Monday, June 17, 2013

What I Learned About Xbox One

1) Always-on Internet

Perfectly fine option, but should not be required. If I want to play games without a disc, I can understand the need to keep the license refreshed every 24 hours. However, if my Internet goes down with U-Verse, so does my TV. What can I do with my Xbox One then? Although I am unclear if I can play games I bought digitally offline (why shouldn't I), I know that I can't play disc-based games, even if I can prove the disc is still in my possession. I can't take advantage of any TV-based functionality, and I am also not sure if digitally downloaded movies from Xbox will work offline. My options are to a) watch a Blu-Ray movie, of which I have a whopping two movies or b) play music or movies local to my network, e.g. from my Windows 8 desktop or whatever I thought to save locally to the Xbox. Both of those options are likely very slim, simply because I don't buy a lot of movies and music. Without Internet, my gaming and media console is now a very expensive Blu-Ray player. Think about the $499 price tag (plus tax), the absurd Xbox Live membership (I still buy mine for under $50/year, but still), games and accessories, and we are talking well over $600 for a machine that is designed to be incapable of its primary purpose simply because I do not have Internet. Strike one.


2) Game Lending and Reselling

This one lead a lot of people to scratch their heads, because the initial impression was that Microsoft would charge YOU to resell your game to someone, including GameStop. This is not the case, but there are still some puzzling caveats and a scary, open door does exist. Microsoft requires you to deauthorize the game you want to part ways with from your account, which makes sense, because it installs to your hard drive. GameStop will then buy it, as usual, and resell that to someone else. That could seemingly happen many times. However, if you decided to let a friend have a game, two requirements must be met: 1) They have to be a friend on your Xbox Live for at least 30-days (strange) and 2) this action can only be done once (even more strange). I get the idea behind the fact that game companies want to keep revenue close to their chest, and not resellers, but Microsoft may have overstepped here. This means you won't be selling your old games on eBay or anymore and even if you did, you may not be able to play it if it has been given away once already. Granted, 90% of the games I buy are brand new, and that may be once or twice a year. I won't give Microsoft a strike two just yet, because I think they are also looking at this method to drive DOWN the price of new games, so buying a used game isn't as enticing as it once was. The "scary, open door" here is that Microsoft will allow third-parties to charge a fee to trade-in a game. I am not 100% clear on whether the reseller (GameStop) will pay the fee, of if the end-user trading in the game pays that fee. Either way, it is an awful way to allow money-hungry companies like EA to milk more money out of its consumers and partners. As I am really unclear how this could work, and since Microsoft isn't forcing anyone to follow this model, I can live with it, simply because I don't trade in games (anymore) and I only buy a game or two per year.
UPDATED: From Paul Thurrott, Xbox One games will retail for $59.99 and that might make this another strike.

3) Game rentals

At time of launch, Microsoft has no plans for game rentals. Redbox, who currenlty rents out games for $2/night will not have any Xbox One games available. I don't see this changing either, unless one of two things occur: 1) Redbox does digital rentals that are simply given to you via email or text message or 2) Redbox signs a deal with Microsoft and gains access to specialy-made game discs that cannot be installed or resold. The issue with number 2 is those games will not be able to be sold, like Redbox currently does for their used games. Also, it will likely drive up the price of rentals if those games are forever doomed as rentals, because they hold zero market value outside of Redbox. At least currenlty, they take real game discs that can be sold just like any other game. The first option seems viable, but I imagine Microsoft handling digital rentals their selves, if that route is taken (no word on if that would be available). I am sure that Microsoft is looking hard at this situation, because Redbox buys a lot of games, and will not be able to buy any if something isn't worked out. They fact that they have no plans to support this at launch, when no one will be able to afford a game retail after purchasing a new Xbox One (see #4) will mean we have to watch a lot of TV to get any use out of it. Strike two three.


4) $500 is the price of a computer

I recently built a gaming PC for about $800. That included a 24" monitor. If you built a gaming experience with Xbox One, you are looking at over $600.

  • $499 + tax

  • Xbox Live $60

  • One game $59.99

  • Extra controller $50?

  • Total: $645 + tax

Don't forget that since Internet is required, just add that to the cost, although you likely already have connection. The price is way too high to be worth it, considering the question marks behind the antics. For $399, I should get this console with a year of Live. For $499, I should get much more. Strike three four (I know there are really only three).


5) TV and Multitasking

TV is not a big deal for me but a cool addition. The fact I can watch TV and play Xbox is cool. Also, the ability to Skype and play, listen to streaming music and play, or simply look up a strategy guide, all on one screen, is reason enough to justify the costs. The deal with the NFL is also a plus, and the continued push to add content to their subscription model makes me excited. Too bad it was already strike three four.
6) Will not play Xbox 360 Games
Just to beat a dead horse, the Xbox One has shifted architectures. For those unfamiliar, the first two Xbox consoles were powered by a PowerPC-based CPU, which is the same architecture Macs were powered with before they switched to Intel chips. Xbox One will be powered by an x86 processor, or what you commonly see in PCs today. What does that mean for you? No Xbox 360 support. Although I have no knowledge of the development behind any of the Xbox games in the past, I would think, because of the flexibility of x86, that there could be a way. Emulation, for example, allows us to play DOS, TurboGrafx, NeoGeo, and even arcade games to this day. The emulation may not even be possible for several years, but I really, really hope that I can insert my Xbox 360 disc, and the Xbox One say "do you want to launch this Xbox 360 game? You will lose your ability to snap (multitask) and achievements will not be earned". There are several Xbox 360 games I have never, ever played, and if I decide I want an Xbox One sometime soon, I want to be able to play through the older library of games without having to switch to the 360. Now, that may seem rather lazy, but I already have two gaming consoles, and a third would be more than my current TV supports in HDMI inputs (Uverse box takes up one of three slots). I know that in the past, we couldn't play games on newer consoles. The SNES wouldn't play NES games, the N64 wouldn't play SNES games, Sega Saturn couldn't play Sega Genesis, and so on. We've seen technology shifts before, and this one is no different. The PS4 will also yield the same issue, as it has also shifted architecture. The WiiU is the only backwards-compatible system that is of the current generation. The WiiU also has Virtual Console, which allows for playing classic games downloaded from the Wii U store. Could we see the library of 360 games migrate over? I don't see why not, but I can understand if the development is focused on next-generation gaming, not previous ones.
Although the Xbox One is flawed with handling content (mainly games), I do believe it will be a great console. The pricing and handling of the Internet requirement will keep many people, including me, from purchasing it day one.
I outlined solutions to some of the issues I had above, but here is a quick recap:
Unless a specific game requires Internet to stream services and features, DRM should not require Internet if the game is a disc-install (simply insert the disc) or a digital download (I can't share that download anyway, so let me have no DRM check). Game discs should be the more expensive option, and digital downloads should be at least $5 cheaper, since it will be strictly locked to my system. Game rentals could be handled in the cloud. Redbox could link to your Xbox Live account, give you a rental disc, you take it home, install the disc as you play, and Redbox will communicate with the Xbox servers how long you have to play the game. Once that is up, you can set it up to automatically renew your rental or just hault gameplay. Digital rentals would work the same way, except without the need for a disc and Redbox would simply email or text you a code to redeem for a 24-48 hour rental. Drop the price to $399 with a Kinect, and include a year of Xbox Live. If I buy a $499 model, I should get an extra controller or game of my choice.