Shank’s Spiel: Xbox One 80

If you compare the Xbox One of today to the Xbox One that was revealed to us last May, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at two different systems. The May reveal system was the most blatantly anti-consumer box of plastic I’ve ever seen in my life. Microsoft treated us like third-class citizens, fully expecting that we’d be perfectly okay with the draconian measures they were planning to implement.

They severely underestimated us. Instead of lying down and taking it, we rallied and voiced our rightful disgust and anger with their policies. They were wrong. We knew it and they needed to know it.

Today, the Xbox One is a completely different platform. Yes, it is still grossly underpowered, but everything else about it is completely different. Gone are the blatantly anti-consumer policies. Gone are the needlessly paywalled entertainment apps. Gone is the utterly useless and entirely unnecessary Kinect.

Today’s Xbox One is a product entirely focused on the hardcore gamer. It’s the machine that it always should have been. It took six months and a lot of shouting, but we finally have what is owed to us.

That is, we gamers should not be “thankful.” We should not be thankful for receiving a console that we should have been given on Day 1, nor should we be thankful to Microsoft for providing solutions to problems they themselves created. We are simply being given what is owed us. And this is a good thing.

But before I discuss what the future holds for Microsoft and how they should handle their product henceforth, let’s take a look at how we arrived here.

Remember Phil Harrison? He is the Corporate Vice President who famously declared that the Kinect and Xbox One are not separate systems, implying that, at the time, a Kinect-less Xbox One was out of the question. When asked about Kinect by CVG last year, he said, “Correct. Xbox One is Kinect. They are not separate systems.” 

Of course, E3 2013 arrived. I really do believe that last year’s E3 was the single greatest E3 I have ever witnessed. To their credit, Microsoft came out and talked all about games. However, upon announcing the $499 price, the entire audience audibly gasped, rightfully expressing their shock. $499 for a less powerful product with all those anti-consumer policies? Incredulity ensued.

Sony then came along later that evening and delivered death punches to the Microsoft’s groin. Memorable indeed.

Post E3, Microsoft Don Mattrick (sigh) came out and announced a massive reversal to their anti-consumer policies. No longer would a persistent internet connection be required. Xbox One now supported used games and gamers could share, lend, and sell games the way they always had always done. It was at this point that I decided Microsoft deserved my money.

Earlier this spring, Phil Spencer, an avid gamer who genuinely understands the industry, was promoted to head of a newly unified Xbox division. He was left to clean up the mess left by his predecessors. Many, including myself, saw this as the turning of the tide. Would Microsoft finally start to care about the core gamer? Would they stop pushing the entertainment aspect of their machine? Would they finally focus on the core experience, doing what is right for the consumer?

Speaking to Kotaku, Phil Spencer confirmed his focus and devotion to the core gamer, stating, “[We want to] make sure we’re completely focused on that gaming customer, that core gaming fan. Making sure of that, that’s what I’m going to bring to this position is a focus on gaming for Xbox One. The entertainment features that we have on Xbox One are important, but those can’t come at a cost for what we do for the core gamer.”

Just how would this pan out?

Today on Xbox Wire, Microsoft made a major announcement. Beginning June 9th, all entertainment apps on Xbox One and Xbox 360 will be made available without requiring an Xbox Live Gold subscription. Now, Xbox Live Gold is effectively similar to the (much superior) PlayStation Plus, offering free games, steep discounts on top titles, and bringing all entertainment apps out from behind the unnecessary paywall.

But the most important announcement by far was the new Kinect-less Xbox One. Finally, after months of rightful derision from the hardcore (myself included), Microsoft is delivering a Kinect-less Xbox One console starting June 9th for $399. 

This is a huge win for consumers. Today, we were finally given the console we were owed, one that is not anti-consumer nor restricted in choice. Consumers who don’t want a useless accessory will no longer be forced to buy one bundled with their Xbox. We have a choice. And that is always a good thing.

This brings us neatly to today. So now we just have two systems on price parity in the PS4 and Xbox One, but one is technically inferior to the other. This is not bias or prejudice. This is a simple fact. This is something that cannot be ignored nor easily swept aside. So what can Microsoft do to erase this one final, immovable, impossible-to-change difference? After all, you cannot simply add more transistors to your PCB by a simple firmware update.

The answer, unsurprisingly, lies with software. Microsoft now needs to completely focus on what makes them different from Sony. They can never compete with Sony on pure power. They will lose. Phil Spencer knows this.

Ever since he has taken over at Xbox, we gamers, the paying consumer, have reaped the benefits. This is a man who genuinely understands the industry on a deeply fundamental level. He listens to consumer feedback and implements change. In my opinion, Phil Spencer is unquestionably the savior of Xbox.

So in order to compete with Sony, in order to convince potential consumers to buy the similarly priced but less powerful console, Microsoft needs to come out swinging at E3. They need to double down and shout as loud as they can about experiences that you can only get on Xbox One. This means a serious ramp up in conversation surrounding first party titles.

Microsoft needs to convince the world that the Xbox One is the best and only place to play. Don’t discuss resolution. Don’t discuss framerate. Focus on the games, and the games alone. Deliver on those unique experiences that are only available on Xbox One.

For the first time since its reveal in May last year, I can honestly say that I’m genuinely excited for Microsoft’s E3 presentation. I am finally hopeful that the system I bought five months ago will finally provide me with the fun, unique, and crucially, exclusive experiences I’ve been yearning for.

This is a pivotal point for Microsoft, one where we finally see hope on the horizon. Under the thus far impeccable leadership of Phil Spencer, Microsoft has finally listened to us. There are millions of Xbox fans all over the world. E3 is the time for Microsoft to renew our trust in them. I, for one, am brimming with excitement.

Leave a Reply