Well, Microsoft has finally unveiled their next games console: the XBOX ONE (which has already earned various nicknames, perhaps the most flattering of which is the X-Bone). The pretentiously named console, which resembles the monolith from the movie 2001, was revealed at a Microsoft press conference yesterday. I thought I’d throw my opinions into the ring and comment on the general reaction of the internet so far.
The New Console
The new console features a shiny new controller (with what FINALLY looks like a decent d-pad), a more powerful processor, more RAM and all that other good stuff that will, at least in theory, make the games look awesome and shiny. It also features a new version of Kinect, various new XBOX Live features and things like TV, making it less a console and more of a ‘home entertainment system’.
It should be pointed out that most of the launch games probably won’t look that much better than their last-gen counterparts, partly because they will be released across both generations, but also because they will be rushed out for launch and we wont have worked out how to get the best from the hardware yet (just look back at some 360 launch titles compared to the latest games). That said, maybe some of the lessons we learned during the last generation will carry over. Anyway…
XBOX One comes with everyone’s favourite broken motion control gimmick (and butchering of the English Language) Kinect, now apparently improved so that it can do… well, all the stuff that they said the original Kinect was supposed to be able to do. Apparently the new console won’t work without it, implying that they have built it into the core experience… ’cause everyone loved the original Kinect and never got tired or frustrated with it at all! </sarcasm>
Still, there is the possibility that it will actually work better than the last one and wont spaz out if you aren’t standing in the right square-centimetre of floor at an impossible distance from the damned thing. But it will probably still be broken and I’m not really sure I want something that got on my nerves so much to be a core part of the experience…
And, of course, its not backwards compatible with earlier XBOX or XBOX 360 games. This seems ridiculous to me, as my first instinct with a new console has always been to trade in the old one and keep the games, but it seems they don’t want you to be able to do this any more… Plus it seems particularly odd, as people will presumably be transferring their XBOX Live account to the new console, but wont be able to play all the digital games that they have bought.
I know its a ‘different hardware architecture’ , but that’s why you write an emulator! My flatmate can build a basic emulator for an old games console on a modern PC in his spare time, but apparently a team of Microsoft’s software engineers can’t manage to emulate their own console! This is either just a blend of laziness/incompetence/greed on Microsoft’s part, or perhaps the new console isn’t powerful enough to run the emulator and previous-gen games? I’m guessing its the first thing…
This is still something of a grey area apparently. Before the launch, there were many rumours about the new XBOX requiring a constant internet connection, which would be just as frustrating and disruptive as it was in PC games like Assassin’s Creed 2 and Command & Conquer 4, particularly if you live in part of the world that doesn’t have high-speed, reliable internet yet.
According to the press conference, this is not the case, which I have to say is something of a relief. However, at time of writing, there are fresh rumours circulating that it has to connect at least once a day in order to function. Not as bad, perhaps, but if my provider cuts of my internet for a couple of days, does that mean I wont be able to play my games?
This is something that kind of worries me. Not only have EA recently announced that they are not doing online passes any more (which charged users of second-hand games a nominal amount to play them online), but Microsoft have announced that there will be a fee to play second hand games on the new console. There is even an announcement floating around from Microsoft at time of writing that this fee might be the full MSRP (Microsoft Recommended Retail Price), which could be up to $60!
This is obscene! I get that the developers/publishers want to be able to make some money from the lucrative used games market, but this is just greedy! Used games are very useful to the industry in some ways. If i hadn’t played the original Mass Effect second hand, I wouldn’t have gone on to buy the other games in the trilogy at full price on launch day. Plus, as I’ve mentioned before, if I play a crap game (as if often the case, particularly with big triple-A franchises), I get annoyed, but I think ‘at least I can trade it in and get SOME of the money back’. If customers are having to pay to buy the game, then pay the full retail price AGAIN just to be able to play it on their console, it will kill the market. And, what, if I buy a terrible game and I can’t trade it in, will companies like EA and Activision give me a refund? Of course not.
Loss of Focus?
However, it does seem to have lost its focus somewhat. It seems to be following the Sony pattern of not just being a games console, but being a ‘home entertainment system’. You can watch TV on it. It can multi-task too, so now you can pretend to be listening your girlfriend (assuming you have one…) on Skype while watching a movie and keep up with fantasy sports teams during games (… ah, so you don’t have one then!). This seems rather pointless to me, as I can already watch TV on my TV. And my TiVO box does TV better, because that’s what it was built for. I want to play games, that’s why I bought a games console! Or not…
Not much to say here, most of the releases are simply the next instalments of the big franchises: Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty… the usual suspects. There are a few exclusives, Watch Dogs (which turns out not to be a PS4 exclusive after all), Destiny (which, being the new game from the makers of Halo, I care little about) and a new game from the makers of the mediocre Alan Wake. A. there is nothing there that gets me really excited and B. we haven’t really had a decent look at what most of these games actually look like. The tiny clips that I have seen don’t really look all that much better than games on the current-gen consoles and I don’t trust that the screenshots are all unedited, in-game graphics.
There is usually a lot of hype surrounding these sort of launches, but it seems to have been a fairly quiet affair. Most people seem to be rather non-plussed by the whole thing. There doesn’t seem to be as much outrage at the second-hand games thing as they should be, but maybe not everyone knows the details yet…
People seem to be adopting a wait-and-see attitude and perhaps we will get a better idea of things as E3 comes around and we get closer to the launch.
I think my original tweet on the subject pretty much sums it all up: ‘Meh!’.
As I have said before, I really don’t think that this is the right financial climate to be bringing out a new generation of games consoles. Consumers can’t/wont afford to shell out potentially up to £500 for a new games console (and, potentially, £60 each for the games) in the middle of a recession and with the industry already struggling, developers and publishers won’t be happy about the increased time and costs it takes to develop the new games. I’m glad some of the horrible rumours were debunked, but am concerned by the mandatory inclusion of Kinect and outraged by the plans for handling trade-in games.
I kind of hope that people boycott the next generation to show the publishers that we wont take this crap and that we want them to actually listen to their customers for once. However, I suspect all this idiot console fan-boys and compulsive, brain-dead fans of the likes of Call of Duty and Halo will buy the damned things anyway and give them enough sales that such a protest wouldn’t matter.
That said, it looks like there might be a decent games console somewhere it that angular black mass somewhere, we will just have to wait and see what it is capable of. Plus, Microsoft have already outdone Sony and pretty much won the console war just by ACTUALLY SHOWING US THE DAMNED CONSOLE AT THE LAUNCH EVENT!