At 10 am PST this morning, Microsoft unveiled the next generation of the XBox gaming console to the unwashed masses. The results were… interesting, to say the least. We can look forward to more news in a few weeks at E3, but for now, here are eight things we learned from the announcement.
#1. Microsoft is REALLY into Television Now
A good half of the press conference, at least, was dedicated not to video games but to television watching: quite the surprise for a video game announcement. The new XBox One (yes, that’s the name millions in marketing talent decided on) will integrate with your cable provider so that you can switch between games, movies, and live TV with a simple voice command. But it doesn’t stop there. You can now search for shows with your voice, pull up Bing on the sidebar, pull in your fantasy team stats while watching sports, and vote on polls during political debates (though when MS tried it last election, it was an absurdist nightmare). The switching seemed fast and seamless (and was probably a demo using prerendered video), but the idea is intriguing if not entirely worth the money.
But it doesn’t stop there! Microsoft has hired THE Steven Spielberg to produce a live-action TV series for their ultra-popular Halo series. They compared it to the likes of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, and Spielberg has the talent. But Halo also screams for special effects, and TV special effects are often-times, well, terrible. So we shall see.
#2. Your New XBox will Run on Windows
“But Stephen!” you say. “I want a game console, not a computer!” Too bad. As the Windows 8 OS assimilates devices small and large, it was inevitable that it would make its way to the new XBox. On the plus side, using the same kernel as your PC means better access to web apps and features. On the negative, it could be buggy. But honestly, Windows 8 is far better than its reputation makes it seem.
#3. You’re Still Going to Have to Pay for XBox Live
Microsoft announced that their online XBox Live service will continue to use the same membership as the XBox 360. In other words, if you want to play games online, you have to pay for Gold. Are you really surprised? Live is a cash cow, and MS isn’t about to put it to pasture. You’re at least getting new uses for it, including a matchmaking service that can run in the background to find your perfect competitor and the ability to share videos online. Are they ground breaking features? No, but I guess it’s good to get new things for the same price.
#4. Kinect Isn’t Going Anywhere
Rather than pass off Kinect as an ill-advised stab at the casual Wii crowd (who may in fact still be up for grabs as the Wii-U sputters in its first year), Microsoft is doubling down by including the camera with the XBox One by default. The specs are better, with full 1080p capture, and Skype is integrated in the package so you can video chat from your living room or even while streaming movies. Also, the movement recognition tech has gotten a boost. But honestly it was never the tech that made the Kinect bad; it was the inability of developers to find logical uses for it. We’ll see if a larger install base leads to more good Kinect showcases.
#5. Blu Ray at Last!
Microsoft has decided to kiss and make-up with Sony after the disc wars of the late 2000’s and are including a Blu Ray drive in the XBox One. This is good for two reasons: first, it means the console can play your collection of Blu Ray movies and potentially become your all-in-one home entertainment center. Second, gone are the days of multiple-discs for big games, or even games missing the XBox entirely because of size constraints. Digital may be the future, but I’m glad MS is embracing current gen disc formats.
#6. EA and Microsoft: A Match Made in (Heaven/Hell)
The all-powerful and oft-reviled EA came on stage to announce an exciting new partnership with Microsoft, promising new iterations of FIFA, NBA, Madden, and UFC games at launch using their next generation “Ignite Engine”. Apparently, the Ultimate Team mode for FIFA will be XBox exclusive. Nothing else was mentioned about the partnership, but cynical as I am, I think it might be exclusive DLC.
#7. Games? Games? Has Anyone Seen Games?
Outside of a final launch trailer for the upcoming Call of Duty (which looks about as good as a CoD game ever has), there were no shots of actual gameplay. We got some stylish trailers and CGI for a bunch of sequels, and a cryptic teaser for a new game from Remedy (makers of Max Payne and Alan Wake). I am sure we will learn a lot more at E3, but for people excited for the future of gaming on XBox, there wasn’t a ton to find.
#8. No Price and No Launch Date
Lastly and most disappointingly, Microsoft gave neither a firm launch date nor a price for their new console. We know it will be powerful (8 GB of RAM, no CPU specs yet), but we don’t know when we can get one and which tier of major organs we’ll need to sell to get one.
UPDATE: #9. Used Games Will NOT Be the Same
A few hours later, Kotaku is reporting that each game will install a unique key to your system, and anyone trying to play the disc afterwards will have to buy a new key… for the SAME price as the game itself. Apparently Microsoft is going to facilitate some kind of online used game/trading system. If this stands, it’s not a great sign for video game rentals or used game third parties like GameStop.
UPDATE: #10. The Console HAS to be Connected to the Internet
Kotaku is also reporting from a Q&A with Microsoft’s VP that the console has to connect to the cloud service at least once a day to function. It’s not the first device to rely on an internet connection, but people on military bases, traveling, or away from good broadband are going to be unhappy.