In his hilariously long blog rant, Xbox co-creator Nat Brown absolutely slams the past five years of Microsoft’s meddling with the Xbox (and… everybody else).
But the past 5 years, and the last year in particular, have been simply painful to watch. Coasting on past momentum. Failing to innovate and failing to capitalize on innovations like Kinect. Touting strategic and market success when you’re just experiencing your competitor’s stumbling failure (yes, Sony, Nintendo – you are, I’m afraid, stumbling failures).
The great part about the blog post is Brown’s general ‘stumbling failure’ to quantify why, exactly, he thinks the quality of the Xbox is rapidly descending. I had to read the article a good three times to understand his points, as a good majority of the rant is simply Brown bashing the UI:
“Daddy, what’s a Hard Drive? Why do I keep having to choose Hard Drive when I’m playing Kinectimals? Why does Kinectimals take 10m before I can start playing? Can I use the iPad while it’s updating or whatever it’s doing?” “Me: 4MB. Gee, thanks for that info. Wait, what? What are the consequences of being signed out of Xbox Live if I update?”
He does make a couple decent observations under all of the verbose complaining, the most intriguing of which is trying to equalize the Xbox with mobile gaming. Brown believes that the impending doom of the Xbox is going to come at the hands of mobile gaming–things that deliver instantaneous results.
You don’t turn on your xBox to play a game quickly — it takes multiple minutes to load, flow through its splash screens, and then get you playing. It doesn’t surprise me that most people spend more time watching videos or listening to music on xBox, because it takes too long to screw around with discs and wait for games to load.
The conclusion is arguable, however. He offers very little acknowledgement for the class of ‘hardcore gamers’; that is, people who load up their Xbox to spend an entire day with a controller in their hands. People who gladly spend sixty or more dollars on a game.
If anything, the one note that you should take away from Brown’s rant is his observance of Indie development, and the lack of opportunity the Xbox affords these developers.
xBox’s primary critical problem is the lack of a functional and growing platform ecosystem for small developers to sell digitally-/network-distributed (non-disc) content through to the installed base of xBox customers, period. Why can’t I write a game for xBox tomorrow using $100 worth of tools and my existing Windows laptop and test it on my home xBox or at my friends’ houses? Why can’t I then distribute it digitally in a decent online store, give up a 30% cut and strike it rich if it’s a great game, like I can for Android, for iPhone, or for iPad? Read some of the fine-print at the xBox registered developer program page (that “membership” would cost you $10,000/year and a ton of paperwork, with Microsoft holding veto power over your game being published), navigate the mess through to learning about XBLA (also costly, paperwork and veto approval) and you may end up learning about a carved off little hard-to-find store with a few thousand stunted games referred to as XBLIG where Microsoft has ceded their veto power (and instead just does nothing to promote your games).
From what I’ve seen, the past five years of gaming have careened off the course and delved into general consumerism and money-making ploys. But almost every day (with the radical exception of EA Games), I see gaming companies making smarter decisions for their consumer base. I see developers paying attention to what people want instead of what statistics trend.
Listening to developers complain is actually one of the most thrilling parts of being a gamer (at least, this gamer), because it helps shed some light on what the industry is thinking. Even though he no longer works on developing the Xbox, Brown’s voice in this game race is indicative of something bright on the horizon. I’m no statistical engineer or fortune-teller, but something in me believes (needs to believe, more like) that the passion developers like Brown have for the people playing games will set the video game industry train back on track.