Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled its newest device in its successful Xbox brand, the Xbox One. “The war for the living room” wages, and the Redmond, WA-based company has embraced an all-in-one philosophy. With its new version of the Kinect sensor, you can use your voice to command the Xbox One to change television channels, open up Internet Explorer, dial someone on Skype. Oh, and you can also play games on it.
The event itself was as Microsoft as Microsoft could get. This actually came as a slight surprise to me, which is admittedly a bit of naiveté on my part. The 2008 ushering in of the Next Xbox Experience was Microsoft slowly adopting this ‘entertainment box’ notion, and now owners can watch Netflix video, HBO Go programming, Amazon Instant Video, and more. Yesterday, it took the company nearly a half-hour before they even showed a game for the new device. Instead, they seemed to be more interested in showing the device working congruently with current cable boxes (Xbox One has two HDMI ports), showing a programming guide, and with its fast processors (“snap” multi-tasking) and a clear shout of “Xbox, CBS!” you’re instantly watching “The Big Bang Theory” or “Elementary.”
A montage of international athletes talking up the device and brand helped establish Xbox One as the go-to device for your EA Sports needs is seen. Microsoft Game Studios is working on its next Forza Motorsport game. Remedy, the studio behind Max Payne and Alan Wake, used a live-action clip with live actors to promote their next exclusive property. New information of Activision’s Call of Duty: Ghosts surfaced (and a now memetic dog), including the inevitable “exclusive content” (aren’t these executives tired of saying that already?) for Xbox One, and now this new device has the juggernaut franchise behind it first.
Another large brand behind the Xbox One is the National Football League providing, well, a slightly different way Americans will spend their Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings, with up-to-date statistics right there on your television for your fantasy league needs. No need to look down on your Windows Phone or Surface tablet, I suppose! I don’t remember hearing a mention of the DirecTV NFL “Sunday Ticket” package, which allows viewers to watch any NFL match as opposed to only local-market teams. One wonders if this is Microsoft competing with itself, since the next installment of EA’s Madden franchise offers a $100 “Sunday Ticket” voucher, and the DirecTV package is available on Sony’s PlayStation 3 console.
The question becomes whether the general public will see value in this all-in-one branding, whose applications seem mostly suited for live broadcasts in an age of DVR and Hulu+. It’s naturally hard to judge because no pricing information has been made public, yet. People can purchase an Apple TV or a Roku box for their entertainment needs at $100 or under, never mind dropping X dollars on the PlayStation 4 or $350 on the Wii U. Lately, critics have chastised the value of the Xbox Live service, since the ideal experience requires a cable-television subscription (more expensive versus services like Netflix and Hulu+), an Internet package, a paid Xbox Live Gold-level subscription, and extra fees for premium networks like HBO Go. Most of these services available can be circumvented for much cheaper (though HBO’s tether to cable providers is still a sticky situation on its own). Microsoft wants your living room to look like those you have seen in their stock, promotional images for the Kinect: the grand living room, the American family together on one couch, as writer Leigh Alexander succinctly puts it: the “entertainment altar.” Americans currently live in a United States with a not-so-great housing market, a struggling economy, a refusal of cooperation, with new college graduates facing debt problems, and the lack of governmental cooperation FOX, MSNBC, and Jon Stewart love to show you. The Xbox One presentation and its (American-centric) direction is, right now, the product of the Baby Boomer generation. Right now its perception is that it is a device designed by executives for executives. Competition is beyond just Sony and Nintendo.
Gamers on forums have lambasted the lack of any more titles in the works, with others reasoning that Microsoft is holding off on that portion of the Xbox One for E3 next month, which I imagine to be the case. The biggest issue, which Microsoft has been incredibly marble-mouthed and confusing about twenty-four hours later, is how secondhand games will operate. The past few months have been like looming clouds of an incoming thunderstorm, with rumors about the device blocking secondhand games and requiring an Internet connection to properly function and verify the authenticity of software surfacing at every corner. This seemed like all anyone ever really wanted an answer to, and Microsoft floundered on using the event and subsequent press interviews to put this issue to rest. Wired initially reported the implementation of fees for verifying secondhand software. Customer support for the Xbox 360 tweeted this was not the case. Corporate Vice President Phil Harrison implied there will be restrictions unless the original owner signed into a second Xbox One device. Xbox Live Director of Programming Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb wrote a short blog post stating nothing is finalized yet except there will be some sort of trading system. Microsoft’s silence and lack of clarity on an issue that has been on so many minds, especially after former employee Adam Orth’s less-than-subtle opinions on the subject stoking the flames, says more about how we now experience games, instead of merely playing them.
It will be a wonder of the big brands they have secured partnerships with is enough for the Xbox One target audience to “jump in” again, and if these possible restrictions are an irony and hindrance on the socialization of this hobby. E3 itself may not even provide the best measuring stick, and we’ll all have to just watch the Xbox One hit the masses.