XBone Thoughts

So Microsoft had its big Xbox One launch party this week. I, like many, tuned in. I, unlike many, was happy with what I saw.

Home Entertainment Console

Much of the twittersphere was up in arms moments in to the presentation and ongoing until Microsoft started talking about the games. The Xbox is supposed to be a game console first, they said, and I agree. But I use my 360 these days as much for home entertainment options as for gaming, so I for one can see that the new product, much like the current gen, is a home entertainment box. Games are one of the things it does well.

But what was new, sexy, and exciting was the dashboard voice interface, the Skype capability, the DVR and live TV capability. When they finally got to the games everyone was clamoring for, they weren’t exactly well-received either. Some EA Sports titles thrilled exactly nobody, and a new Call of Duty that’s already been announced may get some excitement going, but it isn’t really that thrilling. Ok, so now there’s a dog. And fish that get out of the way.

The problem is, this is a new console generation at a time when the previous generation, while aging, could probably have hung on a little bit longer, and the improvements in graphics and sound, while technically prodigious and thrilling, don’t make a gigantic difference to the viewing experience at 40 frames per second. If I’m stopping to observe the scars on my pet dog in CoD, I’m dead. The side-by-side comparison of MW3 to Ghosts certainly demonstrated that the power and capabilities of the new box are vastly superior, but I think Microsoft knew that the difference wasn’t really their biggest story. That’s why they held off on it.

Brohammer Games

The game criticism that I felt was more valid was those games which they chose to present. But in retrospect, I understand this decision too. Among the “hardcore” gamer community, and most of my developer friends, a new generation of EA Sports games barely registers on the radar. There haven’t been any incredible experiences in that area in a long time, and EA doesn’t seem inclined to work toward any. And why should they? Pressing a new edition of Madden is like printing money. And that’s exactly why Microsoft chose to present it. Madden trailed only Black Ops II in sales for 2012. So if you’re trying to introduce a new box, are you going to appeal to the connoisseur crowd, or the mass market? There was no mention of indie games or Microsoft’s approach to them at this event, and for that I don’t blame them either. Would I like to see my games one day published on this box? Of course. But as a maker, it’s important to remember that it’s games like Madden and Call of Duty that put boxes in houses, and once those boxes are there, they become the market for the more experimental or interesting stuff.

To that end, I found the complaints about the lack of indie talk to be misguided and selfish. Indie, remember, comes from the word “independent” and we shouldn’t be presented at an event like that. We aren’t the mass market that makes money for Microsoft. Sure, there’s some income there, but Ghosts is probably going to generate more income for Microsoft than a year’s worth of indies. Braid was considered a smash hit in XBLA terms when it was released, and it sold around  30k units in its first month. And that was a massive success. Call of Duty: Ghosts sold that many copies last week (according to VGChartsz.com), and it doesn’t come out for six months. Even the runaway success of XBLA sales numbers, Minecraft is pushing maybe 5 million sales. This is of course a tremendously impressive number, but it’s where the big-name games we saw this week will be when GameStop closes up from their midnight launch parties. And that’s Minecraft.

You can’t have an indie game scene without a platform. While PC, Linux, and Mac are certainly not going anywhere, having consoles brings games to many more people. You couldn’t have even had a AAA title like LA Noire without Grand Theft Auto, nevermind experimental imaginative stuff like Journey or Fez or Terraria. I’m still confident that Xbox One will be a tremendous success, and that a vocal internet isn’t necessarily going to change Microsoft’s plans. And nor should they.


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