This is limited to what we know from conferences, but there is still a lot to say about the Xbox One. Many people are angry over the direction Microsoft is going, Microsoft has made some missteps, and there is still much more information to come. It may be early for making decisions for consoles, but we can tell which direction Microsoft and Sony are going and what kinds of games they will have. There’s some good and some bad ideas for the Xbox One and some flakey areas, and I felt like giving my two cents on how it is faring right now.
Definite Problems or Downsides
PR is very important for revealing a console and getting people to buy it; Microsoft has failed repeatedly at this. Their reveal was focused on console features with few games, which bothered people. There was little there that could have been saved for their E3 conferences weeks later. They mentioned the 24-hour check-ins, then said that it wasn’t official the same day; they then came back weeks later and said it was official. They gave different answers to the same questions. They unveiled the DRM-centered features of the console on their website with little explanation of why they’re doing it. Their response to people’s concerns was to tell them that if they don’t have internet, they should buy an Xbox 360.
People say that there are trade-offs and benefits to what they’re planning, but they were not obvious at first. Microsoft should have been able to explain why they’re doing it and what they are doing for their customers. They failed to do so and that is why so many people are mad.
I know that this is still in development, there will be more details later, and can change over time; within the research I’ve done, there is no benefit for Xbox One owners for this. The data used by this is mere Kbs and that is good. Tethering with your smartphone works for people who have that as part of their plan, but the people who can do this would not have problems with check-ins.
The following people would have problems with connecting within 24 hours, making them unable to play the games they bought legally: people on army bases, people with internet services that go out for days, people in natural disasters (blizzards, floods, tornadoes), people in countries where broadband is not as accessible, people on vacation where internet is not easily accessible, people in power outages
Many people point to Steam, who has similar. They, however, have an offline mode; some say it lasts two weeks, some say they’ve done it for years. Two weeks is a lot easier to handle than 24-hours. Maybe in a world where everyone had Google Fiber, this would work without as many people worrying, but we are not there yet. Preparing for that day is good and they’ve done it with Xbox 360 being broadband-only, but will it work here?
Personal: This would rarely affect me, but it would have been a problem years ago where Blizzards made the power go out for days. Playing video games helped pass the time where there was no television or internet to use. If this happened now, tethering would help me, but not everyone I know has a smartphone.
People were concerned about the Kinect always listening and possibly recording conversations. Microsoft said that this will not happen, but it already happens if you’re playing games online. In their current Terms of Service, they say “You should not expect any level of privacy concerning your use of the live communication features (for example, voice chat, video and communications in live-hosted gameplay sessions) offered through the Xbox LIVE/Games for Windows-LIVE Service. We may monitor these communications to the extent permitted by law.” If you have a problem with Kinect invading your privacy, you probably do not like this.
This year’s piracy or rental scapegoat for what is hurting the video game industry is used games. What is the only way to get many video games created over the previous decades from eBay, rentals, or small businesses may be gone someday and the Xbox One is a babystep towards it.
The most common defense is the money: people think that developers are losing a lot of money from used games and that they deserve it. The argument against it is similar to the one I use for Let’s Plays and piracy: how do we know how much money was truly lost from this? The money a person uses for buying a used game could be used for a new video game, but it could be used for anything else that is or isn’t a video game. Yes, there are probably definite numbers for how many copies are bought used compared to new copies, but how many of them would have bought the game new to give them the money they deserve? If they cut out used gaming and other services without giving us benefits, they’re not going to make more money.
Why do the developers need that money so badly? For this, I turn to Jim Sterling’s article on AAA games and Used Games. With this upcoming generation, costs are going to rise and games will have to look better than ever; this has always been a problem going from generation to generation. But with this, developers have fewer restrictions for their ideas and they also become easier to make. The PS4 will be much friendlier to make games and ports for in comparison to the PS3. Are the costs high enough that buyers have to start making up the cost of them? Hell no. Not even movie studios spending as much money as Avatar have resorted to this.
AAA titles don’t make up the entire market where games can be created with a team as small as one or two people. Many of the bigger titles have engines already made for them so that they don’t have to spend money making one for each game: Square Enix made their own, Call of Duty games use the same engine, some use Unreal Engine, and some use Valve’s Source Engine. Streamlining the process saves money. If they’re worried about the costs of games, shouldn’t they be thinking about how they can save money with their own work?
Publishers also get control over whether or not you can sell back your game to a store, which supposedly incurs some cost for doing so. This may not be popular among publishers because PS4 will not do this, so why would they apply the feature to only one version of the game? The Xbox One is the only one capable of this. Only authorized retailers will be able to used games too. Will mom-and-pop shops be included? Will this work for Amazon and eBay? I don’t know.
The pros of having a physical disc of a console game disappear with this and follow the PC approach: you use your disc only to install games. With over 20 years of being able to put your cartridges and discs into consoles and handhelds, it will never be easy to stomach. This helps people who would not be able to download games as easily online (some games are over 30GB now). This brings concerns over hard drive space, but you can get an external hard drive
Based on what we know, this initially keeps rental services like Gamefly and Redbox from obtaining games. You can only buy them from authorized retailers, but we don’t know who they are right now. Microsoft wants to move to a digital-focused future, but still have discs for those who aren’t quite ready for it. After initial rage over physical discs being useless after one use, it’s the best approach for what they want to do. This is better than them getting rid of discs completely, where more people would unable to obtain video games easily. Exclusive dlc and pre-order bonuses will still happen for physical releases, which may persuade people to not go 100% digital with their purchases.
There are some great features that come with this, such as switching from television to games quickly, but there are some limitations. You need a cable box to plug into; you do this with HDMI or IR blaster. The other issue is if other countries will be able to use this. Their examples for how this enhances television also centered on American sports. It can be the center of the living room like Microsoft wants it to be, but it won’t be for a lot of people.
These features are similar to what smart televisions can do, as well as products like Apple TV and Google TV. For some people, it will do what other products they own already do; for others, these features are welcome. Another issue with supporting this approach is that television isn’t thriving anymore. People are currently moving away from it and are using Netflix or Hulu primarily, so the number of people using television-centered features will not increase as much over time.
Those issues aside, this could easily improve years after launch and hopefully more countries will be able to make use of these features.
Personal: I’m in university where I don’t have a cable box and I rarely watch television. I’ve no use for these particular Xbox One-exclusive features at this time.
There are a lot of new features and ideas that come from this, but they’re limited by how you need another device to use them. With your controller in your hand, where do you put your phone or tablet? For people that dislike the idea of looking away from the television screen to something else during gameplay, this does not work well.
Compare this to the 3DS and Wii U: The 3DS has two screens close to each other and you know when something changes on each screen. The Wii U makes you look down at your controller during gameplay sometimes, but not only can offer other functions when you hold it at the tv or in other directions, it is already in your hands. With Smartglass, you have to put down the controller and pick up your phone or tablet to use it; this works for many mechanics still, but on-the-fly inventory will not be as seamless.
Streaming and Recording Gameplay
Streaming to Twitch.tv is a great feature where others can watch you play your games on their phones or computers. Twitch’s service is centered on video games and you can look up streams based on what game they’re playing. If gamers can use it as well as they use capture devices, however, is yet to be seen. Developers, however, can keep people from streaming their games.
Recording gameplay may have some limitations where you cannot record certain parts of a game; developers do this to avoid people uploading certain parts of the games they don’t want to. I do not know the reasons they will or would do it (it is done on PS Vita now), although spoiler concerns are an obvious reason. With a share button that sends screenshots straight to Facebook, I can understand it if they do it for spoiler concerns, but others do not.
Personal: This is my favorite feature of the new generation. I’ve wanted to stream games, but it hasn’t been easily possible for console gamers. If they can make it so that it works well for things like speed runs, people will like it more.
There is some region locking, and I believe it’s done the same way as the Xbox 360. If you don’t care about it, then it isn’t a problem for you. Some people do enjoy importing games that never come to their region, and letting people play them on any system is easier than buying a console from that region.
Not Problems and Upsides
More details will come for this feature. 10 people can access your game library with some restrictions. You may be able to do co-op with them on the same game, but online multiplayer on the same game will not work. If it uses different accounts for this, then every person would have their own save data. This could be a really good feature that Microsoft could be pushing people to think about, but they need to reassure us that the investment will last. This also brings questions on how it will truly work and how physical discs fit into it.
Maybe the future does force us to turn video games into a service, but I would rather fight against that for now. We still have physical CDs for music (they still make vinyls too) and movies, and we can still buy physical books instead of eBooks. Why can’t we have both physical and digital games? Nintendo and Sony are approaching it this way.
Improving Xbox Live
If you have a Live subscription, you’re going to start getting free games with it, starting with Assassin’s Creed 2 and Halo 3. They also claimed that you can have unlimited friends. There may be some sort of ceiling, as some celebrities give out their Gamertags and everybody tries to add them, but this is promising.
Since Kinect comes with every console, games can make use of its features more often and not worry about people not having it. Anyone can now buy Kinect-centric games. If you don’t want to use it, you can disable most/all of its features.
Personal: I love seeing technology similar to Kinect, but its applications to video games have been limited and depend on the size of the room. I cannot think of a set-up at home or at university where the original Kinect would work well. I’d rather see this more for PC use.
You can switch from television to movies to music to Skype to games very quickly, and smartphones add even more possibilities. You can also be playing one game while waiting for an online match in another game. For example, you can be waiting to play an online match in Killer Instinct while you start playing another video game. How extensive this will work is yet to be seen.
Personal: I know little about how useful playing two games at once can be. With the games I’ve played online, it doesn’t take long to get online matches, maybe a minute or two at most, so it would be more of a hassle to start another game while waiting.