Before the jump, I’ll summarize by saying that the unveiling was disappointing but not unexpected. What I found surprising was the level of rage generated by serious journalists and their claim that said rage was a reflection of them being taken seriously as journalists. I really wish someone with a modicum of perspective would comment objectively when these events, unveilings, reveals do occur. This level of knee-jerk reactionary attitude is what made the US media’s political coverage so asinine—what Jon Stewart makes fun of each and every episode of The Daily Show. Let’s break down the talking points:
1. Always Online. It went from the rumor that the Xbox was required to be always online to being not, to being a possible maybe to a firm maybe to a probable probably.
2. Kinect Always On. Kinect is always listening, always monitoring, a feature necessary given it has voice activation. A requirement they now claim which may not be required.
3. Used Game Fees. If you purchase or trade used games, there is an additional fee to unlock said game for a new user.
4. TV Service. The Xbox One apparently can stream TV, useful unless you already have a smart TV or live outside of the United States, as the service won’t work anywhere else, at least at launch.
5. HD Install. All games have mandatory hard drive installs and the installed HD is a paltry 500 GB without a capacity of it being removed.
Kinect always-on carries the whiff of big brother. Assuming the Kinect even works properly, all of this doesn’t alarm me until someone discovers a way to crack the system and hack people’s cameras. When it does, things will change. But let’s slide that assumption aside for now and focus on always online and used games.
The last word had the Xbox One required to connect once every 24 hours to “re-initialize” or something or other. Without an official answer outside of talking points, this is still up in the air in my eyes, but let’s assume it’s fact. I stated in a previous article that always online is coming. Many PCs are already always online and eventually, this population will grow to such a margin that companies simply won’t care about people not being connected. Comparing the loss of customers from being always online to the revenue lost from piracy results in a figure obviously pointing companies to push always online.
As for used games, my response will read as arrogant. Welcome to the club. I’ve warned repeatedly that this will happen. It’s going to happen. Digital download is the future and the optical drives in these new generation consoles will soon be afterthoughts. In every generation, there’s a stop-gap improvement, usually marketed as a smaller version of the console. The PS2 lost its firewire ports, removable modem and hard drive slot. The Xbox added an HDMI port. Both units lost weight. When the PS4.5 and Xbox One-Point-Five are released, I wouldn’t be surprised if they went the route already started with the PSP Go and remove their optical drives completely. You think Microsoft and Sony care about Gamestop? They don’t. Oh sure, they’ll placate them for a while and support them publicly, but it’s only soothing the lamb before the slaughter. The writing’s on the wall. Physical games are dying and with them, all dreams of a used game market. Brick and motor game retail is not only dead, it’s a walking zombie. This concept of used game fees is a short injection until the market completely switches over. At best, it’s potty training—getting people out of the habit of seeking used games.
My theory regarding the death of online passes has already been pitched by someone else before I could address it. EA announced they were doing away with online passes to the rejoicing of many fans. I snickered because I saw through the facade of public relations almost immediately. It has nothing to do with the used game fee orbiting the new Xbox; it was and always will the death of physical media. Just as you cannot return games on Steam or Origin, soon the same will be true for all consoles. Doing away with online passes was a given. To reiterate: Xbox’s announcement doesn’t really factor in EA’s announcement; the death of physical media is the cause. If a game can be sold for same price online as on a retail shelf, no one in their right mind would support retail; there’s so much more money to be earned through direct download. And with direct download, so goes used games…with used games a thing of past, online passes become redundant. The Xbox “used fee” is simply an added bonus.
What else could be said about the unveiling? Well, for one, people shouldn’t have expected a price announcement. Nothing so cataclysmic would be left to an independent unveiling before E3. Xbox knew they had to do an unveiling before E3 otherwise they’d be forever one step behind Sony. They had to show the system because Sony didn’t. Throwing some women on the stage proves a point which I didn’t think needed to be proven if the console is the real draw. What I found alarming was the amount of time spent on non-game announcements. Of the three games shown, only one appeared to be an exclusive. The rest of the hour was spent talking about features many people won’t be able to access and won’t need. The apparent proposal for the Xbox was to turn your TV into a giant iPad. The problem is that everyone has an iPad…and you can’t take your TV on a bus. Not only that, but the idea of turning a TV into an iPad had already been addressed by companies that MAKE TVs. 3D TVs didn’t invigorate the market like they had hoped so the new pitch is smart TVs—being able to surf the net and make calls while also linking to the cloud to watch movies without requiring a disc collection. So the Xbox is trying to pitch itself as the solution to a problem fixed by others a year ago, a problem made even more irrelevant when the release actually arrives.
As someone in Canada, the unveiling was nothing short of odd. They wanted to release the name, show the system, and blow people’s minds with a Spielberg-produced Halo live action series. The problem is that they needed to hold back stuff for E3 and so were forced to pad an already short presentation. Makes me wonder why they did a presentation at all. Well, that’s easy, because Sony did one. All Sony was guilty of was not showing the system. Xbox was guilty of far worse. They badly evaded the big questions and came off confused. My annoyance was still with the journalists at asking the big questions but not realizing the motivations behind the answers. Each time someone complains about used games with consoles, I always bring up the PC and mobile markets. It’s the future and we’ve got to get used to it. Don’t want to…then it’s easy, just convince 80 million people to not buy the next console generation. It won’t work, but a valiant effort.
If you don’t want pay-per-view companies to employ Kinect to count the people in the room, you’ll have to fight back. Don’t buy the system. Simple as that. But no, you need to have a dog companion for the next Call of Duty, and a 100 million people will line up like sheep. If you want to play previous generation games, convince the 95% of the people who don’t do that to embrace nostalgia. Want to keep physical media alive? Don’t download anything? You could also buy a 35mm camera and mix developer in your basement. You could do that to. Like accusations that Avatar ripped off Dances with Wolves. Us old people bitch while half a billion pay their ticket, unaware that the movie had been told a dozen times already, a point recently reaffirmed with Star Trek Into Darkness. Until the vocal minority convince the silent masses that objectivist economics is destroying our social tapestry, companies will continue chugging along, following the edicts of a machine that works because we insist it does.