With Microsoft finally showing its hand with the reveal of Xbox One, the future of next gen gaming is becoming clearer as the strategies of Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony come into picture.
Now that bulk of hardware and technological specifications for Xbox One; the final contender in the next gen console war have been revealed, the comparisons between specifications of each console have started to pour through and we are better able to judge the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Since we have already discussed the merits of Sony’s PS4 reveal to gamers and a much more recent look into what gamers want from the “Next Xbox”, we can now utilize the information shared through Microsoft’s “A New Generation Revealed” event and see how it fares with the expectations of its core-gamer audience.
With “Orbis” and “Durango” finally been unveiled to the public at large, it is time to take a look at how the information revealed regarding each, fares with the wants of the core-gamers.
Having experienced the prior offerings of both Sony and Microsoft, most gamers harbored several issues and concerns regarding certain aspects of the current, and soon to be previous, generation of consoles; PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as well as how both companies would cater to them with their upcoming machines.
In relation to Sony and its PlayStation 3, most gamers had issues with too much focus on casual games and motion controls like Move and Sixaxis, comparative quality of PS3 ports of Multiplatform games, PS3 controller issues, Intrusive firmware updates, Lack of cross game chat, Exorbitant launch price of the console as well as concerns about blocking used games and always online restrictions.
With the 20th February’s “PlayStation Meeting” Sony did a commendable job of addressing most, if not all, of these complaints in their PS4 reveal press conference.
On the Xbox front, gamers had similar concerns about focus on casual market with Kinect as well as too much focus on entertainment side, complaints about D-pad of the 360 controller, hardware malfunctions with RROD as well as fears about blocking used games and always online restrictions.
It seems like Microsoft took a definite misstep in addressing these concerns in its recent “A New Generation Revealed” event.
While not totally inept in addressing the fears of their hardcore gaming audience, Xbox One reveal either ignored these concerns, exasperated the confusion through vague information and contradicting statements, or worse; proved them right.
Whereas gamers were concerned about continued emphasis on Kinect functionality, Microsoft reaffirmed its dedication to the technology by unveiling Kinect 2.0. A new, enhanced and much more precise motion tracking piece of technology, that allows the users to interact with Xbox One in a more accurate manner than what was available for Xbox 360.
The new Kinect not only comes bundled with the Xbox One but has also been revealed to be required to operate the new Xbox One console. It seems that the feature is so important to the strategy Microsoft in the gaming market that the company has made it so that Xbox One will not work without Kinect.
Another major concern for most core gamers was regarding the controversial; always online restriction that Microsoft was rumored to implement in their next gen system.
As it turns out, those rumors were false. Well, sort of.
While the Xbox One console definitely won’t be always online, it does, however, require gamers to have internet to play the games.
What this means is that gamers have to go through a mandatory install on their disk based games and then connect via internet to authenticate their copy of the game and link it to their Xbox Live account. This basically means that it is an online DRM.
Whats more; the situation is not as cut and dry and there is still some lack of clarity regarding the absence of always online.
It seems that the company itself is in two minds about this issue. Where on the one hand, in an interview with Kotaku Microsoft Vice President indicated that the system is built to work even if your Internet connection goes down, but you still have to be connected at least once a day to use it. On the other hand other representative have resorted to discrediting the company VP’s words by labeling it “a potential scenario”.
So, in a sense, this concern is still a lingering issue the results of which are still in the air.
Another major concern was Microsoft’s stance against the used game market. Will they allow the present way of playing used games on their new Xbox console?
That core-gamer query was answered by Microsoft with a big no. Apparently the mandatory installs and online authentication also mean that the particular game becomes bound to that specific profile, barring other users from accessing the software in that disk.
This means that the other users will have to pay extra cost to be able to play a pre-owned game on their Xbox One.
However there is one gamer fear has been unquestionably addressed. Regarding the concerns about whether next Xbox will allow backwards compatibility, Microsoft has answered that Xbox One will neither be backward compatible with Xbox 360 games nor the XBLA titles.
Last, but the most important, major concern for most gamers regarding the Microsoft’s next gen reveal was how much importance will the company put on the “living room experience,” and how much will it focus on the needs of Xbox brand’s core audience; the gamer.
What Gamers Want?
This leads us to the big question; what do core gamers want? What are the things that matter to them?
At the most basic level; things that most hardcore gamers want are Gameplay, Graphics, Quantity, Variety in games and When those games would be available to play.
In my estimation, Sony covered all of those factors in their presentation on 20th February this year.
The Sony representatives shared specifications of their new system, they emphasized on its graphical capabilities, they showed new features in respect to their effects on gameplay, they shared information, videos and gameplay on new games, both first party and third, that span various genres. What they didn’t show was the box itself.
Well, Microsoft shared the box alright. It’s in every other department that their launch event comes off as a bit suspect.
Starting with the system specifications of the new Xbox One system, aside from the looks, the fact that the Microsoft team “forgot” to mention the specifications for GPU of the system makes it quite difficult to compare the capabilities of the system with its closest competitor.
Another glaring thing that the company apparently gave little importance to was the games.
Sure, the company shared a list of games that would be available on the Xbox One games like Forza Motorsport 5, Quantum, Destiny, Call of Duty: Ghosts, FIFA 14 and others. However, barring the first two, rest of the games shown are also coming to the rival PlayStation 4 system.
Whats more, most of these games were only mentioned via trailers. There was no gameplay, no live gameplay demo, nothing.
In the instance of the PS4 reveal, Sony showed numerous games, introduced several exclusives like Killzone: Shadowfall, InFamous: Second Son, Knack, Drive Club and timed exclusive in Witness. There were also several developers, first and third party, that showed off their development works in form of live tech demos as well as engine trailers.
Moreover, the way these were presented to the viewers involved variety of presentation techniques, these included trailers, gameplay footage as well as developer-hands-on live gamplay demos.
Some would argue that the lack of focus on games can be attributed to the fact that the Xbox team announced 15 exclusive games for their system which would be revealed at a later date. However in order to compare PS4 and Xbox One offerings, we have to realize that announcement is actually quite vague.
Those prospective 15 games are yet unnamed, and we know nothing about them. There are several important questions that are crucial to determine the worth of these games. What studios are working for them? What kind of games are these?
These games can turn out to be all from one genre, FPS, TPS or Sports. They can be indie games, dlc games or even Kinect games. And most importantly can these games, like Mass Effect, Bioshock and Final Fantasy 13, become multiplatform in no time? Will 15 of such games be of much worth to the hardcore gamer? Perhaps.
Let’s also put another vague statement in front of this Microsoft announcement for comparison. In addition to the games shown on the PS4 reveal conference, Sony world Wide President Shuhei Yoshida stated that all 12 of the Sony first party development studios are in process of developing games for the PlayStation 4. which means that at least 12 of games are bankable, confirmed exclusives for the PS4 system.
One of the good things revealed about the system specifications was regarding the size of Xbox One’s Hard drive being 500Gb. Though that might seem like a comfortably large amount of memory, the fact that all games have to be installed on the system might mean that a 500Gb drive can be filled with Bluray games in no time.
To top it off, it has also been revealed that the Xbox One Hard drive cannot be replaced by users, which might prove to be another source of problem for hardcore gamers that play a large quantity of games on a regular basis.
However all is not bad when it comes to gaming on Xbox One. Due to the aforementioned mandatory installs as well as new improvements in the system, Xbox One will allow players to communicate use skype while they game and also freely browse applications simultaneously.
The system also facilitates gamers by allowing them to play games as they install. The Xbox One system also includes auto-resume feature which allows the console’s users to switch to different applications without losing progress in their games and resume the game without any issues.
Furthermore, the Microsoft team has fine-tuned their existing Xbox 360 controller and revealed a new design for their new system’s controller. The Xbox One controller hosts several improvements including reshaped triggers, better ergonomics as well as improving the widely criticized d-pad of the old controller.
Finally, the Xbox One was announced to be launching to the consumer market in the year 2013. However no precise release date nor release window was mentioned in the event.
On the other hand, PS4 reveal was a bit more precise in the communication about the system’s release window as Holiday 2013.
Would Xbox One come before then? Most probably not. However why remain discrete so late in the year? If they do decide to release it before the holiday season, their prospective customers might not be ready for such a costly purchase and things might turn out like what happened with Sega’s unusual launch of Saturn in 1995.
With the advent of Xbox One, the key split between the strategies of Microsoft and Sony has finally become crystal clear.
While Sony showed a clear focus on games and the gamer, which has been since reinforced afterwards by statements the likes of Edge interview with PlayStation head Shuhei Yoshida, where he reinforces the idea. It’s all about games, games, games, while less focus is being put on non-gaming related apps
Xbox One is trying to become the all in one entertainment machine; enabling users to switch between live TV, movies, music, internet and games all with the new voice command snap feature as part of new Kinect functionality.
The focus of the Microsoft Xbox One presentation was definitely off games and on TV. So much so that the only mention of Microsoft’s premier gaming franchise; Halo, was during reveal of a Steven Spielberg Halo TV show.
Nothing encompasses this sentiment of entertainment hub more than the presentation for the Xbox One Live TV. Unveiled at this event, Xbox One Live TV allows the console users to navigate and watch live TV from their respective cable, telecommunications or satellite set-top box, all by utilizing the lone Xbox One.
This ability to stream live TV programing through the box, along with the aforementioned ability of the console to enable multitasking applications; Xbox One is able to provide a much cohesive entertainment venue. Allowing users to seamlessly alternate between different mediums of entertainment without the need for additional hardware and sacrificing usability.
While the service is a fine cable box alternative, the only the kicker is that the Xbox One Live TV service will not be supported out of the box; Xbox One Live TV will require a separate supported receiver device with HDMI output to work. Furthermore, the service will only be available for the US market at launch with no word on how long it will take to reach the other markets that populate the world.
Furthering the goal of becoming an entertainment hub, Xbox One is also part of the new Windows 8 ecosystem. Though the extent and future benefits of the said windows integration are unknown, Microsoft has revealed that the new console is powered by Windows Kernel. This will most probably result is a smoother connection capabilities with computing hardware running other Windows Kernel and might also result in cross platform applications use.
Speaking of cross platform applications, Microsoft, and by extension; Xbox One seems to be taking the feature quite seriously.
Microsoft Studio corporate Vice President Phil Spencer shared his skepticism of Cloud as well as importance of connective sharing by explaining that:
“Whether cloud rendering ends up being the killer cloud feature, I’m a little skeptical that will be where game designers will actually see the promise of the cloud paying off in their games.
SmartGlass was something that was born halfway through the Xbox 360 generation. When Xbox 360 was designed, everyone wasn’t walking around with a smartphone in their back pocket, people didn’t have tablets,. So we’ve tried to embrace that through the life of the 360, and from a design standpoint, we did a nice job. But Xbox One was designed from the beginning understanding that multiple devices in the family room exist. Some of those devices may leave the family room and still want to remain connected to the experience. People might have multiple devices and have multiple players in the room who actually want to interact with the experience on-screen with their own private screen or they might want to play and have their own data. It was definitely a design criteria from the beginning for us because we’ve seen the usage of SmartGlass as very strong on the 360.”
This shows that cross platform integration is becoming one of the prime pillars of Xbox experience and this focus might lend Microsoft more success when compared to the WiiU to WiiU pad functionality offered by Nintendo and PS4 to PSVita transfarring feature presented by Sony.
End of Round One
With the launch event now done and over with, several gamers and gaming websites are labeling the conference as a disappointment, going as far as calling it not what gamers wanted and a disaster.
No wonder Sony’s stock jumped up following Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal.
But seriously; Microsoft’s conference was quite lacking in information pertaining to games and gaming. While the event focused hard on TV, movies and other entertainment genres, the console itself was given little to no chance to prove its prowess in the entertainment that mattered the most; the Games Genre.
That is not to say that Xbox One as a system is a disappointment or that it does not hold any potential. Microsoft’s new console is chalk full of innovation and offers myriad of new and exciting entertainment options that were absent in Microsoft’s prior iteration of gaming platform. However most of these innovations were geared towards entertainment genres other than the core-element of gaming.
Some might argue that keeping high expectations from an unveiling event might be unwise; however I find that the excuse that it was just a reveal does not hold up. Microsoft knowingly delayed their announcement almost 3 months after PS4 reveal. They had the responsibility to play catch up with the information released by Sony for their next gen console.
The leading argument is that Microsoft will reveal software lineup and further updates on Xbox One in E3 next month. However, that also holds true for Sony. This way, Microsoft and Xbox One, will always be one step behind Sony and their race horse.
Whether it is due to Microsoft’s lackluster presentation or the two months’ worth of time Sony has had with PS4 reveal, the first round of the Xbox One vs. PS4 clearly goes in favor of Sony, and it seems that currently, PlayStation 4 has an upper hand with respect to needs and wants of the Core-Gamers.