Editorials

Xbox One: The Saga Continues

August 23, 2013, Author: Andy Buick

Well here we are: another week, another story pertaining to Microsoft reversing one of its Xbox One policies. Now on top of reversing the requirement to go online once every 24 hours, and the blocking of used games, the Kinect camera no longer has to be connected to the Xbox One for it to function.

Is this good news for gamers? Is the Xbox One now a more viable product? Or has Microsoft just made a total mess of their latest console launch?

There can be little doubt that the last couple of months must have been an extremely embarrassing, not to mention humbling, time for the powers-that-be at MS. They put their vision to the world, and a fairly substantial and extremely vocal portion of that world responded with anger, negativity and a healthy dose of cynicism that MS was doing all of this just to get as much money as possible, if not also to spy on you in your own home. Okay let’s be honest; that last one is really pretty unlikely, but you never know!

Moving on from Big Brother paranoia though, are these changes really good news? Well, from my perspective they certainly are. Here you had three requirements that absolutely put me off buying an Xbox One. I don’t want a camera forced on me; I want to be able to sell games that I’ve finished playing to fund the buying of new ones; and while the online requirement bothered me less, I don’t want it dictated to me that I have to do something as arbitrary as that. I certainly don’t like the idea of going without my gaming fix should I lose my internet connection for some reason.

One thing that has surprised me somewhat having spoken to a number of people about this, is that those who were favourable towards the Xbox One are now largely less sure of getting one. Effectively now it doesn’t differentiate itself particularly at all and is probably going to end up being less powerful than the PS4. These people wanted the sharing features and so on that were going to be possible with the original requirements, but with the DRM, the sharing features went too.

Now personally, I was absolutely okay with this. Perhaps I’m a little stuck in the mud but I’m pretty happy just to have something that allows me to play games that are shinier, more immersive and so on. Sure, I want new experiences, but having the extra grunt that comes with a new console should allow a natural evolution anyway. The way in which the indie scene is developing at the moment means there’s enough exciting innovation to keep me happy for a good while yet. That said though, I can also see the point that these people were trying to make, even more so now that Kinect isn’t mandatory any more.

Game sharing, PS4 style. And now also Xbox One style...

Game sharing, PS4-style. Now also Xbox One-style…

If you think about this change for a moment, while Kinect will still ship with every Xbox One meaning that everyone will still have one, since it’s not needed any more this means not everyone will use it. We therefore run the risk of a repeat of Kinect on the Xbox 360 where it sold by the bucketload, but ultimately most games were gimmicky, and frankly complete pap.

It’s also worth remembering that the inclusion of Kinect in the box is largely why Xbox One will retail at £429 or $599. Take Kinect out, and you’d probably be looking at paying much the same as the PS4 price. Microsoft has stated it have no plans to ship a non-Kinect version at the moment which should give developers some confidence in making the most of it still. Though since MS has already shown it’s only too quick to reverse a policy if it dents sales, it would be no great surprise if this is another decision that gets reversed at some point if the Xbox One doesn’t shift the number of units expected. I wouldn’t expect to see this happen until we’re at least a year into the next gen life-cycle, though.

Looking back at the sharing options that were removed, I suspect that Microsoft will find a way of bringing this back in again as there was a decent amount of support for it. I think if they manage this, combined with the fact MS has also made a number of changes to its indie games policies meaning that they are now belatedly more in line with Sony’s, then we’re probably looking at a console well worth owning after all is said and done.

So will I be jumping online to pre-order one now? Well no, I’m afraid I won’t. Primarily this is because I have never spent, and will never spend, £429 on a console irrespective of what’s in the box, but also because I still believe there’s a lesson to be learned here, and all isn’t forgiven just like that.

I also have a genuine and serious concern about the whole manner in which the Xbox One has been announced. Everything about the announcement and news that has come out so far has suggested to me that Sony’s PS4 announcement back in February caught Microsoft completely off-guard, and everything we’ve seen since has just been rushed. I don’t believe it was ready, and the mixed messaging, policy u-turns, and policies that hadn’t even been decided on (such as the aforementioned changes to indie games development) only serve to back up that belief.

We’ve also had it announced this week that some countries in Europe will have to wait until 2014, which adds further fuel to the fire. The biggest concern for me here is that we’ve seen Microsoft rush out a console before, and the result was the red ring of death. Of course I’m not saying there’ll be anything wrong with Xbox One at all, but this is enough of a concern to make me want to wait a good while before taking the plunge.

Microsoft's fascination with all things TV is still a concern, especially as it seems you'd still need a sky box in the UK, which kind of defeats the point of it being "all-in-one"...

Microsoft’s fascination with all things TV continues to be a concern, especially as it seems you’d still need a set-top box in the UK, which kind of defeats the point of it being “all-in-one”…

Beyond that, Microsoft also needs to show a greater commitment to innovative exclusive titles. In fairness there is good reason to feel positive on this front from what they’ve announced already, but I do worry about Microsoft’s continuing policy of relying on paying out presumably large amounts of money for timed exclusive games and DLC. I just don’t see how this can make a big enough difference in their favour to warrant the outlay unless there are people out there who really are that desperate to get content first. For me, there are more than enough games to be getting on with, and I really have no issue with waiting at all.

Of course that is just my opinion, and I’m sure there are plenty out there who would disagree. One thing is for sure though; Microsoft needs to take a good long look at its PR and marketing departments. If the Xbox One does bomb, and blame is needed after the dust settles, then those two areas are where most of it should be directed. While I think the used game policy in particular would always have been a hard sell, the way they announced the console and its unpopular policies was handled unbelievably badly.

They seem to have alienated a frightening number of loyal Xbox fans almost overnight through coming across as supremely arrogant, and then followed that up by just seeming to be extremely confused and not knowing exactly what their policies were, resulting in mixed messages. The incredible thing is that we’ve been here before, and recently. There are many parallels with Sony’s PS3 launch here, which just makes it all the more astonishing really that Microsoft has let it happen.

When all is said and done though, perhaps we should also give Microsoft some credit for listening to the public and acting on changes that were widely demanded. Yes it’s embarrassing for them, but they have done the right thing (+1 for consumer power!); although the cynic in me, who I’m fairly certain is spot on, suspects these changes only came about due to a lack of pre-orders. Only time will tell whether they have rescued the situation, but what do you think now? Has Microsoft done enough to make you want an Xbox One? Or have these policy reversals actually put you off?

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