Yesterday Microsoft unveiled their 3rd iteration of the Xbox, oddly named, the Xbox One. Over 30 mins of the 1 hour presentation was spent talking about multimedia features like Cable TV integration, Voice and gesture controls, Skype and internet capabilities. While Microsoft hinted a few days before the event that they would focus little on games and save that for E3, it still felt a bit odd how little games where actually talked about.
When the Xbox was first pitched to then CEO Bill Gates, it's purpose was to be a trojan horse that would get Microsoft into the living room of households. With the WebTV not catching on, for numerous reasons, Gates green lighted the Xbox. The gaming industry was a nearly impossible market to enter but with the deep pockets of Microsoft and great first party titles, the original Xbox was a marginal success. Microsoft new it would take more than one generation to get a foothold in the market so they hurried and released the Xbox successor in 2005. With the technology finally available, Microsoft began to slowly fulfilled the promises of WebTV of an internet focused set top box. Slowly they began adding multimedia features to their gaming console to what is now one of the most used devices for watching online content on a TV. In fact, Microsoft reported last year that over half of the time spent on Xbox Live was used for media instead of gaming. So it was no surprise that the latest Xbox would push that version even further.
Microsoft's vision for television using the Xbox One in some ways is what we all have been clamoring for, for years. Being able to control your cable with a sleek, responsive interface with online video from Netflix, Youtube, etc, seamlessly intertwined. This was the promise of Google TV before it was thwarted by the networks as they blocked out much of their content from the set top box. But Microsoft is playing nice and have reportedly struck deals with a number of cable providers. However there are still a number of hurdles that weren't addressed at all in yesterday's press conference. For instance you will still have to have a cable subscription and a cable box in order to get the full experienced show on stage. The Xbox One does not have a TV Tuner so if you use a over-the-air (OTA) antenna you will have to be running it through a compatible set top box. Not to mention like the Google TV, it uses HDMI-CEC to switch the channels of the cable box but a lot of cable boxes don't support it so you will have to fall back on a IR-blaster (infared) and that sucks.
The really curious piece to this whole presentation is that Xbox's (current) demographic has been trending away from traditional cable and spending more of their time watching online video instead. So this feature that Microsoft spent a majority of their time on may seem a little dated and passé to a large chunk of their audience that are increasingly trying to find ways to get rid of cable.
Ironically they spent little time on the detail of the hardware, including a newly designed controller and an exponentially more capable Kinect 2 motion sensor.
So, I ask who was Microsoft targeting with this press event?
The die-hard fans that camp out overnight for consoles, the evangelist that tell their causal gaming fans about the XBox were shut out yesterday. They were told to wait their turn at their own special event in 3 weeks. To add insult to injury, a lot of the fears about tighter restrictions on used games and needing an internet connection where proven mostly true in interviews after the event. Microsoft Vice President seemed to go off of script during the interview with Kotaku.com as he openly discussed the need for the XBox One to need to be connected to the internet at least once every 24hrs. He also mentioned having to pay a fee to be able to play a game on another console after it was installed. After multiple mixed messages, denials then reaffirmations the final answer seemed to be:
- Each game will come with a code to activate and install the game that can only be used once.
- The game is then tied to that users Xbox Live account but other users of the console will be able to play it as well
- If the player moves to another console only the player who's XBox Live game tag the game is associated with will be able to play if they are signed in.
- If the game is to be played without the approved XBox Live account, the player will have to pay market value in order to play the game.
Microsoft says a lot of this isn't written in stone and they are still working out the details but obviously this news on top of feeling ignored during the press conference set fans off. Numerous gaming website comment sections, forums and social media have been full of outcry from fans that feel insulted and disrespected. In gaming circles the overall consensus is that Microsoft blew it with the Xbox One reveal. Meanwhile the mainstream press have been enamored with the Xbox One and are giving it high praises.
So again, who is the XBox One's target audience?
It seems Microsoft has been contemplating a pivot in strategy for the Xbox brand for a while now. A few years ago they began cutting back on 1st party game development studios and instead chose to buy content exclusivity for certain popular games like Call of Duty while convincing studio that traditional developed for Sony to make titles for the Xbox 360 as well. (Final Fantasy, Metal Gear)
Have they changed focused from being a gaming platform with media features to a media platform with gaming features? Only time will tell, but near the end of the presentation they teased that 15 exclusive titles will be developed for the Xbox One with 8 of those being new IP's. E3 will be the real test to show just how dedicated Microsoft is to catering to their most devoted fans. Will a majority of those new promised titles be for the much improved Kinect 2 in a attempt to bring in more casual gamers or will they satiate the need for more core games their fans desire. We'll have to wait 3 weeks until E3 to find out.