Earlier this week, Microsoft held a close-knit press conference where they unveiled the successor to their Xbox 360 console, named the Xbox One (clearly somebody at Microsoft owns a HTC phone), and their plans for how they want the system to be the ‘All in One’ device for content consumption in your living room. Sounds great, right? It sure does. However, instead of coming away from the reveal satisfied and excited for what the future of gaming will entail, I left with more questions than answers, with the answers provided being too open-ended and inconclusive, and consequently providing just more questions.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that some of the things mentioned here, particularly the issue surrounding second-hand titles, are mostly just speculation at this point, with no official confirmations from Microsoft, though there is still the distinct possibility that there is a foundation of truth lying within.
Where art thou, games?
Before I get to the confusing aspects of the Xbox One’s core functions, I’ll talk about the games, or lack thereof. There were only a handful of titles displayed and announced at the conference, from Forza 5 to the already announced Call of Duty: Ghosts, and only Remedy’s new title, Quantum Break, provided anything resembling a new IP. As a result, many people–on Twitter, especially–were unsatisfied with how Microsoft seemed to be focusing on everything but actual video games on what is, at heart, a video game system.
For a start, I agree that it was frustrating to see a new console be revealed for the first time with, essentially, a slew of sequels seemingly offering not much from their last-gen predecessors. However, with E3 in just a few weeks, it’s clear to me that the purpose of this conference wasn’t to explicitly discuss the games, which will undoubtedly be a main focus of the E3 event, but to just unveil the system, its basic core functions and what Microsoft are intending it to be–and whether you like it or not, what they intend on the Xbox One being is not just a video game console.
An ‘All in One’ system, except not really.
The Xbox One system is named as that because of Microsoft’s intention on the system being an ‘All in One’ device for your gaming, television and social requirements. You can play games, watch live television, and use Skype with your friends while switching between them all with a simple arm gesture (yes, Kinect is back), or even at the same time. The Xbox One is the one box you will ostensibly need for everything you would need it for, only it’s not quite as simple as that, as became clear post-conference.
In truth, the Xbox One is an All-in-One device, except that you need another box to make it so. While they were discussing the ability to watch live television during the conference, I had two thoughts swirling in my head: that it would be US-only, at least at launch (which was subsequently confirmed), and that the live TV capabilities were built into the system, meaning you could watch the channels over the internet (except for cable channels requiring a subscription, of course). Only that’s not quite the case, as in order to watch live television on your Xbox One, you need to connect the system to a cable box you already own and pay for, essentially putting a huge question mark against the device’s ‘All in One’ billing.
Let’s just imagine the scenario for a moment: you have a cable box and the Xbox One sitting side-by-side, connected to the same TV; what incentive would there be to purchase additional equipment (the Xbox One doesn’t contain what’s needed to connect to a cable box) to watch television from your console when the option to merely turn the console off and watch from the actual cable box is perfectly viable, and with actual recording functions? To Skype with your friends at the same time? To be able to flick between game and TV at a moment’s notice? Outside of those, I have no idea, and needing to be connected to another box completely goes against what Microsoft intend for the Xbox One to be.
Also, as I previously mentioned, none of this even matters if you happen to live outside of the US, because none of the live TV functions will be available elsewhere for an indeterminable amount of time post-launch. If you were watching the conference from anywhere other than the states, you were essentially only getting 70% of what everybody else was getting because they spent so much time discussing how the live TV capabilities would work (but not the need for another box, of course), and so it’s hardly a surprise that people came away feeling underwhelmed.
Is that an old VHS player?
Now, the Xbox One plays television and games (I think), but what does it actually look like? Well, picture an old VHS player that you used to have–a big, black slab of plastic, essentially–and you would probably be close to what the Xbox One looks like. Honestly, while I don’t find it as hideous to look at as some people do, it really isn’t what I would describe as an attractive piece of hardware. It’s pretty clear that Microsoft were intending on a more simplistic design, and they succeeded, but at the same time, made it look big, bulky and a little bland.
As for the controller, there looks to be little different to its Xbox 360 counterpart. The button, analog stick and trigger buttons are all located in the same positions, with only the central guide button in a different area. To be fair, however, the 360 controller was already a thoroughly decent design as it was, so the common saying of ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’ applies here.
Is Kinect mandatory?
(Since uploading this, it has since been made clear to me that yes, Kinect is in fact required for the Xbox One to work, unsurprisingly.)
You can control your games with the controller, obviously, but what about Kinect, Microsoft’s gesture-based control device? Well, it had a pretty significant presence at the Xbox One’s unveiling, so much so that it seems to me–although it hasn’t been confirmed yet, as far as I know–that the Kinect system will be mandatory with the new device.
It was always pretty obvious that Kinect would make an appearance in Microsoft’s plans for the next generation at some point, but from watching the conference, I got the impression that it wouldn’t be an option, but that it would be required. Switching on the device, flicking between the various windows and so forth were all demonstrated with Kinect and not with a controller. Of course, if Kinect is compulsory for the Xbox One, this inevitably leads to questions about whether boxing the system in with the console would increase the retail price, and whether it’s actually going to be more useful than just a way to talk to your Xbox to tell it to do things you want it to do.
On that theme, did anybody else see how easily the voice commands were activating the system, such as opening up the TV guide, exiting to the dashboard and so forth, and think how clumsy that might be in a crowded living room? For example, if some poor soul’s playing a game and somebody comes along and tells the system to exit to the dashboard, it would do just that, and although it’s convenient and quicker than pushing buttons, is it really feasible with more than one person in the same room? Unless there’s some kind of voice recognition I’m unaware of, it seems to me that this is exactly the kind of scenario that could happen.
Nevertheless, I will admit that I found the rapid response times and fluidity of how the voice commands and arm gestures made the system switch between windows and applications rather impressive. Microsoft made a claim that the Xbox One would be ‘lag free’, which obviously remains to be seen, but for somebody who has never really seen much use for Kinect, I still found myself impressed with how easily–maybe too easily–Kinect controlled the dashboard. But that’s all they demonstrated in the conference, so how it integrates into games still remains unclear at this point.
Internet outage? Sucks for you.
Now we begin to get onto the unclear functionalities of the system that I described at the beginning of this post, the first of which being the system’s reliance on an internet connection. Before the conference, you probably heard a whole song and dance about how the console would be always-online and require an internet connection at all times, ceasing to function entirely without one. It turns out, however, that it doesn’t seem to be that way with the Xbox One, although there does seem to be some degree of dependence on an internet connection.
Microsoft VP Phil Harrison initially made comments to Kotaku indicating that the Xbox One would automatically check your console every 24 hours for an active internet connection, and would presumably restrict certain, obvious elements in the absence of one. However, the article has since been updated to say that other Microsoft officials have stated that they haven’t confirmed any time periods or internet requirements and, basically, what Harrison stated was merely a potential scenario, not a definite one. And so the confusion continues.
Personally, if the 24 hour checks were real and confirmed, they perhaps wouldn’t affect me that much. My Xbox 360 is already connected to the internet whenever I use it, and that connection is an automatic process, requiring no action from me. That being said, from what Harrison stated (which may just be a potential scenario, as discussed), it’s possible that playing singleplayer games offline is allowed, but if you happen to have no internet at the time of the check, you could potentially be unable to play said game until the connection is restored, which if you’re in an non-internet area or experiencing a lengthy outage, means you’re doomed.
So, what is the truth here? Does the system make an automatic check for an internet connection every 24 hours, restricting access to even singleplayer titles if it doesn’t find one? Is that just a potential scenario that might be dictated by the developers of the game? There is far too much confusion surrounding something that is an important function of the system, and the fact that it isn’t clear, and that even the Microsoft officials appear to be contradicting themselves, hardly inspires much confidence.
No more borrowing games for you.
And now we get to the most confusing, and backlash-inducing, aspect of the Xbox One: the attack against the pre-owned market. I’m going to try and explain this as easily as I can because there has been a lot of confusion and conflicting talk surrounding this ‘function’ of the system, and even I, myself, have barely begun to understand it.
Basically, when you get a new game and put it into your Xbox One, it installs to the hard drive (which is mandatory) and registers to your Xbox Live account. If you were to then take that disc to a friend’s house, or even to somebody else’s console in the same house, and put it into their console, you would be faced with two options: sign into your Xbox Live account (ie the one you registered the game to) and play it as normal, or attempt to use their profile but have to pay a ‘fee’ to do so.
Now, if you were to give a friend your actual disc and they attempted to play it, they would still be unable to do so without paying the fee, which (and I’m pretty sure this has been all but confirmed) is the FULL PRICE of the game. The ONLY way around this is for your friend, or whomever, to play the game using YOUR Xbox Live account, opening you up to all manner of potential problems with the loss of accounts and sensitive information. And this, folks, is why there is an enormous backlash currently ongoing surrounding this very confusing and problematic system.
Essentially, this is just the online pass system that EA employed in many of their games only far more restrictive, because it’s not just the multiplayer you’re unable to access but the entire game itself. Also, what does this mean for people buying second-hand games from retail stores? Would you have you buy the game from the store, return home and then pay full price for the game again just so you can actually play it? After you’ve installed the game to your hard drive and registered it, you can then play it without needing the disc in the drive, so what happens when you want to trade it in? Could you still play the game even without possession of the disc? I’ve heard that Microsoft plans to allow people to trade in their digital licenses for games over Xbox Live but that they aren’t discussing that particular feature yet, but it’s still all incredibly confusing when it shouldn’t be.
This is, by far and large, the element of the Xbox One that I am most unclear about at this stage. When I first heard of needing to pay a fee to play a second-hand game, I imagined it to be an amount similar to that of the aforementioned online passes for EA titles. Then I read that it would be the full retail price of the game, and now after reading the Eurogamer article, I’m pretty sure that I understand, at least at a basic level, how the system works–and I don’t like it. At all.
We’ve known for a while now that the pre-owned games market is something that the big publishers have wanted to rain fire and brimstone on, and as such, it was expected that Microsoft and Sony (who haven’t revealed their plans for second-hand games yet) would introduce certain features into their consoles to either block them completely or capitalise on. Ultimately, however, this move on Microsoft’s part is as anti-consumer as it gets, and from reading the many comments and thoughts of those who have read for themselves how it’ll work, it’s done a considerable amount to damage the Xbox One’s reputation before it’s even started out.
Essentially, this move means that if you have two Xbox One consoles in the same house, with two different Xbox Live accounts being operated by two different people, you would need to buy the game twice or face having to share the same profile. That is not consumer friendly, and it only makes me believe that Microsoft’s, and the publishers’, intentions are for multiple purchases to be made of a singular product, and I cannot get on-board with that.
This is something that is going to make me seriously reconsider what system I opt to purchase for the next generation, and we haven’t even heard how Sony plans to deal with the pre-owned market yet. So many people are assuming that they will not choose to follow in the same footsteps as Microsoft has, and I would hope that they are correct, but it remains to be seen. Honestly, I heavily doubt that there won’t be some degree of anti-second-hand games measures in force with the Playstation 4; I just hope they aren’t as draconian as Microsoft has apparently made theirs.
Which one will I buy?
So far, we have only seen two press conferences revealing quite little about their respective consoles, so it is far, far too early for me to be making a decision on which side I will be leaning towards with the next generation. Both devices have plus points, and both have bad ones, but E3 is sure to provide more details about both, specifically about the launch catalogue, prices and so forth. However, if I were to base my decision on my future purchase right now, based purely from what I’ve seen in the two conferences, I would be buying a Playstation 4.
As for the Xbox One unveiling, to say it underwhelmed me would be an understatement. I was expecting so much more and received so little in return. I had many problems with their conference but the biggest, without a shadow of a doubt, is how Microsoft seems unable to provide clear, concise, easily understandable and consistent answers concerning the machine’s core features–and until that happens, the confusion surrounding the Xbox One is sure to continue.