Microsoft’s Xbox One: The Future of Gaming or Tone Deaf to Consumers?

By: Kellam Templeton-Smith

After their post-E3 about face, charmingly dubbed the Xbox 180 by some, I decided to scrap my original draft and reassess what Microsoft brought to the table for E3; we’re still mired in a firestorm of talk about what did and didn’t work with the original, DRM-heavy approach. I think that’s a healthy discussion that needs to happen (and with some reference to Steam rumours, as they’re currently the industry leader of digital content delivery) but suffice to say that requires its own quantity of digital ink to be spilled, and a lot to be mulled on.

Microsoft's marketing department: We're Number One! We're Number One!

Microsoft’s marketing department: We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

First off, let’s get the Xbox One reveal out of the way. After the excitement of the PS4 reveal, the Xbox One presser was pretty dreary and dull. It plays Netflix! It Skypes! There’s a much better version of that camera peripheral that Kellam can’t even get to operate basic voice commands! It may also be a videogame console!

It wasn’t a great start, and feels more like what Sony had wanted for the PS3 as a media hub, rather than a game system. The name Xbox One still rings a bit hollow – it seems more like someone at a boardroom meeting pointed out the Playstation 3 was giving way to the 4, so they couldn’t release the Xbox 3. (No one there pointed out that Xbox Infinite or Xbox Infinity was available. Damn shame.) It seems like they were going for the inclusiveness of the Wii and wound up with something a lot more smug. Check out any of Don Mattrick’s recent public comments on the various Xbox One issues and you’ll see why it’s hard not to ascribe that tone to the company.

There were some teasers of new games, and mention of a string of new IPs for the Xbox One, to be shown at E3 (as exclusives were the 360s bane, unless you really, really love Master Chief and Marcus Fenix), but nothing terribly concrete.

There was the dreaded DRM debacle.

The Hal9000esque Kinect2 that has to be plugged in and turned on for the system to function.

The sequel to my favourite gaming controller of all time.

The return of all black everything.

The return of all black everything.

With all that in mind, E3 looked like it was make or break time for Microsoft’s console division.

Now, let’s talk exclusives. It’s a word a lot of Sony fans are used to. For The Xbox One, there’s a smattering of exclusive titles, but the most notable for me are Below, Quantum Break, and Project Spark.

Below is by Capybara games, the Toronto studio that birthed Superbros: Sword & Sworcery EP, and looks to have gameplay as compelling as the atmosphere.

Quantum Break is by Remedy, the fine gents who brought us the first two Max Payne games, and Alan Wake. It’s a strange blend of video game and TV show with player choice influencing what “episodes” you see. Gimmicky, but I admire the gusto they’re approaching this with. Sam Lake is also highly aware when to plant tongue firmly in cheek.

Project Spark is a quirky god game somewhat in the vein of Minecraft. Could wind up being a glorified physics tech demo, but the enthusiasm seems genuine.

There are a bunch of other expected titles like Forza Motorsport and Dead Rising, but nothing that would cause me to pre-order a console, let alone purchase. Titanfall is being touted as a console exclusive, but it’ll be on PC as well. Basically, do you like racing titles that aren’t Gran Turismo, and like shooting things with a controller where the left thumbstick is better positioned than the PS controller?

The most controversial title they showed off was Killer Instinct, a “free to play” reboot of Rare’s beloved fighter. The caveat with this is the game is that “free” comes with a single fighter – additional fighters are sold for a fee (undisclosed if separate or in packs, and what kind of price point). The other caveat is that it’s by Double Helix Games, a company previously notable for the worst Silent Hill game and a bunch of bullshit shovelware. They apparently needed their big break to prove themselves, and MS is willing to take a huge risk on them.

The rest of their presentation was of all the multiplatform stuff. Things like Metal Gear Solid V and The Witcher 3 look absolutely incredible, but we’re dealing with the usual E3 shenanigans of running everything on PC hardware. Sony is most likely guilty of this again as well, so it’s still more a case of “what will actual launch titles look like?”

Do these words get you excited?

Do these words get you excited?

There was a strong focus on Kinect integration, something I personally hate. I’m all for making an ass of myself playing Dance Central and the like, but I’ve had my fair share of unheard voice commands and desperate air-pawing, hoping to prompt an onscreen option that a controller could do in 1/10th the time.

The Kinect’s vital role in the system shows resolve on MS’s part to actually build on a previous concept (unlike the Wii U. Also, not sure Sony even remembers the Move exists. Or 3D TV), but it’s a concept I can’t stand. Not even getting into the privacy concerns of something where a mic (and possibly camera) is on even when the system is powered down.

Besides Capybara and a couple others, indie support is non-existent on the system. There’s no self-publishing route anymore, and several major players in the indie scene (the creators of Braid, Super Meat Boy and Fez, all timed 360 exclusives, the former of which pretty much helped cement the 360 as an indie gaming platform) have said they’ll have nothing to do with Microsoft. Many others have pledged their support to Sony outright. PC will still dominate in this category.

All in all, somewhat lackluster.

Even with their about-face on their DRM policies, it’s still a pretty hard sell for a gamer like myself. I like the Gears of War and Halo games, some of the new exclusives look great, but it still feels like there’s a lot of inherent uncertainty to this console. It’s still a hundred dollars more than the PS4 (for a camera peripheral I do not want, let alone have to be forced to use), Xbox Live Gold still needs to be maintained for near-basic functionality of anything beyond playing single player titles, and there’s not a lot of support for it with the burgeoning indie community.

Couple that with one of the biggest PR disasters in gaming history and it’s hard to understand Microsoft’s grand strategy to sell this for the next decade, and to who.

I own all the current consoles and a gaming PC, but the Xbox 360 has been my poison of choice for many years. I don’t think I’ll be saying the same about the Xbox One at the onset of the next console generation. 

One response to “Microsoft’s Xbox One: The Future of Gaming or Tone Deaf to Consumers?

  1. I have to admit, seeing the Killer Instinct logo made me mark out – I was thinking about the game only a few days before, wondering when someone was going to bring it back. But there’s so many negatives in the system, and the foul taste in my mouth from what they tried to do, that an Xbox One is not in my future.

    As for the All-Seeing Eye of the Kinect, I suspect someone will come up with an off-switch for it. Rather than unplugging the whole system, or reaching around back to unplug the Kinect, someone will release a dongle-like attachment that goes between the device and the console, and allow you to break the signal via a switch in the front.

    Why am I saying this out loud, and not trying to design one?

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