With less than a day left in Microsoft’s “A New Generation Revealed” event, all eyes are set and everyone is waiting with baited breath in anticipation for the eminent reveal of Microsoft’s next entry into the gaming console market.
It doesn’t matter if you call it NextBox, Xbox 720, Durango or Xbox Infinity, Microsoft’s foray into the next gen console market is sure to cause ripples in the industry and is sure to impact the future of the gaming industry one way or another.
Whether it catches on with the customer base of the gaming industry or falls flat will surely determine what the majority choses to adopt as their primary source of video game entertainment and thus impact Microsoft’s share in the next-gen gaming market.
Therefore, just like I discussed the merits of PS4 reveal for core gamers after Sony’s 20th February event it is now time to discuss what should Microsoft cover in its upcoming next-Xbox reveal to woo the core gamers to its camp.
It is important to note that the emphasis of the following article is not on how Microsoft can make a lot of money with its next console outing or how it can garner more mainstream attention in the entertainment industry, the focus is squarely on the demand and preferences of the core-gamer consumers and what they want. So without further ado, let’s take a look into what hardcore gamers want from Microsoft’s next venture into the console market.
Match the PlayStation 4 Reveal
It would be really farfetched to proclaim that Microsoft’s upcoming reveal is coming off the heels of Sony’s PlayStation4 reveal. Microsoft has waited more than two months after Sony’s reveal event in February of this year.
Now at nearly midpoint in the year of 2013, Microsoft faces a customer base as well as critics who have digested the information about PlayStation 4 and have grown quite comfortable with what has had been offered by Sony as the vision for Next Gen gaming console future and their outlook has been colored by what Sony has presented so far.
Therefore, walking in the PlayStation4 reveal’s shadows, Microsoft’s reveal must compare itself to what Sony has promised in its next gen console offering and try to match Sony blow for blow, if not exceed them.
The main and crucial aspect of the console, where Microsoft needs to stand with or above Sony is in the Hardware. The next Xbox console needs to at least match PlayStation 4 hardware specs to stand a chance. Particularly something equaling or exceeding PlayStaion4’s:
Eight-core X86 AMD Jaguar CPU, 1.84-teraflop AMD Radeon graphics engine (with “18 compute units”), 8GB of GDDR5 memory, Hard-drive storage (not SSD), Blu-ray drive, Three USB 3.0 ports, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Ethernet, HDMI, Bluetooth 2.1, optical audio and analog AV out.
One major point of concern about next gen consoles has been regarding always online feature. The previous two months have had a slew of rumors, speculation and analysis regarding Microsoft’s impending move into always online requirement for its next console.
Whereas Sony has made it clear that neither is PS4 going to be always online not have they ever conceived it as being such, Microsoft has given mixed messages regarding this major issue. With a recent denial of always online requirement via leaked internal memo to firing of Creative Director over defending the always online feature.
The issue is still unresolved in the eyes of Microsoft’s prospective audience.
Whether it is related to software like Diablo 3 and SimCity or Hardware like the next Gen consoles, whether it is due to concerns about unreliable server services or lack of dependable network for majority of customers, the Core Gamers have voiced serious concern regarding the always online feature and the majority has expressed dissatisfaction about such initiatives. Therefore it would seem that Microsoft must stay clear of such measures if it wants to keep the interest of the core gaming audience.
Similarly unlike Sony’s vocal stance on allowing used games on its current and upcoming consoles, Microsoft has also remained silent on this part of their hardware strategy.
Since several gamers feel quite strongly about this as well, therefore Microsoft needs to address this issue in its upcoming reveal and choose to not block used games to appease its core gamer audience.
And while gamers are quite passionate about the above stated issues more importantly, what core-gamers want the most, is for Microsoft to focus more on games and less on “Living room experience.” Just like Sony did in its PlayStation 4 reveal.
With the last two years of focus on Kinect and the casual gaming market, Microsoft has nearly disenfranchised its core-gamer customer base. What hardcore gamers want most from their consoles is a clear focus on providing them with good quantity of quality core games.
While it seems important to diversify into other entertainment avenues, Microsoft would do well to focus more on the core gaming aspect of the console if it means to keep the share of core-gamer customers it has built in the previous console generation.
Building up from the last point discussed previously, the Microsoft conference must focus on introducing new titles that aim to appeal to the core gaming audience.
Since the Next Xbox is rumored to come early after announcement, Microsoft should show something more than tech demos. There should be actual games and gameplay on display so as to convince the critics and the gamers of the console’s capability.
Moreover, what the event needs to show is the range of titles offered by Microsoft’s next console. And while games like next FIFA, NFL, Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield and Castlevania are titles of great franchises, the focus should be on games which are only available on their machine and on the rival systems.
No, timed exclusivity on Call of Duty does not cut it. Throughout the previous years, Microsoft has been quite irresponsible with keeping third party exclusive titles remain exclusive to Xbox 360. The company has let slip phenomenal franchises like Mass Effect, Witcher and Ninja Gaiden games that, at one time, were exclusive to the Xbox 360 but then made their way to the PS3. And now their sequels come hand in hand on both consoles.
What is more, unlike Sony and Nintendo, Microsoft also has dearth of AAA First Party Games. The company really needs to make a concerted effort in making more exclusive games as Halo, Gears of War and Fortza might not be enough to satiate many core-gamers in the long haul.
Rectify Past Issues
Speaking of dearth of games, this has been a major weakness of Xbox brand in its current gen run. Whereas the system has had good support in genres like FPS with Halo and Call of Duty and TPS with Gears of War and even Racers with Fortza, the system has focus on several other genres that appeal to wide variety of core-gaming customers.
One particular genre that has historically faced neglect by Microsoft’s machine is JRPG genre. A move which is perhaps indicative of the reason why Xbox 360 could not do well in the Japanese market.
With the unveiling of the new consoles, Microsoft needs to show commitment in providing greater variety in the games available for the system and not just exclusively focus on sports sims and first person shooters as the bread and butter of their system.
Aside from the software, Microsoft needs to address certain miss steps taken in the past on the hardware front as well.
While the mind immediately wanders to the Red Ring of Death with the words, hardware, gaming and Microsoft are mentioned in the same breath, the company might also want to improve on other aspects of the console other than the bare minimum requirements of quality control.
One such issue that has been constantly mentioned regarding the previous Xbox console was regarding its D-pad buttons. While the Xbox 360 controller is considered more ergonomic by majority of gamers, there have been misgivings regarding the quality of D-pad that its controllers have supported.
While the D-pad might not seem to be a big deal in certain genres, it becomes primary mode of control for most players in games requiring precision controls like the Fighting Game genre and 2D and retro platforming genres. Therefore Microsoft needs to update its controller design to incorporate changes to the D-pad that can alleviate the issues of the past controller d-pad design.
Another aspect where Microsoft needs to show improvement is relationship with developers.
While Microsoft was revolutionary in its focus on indie games in the beginning of the current generation, as time passed, the company failed to grow with the times and in time, their policies started to not only impede distribution by independent developers but also corporate development teams.
These restrictive and unfriendly policies have resulted in several issues which have left several games without proper after sales patching, a situation which has not only been prevalent in indie games like Fez but also in larger and more popular games as well.
Hence Microsoft needs to take queue from Sony and expressly state its intention to improve updating/patching process requirements for the developers so that the gamers are assured that the post-sale customer service would be bettered on their upcoming system.
With the news of an upcoming Xbox 360 dashboard overhaul making the rounds it seems that the update it more focused on replacing the currency of MS Points and Windows 8 integration rather than addressing the issues associated with the actual user Interface.
One aspect that the company needs to address the historic problem that the current dashboard user interface has had with browsing through different applications. This is issue has particularly adversely affected the indie games market for the Xbox 360. Microsoft needs to make the user Interface such that switching between Games and Apps is easier to navigate and perhaps even make the transition between the two seamless.
And Lastly, Microsoft should take some queues from Nintendo with their TV to WiiU tablet functionality and Sony’s PS4 to PSVita Cross-Play/ Transfarring feature.
While not as crucial as a competent hardware and robust software support, this cross play functionality is such a feature that can extend the longevity of the games and improve interactivity between the next Xbox console and other hardwares associated with Microsoft’s software and operating systems.
Microsoft could do well by implementing the already featured Windows 8 functionality by making the games on their next gaming console available to play on all platforms supported by the Windows 8 operating system.
With this functionality, the consumers would be able to take their game that they are playing on the next Xbox console and seamlessly take the experience over to any windows 8 laptops and tablets (Microsoft Slate)
Let’s hope that Microsoft is able to avoid the 3rd console curse that has historically affected several console manufacturers, including Atari with Atari 7800, Sega with Saturn, Nintendo with Nintendo 64 and Sony with the PS3.
As long as the company is able to incorporate some, if not all, of these factors into its upcoming press conference it might indeed be successful in providing its core-gaming audience with a vision of the next Xbox as a viable source of gaming related entertainment for them.