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Hullabaloo Over Xbox One
It’s no surprise to some (including myself) about the announcement from the Redmond folks over at Microsoft HQ last Tuesday about the next generation Xbox, the Xbox One, was nothing more then a performance done for a TV audience. Speculation about the device have come and gone and now we await the next announcement at this year’s E3 event in June. And while I would like to spend my time thinking about all the Kinect accessories yet to come, I would like to bring your attention to the simple puzzle or question rather, what is Microsoft thinking?
And yet I sit here pondering over and over again to myself exactly what business strategy they are cooking up, what war tactics are they throwing out into the ring and onto the battlefield against Sony and Nintendo, and coming up with a win. Perhaps the statistics are in their favor, but i’d like to go over the details we do know and help us (mostly me) come to a conclusion of the Xbox One.
TV All the Way
It wasn’t hard, even if you were dosing in and out during the event, to over hear the word “TV”. Ah yes, TV is all the rage with the next Xbox, I think I heard the word about thirty times during the event. But why TV for that matter, what is the reasoning behind pivoting the device to TV. Well, for that answer, it’s a long story. See, many moons ago there was a more famous CEO in charge of Microsoft and he was what we would call obsessed with the idea of bridging the computer and television together. The man of course is Bill Gates and the idea stemmed as far back as Windows XP, especially Windows XP Media Edition. I can’t really fault Gates there for the idea, I mean in reality, yes, bridging the computer and television is a together would be an enormous feat and what we call disrupting the media industry.
The problem, which many of us are well familiar with is our providers. Why on earth would they unlock their platform, one of the very last to be open if you will, to let new comers in and disrupt their business. Windows XP Media Edition never really took off, I clearly remember walking into the local Microcenter here in St. Davids and seeing some type of HP unit with the media edition running. The only problem of course was you needed a cable ready device to be able to decrypt the cable provider’s signal to watch live television on it.
Let’s jump ahead now a few years after that debacle and into where we stand today… you see, it isn’t that much different now then it was back then. We still have devices that are required to bring us that New Jersey Housewives into our lives, the DVR or Digital Video Recorder. Providers came up with a brilliant idea shortly after there was a feud with the FCC and the cable providers. The argument was over that you needed a device, sold by the providers, to watch and/or record your favorite programs. The conclusion by the FCC was that the providers needed to “provide” a way for consumers to be able to purchase a device in order to receive the encrypted signal instead of rent. The answer of course is the cable card, or cable ready card.
“Keep it simple stupid”
Without a cable card from your selected provider, the Tivo/DVR device you just bought was completely pointless, not the mention that these media devices are extremely expensive. So the answer from the providers of course is to issue cable cards for rent at the same price as the rental DVR box. The answer became simple, why would you not only dish out 500 or more for a DVR box from Panasonic if in order for the device to work, a rental cable card was needed, which cost the same amount as the Motorola box your provider provided. And so the free enterprise of the DVR to own market has pretty much vanished. Now jump back to the Xbox One. The Xbox One does not have a slot for a cable card, it is not cable card ready. So why would I connect the Xbox one to my FiOS Motorola DVR box and the TV? I mean, what exactly (besides saving a HDMI port) would I benefit from the Xbox One that I wouldn’t from my DVR box?
Probably nothing is the straight answer, all that extra cabling, I rather not talk to my TV either, and I’m not even 100% sure my DVR box will allow the signal to pass through the Xbox One. And Microsoft is not the only contender in the ring who has tried to accomplish this, the Google TV is another. You may not even remember the Google TV, it’s ok, neither does Google. And the TV experience is changing. The industry itself, the folks who provide you with that mindless, numbness goodness, is morphing into another beast all together.
I think we can say the time has passed for attempting to place an IR receiver on top of your digital box for a pass-through experience. But the goal was targeted mind you, and it was for the TV audience. Like it or not, Microsoft’s announcement last Tuesday was not targeted towards the gaming audience, they’re trying to encompass the media audience, the young ones who may be on their way of cutting the cord, but maybe still living at home with the folks. Teenagers, who are subscribed to Netflix but still watch live TV. To see my conclusion if they reached that audience, I believe the paragraph above really explains it. TV is a dying breed if you will, almost extinct amongst the next generation. And if you think people 55+ and older will be looking into the Xbox One, they already yell at their TV (score 1 for Kinect).
The Core Audience has Questions
With our media friends more puzzled than interested in the Xbox One, what about the core audience, the very being that has made its predecessor (360) and its ancestor before it (xbox), the token and heart of gamers around the world. For that answer, we wait mostly for the answers yet to come in this E3’s convention, but for now, let’s go through what we do know about the console and its competitors. The Xbox One will be a close match to Sony’s next console, the PlayStation 4. The PS4 will have a few specs a tad bit higher in the chain of memory and GPU rendering. But if we take the highest quality settings out of the ring, they both will most definitely match each other. The PS4 has swapped out IBM’s cell processor to an AMD 86x chip base, which will make games easier to develop. The Xbox One will be moving from HD DVD to Blu-ray. So for these reasons, both consoles will not have backwards compatibility. Which in many cases won’t be an issue, the Xbox One will have older titles on Xbox Live and the Ps4 will have theirs in the PlayStation Network. I’m not entirely sure how the Xbox One will work the 360 version but we do know the PS4 will use its newly acquired cloud provider, GaiKai to power the backwards compatibility. So far, we seem to be about even. Diving into exclusives it shouldn’t be anyone’s guess that the PS4 will have more titles in the end, I mean the console is developed in Japan and there will be tons of Japanese exclusives to the PS4. If you’re into JRPG’s, well, why even bother reading this part, I mean you (like me) will have a PS4 just for this reason. But there are plenty of gamers who aren’t, which is fine, who will be able for the most part to find titles across both consoles.
“Xbox, Go Home”
But there is one device that will not be on the PS4 and one many gamers dread, the Kinect. And it wouldn’t be so bad if the Kinect came with the Xbox One was optional, quite contrary, the device must be connected at all times. I can not tell you how annoying this will be for many. People since the dawn of time like to do things efficiently and thank heavens they did or we wouldn’t even be here today. Take a look for example touch devices, they have only recently caught on because the response of the device has finally caught up with your figure gestures (no, not that gesture). But for the longest while, many touch devices were more like a trial and error. It took years and even today, there are just certain tasks you will not be using your tablet to perform, like say Photoshop. The PC will live on for quite a long time, but that report is for another day.
So besides making gestures in front of your TV and yelling at your console to switch between playing a game to live TV, which probably won’t be connected right, I mean you did change the input from input 1 to 4 right, what else is the Kinect good at? I guess we could say party games, something you would find on the Wii or perhaps down the road on the Wii U when a game finally comes out for it.
It’s not a phone, I wouldn’t bring my Kinect with me while driving and give commands to it. Lets not forget all the memes and rants that will come out soon because of the voice commands. When the announcement was made, many were tweeting during the event that the commands given on stage were being picked up by those having the 360 and Kinect running, causing weird behavior Now think for a minute just how much of a nightmare this could be playing a game online? We know that Xbox Live is flooded with 11 year olds who would like nothing better than to scream into your ear piece that besides you’re a pile of sticks, your Xbox should go home. Have kids, well, maybe not for long if you bring the Xbox One into your home. Siblings will be yelling commands at one another while one is playing a game just to end up in misery. The wife will give you a look as if you made the worst decision ever, you should have gotten a Wii U.
And unfortunately that is not the worst part, no the worst part about the Kinect is that it is always online, listening (perhaps watching) to your every command. I do not have any kids, I’m more of a Stephen Fry fellow, but I would not want my child playing with the Xbox One knowing that the console is connected online, the Kinect is watching, and Skype is built in. I don’t want to go over the deep end but it’s very easy to piece together that an unattended minor with an always watching, online chat device could spell disaster. One would hope Microsoft takes extra precautions and parental controls to prevent the device from auto receiving Skype calls. I can disable (even unplug) my built in camera on my Dell notebook and when I boot the device, it wouldn’t halt and tell me to plug in the camera or it won’t boot.
In summary, the Kinect, while an accessory, is a limited feature core users would like to do with out, parents will regret, and elders already have an iPad.
The PlayStation 4 will be Sony’s next console in the line of PlayStations since the 90s. While the device will have similar specs to the Xbox One, the differences will attract the more hardcore gaming audience. The device will not carry a fee for used games and unlike the Xbox One, will not need a connection every 24 hours for an not-so-always online connection.
The Wii U from Nintendo, which launched some seven months ago, is targeted towards the casual gaming audience. While the mobile branch of Nintendo is doing exceedingly well, there is clout on whether the casual audience cares about a console. If the Xbox One is to enter the ring for casual users, this will be its contender.
The indie console, the Ouya, which has come to fruition thanks to the many supporters on Kickstarter, is a newest in the ring. No one really knows the fate of the little giant, which runs a slimmed down version of android. Is there an audience for indie gamers and mobile gamers to leave their computers and mobile phones and make a transition to the console? If Microsoft open’s its doors to indie developers and more importantly mobile developers, this will be the little champion they will face.
“If you build it, they will come.”
In the end, it will mostly matter on the price point. If the console sells at the same price as the Wii U, the price advantage will cause casual gamers to at least compare the device against the Wii U. The price will also move mid-gamers into at least giving the console a go. The partnership with the NFL should help capture that audience who enjoy Madden. How long will they be able to keep gamers trapped into the console is anyone’s guess, one can never guess how the audience will react, for the most part, after complaining about certain features of lack there of, units ship and quotas are met.
But I should give Microsoft a dire warning, with out a deep cut in the console price, there is almost nothing of comparison to it and that of the PS4. Some would argue it is the infamous curse of the number 3, and while we could say that now each developer has a 3rd generation console, Half Life 3 is confirmed, I mean all console makers suffer the dreaded 3rd generation of console manufacturing. Sega’s Dreamcast, Nintendo’s N64, Sony’s PS3, and now Microsoft ‘s Xbox One. A comparison is like that of the 3rd generation console to Microsoft’s even numbered Operating systems like ME (4th), Vista (6th), and now Windows 8 (8th).
And let us never forget another competitor for what ever reason wishing to enter the ring like a Google device or the mysterious iTV from Apple, which would move casual users away from the Xbox One. There maybe a good reason why Apple has yet to release a TV (is cable dead yet?) or Google having another go at a digital box, they did after all acquire Motorola Mobile, which I believe includes their DVR division.
To my conclusion of long stories and more comparisons then I wish to repeat, I’m not entirely sure that moving the Xbox from the gaming audience to a more general audience is a good idea, after all many are aware of the old tale that if you market a device as a do all, it usually ends up doing everything poorly.
Until then, some words for thought.