As a vivid Xbox fan, I believe I have often been too critical of Microsoft and some of their ideas (like in this article). In saying that, I believe that as a fan of the Xbox brand and Microsoft, I am in a great position to analyse the Xbox One reveal in an objective manor.
When I woke up on Wednesday morning (Australian time), and had a quick look at the new name of the Xbox, and what it looked like, I definitely had mixed feelings. I like the simplistic design of the console and Kinect, and the slick new redesign the controller has been given, but when I saw the name of the console my blood started to boil. For the whole day I stewed on the idea of the ‘Xbox One’. “The One box you need in your living room,” I thought to myself, sarcastically. To be honest, I was annoyed that I knew it was coming. I didn’t want the focus of my video game console to be movies and music and other forms of media, I wanted it to play games and games and games. However, I waited until I watched the conference to properly judge the Xbox One.
When I watched the conference and heard Don Mattrick, President of Interactive Entertainment Businesses at Microsoft, announced the name of the new Xbox, ‘Xbox One’, I felt a sense of relief; a completely different feeling to the one I had been containing all day. It is hard to describe, but I had a kind of satisfied feeling inside me. No longer will the Xbox be called a video game console. Instead, it will be called an “All-In-One Home Entertainment System,” able to play movies, and music, and video games, surf the web, etc. It will be the ONE box you need in your living room (sort of). The sense of relief was not because I finally knew what the next Xbox would be called, but because I knew it was no longer fair to criticise the Xbox for not focusing on games first. After all, the Xbox One is no longer a video game console, it is a ‘home entertainment system’ that will play video games.
The first speaker for the conference was Yusuf Mehdi. Before showing off the new Kinect and television features he talked about gaming. He said “we [Microsoft] love gaming,” and he also said there would be “a lot more (games) at E3.” Although it annoys most gamers, this was a smart idea by Microsoft. It is already a guarantee that the Xbox One will be able to play video games, and E3 is the perfect stage for a focus on games. Instead, Microsoft decided to focus on some things that they hope will make the Xbox One stand out as an entertainment system.
We saw some amazing improvements to the Kinect and its features, and how the Kinect can be used to control your TV shows, movies, and the way you navigate menus and find content. I feel the demo could have been cut down just a little (we understood how expanding and shrinking the screen worked after the fifth time), but the features shown off, that are unique to the Xbox One, look very promising. Furthermore, Snapmode, a feature where you can have multiple apps (e.g. a movie and Skype, or a sports program and fantasy results) running side by side, was one feature that has the potential to open up plenty of possibilities for the way movies and television shows are viewed in the future (Microsoft never showed it working with a game, but I assume it is possible). Also mentioned was the idea that you can be playing a game, pause it and start watching a movie, then go back into the game from where you left off when you are done with your movie. This will be great for games that feature few save points, or if you have to give your attention to someone else while a cutscene is running. It sounds a bit like what the PS4 and Vita will be and are able to do now, respectively.
Once the television features were concluded, Marc Whitten, General Manage of Xbox Live at Microsoft, came out to talk about the console itself. He talked about the system information of the Xbox One, but did not go into any detail. He mentioned that it has 8GB of RAM, 8 Cores, USB 3.0, a Blu-Ray Drive, 500GB of storage, and some other things, but he never really expanded on any of those features. In my eyes, this was a poor choice. Why just tip your foot in the water? I understand not revealing some of the CPU and GPU specs could be a marketing choice, but it left consumers wanting more.
I found it strange that two particular features were skimmed over quite quickly. The first was the three operating systems in the Xbox One: Xbox architecture, Windows, and the Xbox One architecture that connects them both; the second was the built in, “native,” dedicated DVR and editing software so gamers can record their gameplay and upload it. The ‘three operating systems’ in one box intrigued me, but it was passed over with a tiny explanation. The DVR was just mentioned and then nothing else was said about it. Sony has yet to provide any detailed information about how their share button will work, so this would have been a perfect opportunity for Microsoft to get one up on them. It puzzles me why Microsoft did not go into more detail with some of their more unique features, it could have made a lot of people more interested in hardware- something it seemed the reveal was focused on.
Whitten also talked about the Xbox Live service. He mentioned that 300 000 servers would be ready for Xbox One, as opposed to the 15 000 for Xbox 360 at the moment. He mentioned how content could and would be stored in the cloud so you can access it anywhere, and that developers can use it to create bigger matches with more players and “living, persistent worlds.” A “living, persistent world” sounds like something Destiny, Bungie‘s next game, is trying to do. Let’s just hope they don’t pull a Sim City.
While Whittens’s presentation was more about the tech side of the Xbox One, it was poorly done. Lots of things were mentioned, but no details were provided for any of the new features. Microsoft explained so much about how the Kinect will work with movies and television, yet they didn’t do the same for the gaming features or some of their unique hardware features. I know E3 is coming up, but gamers and tech fans, myself included, were hoping for more.
Finally, the part most of us had been waiting for, the games. Without going into too much detail, Microsoft had EA Sports‘ Andrew Wilson talking about their new Ignite Engine and showing a joint trailer for FIFA, Madden, NBA Live and UFC next-gen games; Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios, talking about how the new features “make our platform the best place to create,” and showing a trailer for Forza 5 and a live action trailer for Remedy’s (Alan Wake) new game, Quantum Break; and Eric Hirshberg of Infinity Ward talking about Call of Duty: Ghosts and showing a trailer for the game.
The trailers were all great, and all the games looked spectacular, but I was left wanting more. Where was Halo? Where was Gears? Where was a new IP? Microsoft is probably saving them all for E3, but they could have at least tried to get a couple more third party developers to debut next gen games at the event. Even though I started by saying the Xbox One is no longer a ‘video game console’, when you advertise that your entertainment system can play games, people want to see them. Complaints aside, how good did Forza 5 and the EA Sports games look! As for Call of Duty: Ghosts, something about the establishing shots in the trailer did not look that ‘next-gen’ to me.
While there was a lot of information supplied to consumers during the reveal, plenty of things were left out; It was not until I read an article on IGN today, that I realised this. Microsoft tried to excite gamers with new technology and features and hoped we would forget about the looming questions many of us had before the reveal. We did haven’t, though. Is the console going to be always online? We still don’t have a clear answer. Can it play used games? Microsoft have said yes, but many have a feeling there is a fine print associated with the answer. Hopefully we will get the answers to those questions soon, but maybe there was a reason why Microsoft chose not to address them in their reveal? Maybe they don’t want to lie, but don’t want to tell us what we don’t want to hear?
Overall, I think the Xbox One reveal was entertaining. There were some low points and some things dragged on for a bit too long, but we now have an idea of what the Xbox One will be like. Some people are going to like it, and some are going to hate it, but we can’t change what Microsoft is trying to do. In the end, the Xbox One is going to play games, no one can deny that. Microsoft have definitely taken a bold move by turning their video game console into an “All-In-One Home Entertainment System,” but it will be nothing new to current Xbox 360 owners. Love it or hate it, the Xbox One is coming and I am interested to see what happens at E3 and over the next few years.