As with most hardware reveals, the Xbox One unveiling earlier this week left us with more questions than answers. While Microsoft did a decent job of explaining what will differentiate its console from the competition, it also spent a lot of time explaining functionality meant to appeal to a broad market and not specifically gamers. Yes, there will be a new Kinect, a snappy new UI, and live television support, including a partnership with the NFL. But for gamers who want to invest their hard-earned money in a platform based more games than on peripheral bells and whistles, the presentation fell a little short on substance. These, then, are some of the critical questions that Microsoft needs to address to win over the hearts and minds of the “core”.
The few games that Microsoft did mention during Tuesday’s press conference, aside from the new Remedy title, were all kind of no-brainers. Yes, there will be new EA Sports games. Yes, Forza will be available at launch, and Call of Duty will continue to release DLC first on Xbox. But we’re much more interested in the games we don’t know about than the ones that we could’ve all but guaranteed would be on the system before the announcement. And we need to see more games in motion, being played in real-time (or, better yet, actually playable by gamers and press) to get a sense of important elements like how the controller works and how much of a difference is evident between this new generation and the last one.
The one intriguing announcement related specifically to games was that the Xbox One would host fifteen exclusive titles during its first year, and that eight of those would be brand new franchises. That begs the question, though: how many of those games will be Kinect-focused titles along the lines of Kinect Adventures and Kinect Star Wars? How many of them will be first-party games directly from Microsoft Studios? Are these triple-A titles, or are we talking about a large number of XBLM and indie releases? While on the surface fifteen exclusive titles sounds great, without more information it’s difficult to tell just how impressive that line-up will actually be.
A clarification about used games
A major point of controversy before the press conference was whether or not used games would be playable on the new Xbox, an issue Microsoft chose to skirt completely during the reveal. This left nervous gamers to scour interviews and websites for more details, which have been slow in coming and at times contradictory. Early reports indicate that once a disc has been tied to a specific Xbox Live account, it won’t be playable on any other account without purchasing the full game, presumably at full price. But none of that has been laid out concretely by Microsoft, and what has been said has been rotating around with enough spin to make us dizzy. We need hard answers about the future of disc-based games and the used games market that’s been so integral to previous generations.
The other big issue that’s had the internet in an uproar in the lead up to Tuesday’s press conference is the question of whether the new Xbox will need to always be connected to the internet. While Microsoft has made it clear that a lot of the Xbox One’s functionality will be accessible without an internet connection, the company has also indicated that the console will need to occasionally ping Microsoft servers, possibly as often as every 24 hours. Again, however, there has been no definitive statement one way or the other about this daily check-in or what the ramifications might be if it’s missed. It’s not even entirely clear that it will be a once-every-24-hours event. Microsoft needs to make a clear, detailed statement at E3 concerning this issue, around which so many conflicting rumors are circulating, if it wants gamers with an important choice this holiday to lean towards their platform.
Aside from a handful of EA Sports titles and Call of Duty: Ghosts, we know next to nothing about third-party support for the Xbox One; what games will be available, which will be Xbox One exclusives, and which titles will be cross-generational. The key question, though, is why we’d want to play third-party games on the Xbox One rather than the PlayStation 4 or our PCs. Once again, it all comes down to the games. If Microsoft doesn’t host a gala coming out party for games at its E3 press conference, including support for critical third party developers and publishers, gamers who don’t care about TV and app support may begin to defect.
All of this is not to say that the peripheral stuff is meaningless, however. If both Sony and Microsoft establish that they have capable hardware platforms and a robust line-up of games, the purchasing decision this holiday season may come down to partnerships. We know that Microsoft has hooked up with that American entertainment giant, the NFL, and that there will be some nebulous support for watching NFL games and integrating your fantasy teams. But which football games will be viewable? Will they just be the games available on local network television? Will there be some premium package on offer that will allow sports fans to flip between all the games at will? How much will it cost?
More importantly, though, we need to know the identities of the other partners Microsoft is teaming with to deliver content. Who will be serving all their movie and TV content? How broad will support for watching live television through the Xbox One be, and which regions will it be available in? These and so many other questions about key partnerships have been left largely unanswered, and may play an important role in determining who comes out on top in the latest skirmish in the console war.