Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Xbox One

After a far-to-long hiatus, The Mottman Prophecies is back and this time it's going to be about my reaction and thoughts on the Xbox One.

Xbox One-The Reveal

Just under one week ago Microsoft held a press conference to finally announce their next console, the Xbox One. There have been a variety of reactions since the event, but it seems like there is a lot of negativity surrounding the console and Microsoft's plans for the future of gaming. I've been mulling over the details from the conference, as well as those that have come to light since the show, and I'd like to take some time to express my thoughts on the biggest talking points that everyone's been focused on.

The Name

One of the biggest points of debate surrounding MSoft's new console before it's announcement was what it would be called. Don Mattrick, President of Interactive Entertainment for Microsoft, savored the moments leading up to the reveal before finally announce the name, Xbox One. And honestly, I'm not a fan. "Xbox One" simply doesn't grab me the way the name "Xbox 360" did. I understand the thought process; they want this console to be your One stop for all your home entertainment needs, but the name just isn't very striking.

"Xbox 360" was a brilliant name for it's time. Microsoft was a generation behind Sony in the console wars and calling it the "Xbox 2" would've immediately made it sound inferior to the Playstation 3. So the name "Xbox 360" allowed them to level the playing field with Sony by using the number 3, and the number 360 brings to mind cool images of extreme sports and energy drinks. It also implies that the console would be a well rounded machine since 360° makes a full circle.

Some thought they'd continue down the road of the Xbox 360 and call it the Xbox 720. I would've been fine with that decision, but I understand them not wanting to continue with that line of numbering since it would eventually lead to ridiculously high numbers that would quickly become meaningless. But the name Xbox One almost sounds like a step backwards for the company as a whole.

There were a few other names floating around the rumor mill, the two most popular of which were "Xbox Infinity" and "Xbox Fusion". Infinity would've been a cool name for the console and they surly could have done some interesting things with the infinity symbol(∞) in their marketing efforts. Now, Xbox Fusion was my favorite rumored name and I was really hoping they were going to use it. Fusion is just a very cool word; it sounds high-tech and brings to mind images of mad scientists performing crazy experiments in a lab, with explosions! But alas, it was not to be.

My final concern with the name "Xbox One" is it's potential for brand confusion in the future. It may not affect us now, but a few years down the line, whenever you're talking about the history of Xbox, you may need to constantly clarify whether you're speaking about the Xbox One, or the original Xbox. It's been commonplace to refer to the original Xbox as the Xbox 1 because of Sony's naming convention for their Playstation consoles. Now Microsoft has tossed a wrench into the gears with the name of their upcoming machine.

However, all of the concern over the name is probably going to amount to nothing in the end since the name of a console doesn't necessarily have any bearing on it's success. I remember thinking the name "Playstation" sounded pretty stupid when I first heard it. It sounded like a baby's plaything; some sort of bouncy contraption an infant can sit in and grab at plastic monkeys and giraffes to entertain itself while the parents take a much needed break. But the Playstation was a massive success, it established Sony as a true powerhouse in the video game industry and the brand name lives on today.

That wasn't the case with the Atari Jaguar which had arguably the coolest sounding name of any video game console. The Jaguar was an embarrassing flop and it spelled the end for Atari as a console manufacturer. The Jaguar failed because the console itself was shit, the Playstation succeeded because it wasn't shit. So, no mater how much stink is raised about the name of the Xbox One, it's success is going to depend on important factors beyond what words are stamped on the casing.

One of these was a MASSIVE failure...

The Games(or lack thereof)

One of the biggest complaints coming out of the Xbox One press conference was how much time Microsoft spent talking about television and the other features of the console and how few games they actually showed.

When Sony had their Playstation 4 press briefing a few months ago it was all about games; they showed triple-A titles, indie titles and generally focused on what gamers wanted to see from them. Sony seemed to "get it". They made it clear that they understood where they'd gone wrong with the PS3 and were making a concerted effort to right the ship. 

Microsoft talked about television... a lot. Then they showed a fairly nonsensical trailer for a new game being made by Remedy(Max Payne, Alan Wake), had EA talk about their sports franchises, and ended the conference with a look at the new Call of Duty game, Call of Duty: Ghosts. Microsoft promised 15 exclusive game for the Xbox One in it's first year, which is a great bullet point. However, just how many of those games are going to be "technically more than a tech demo" for the Kincet, remains to be seen.

Now don't get me wrong, I was a big fan of Alan Wake and I'm very interested to see what Remedy does next, but that trailer showed me nothing and didn't excite me at all. But EA showing sports games? Did we really need that? Of course those franchises are coming to the new consoles and of course they're going to look prettier that last generation's games. How about showing me some new IPs or sequels to more interesting IPs that I would actually give a shit about. 

I have similar feelings about them showing the new Call of Duty, but I understand. It's the biggest franchise in gaming right now and it has been particularly successful on the 360. It was a big deal for them to have Activision there and be able to announce exclusive content for the Xbox One version of the game. But did we need to end the whole show with that? Why not end it with a trailer for one of the "15 exclusive games coming in the first year" that they mentioned? Even it was just a teaser trailer, it would've at least left us something more interesting to talk about than "Hey, there's a new Call of Duty."
With all that said, I'm hoping that they were just saving the games for E3 since they waited until just 3 weeks before the big show to announce their console. Hopefully they simply wanted to get all of the bussinessy talk about television and fantasy football out of the way now so that they can really impress with non-stop games at E3(*fingers crossed*).

Used Games

Oh boy, Microsoft really stepped in it here. One of the most heated rumors about Microsoft's new console before the announcement was whether or not it would lock you out of playing used games.

I almost never buy used games. This is because I know that retailers such a Gamestop will often only reduce the price of the game by $5 or $10 and they keep 100% of the profits. None of the money goes to the people responsible for making the game(the developers and publishers), and when I buy a game I want to make sure that I'm supporting the people who created it. 

So I understand the attempts by publishers to incentive people to buy the game new or to at least create a way that they can get something from the sale of a used game. That's why the implementation of Online Passes made sense to me. If a person bought a used game and wanted to access any of it's online features they'd have to pay and extra $10-$15 that would go to the publisher/development studio. Gamestop gets it's money, the game makers get their money, everyone's happy. However, not long before the big Xbox conference, EA announced that it would be discontinuing Online Passes for new games. I didn't understand why until news came to light that, whenever you put a new game into an Xbox One, it will register that game to your Xbox Live account and that game will no longer be playable on any other Xbox One unless a person pays a fee to unlock the game.

I Suddenly understood EA's decision to get rid of Online Passes. The new consoles(or at least the Xbox One) will have built-in features to "deal with" used games. I fully understand why Microsoft would try something like this but I have real concerns about it's potential to alienate not only games, but also major retailers such as Gamestop. Let me be clear; I have no love for Gamestop. They're a terribly corrupt corporation that takes advantage of people with shady sales tactics and will stop at nothing to increase they're profits. However, they ARE the largest games retailer in the world, and if Microsoft pisses them off we could easily see them forcing the Xbox One into the backseat while they push the PS4 to every customer who walks through their door. This could heavily influence how this next generation of consoles will play out. Unless Sony has similar plans for handling used games, it would be wise of Microsoft to not get on Gamestop's bad side.

The mixed-messaging about how used games would be handled following the press conference didn't help matters either. First we heard that there would be a fee associated with used games, then Xbox support denied it, then Major Nelson came out and gave what may have been the most honest answer: as simple "We're not sure yet." If anything, Microsoft should've had all of their ducks in a row before anything was said about this issue.

The "Always Online" Debacle

The other big rumor preceding the Xbox One's announcement was whether or not it would require an always-online internet connection. This quickly became a huge point of contention for people when speculating about the new console. Not every gamer has a good or consistent internet connection and some don't have one at all. What about people on military bases who have very limited or no access to the internet? Would these people be completely shit-out-of-luck when it came to the new Xbox? 

One thing was certain: Microsoft needed to be clear and concise about this issue. They weren't. Microsoft needed to take a stand one way or the other. They didn't. Instead, what we got was a coy statement that "The Xbox One doesn't require an always-online internet connection, but it does require an internet connection." 

After some back-and-forth and a lot of debate, Microsoft's Phil Harrison stated that the console doesn't require a connection at all times, but it does need to be connected once every 24 hours at least, which may as well be an always-online requirement for gamers who don't have access to the web whenever they want it.

One big question that I haven't seen addressed yet is how the registering of new games will work without an internet connection. As I stated before, the first time you put a new game into your Xbox One and sign in, the console will register that game to your Xbox Live account. So, does that mean that the console WILL require a connection the first time you put a disc in the tray? If your console isn't connected and you try to play a new game, will it simply not allow you to play until you establish a connection to Live? This is a serious question that I haven't been able to find an answer for, but hopefully we'll be getting more answers soon.

Final Thoughts

Now, I know that my attitude throughout this blog has seemed pretty negative, and it has been. But I don't want to be misinterpreted. I'm a big fan and supporter of the Xbox brand, and I have been since the Xbox 1(oops, there I go, I mean the original Xbox) and I want the Xbox One to be a roaring success for Microsoft and gamers alike. I've owned other consoles, like the PS3, but it mostly sat collecting dust as I played most new releases on my 360. But I simply can't ignore my feelings about some of the decisions that Microsoft has made and how they've handled a lot of the confusion that their lack of consistency in messaging has caused.

But with all of this behind us, we must now look forward. E3 is just a few weeks away (June 11th-13th) and we are sure to learn a great deal more about not only Microsoft's new console, but Sony's as well. We're guaranteed to see games that are going to blow our socks off, games that are going to get us hyped for the new consoles.

So, with that my friends, I encourage you to take a "wait and see" approach. Wait and see what new details come out of E3(Prices, anyone?). Wait and see what games, specifically the console exclusives, are revealed. Wait and see where your hearts and minds take you, and start putting some cash to the side so that you'll be ready to go, this holiday season!

-Jeff Mott