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Tuesday Babbling – Returns on a Wednesday Edition

xboxone

I’ve had this post, half-finished, in the hopper for about three weeks. I call it being fashionably late to the party. Regardless, there’s been much ballyhoo about the Xbox One in the weeks since Microsoft disappointed gamers everywhere by not making them center stage at The Grand Unwrapping of 2013. Why we seem to care so much about this is rather beyond me.

Folks, this one wasn’t about us and that’s neither a slight, nor a problem…

First, this is not about the presentation’s aftermath, which has been something of a mess of mixed-messaging and rumor-mongering beyond the point of usefulness. This is not about whether or not I think the console will be great when it comes out. This is about the 1-hour event itself and the weeping and gnashing of teeth that followed.

Personally, I saw three things in that presentation:

– Stuff I don’t care about (most of it)
– Stuff I do care about (a little of it)
– Dark Matter (stuff that is out there, somewhere, but we don’t get to see it yet; this is the stuff on which I’ll be basing my own buying decisions)

The people who are upset with the presentation are upset because Evil Microsoft didn’t devote 10 minutes to featuring their pet issue. Indie developers are upset because they didn’t address indie gaming. People who want to buy used games the same as ever are upset. People who want to know just how often the console must be online are upset. And so are the people that want to know how much they’ll have to pay. People who want to know about games that aren’t Call of Duty or EA Sports, us basically, were totally left out in the cold.

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To all that I say, remember that Microsoft wasn’t courting you last month. They’ll get around to you eventually, probably beginning with E3 next week, because they know you’ll still be paying attention, both next week, through the summer, and later this year when this giant black box comes out. If you’re sitting at home right now saying, “I’m not buying this,” Microsoft knows they have plenty of time to show you something to change your mind, because you’re a gamer and you’ll be watching. Gamers are always watching for the next cool title that they have to play.

The Grand Unwrapping was Microsoft’s play for the people who don’t care what happens at E3 or in the fall. They were playing for the widest possible audience, an audience they want and probably desperately need to include non-gamers. They wanted their tiny slice of the national new cycle and you don’t get that by talking for fifteen and change about what you’re doing to support indie games. Answering any of the aforementioned questions isn’t on Microsoft’s radar right now because those answers are either A) only important to a vocal niche or B) aren’t going to make you happy (see: games, used).

What Microsoft wanted out of the event was for there to be B-roll on CNN, nightly news, etc., of a few pretty games and a dude controlling his TV with voice and gestures. They wanted to show utility and to that end I thought they actually did a pretty bang up job. I’m not defending Microsoft’s tactic here as a gamer, I’m just saying I know when an event isn’t about me and this? This wasn’t about me, so I took what info they offered and got on with my day. There’s really no point in being outraged about the lack of game focus because we still don’t know anything, even weeks later, about the kinds of games coming to the console. But we will. (I’ll write, maybe next week, why I just don’t give a fig about the timed expiration of the used game market).

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Publishers aren’t going to just sit on the sidelines. They’re making games and they’re going to want you to know about them. Wait for E3. Wait for the end of the summer. And most importantly, wait for six months or so after the console’s release. Then you’ll know if Microsoft has offered you enough carrots to justify whatever ungodly price they’re going to extoll (both in treasure and silly little things like privacy). I’m still convinced the slogan on this beast should be Privacy Not Included (I’m undecided how much I care about this), but I suspect I’m the only person who finds that bit of wordplay remotely amusing. But hey, what’s amusing to me has always been my guiding star so I’m cool with that.

In the meantime, if you want some more reasonable takes on what we do know, there have been a handful of articles the past few weeks that are worth a read:

Wired: Xbox One Revealed (This has better technical details than most of the detritus out there.)

 

PAR: Xbox One Will Kill Used Games and That’s Great

 

“It needs to be made clear, if all the studio closings and constant lay-offs haven’t made this explicit: The current economics of game development and sales are unsustainable. Games cost more to make, piracy is an issue, used-games are pushed over new, and players say the $60 cost is too high. Microsoft’s initiatives with the Xbox One may solve many of these issues, even if we grumble about it. These changes ultimately make the industry healthier.”

 

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PAR: Why the Xbox One Backlash Doesn’t Matter

 

“The second thing we have to remember is that a hashtag and a few blog posts isn’t a backlash. No one at Microsoft or Sony cares about what you post on the forums of your favorite gaming website. I hate to be the bearer of bad news in this regard, but right now the reaction to the possible used game restrictions amounts to a fart in the wind.

What matters is consumer behavior, and we don’t have any data points to show us how things have changed.”

Gizmodo: You Don’t Hate the Xbox One, You’re Just Jealous (They’re troll baiting with the premise, but the point is legit.)

“There is absolutely no downside to a gaming console widening its berth and bringing in a larger audience. Creating content for a console, or any platform, is not, despite whatever alarmist fears circulate, a zero sum proposition. A team spending time on the Kinect’s voice commands does not mean the controller gets shortchanged. Adding a whole side of the OS dedicated to apps and non-game content does not necessarily mean your games are being shortchanged—especially with all the lengths Microsoft has gone to ensure performance. (The static RAM on the CPU/CPU SoC is a bigger deal than it’s being given credit for.) Microsoft is a very large company. There are seven thousand people on the Xbox team alone. It can work on more than one thing at once.”

Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at ToddsFoolery.com.

11 thoughts to “Tuesday Babbling – Returns on a Wednesday Edition”

  1. I think what you’re missing- and quite frankly what a lot of other commenters out there are missing- are the messages that were VERY present in the reveal. And they’re messages that I’m not sure Microsoft really wanted to make quite so plain:

    1) The money that there is to be made in video games is drying up, so new revenue sources have to be identified and exploited.

    2) The mainstreaming of video games means even tighter corporate control and homogenity, to the point where the only games shown were the biggest franchise in the industry, a game about cars, and a Hollywood-style disaster spectacle.

    3) In order for the Xbone to be a success, it will require Microsoft training you to accept new behaviors and to acquiesce to new strictures.

    4) Current positive trends in video gaming like indie games don’t really matter so much- it’s all about the highest profile, AAA games.

    You are 100% correct that it was a very mainstream, non-gamer facing event and I think that, too, is lost on folks who expected MS to cater exclusively to their whims. I would be very interested to see how many NON GAMING families or individuals out there are now interested in buying an Xbox One for the TV functions or other non-game features. My guess would be somewhere between “a handful” and “enough to violate the fire code at a Burger King”.

    I do think that the negativity and hostile reactions have a certain basis. I think it’s great that folks are saying “no”, but the proof of the pudding is going to be when it comes out and if people continue to say no or they cave in because they want to play a particular video game.

    As for the used games issue, I’m sick of the smoke and mirrors. All of the “woe is me” crap about the unsustainable industry. Won’t somebody think of the publishers? Blah blah blah. The issue is that a) the $60 price point has been completely undermined by lower cost alternatives and the corporations have NOT been competitive as they should be in a capitalist marketplace and b) there is absolutely no compelling reason- specifically the QUALITY OF THE PRODUCT- for a consumer to buy a full retail price game. They’ve tried to add value with bullshit preorder bonuses, online passes, exclusives, and so forth but at the end of the day all of that add-on crap is still crap when it’s attached to a crap game that was never worth $60 to begin with.

    You want to kill the used games market? Make high quality, reasonably priced and REASONABLY BUDGETED games that folks WANT to support by buying new. Lower your fucking sales projections and be realistic about your marketing. Or offer a trade-off- you can buy this great, indie game for $15 on Steam…but there’s no used resale possible. That’s MUCH more palatable when you’re not being shaken down for $60.

    But when you’re reselling people the same five or six gameplay concepts with different sour-faced ultra-man protagonists and endless killing of whatever variety, why SHOULD they pay $60 for a new copy when what you’re selling is worth $20?

    The used games issue is about the quality of the product more than anything else, regardless of what they say. I’ll tell you straight up that I will not pay full price for almost ANY game and I will absolutely buy used UNLESS it’s something like Rocksteady’s next Batman game, a CD Projekt Red game or a Nintendo first-party title. Because I know those are worth full price. Everything else- nope. Not at $60. Not when I can buy a game like Gunpoint or The Swapper for under $15.

    1. I don’t believe it is that I’m missing something. I’m just drawing different conclusions: That there’s no decision to make right now.

      Virtually everything about how the One’s ecosystem will function in a practical way is in the category or Dark Matter at this point. We can’t take a few bullet points and then say definitively that whole system of gaming in practice is going to be like “this” or it’s going to be like “that.” Without full details of how the “ownership” (leasing) will actually function, without full understanding of how publishers are going to make use of it, and without full understanding of what consumer demand (or lack thereof) will do to evolve it a year+ after release, there aren’t any real conclusions to draw. People *hated* Windows XP when it first came out and it when on to become a monumentally successful product. (This is not to argue the One will be monumentally successful. It’s to re-enforce that there’s just no knowing what the wind will blow in.)

      *Nobody* needs to make a buying decision right now and while I haven’t seen nearly enough to even consider investing in a One console (I haven’t so much as touched my 360 for gaming in probably six months or more; I’ve been very happy putting my gaming time into my PC and iPad), I’m not going to prematurely close the door to it when I don’t even know how it’ll fit into my household’s needs/wants (after all, it’s not just about what I want, but what will interest my kids as well).

      1. I see your argument as ‘we don’t know if this console will be worthwhile yet’. Which based on the given information is true.

        Barnes’ assertion is much different. He’s attacking the fundamental principles behind console gaming, and in the process saying the console won’t be worth it REGARDLESS of whatever gaming centric choices they make. It’s not the hardware at issue here, it’s the fundamental business behind console gaming. Period.

        You know what I completely agree with Barnes here. It’s odd since he often has a good point that I feel he takes too far/ too angry/ too picky. This time, nope. I haven’t turned on my Xbox in two years. While your ‘wait and see’ point is perfectly reasonable, I see it as pointless since the whole enterprise is built on a rotting core. Piss on AAA gaming, I want no part of that. I’ve got Kerbals to put in space, not some arm hair and dog simulator to watch.

        1. That’s fine, but you guys are talking to me like this post is a counterpoint to Michael’s post (it’s not; again, I wrote half of it a couple weeks ago) and that I haven’t been saying for a couple of years that I thought AAA gaming is turning to shit. I’ve written multiple posts about how the industry’s lack of interest in making games I give a shit about makes me completely uninterested in playing them, let alone writing about them.

          My point is that drawing conclusions about the One and the gaming ecosystem that come about with it is pointless right now. MS’s presentation wasn’t about the things we care about and because of that, A) We really don’t know what variety of games will be playable on this thing and that B) even if it’s a dud to start with it’s perfectly capable of evolving. This business isn’t static.

          This post is neither a defense of AAA gaming nor is it an argument that we should all be lining up to buy. It’s a post that’s saying the Internet-wide histrionics over the whole thing are silly.

          1. That’s fair. I certainly didn’t mean to sound like I was coming down on your article (though rereading I see I kinda did). I’m on board with not getting overly crazy about the announcement. This was after all, as you said, not for us. I’ve just come to the conclusion that the Xbone will never be for me, because their target (even with a major refocusing at E3) will still be that AAA console market. That just isn’t me, that’s not going to be me, and as long as that is their primary focus consoles are not for me.

            All said you are right not to read the tea leaves too much on this.

  2. I wasn’t trying to come down on the article either, I appreciate your more even-handed approach to it. And I really don’t like internet histrionics at all.

    But Craig is right, what I’m after isn’t so much the Xbone, but the AAA console business in general. We don’t have to wait until E3 to see the directions it’s heading, and how it is leaving us- and lots of other consumers- behind. In search of more lucrative opportunities elsewhere such that the idea of there only being a very small number of moneymaking, AAA games and then a wide gulf between them and everything else is becoming more and more likely.

    I don’t care what Microsoft has to show at E3. I don’t care if they bring Hideo Kojima up there and he spanks Don Mattrick’s ass and says “Microsoft, yes gamer!” and gives a thumbs-up because Metal Gear will only be on Xbone from now on until the end of time. There’s nothing they can do to convince me because I’m opposed to the strategies and business models they have already evidenced. The focus on video games is lost, and I do not support their methods of monetizing the product.

    I don’t know if there’s anything sadder than seeing a lot of these folks raging about the Xbone who will then turn around say “well, let’s see what games they show at E3”. So I guess instead of standing up against the kind of consumer-as-assumed-criminal policies and “service”-based monetization models that reduce value in favor of higher margin, they’ll bend right on over if the games they like are displayed on those giant screens.

    With that said, I do agree with Todd that we don’t know how this is all going to look in five years. The truth is, it could be much worse- if consumers say “screw it, I’ll buy an Xbone because I want Halo 5” and don’t think about the kind of consent they then give corporations like Microsoft.

  3. I don’t have a stake in the xbox nonsense. I have seen nothing to persuade me to turn away from Gunpoint, Little Inferno and Reus or “next generation” games now (wow sleeping dogs looked good).

    I watched the presentation a few days after the fallout. I truly don’t understand why they launched a game console with barely any mention of games. Yes I understand they want their BBC News coverage and to appeal to erm… people who like television and they did this expertly. There was a lot of talking, a lot of twaddle. In fact 90 (disclaimer, I lost track of time) minutes of twaddle.

    They could have spent the other half of the presentation explaining and debunking some of the issues/rumours that alienate us.

    In that regard it was a fuck up.

    Why do they even need E3 when they had the floor to themselves?

    Recently I have been utterly disgusted that the ability to create anything, ANYTHING you can possibly conceived has been lost to first person shooters and lazy quick buck concepts. I’m pretty sure playing it safe only works for so long.

    I can talk all day about used games, always online and unsavoury practices but I’ll leave you with this. I picked up Twisted Metal second hand on a whim. The previous owner played this online. Thanks to the Online Pass I wont take his place. So the online community has one less person invited to the party and I’m more then sure the party could have used new blood. Who does that help? From a business standpoint, I’m not paying. Equally from a gaming standpoint, I’m not playing. I wont be helping with the word of mouth, and the bullshit will stop me buying the next game new and capitalising on my rare whim.

    And that’s the climate of gaming right now, ran by the paranoid, debased and short term.

    People deserve the systems they enable and put up with… yes I’m still talking consoles… kinda.

  4. Let me chime in here cause I think I am the target for MS’s presentation and where the Xbox One is going….and I don’t think I’m all that unique. I’m a “gamer”, but not like you guys are gamers. I dabble. PC, ipad, boardgames, CCG’s etc. I have two kids who are the same. XBox gaming gets used by them because of Xbox live and the social aspects…it’s easy for them to play with their friends. I don’t remember the last time I gamed on the xbox (probably some Rock Band party), but I use it 2 or 3 times a week to watch Amazon, Netflix, Hulu etc. It’s basically an app service for me, much like the iPad is. I have cable pretty much exclusively to watch sports. I’m very much NOT alone in this. Talk to anybody who works in TV delivery and they will tell you ESPN rules the roost. If i could get NFL Sunday Ticket through my XBox? Bye, Bye cable. The XBox becomes my exclusive living room entertainment content provider. Sign me up. How many PS3’s did they sell because it had Blu-Ray? Lots. Each little incremental piece of value they can add makes it easier for 40 year old Dad to buy it “for his kids”.

    I’m with Todd on this one, as well. We have no idea right now how all of the content is going to be delivered to us. I would not be surprised to see it looking very similar to Steam or the iPad. There will still be the blockbuster AAA stuff for those that want it, but plenty of Plants vs Zombies, Minecrafts and Angry Birds as well. But I can play it on my couch, switch to watching Game of Thrones in a heartbeat (and by yelling at my TV…not so keen on this, but who knows, maybe it’ll be awesome).

    So to sum it up, the XBox One looks to be providing more of what my family currently uses the Xbox for; AAA gaming with friends (kids for whom AAA isn’t retread), entertainment content delivery (hulu, netflix, amazon) with promise of more (NFL!, sports on demand, app delivery service). Screw the kinect stuff, although I have an 11 year old who will eat that shit up.

    1. Great stuff, Chuckles! Yes, I think there are *a lot* more folks out there who fall into this category than I think is generally recognized. I think for a lot of people it’ll come down to price and does it work as well as that demo made it look?

      @craig/@michael – Sorry if I came off touchy as well. I just don’t want to be tagged as being “yay AAA” when I’m… well, incredibly not.

    2. Those are all good points, but here’s my issue: customer service and ownership. I have cable and pay every month. If my receiver/DVR breaks and stops working, they send someone out to fix/replace it. If my Xbox stops working, i’m screwed because it’s past the 1-year warranty and i have to pony up the money for a new one. This is only exasperated by the fact that MS wants me to pay a yearly fee to use their services.

      If they’re going a service-based route, then why even have the Xbone be something someone purchases? Why not a purely service-based scheme in which i pay each year/month, renting the hardware, and getting on-sight support that is meaningful and effective if it’s ever necessary. Right now, i see a hybrid that uses an old model for ownership of the hardware, with newer models for licensing of software and services. Ultimately, i get little real service but still pay out the nose.

      If they want to be treated like a service provider, then they need to skip the foreplay and just say, “We’re a service provider now with hardware to support our service.” At the moment, we’re getting a message that is going in about 5 different directions at once, and none of them are particularly appealing over all.

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