By now you’ve no doubt heard about the Xbox One, Microsoft’s entry into the television-streaming, Blu-Ray-playing, satisfy-everyone,
finger Kinect-in-your- butt face multimedia entertainment Cuisinart industry; it was unveiled at an event in Redmond yesterday, which in the parlance of always-on, instant-gratification internet glossolalia means that it’s already in the process of being shoveled onto the old-news compost pile, much like that creepy-ass dancing baby and Mitt Romney. Thank Gob for small favors, huh?
So sure, in an age of tachyon tweets and quantum live blogs, where coverage of such an event often occurs before the event itself, day-after commentary might seem as gratuitously unnecessary as deep-fried turducken with a side of extra-crispy buttered pork rinds. In a way that’s true; everything that needs to be said about the Xboxone has been said — except for certain coyly withheld details such as the release date, price, and launch lineup — but like any intrepid sojourner into the culinary arena of high heat and liquid fat, that’s never stopped me before; undeterred by either necessity or good sense, I grab a spoon and sojourn on. (For a full accounting of the Xbox One’s system specs and capabilities, you should look elsewhere; this is more about what’s missing than what’s there.)
Back At One
Named for Microsoft’s DirectX API, the original Xbox launched almost twelve years ago to a chorus of skepticism, my own included; how could any company whose name didn’t start with “Nint” and end with “endo” hope to challenge the perfect, immortal machine of Sony Computer Entertainment in the late-90s and early-00s? How could a software company (apart from the occasional keyboard and joystick peripheral) dethrone the reigning kings of not just video games, but all consumer electronics? Well, it turns out that all it took was the idea that people would want to play games together, but not have to look at each other while they did it. Who knew?
Apparently, Microsoft knew. The Xbox didn’t touch the PlayStation 2 when it came to North American sales figures, but it edged out the GameCube in worldwide sixth-generation distribution, and with the launch of Xbox Live in November of 2002, it laid the groundwork for Microsoft’s domination of the seventh generation’s strongest selling point; online gaming. More than any specific software title, even more than Halo, it was Xbox Live that sold the Xbox to people who were looking for something more significant than a higher polygon count and specular mapping in their games. (The Xbox’s hard drive was also a factor here; the allure of not having to keep track of three or four memory cards, or having to physically swap the cards when a game didn’t allow access to the second card slot, should not be overlooked.)
So fast-forward a few years. Now there’s the PlayStation 4 on the horizon, along with the aforementioned Xbox One. Right out of the box, Sony has an advantage in the eighth generation; this is the third Xbox, yet for some reason the geniuses at Microsoft have decided to brand it with an oddly retrogressive nomenclature — one being less than four and all that. Four is, by definition, more advanced. Four is, shall we say, more valuable. The subconscious effect of such a naming mechanism also should not be overlooked, as it immediately brands the Xbox One as somehow inferior to the PlayStation 4 before anyone has gotten their hands on either of them. I know it’s an assertion by Microsoft that you only need “One” box in the living room, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a stupid move. If you need further evidence of Microsoft’s ability to screw themselves out of market share, look no further.
This new naming scheme opens an uncountable number of possibilities for future comedy gold; consider that the ninth-generation Xbox might be called the Xbox One Two, or the Xbox 90210, and proceed from there.
Genie in a Bottle
As many have speculated, the Xbox One will not be compatible with Xbox 360 games. That’s not such a big deal; anyone for whom this is a major concern must already own an Xbox 360, otherwise they wouldn’t care about backwards compatibility. It’ll be a logistical hassle for some people, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to negatively affect sales of Microsoft’s new machine.
What will negatively affect sales — possibly more than I’d anticipated — is the fact that an Xbox One game cannot be sold, loaned, or given away without the recipient paying a full-price fee in order to play that game. If, like the linked article claims, Microsoft plans to implement some sort of online trade-in program on the Xbox One, why not talk about it now, at the console’s announcement, instead of letting the internet rage and negative PR build up over the course of the next three weeks until (presumably) they go into detail at E3? They could have come right out of the starting gate with a forthright burst of speed, instead they opted to be sly about it, and now — regardless of whatever announcement they make at E3 about their trade-in program — they’ll never recoup all of the ill will that they garnered with today’s Big Event.
Please note in that article that Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison offers a quote regarding game installation on the Xbox One: “It sits on your hard drive and you have permission to play that game as long as you’d like.”
Permission? Permission can be rescinded, Phil. So when you get right down to it, in the long run, fuck you guys. Seriously. I’m not paying for your permission to play a game.
One might argue that Steam uses the same distribution model — Steam-compatible games purchased on physical media must be installed and verified through Steam before they can be played on a PC, and there hasn’t been a trade-in market for PC games for at least ten years. Why the uproar, then? For me, game consoles were an alternative to the PC precisely because of that trade-in potential — now that Microsoft is blurring the distinction between its distribution system and Valve’s, I have less incentive to buy anything at all from Microsoft.
Also, once they’re installed and verified, Steam games are fully playable offline, without the disc, for more than 24 hours. Can Microsoft make the same claim for the Xbox One? For me, the allure of the Xbox has gone from significantly above that of the PC to significantly below; we’ll see what Sony’s got simmering in their kitchen o’ fun and wonder, but if it’s anything at all like the mess that Microsoft is cooking, I might as well buff up my Steam collection and give this console generation a narrow-eyed glance and a wide berth.
That Don’t Impress Me Much
I remember when the presentation of a new console was exciting. I remember when the Xbox 360 was announced, and games like Oblivion seemed beautifully and wonderfully impossible when compared to then-current Xbox and PlayStation 2 titles. I remember seeing the first screenshots for Perfect Dark Zero — a game that is, at best, visually pedestrian by today’s standards — and being taken aback that something that looked so good could be manufactured by the manipulation of 1s and 0s. That sense of wonder has been replaced by resentment, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
Microsoft is intent on being everything to everyone, and in that intent they seem to have disregarded thousands — perhaps millions — of people like me; I don’t give a fricasseed dog turd about streaming TV, or voice control, or Kinect, or anything at all to do with “sharing.” I don’t want to stand up to play a game, shake my ass, talk to my Xbox, or suddenly find a series of up-shorts videos of my filberts making their way around Xbox Live from a disconcertingly autonomous and overly familiar Kinect sensor.
I saw nothing that interested me today. That might change at E3, but Microsoft led with what it deems most significant, and that’s kind of a shame — I play games. Everything else is just details.