In the wake of February’s uninspiring press conference revealing the Sony PlayStation 4, great hope for the next generation of gaming was pinned to Tuesday’s big reveal showing the world the next XBox. Sadly, the only thing Microsoft truly revealed was disappointment. The XBox One, which is apparently a game console that does just about everything except cook dinner, was an hour long announcement that was long on hype, but short on substance.
Granted, it’s just day one, and there is an awful lot yet to be defined, but here’s a list of thirteen things that weren’t so good about today’s unveiling … and three that are pretty great.
1. The death of pre-owned games? There’s probably no party at Gamefly or Gamestop tonight. One of the “features” of XBox One is that each game will require a mandatory installation on your system’s hard drive. If you want to take your game over to a friend’s house or play on a second XBox One in your own household, or even buy a used game, you will have to pay an undetermined fee. Microsoft is mum on the price customers will have to pay to meet their demand, but it will likely be high enough to put an end to the pre-owned game market. My guess is that this will face a court challenge. First-sale doctrine has long supported the right of consumers to resell goods once they purchase them. The XBox One’s version of copyright management looks like it’s trying to circumvent that law. Besides, it’s just stupid. If I buy a truck and you are moving your apartment, you shouldn’t have to pay the retail price of the vehicle to borrow my truck for the weekend.
2. Internet is mandatory. Microsoft has now said that the XBox One does not need an always-on connection, but has hinted that it may come over time. While we’ll have to wait and see on that, a required Internet signal means no more taking the XBox to the rented lake house or ski lodge, and no playing anywhere your ethernet cord or WiFi can’t reach. And the heck with you if your Internet connection is down. Go read a book.
3. The biggest game innovation in Call of Duty? Dog. It seemed like the better part of Inifinity Ward’s presentation of Call of Duty: Ghosts was spent extolling the amazing addition of a dog in the game. Hopefully walking him is not a mini-game. I think their second biggest point was character customization. This is next generation? Color me underwhelmed.
4. Kinect is still here. The Kinect is quite possibly the worst peripheral in gaming since Nintendo’s Power Glove. Anything that doesn’t work because it’s mounted too high or too low or there’s not enough lighting or too much light is horrible. Then there are the small bedrooms and living rooms where users have to sit so close to the unit, Kinect won’t work for them at all. The Kinect is so bad that it has driven my kids to tears of frustration on more than one occasion, but Microsoft doubled-down on it and the XBox One will not operate unless the Kinect 2.0, included with each console, is attached. Think about that for a second: a potentially always-on device with a camera and microphone and Internet connection in your living room. Yay.
5. All the major reveals were about television. XBox will now allow me to watch television on my XBox. It will also show new content that might be of interest to me. You know what else does that? As GeekDad Curtis Silver points out, my cable box. Microsoft says that now my television and I “are going to have a relationship.” Well, I’m thinking I may want to see others.
6. Blazers and jeans. They don’t make you look cool. Just because you say you’re a huge Halo addict, I’m not so sure. Your $200 slacks and Botox injections make me think otherwise. An Ivy League diploma and 80 hour work week may boost profit margins on games and game consoles, but it doesn’t make you one of us.
7. Voice recognition and gestures. If I ever end up standing in my living room, waving my hands and yelling at the television, I’m hopefully 90 years old and ready for the nursing home.
8. The name of the thing: XBox One. This is the third iteration of the XBox. Can’t Microsoft count? Or perhaps, maybe “One” refers to hopes of it being the only device you’ll need, but as far as names go, it’s number two.
9. Are there games on this game console? Oh wait, you say. There were EA Sports titles — and Call of Duty. But these games are available on seemingly every system ever made. Saying EA Sports and Call of Duty are going to be available for your system is like saying “also ships with a power cord.” There was also Forza and Quantum Break, but with the exception of the latter, there’s still nothing unexpected.
10. All hype, no gameplay. In line with the previous point, thirty-five minutes into the XBox One reveal, they finally got to games. But even here, it was all hype. Despite being told we would see gameplay, we did not. Cutscenes and trailers do not equal gameplay.
11. They made a deal with the devil. As an XBox fanboy, nothing freaked me out more than when I saw that Microsoft entered an exclusive deal with EA, the only company to win Consumerist’s worst company in America twice. EA is a company whose entire business strategy seems to be built on screwing over their customers and the gaming industry. Buying out studios and shutting them down, nickel and diming customers at every opportunity, forcing DRM on everyone, stopping support for games early, and not allowing online play between international regions are just a few of the reasons EA is a bad company — and Microsoft is embracing them.
12. Design. When your sleek, new console has all the shape, style and hard edges of a brick, guess what comparisons you’re going to draw?
13. It’s official. Game companies no longer care about you. Unless you fall under the umbrella of casual gaming, you are no longer a large enough demographic to merit their attention. Even though XBox was built on the support of gamers like you, you are no longer their chief concern. Everything about the XBox One speaks to year-long focus groups evaluating the desires of the larger casual gamer market and Microsoft’s attempt to capture the living rooms of those who think iPhone games are pretty great. The XBox One is about sharing photos and listening to music and watching television and searching the Web and, when you’re done with that, maybe playing a quick game. It used to be that great games sold consoles. Now it’s just great marketing.
But there were a few bright moments…
1. New franchises. At the conclusion of his talk, Microsoft exec Phil Spencer made note of fifteen exclusive games being available at launch, including eight new franchises. When so many new games are simply sequels, new IP was a truly exciting surprise and one that shows that maybe Microsoft hasn’t forgotten true gamers.
2. Jaw-dropping graphics. The light reflecting off RGIII’s helmet as he broke through tackles and the scarred fingers, dirty fingernails, and hairy arms (what a selling point!) on Call of Duty: Ghosts were very impressive. Multiple light sources, better shading and a higher level of detail all worked together to give hope for really good looking games.
3. The controller. Yes, it looked the same, but the XBox controller is the best controller in gaming. Having the courage not to change it must have required some restraint, but kudos for staying with what works.
In a few weeks, we’ll learn more about the XBox One at E3. Perhaps some of these points and features will be clarified and will be less of an issue than at first glance. Or maybe, in the words of the recently Microsoft employed Adam Orth, we will all just have to “deal with it.”