Today sees the announcement of Microsoft’s next generation of gaming console, and the stakes are high.
Microsoft has lost a lot of consumer faith over the last six months due to a number of crippling rumors about the features of the new Xbox – and perhaps more importantly, a lack of response to these rumors. Threats of always-on internet connectivity requirements, relatively lackluster specs, storage media concerns, and more have spread like wildfire, and Microsoft’s response has largely been dangerous silence. Sony’s headstart announcement did a lot to build momentum for the storied giant and to provide a safe alternative to many of the concerns that the gaming public has about the Xbox.
And therefore today’s conference is an incredibly important moment for Microsoft. They still have a great deal of brand momentum, and they absolutely need to use it. There are important questions that need to be answered, and they need to be answered clearly and quickly.
So what’s the verdict on today’s conference? Does the Xbox One deserve your attention? Find out below.
The Xbox One: Rarely are gaming consoles visually pleasing, but Microsoft has certainly done their work with this one. It will be right at home in more upscale living rooms, and the lines are much cleaner than previous systems. The controller itself was only infrequently present, perhaps in response to the several criticisms of the past few days.
UI: The Metro UI style is alive and well here, with some neat tweaks for the improved Kinect. I have some questions as to the authenticity of the presentation due to the difference in promise and delivery with the first generation of Kinect. SmartGlass is back (Sigh). The Xbox One controller looks absolutely stunning.
The Technical Specs: The Xbox One sports an 64-bit 8 core CPU, 8 GB of RAM equivalent, a 500 GB HDD, a Blu-Ray drive (Sony’s membership in the BDA must have made that an unpleasant if absolutely inevitable choice), built in 802.11N WiFi access, HDMI In/Out (perhaps the promise of DVR functionality will be made reality?) and several USB 3.0 ports, as well as a packed-in Kinect.
For those of you who are wondering, this is roughly the equivalent of a brand-new low-end gaming PC, or a phenomenal rig from about two years ago. This is not a huge technical leap, and I wonder if that won’t be a concern for the future. I suspect Microsoft has seen the negative forecasts for the next several years, and is playing safe with less expensive tech as a result.
Xbox One TV: This is certainly an interesting development, but it’s difficult to judge the actual endgame product. It seems logical to assume you’ll need a extant cable connection, and one that would willingly interface with the Xbox. Also, given the HDMI In/Out, it seems you’ll need a HD Cable Box, which could narrow the actual audience further. This seems to be treading water, as it’s pretty clear that the public is in favor of a move away from the major cable providers.
Xbox Live: The biggest release of held breath was to the news that the Xbox will not have an always-on internet requirement. “Same Membership” implies that Microsoft has apparently abandoned the rumored courting of free-to-play. Mandatory installation creates a concern for the relatively limited 500 GB HDD. The rest of this section seemed to cover all the bullet-points no one cares about: adding of servers, etc.
Judging from the lack of mentions elsewise, it seems the service will still be pay-to-play, and that features like cloud saves and achievements will still be part of the equation.
ESPN: The ESPN plug-in continues to be the most impressive third-party work done on the Xbox. This didn’t seem to advance the functionality of the product very much.
EA: This sequence was a tremendous example of sound and fury. Nothing of particular importance was said, with the possible exception of Xbox One exclusives in certain EA titles – neither new, nor terribly surprising. The trailer ending this segment was completely CG, and reeked of ‘built-for-conference-will-never-be-seen-again.’
Phil Spencer still comes off like a greasy douche. I don’t understand why, when you have a Good Guy like Michael Pachter, you bother allowing Phil Spencer to do anything involving the public at all.
Forza Motorsports: Another beautiful CG trailer without a single shot of game-play. This one, given the pedigree, will be excellent, but it’s hardly something to be excited about.
Quantum Break: Remedy. Live action trailer, looks a heck of a lot like a poor man’s Beyond: Two Souls. Yet another ‘announcement’ with no gameplay.
Marriage of Gaming and TV: 343’s Bonnie Ross awkwardly announces a bizarre partnership with the active gaming skeptic Steven Spielberg on what sounds like an Xbox exclusive Halo TV series.
The NFL will display exclusive content via Xbox Live for news and fantasy football. There was a notable lack of detail as to whether this would require a live subscription.
Call of Duty: Ghosts will still have a timed exclusivity on DLC. Eric Hirshberg. Actual gameplay shown. and miracle of miracles, for the first time in 6 years. Call of Duty Ghosts will be in a new engine – and it’s certainly a competitive one. Stephen Gaghan, writer of cinema heavyweights Traffic and Syriana, penned the story. Past that, there’s not much to be excited about: they’re introducing “new” gameplay mechanics like mantling, leaning, and sliding – and that’s about it.
I am perhaps most excited about the dog squad member, but I am already emotionally preparing myself for the scene near the end where he sacrifices his life to save you. And you cry. And I cry. And we all cry.
It’s telling that the most substantive portion of the press conference surrounds an already-announced third-party title.
Release Date: “Later This Year,” Michael Pachter. More clarification at E3.
Overview: A disappointing hype-fest really more about what they didn’t say. There was no mention of a used game philosophy or backwards compatibility. The Kinect still seems as useless as it did yesterday for anything except interfacing with the UI, and this press conference seemed to display Microsoft’s acceptance that Kinect is almost universally relegated to navigation. The advances in UI are fine, but they’re simply not marquee material.
The games “announced” were not surprising, and the only title to show in-engine gameplay (take a note, industry: gamers do not get excited about CGI trailers!) was the previously announced Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Microsoft has their work cut out for them at E3.
View the official Microsoft Press Release for the Xbox One here.