The launch of a new generation of consoles is an event unparalleled by other entertainment industries. No other medium periodically replaces all the equipment needed to use it, ushering in vast sea changes to its every aspect. Normally, the announcements of these changes in generations of video game consoles make for exciting times, with the prospect of new technology, new ideas and new games. But this time around it’s got rather… depressing.
Nintendo went first with the WiiU, which was released last year and will have a year’s head-start on the competition. Unfortunately, it’s managed to almost completely squander that by barely releasing any games for the console. Of the remaining two, Sony blinked first and revealed the Playstation 4 in March. It’s fair to say it was rather lacklustre, with a heavy focus on invasive levels of sharing. The field was clear then for Microsoft to easily swoop in and woo the traditional core gamer - one who just wants to be left alone to play a good variety of games - with their Next Xbox.
Unfortunately for those gamers, that seems to have been the furthest goal from Microsoft’s mind. If there was one thing you can take from the unveiling ceremony of the Xbox One, it’s that Microsoft doesn’t see it as a games console. No, instead it’s a multimedia device that can play some games, I guess, but why would you want to do that when you can watch sports on TV.
If you missed the conference, YouTube user Darkbeatdk made this excellent highlights reel.
If the PS4 launch was lacklustre, the Xbox One launch a fiasco bordering on an insult. Microsoft had made it clear that it would wait til E3 to really talk about games, and often-handedly mentioned that the console would have 15 exclusive titles in its first year. But the degree to which the core gamer was marginalised in favour of hocking the Xbox One as a gimmicky TV remote and multimedia device for ADHD suffers was surprising and disappointing. It was thirty minutes before the conference bothered to talk about games in any meaningful way and even that was just a corporate droid from EA (Microsoft’s new best buddies it seems) assuring us that FIFA will be out next season, surprising precisely no-one.
Amidst revolutionising how no-one will watch TV and Live-Action fawning over Steven Spielberg, the conference neatly side-stepped addressing any of the rumours that have been persisting about the new Xbox for months now. There had been claims that the console had to be continually connected to the internet to run (a feature that absolutely crippled EA’s recent Sim City on the PC), as well as speculation that the console wouldn’t allow for second hand games. Microsoft had been oddly tight-lipped about all of this, refusing to deal with speculation. The only employee who did was Adam Orth, who took the odd tack of going to Twitter and ridiculing anyone wary of needing a permanent internet connection with the hashtag #DealWithIt.
After months of all this apprehension and wild rumours, you’d have thought that Microsoft would have worked out a clear company line for all these issues when they were inevitably asked about them in post-conference interviews. You would be wrong.
Look, here’s Phil Harrison telling Kotaku that every Xbox One game will be locked to a single Xbox user and you’ll have to pay to borrow a friend’s game. Which had to be clarified by Larry Hryb, explaining that you only have to pay to play a borrowed game if you want to use it without the presence of the owner. Oh and here’s Phil Harrison being vague again about second-hand games, in contrast to Chris Lewis just being plain evasive. The flurry of contradictory stories, coming from different Microsoft personnel no less, mixed with constantly updated stories, clarifications and wild speculation has created an utter fiasco. Microsoft have had literally months to prepare for all these questions and managed to come up with precisely no comprehensive answers to any of them.
As best as we can tell - and this is all subject to being ‘clarified’ and changed any point after this article goes live - the Xbox One won’t need to be continually online, but will need to connect to the internet once a day. All games need to be unlocked online with a one use code and installed to the hard drive. You will be able to buy and use second hand games, but you have to pay an extra fee to Microsoft to use them (probably eliminating the rental market). Perhaps most worrying is that Kinect cannot be turned off and will always be on, listening to you.
It’s hard to think how Microsoft could make the Xbox One sound less appealing. At this point Phil Harrison could tell me that it requires a sacrifice of goat’s blood every month or it’ll delete all my save files and I’d quite easily believe him. Microsoft have done what two months ago I would have thought was impossible and made the Playstation 4 seem almost perfectly pleasant. The Xbox One sounds restrictive, oppressive and gimmicky. A hellish machine ripped from the fears of a paranoid technophobe, masquerading as an entertainment device.
This entire new generation of consoles has me feeling adrift. The negative aspects of the PS4 seems almost trivial compared to Xbox One now. The WiiU's the only console of this generation that seems to be actually built around games, it just doesn't have any. It's all very disappointing and has me considering going back to the PC.