A lot has happened in the world of video games this year. The tenth Call of Duty game was released, Grand Theft Auto V became the fastest entertainment product to make $1 Billion, Nintendo gave its fans more Mario and Zelda, and a new generation of consoles were announced. So, with 2013 coming to a close, Xbox editors Eric Pepper and Nathan Manning decided to look back at the key Xbox moments 2013 gave us.
2013 turned out to be the year of console announcements. Even before the official announcement of the console, rumours surfaced that the next Xbox would be required to always be connected to the Internet. When May came around, Microsoft officially announced the next-generation Xbox, the Xbox One. Yet, even though we knew a new console was coming, Microsoft could not clarify whether their console was going to require a constant Internet connection. Here’s what AA’s Xbox team thought about the reveal.
Eric: Given how eager gamers around the world are when it comes to new consoles, Microsoft made a smart move in unveiling the console within the first ten minutes of their press conference. What followed was a brief glimpse at some of the various features found on the Xbox One, some of the games, and the announcement of a Halo television series headed by Steven Spielberg. It was a healthy combination of games and general entertainment, clearly trying to capture the attention of a much broader audience than strictly gamers. Some people complained that there were not enough games shown at the reveal, but E3 was coming up and Microsoft was trying to give everyone something to get excited about.
Nathan: Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal was risky, but definitely necessary considering the direction Microsoft originally wanted to take the Xbox One. The lack of games was disappointing, but the new technology in the Xbox One was intriguing enough for me as a consumer to stick around for the whole event. Personally, I was excited for the new direction Microsoft was planning on taking the Xbox brand. It would, hopefully, bring video games further into view of the average consumer. Unfortunately, the always-online rumours that could not be clarified and the backlash reported on by the media hurt the Xbox One because it would seem most fence sitters (the vocal portion at least) were not in favour of an always-online connection. Xbox One, the one box you’ll need in your living room – a good slogan, but not necessarily true.
The next big event featuring Microsoft was the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly referred to as E3. Microsoft’s E3 presentation was completely game focused. We saw a next-gen Halo announced, the reveal of Insomniac’s first Xbox exclusive title, Sunset Overdrive, and many other games coming to either Xbox One or Xbox 360. Furthermore, the world was stunned after ex-Call of Duty developer Vince Zampella and his new studio Respawn Entertainment revealed their first game, Titanfall. Titanfall has blown away everyone who has played it, including AA editor Nathan.
However, the biggest news coming out of E3 on Microsoft’s front was the Games for Gold program. This program features two free games a month for Xbox Live Gold subscribers. It’s worth analysing Microsoft’s abnormal E3 campaign.
Eric: Microsoft clearly wanted to demonstrate that they had learned from previous years and were looking to show off as many exclusives as possible at this year’s E3. There was the necessary discussion about features coming to the Xbox One, and unfortunately it seemed to take over the conference after a while. This was a low point in the conference, however when looking back at the variety of games they showcased, it was overall a fairly solid showing. Personally, I felt the highlight of the entire conference was demonstrating how seamlessly the Xbox One would be able to record game footage as well as stream through Twitch.
This success happened to be short lived though, as the Sony conference which followed began an all-out attack against Microsoft. By the time E3 had wrapped up, regardless of however Microsoft wanted their next generation console to be portrayed, it seemed to have a bleak future; one only worsened by the simple fact that the always-on rumours had not been disproved.
Nathan: This E3 was the first time in a while that Microsoft’s primary focus was games. It was refreshing, yet also proof that Microsoft cares about its image. The plethora of exclusive titles, concluding with the announcement of Titanfall being exclusive to Microsoft products put the company back in the limelight with Sony.
When the Games with Gold program was announced, it sounded promising – Assassin’s Creed 2 and Halo 3 within the first few months had many excited. Unfortunately, the program, which ultimately only exists because of PlayStation Plus, has been disappointing. Most of the games, while enjoyable, have been out at retail or online for quite a few years, and hardly any of the titles have been must play titles either. The two games available for December are Gears of War, a seven year old game, and Shoot Many Robots, which has a 6.7 Metacritic score. Additionally, why has Microsoft not started Games with Gold on Xbox One? Including a couple of games for free with an Xbox Live Gold subscription surely would have persuaded some people to buy an Xbox One at launch. Microsoft will have to put in a better effort with Games with Gold next year, or there is really no point in having the service.
After coping a beating from Sony at E3, as Eric pointed out, there was a sudden shift in the always-online requirement of the Xbox One. Rather than requiring to be connected to the Internet at least once every 24 hours, the only time the Xbox One had to be connected was when the console was first turned on to download a day one patch. Was this a good decision or poor decision on Microsoft’s behalf?
Eric: Based on the reaction from the vocal group of gamers around the world, the obvious answer is that Microsoft made a good move by reversing their always-on policy for the Xbox One, but with it we also saw a few other features disappear, such as family sharing. It was not until after E3 that everyone was given a glimpse of what Microsoft truly had in mind for the Xbox One. Some aspects like the aforementioned ability to share your library of games with up to 10 people on your friends list or the kinds of things developers could do with games knowing that everyone with the system also had a functional and necessary Kinect were largely ignored in favour of the issue of the internet connection. The blame for this falls largely on the shoulders of Microsoft as it was the one responsible for pitching its new system to audiences, while failing to deal with the elephant in the room until all the damage had been done.
It is hard to suggest what this new generation of consoles could look like if Microsoft had stuck to its stance and not reversed the policy of having gamers connect their Xbox Ones to the Internet on a regular basis. One thing is clear though, which is the fact that people are not ready for a constantly connected console.
Nathan: You’re right Eric, we may never know what Microsoft’s real vision for the Xbox One would have looked like. While I was not in favour of an always-online connection at first, I was slowly beginning to like the idea and all of the revolutionary features that would accompany it. Then Microsoft changed its mind.
I do honestly believe that Microsoft’s original vision for the Xbox One could have revolutionised the way we play video games on consoles. The benefits of always requiring an Internet connection looked to far outweigh the hindrances. Let’s be honest, a large majority of the people who own a home console now have it connected to the Internet. Yes, there are some who are unable to have access to the Internet, but, in the words of Don Mattrick, ex-president of Interactive Entertainment at Microsoft, “we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity. It’s called Xbox 360.”
Nevertheless, it would seem a fear of change from vocal consumers won Microsoft over in the end. I am still not convinced that a consoles ability to be played offline was a major factor in the decision of a large number of consumers – if you were going to buy an Xbox, I think the always online was not an aggravating factor.
One of the biggest changes to the Xbox infrastructure this year was a change in the currency used to purchase digital goods on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Finally, consumers were able to use real money for purchases rather than Microsoft Points. No doubt this was a good change right?
Eric: The change from MS Points to a dollar value system is a very welcome change to Xbox Live. Sadly, the alteration of currency did lead to a span of several weeks where it was impossible to find a gift card for Xbox Live as retailers had already removed the Points cards and did not yet have the gift cards. Fortunately, that drought has been remedied and now consumers are able to purchase games, add-ons, and various other items while understanding the exact value of said items.
While everything in the Xbox Live Marketplace is priced with local currency, some games which contain internal transactions may not have made the switch. A prime example of this is NHL 14 and purchasing cards for your Hockey Ultimate Team. You have the option of purchasing them with the points you’ve accumulated through your playing, but you can also purchase them with actual money, but the cost of the packs is still displayed in Microsoft Points. This is obviously a developer-based issue and it presents no problems for gamers who wish to make purchases in the game, but it does work against the switch from Microsoft Points to local currency.
Nathan: At long last, with the change from Microsoft Points to local currency, consumers in certain countries are able to see how much more they have to pay for their digital content. While it’s a cynical view, it is one of the benefits of changing from fake currency to real currency.
Negative views aside, the change from Microsoft Points to local currency was an extremely smart idea for Microsoft. If you decide to purchase a product without using a gift card, no longer do you have to buy Microsoft Points with real money and then purchase the good with the Microsoft Points. Instead, you cut out the middle step and just purchase the game with real money. It allows consumers to save time, while also being extremely clear as to how much money they are actually spending on content. Microsoft has made steps towards a digital future, one which I think it wants sooner rather than later.
The final, and the biggest, event involving Xbox this year was the launch of Microsoft’s new console – the Xbox One. While the launch was smooth for most consumers, as with every launch, there were some problems. Some consumers reported faulty disc-trays which Microsoft responded to quickly by offering a free game to those affected (and fixing their console of course). Furthermore, free copies of Killer Instinct and other Xbox goods for long-standing Xbox Live Gold members were handed out. Let’s see how our Xbox editors thought Microsoft’s third console launch went.
Eric: The event which took place at the launch was a bit of a mess. It was clear that the Xbox team wanted to draw a significant amount of attention to their new console and they certainly achieved this goal, but not necessarily in the manner they were hoping. While it must have seemed like an obvious choice to interview a celebrity who admits to being a gamer, Deadmau5 in this particular instance, having an interviewer who is unable to modify the interview questions based on previous responses is a poor choice. For those of you unaware, Deadmau5 had stated during one of the first questions that he had been so busy that he had not taken the time to “geek out” and check out all of the upcoming games for the Xbox One, but said the two he had seen excited him. Neither of these titles happened to be Titanfall, but less than 5 minutes later, he was being asked if he was excited for Titanfall. While this particular instance does not directly pertain to Microsoft, they chose to have iJustine perform the interview.
Deadmau5 performed in Los Angeles, but the audience at the event was comprised primarily of middle aged men and women who did not seem to be big fans of his music. This appears to be a fairly significant oversight, but fortunately there was also a Macklemore concert with a far more enthusiastic audience taking place in New York.
In regards to addressing console issues and providing customer support, I feel Microsoft has done a fantastic job addressing issues people are experiencing. Not only are they shipping out consoles to those with broken systems before even receiving the broken Xbox Ones, but the Twitter support has been unparalleled. Giving away free download codes for full versions of Killer Instinct, or even Xbox Ones to various Xbox Live users is one of the best decisions this year as it not only promotes the new product but also rewards current users and shows appreciation.
Nathan: The Xbox One launch went as well as Microsoft could have hoped. While there were some faulty units, the speed at which Microsoft addressed the issue was amazing. Broken disc-drive? No worries, help yourself to one of our first-party, full retail price games for free. The unexpected customer service shows that Microsoft cares about its public image and is willing to provide for consumers of its product. Hopefully this level of customer service from Microsoft continues in the future.
Regarding the official launch events, they were definitely quite underwhelming. From recollection, no new games were announced, just a few trailers and some hype for the new console. Nevertheless, there are enough trade shows throughout the year that Microsoft should be saving announcements for.
With the launch of the Xbox one, Microsoft has turned over a new leaf. From the get-go we have seen a new Microsoft; a Microsoft which cares for consumers and wants to be in the conversation again. With over two million Xbox One’s sold world wide in the first 18 days, Microsoft’s new console has large demand globally, and it is matching its competitors.
Nathan Manning and Eric Pepper are Xbox Editors for AnalogAddiction. They are only critical of the Xbox brand because they have a loyalty to it. You can find Nathan on Twitter, and AnalogAddiction there as well. Eric is yet to jump on the Twitter bandwagon.