What? So, not a persistent connection, but a daily call in to Big Brother to let them know how we’re doing? Possible plus side: if all you need to do is a “check in”, then those who do not have sufficient for high quality streaming would still be able to function. We’ll take another look at this in “Damage Control”. Take a look around the forums of the gaming world, and you’ll soon see that this is quite possibly the most confusing part of the Xbox One story.

Kinect Requirement

Some people love the Kinect, some don’t. Personally, I never bought it because I just didn’t care enough about voice activation and never bought any of the dance/exercise games. Here’s the thing: people are already freaked out by the always online bit, and how everyone’s paranoid that all of their personal data is mined and exploited on the big bad internet. I know the term “Big Brother” is too frequently used to scare people in to technophobia and governmental distrust, but when you have a persistent online connection, a video camera, a microphone, and a TV set in every living room, you just created the basic concept of government mandated “Telescreen” as described in “1984“. Seriously, you didn’t leave out a single component as far as peripherals are concerned. I realize that the inclusion of the Kinect is integral in interacting with the Xbox One to its fullest potential, but this is a bit much.

Used Games

The final point of gamer rage comes in the response of Microsoft’s stance on used game usage. First, when you purchase a game you must install it on your console, much like a standard PC. To do this, you must also use a 1-time code to activate it, much like the same registration process for any piece of software on a PC. From here, the licensing follows your profile, which can be stored to the Cloud and follow you around so you have the rights to play on any other Xbox. However, over the years it has become a common practice to let your friends borrow a game for a few days to try it out, or just hand it off when they’re done with it. Normally, they would just pop it in to their console and game away. Unfortunately, this is not possible with the new system. Your friend must now install it on their console and enter that registration code. But alas, that game is already registered to YOUR profile, and thus will not function on anyone else’s! So that’s an inconvenience that has annoyed gamers.

How this has factored in to the Used Game Market is also highly questionable. In a recent article, Consoledeals.co.uk claims that retailers will be forced in increase the price of used games to include a licensing fee. It is unclear how much this fee will be or how much they will be able to (or required to, depending on how you look at it) charge. Still, the article also states that the reason for this additional fee is to direct money to the game’s publisher. From Joystiq’s article regarding this issue:

Here’s the delicate part: the publisher and Microsoft will now receive a cut from the sale. Previously, a company like GameStop pocketed 100 percent of the used game sale, now ConsoleDeals.co.uk is reporting it could be significanly less if Microsoft has oversight of the market. The pre-owned market would go on, but its glorious margins for retailers would be destroyed. Meanwhile, publishers would finally get what they’ve dreamed of: a piece of that pie.

This in its own way, actually sounds like a good deal for the gaming industry as a whole. Retailers will have to take a cut in their profit margins, but at least the publishers will be compensated for the additional sales of their product.

DAMAGE CONTROL

(rubs face) OK, let’s see what we’ve got here. An “Always/sometimes/periodically/can-withstand-an-interruption/required Internet connection”, “Your Very Own Big Brother”, and “Rumoredly Pay Full Price For A Used Game” being the most prevalent complaints. I’ll address these one at a time:

Always Online: Microsoft, I see where you’re going with this, and I dig it. I really do. To get the most out of this system, it’s going to require a persistent high-speed connection. Between the streaming content, browsing, Skype, and most importantly the distributed computing, there’s no way to be able to do all of this without being connected in to the world wide web. But to risk alienating so much of the community just seems bull-headed and foolish. Here’s what I propose: Obviously, make the connection optional. There already exists a model to confirm the legitimacy of software over the phone via automated responses, so that should handle the DRM issues. People who do not currently have internet at home don’t use ¾ of the features you’re offering anyway, so that would be a non-issue for them. As for the cloud computing, you’ve already stated that the system can operate without being connected, so the additional support is not a REQUIREMENT, it just enhances the performance. Thus, keep it at that: being connected enhances the performance via distributed computing. If you’re not connected, you may experience some lag, the background may take longer to render, those kinds of things. It will be ok, people using this option will most likely be gaming by themselves anyway.

Kinect: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! People aren’t not buying the Kinect because they don’t want to, it’s just that it didn’t add enough functionality for the price. Plus, it hadn’t been developed to a high enough level to make it worthwhile. I saw several previews with the tag line “Better with Kinect!” and thought to myself, “ok, let’s see this.” Then during gameplay demos, I see the player calling out voice commands in realtime with the game. That certainly looks cool, but when I’m in the heat of combat with multiple weapons/swords/spells/shields/abilities to access whose names aren’t always in English (let alone an ACTUAL language! God forbid I actually had to learn a Thu’um!) I don’t want to be hung up on mispronouncing whatever it is I’m trying to get to while taking an Orcish axe to the face! In games where your twitch reflexes are vital to your survival, to the point where the amount of time it takes to ready your weapon is a key factor in deciding your play style, there’s no time to risk a miscue. Hopefully that will be taken care of in the new generation of the Kinect. Still, until I see it and experience it myself, I’ll keep to the controller for all my inputs, thankyouverymuch.

Used Games: I’m actually ok with used games costing a bit more in order for their sales to compensate the publishers. It’s their product, and if they should receive credit for every unit sold. The issue is, is that Microsoft is trying to lock the entire system down digitally, which is going to receive HUGE pushback. Start charging people for what they used to receive for free and see your “loyal” customers start shopping someplace else. So I say keep a MINIMAL additional cost to compensate the developer, but asking the full retail price for something is just flat out ridiculous. The publisher didn’t have to manufacture, package, or ship that unit. Those costs are included in the initial sale. Since this is a 2nd sale of the same physical unit, it’s cost should reflect that depreciated value.

As for bringing a game over to a friend’s house to play, I question how much of the market still utilizes that practice. I did it a few times in the past 5 years, but to make it sound like it was a common occurrence would be a drastic misrepresentation. Then again, I am a grown man who no longer lives with his parents and has started a career with potential growth and upward mobility, so I realize I may be a little better off than other gamers who may not have the same access to disposable income as I do. By no means do I consider myself wealthy, just that I’m “established”. If I were younger or harder pressed to keep my budget tighter, then I may trade games with friends and family more often. For this, I would suggest something akin to what software developers do when people do not register their products. A limited number of start-ups or super annoying messages that constantly appear during usage that are so annoying that you register the damn thing so it will operate properly. The business model is already set, established, and accepted, so why not use it?

Hopefully Microsoft will listen to their fan base, or what’s left of them at this point. There’s still some time between now and E3 for them to figure out what to do and re-evaluate their plan. In the meantime, take a look at a full comparison chart between all three major consoles, put together by IGN.

As a final note: If you don’t want to be held down by “the man” and want to support Indie developers, have you taken a look at the Ouya?

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