Xbox Unboxed: A More General Look at Where Microsoft Went Wrong

As anyone who follows me will know, this isn’t the first blog I’ve posted about the recently announced Xbox One. My first focused on the implications of the console where blind people like myself were concerned. Still, that leaves a lot unmentioned, and I want to take a step back, and offer my opinion on the console overall, minus all that other stuff. Some of the information here will be similar to that in the first blog, but considered from a different angle. I’ll do my best not to stray from this, and we’ll see where that gets us.

The Xbox One, the one device for all your in-home entertainment. Yeah, it sounds pretty good on paper, but it’s also not true. One of the big questions surrounding the console when it was announced was whether or not it would be backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games. Microsoft has already given us a flat no on this, saying that they expect people with large Xbox 360 libraries to keep their 360’s. In my opinion, this kind of statement does one two things. Either it throws off a vibe that, following the release of the Xbox One, Microsoft will simply cease to care about its enormous library of previous titles, expecting everyone to move forward to their “one entertainment device” plan, or they do care, and they’re just blatantly making a misstatement because someone in marketing thought the Xbox One sounded like a cool name. It’s not true if you still have 360 games you want to play, is it? You need 2 devices then, totally negating that statement. I understand the hardware is diferent and all that, but even Sony has plans to put their entire backlog into the cloud, so at least consumers would be able to play whichever games they desired. I’ll discuss that more in a later blog.

The Xbox One requires the Kinect to be connected in order to function. I touched on this a bit in my last blog, but even speaking generally, I feel this is a big mistake. Microsoft seems to believe that everyone has these extremely large livingrooms, perfect for some fun activity with the Kinect, which requires you to be about 8 feet back from your TV. That is simply not the case, and it is the very reason many people, definitely not all of course but many, avoied the Kinect when it was originally launched. I will say that it’s a bold move from Microsoft. Clearly they have a lot of faith in this tech, I just feel that faith is misplaced. I’ve heard whispers that the Kinect 2 will work in smaller spaces than the previous one, but so far that’s it. Right now I’m inclined to believe things like that were said to try to calm us down.

The Xbox One’s strictness on used games is another big issue. Even to play your games at someone else’s house, you have to sign into your Xbox live profile. This, of course, means you can’t lend games to your friends unless you also lend them your account information, which, ya know, is kind of a nono. But ya know what? People are probably going to do it if they want to let their friends try some awesome new game for a bit. The alternative is that the friend pays a fee, which is as yet undetermined, though I’ve heard that it may be as much as the price of the game, to get their own license for the game. Effectively, you can lend them a game if they buy it. That doesn’t make much sense to me, and it’s a big blow to the sense of community Xbox live is supposed to be known for. It also does a great deal of harm to the used game market, though Microsoft supposedly has plans, plans which they refuse to detail, on how they intend to keep that market alive.

Speaking of the sense of community, though, Xbox One seems to me to have a very minimal focus on games. Oh sure they’ll be showing some games at E3, but first impressions mean a lot, and the first impression of the Xbox One made it seem as though this device as a gaming console at all is strictly an afterthought. It’s all about the live TV and the integration of Kinect and Smartglass. It’s all about video calling with Skype. All things that, in my mind, should come secondary to what the gamers, the ones who should want this device, really want to hear about, which is games. Added to that the way they have chosen to treat the independent community, not giving them their own section of Xbox live anymore where their products can get the exposure they need to succeed on the platform, and I’m pretty convinced that it’s gaming that’s the afterthought here.

What it comes down to is this. When E3 rolls around in just over 2 weeks, we the consumers, we the gamers, need Microsoft not just to show us games, but to show us very good games. We need reasons to buy this console. We need system sellers. More than that, we also need to be told we’re wrong, and that needs to be proven to us. The Kinect 2 needs to work in small spaces, these plans of theirs for the used game market have to be worthwhile for everyone, and they need to change their attitude towards the independent developers out there. That’s a tall order, and that’s not even everything, but right now that’s what they need to do. If they don’t, this console will fail. I said before to friends that the new tech in this console is neat, but Microsoft, neat is not enough anymore.