The battle has begun. As developers begin to squeeze the dying pixels from a fading era of consoles, the inevitable cold war known as the next generation lingers on the horizon. Here, reputations are at stake, fan loyalties wax and wane, and precious consumer dollars dangle from the wallets of the undecided. Make no mistake: This is war.
As Nintendo's Wii U sales continue to hobble, Sony has eased swiftly into its play for the throne with the masterfully hyped announcement of the PlayStation 4. Will the esteemed designers and programmers of Microsoft answer the call with a deafening retort in order to silence the industry with a console destined to rule them all?
Not if the rumors are true.
Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves here. I'm not writing this with insider information or as a time traveler from the near future. Yet, as rumors buzz like caffeinated bees from one website to the next, a few of these whispers are worthy of our attention, at least until something more substantial is released. So why will the next Xbox fail? Let's break it down, rumor by rumor.
The Rumor: The Next Xbox Won't Play Used Games. This is the big, fat, glaring, nasty rumor that has diehard Microsoft fanboys and GameStop employees alike praying to the gaming gods like sinners on Judgment Day. So what's the big deal? For one, people like the option of keeping or selling a game once they've played it, and since keeping up with the latest and greatest has never been a poor man's pastime, many gamers turn to trading in old games to subsidize their habit. In fact, the importance of this freedom was assessed when used-game supergiant GameStop conducted an in-house survey on the likelihood of customers buying a console based on its ability to ban used games. The survey found (surprise, surprise) that three out of every five GameStop customers would avoid purchasing such a console. Now, I don't put much faith in such a survey for obvious reasons (GameStop surveying customers regarding used games is the equivalent of surveying cows on the merits of eating beef), but if you were to look at this as a statistical representation of the market, Microsoft is essentially eliminating 60 percent of its consumers right out of the gate. Would you be willing to sacrifice your freedoms as a consumer to guarantee the success of your favorite developers and publishers?
Why It Could Succeed: I could see this working if all the major console developers were on board (they're not), and if Microsoft could manage to persuade major developers to develop exclusively for the next Xbox. Think about it. The used-game industry is a multibillion-dollar industry. Sure, the publishers and developers of games both get paid on the initial sale of a new game, but who makes the money when a game is resold (especially when it's bought for pennies and sold again for dollars)? Game developers aren't earning a red cent off of used-game purchases, and if GameStop is making billions, that's billions the rightful creators are missing out on. If Microsoft can convince developers that it's better to develop solely for a console that prevents this kind of third-party loss, it could provide enough incentive for many brands to hop aboard. More developers generating exclusive content makes the console more appealing, which translates into an increase in sales, resulting in more incentive for developers to develop strictly for it. But are developers willing to turn to a console that has their best interests in mind at the cost of limiting the freedoms of their fans? Or will tradition prevail as developers seek the greatest audience while continually innovating new ways to gain their hard-earned money back from the middleman vultures of the used-game industry?
The Rumor: The Next Xbox Will Require a Constant Internet Connection to Play. The Internet seas must be rampant with piracy if punishing honest gamers with a forced online connection seems like a viable solution to anyone. Sadly, I can just imagine some bigwig stopping a board meeting at Microsoft to say, "You know what? Gamers love it when they need an Internet connection to play games because servers shutting down for reaching capacity is epic, and having to queue for a single-player experience is a blast!"
If the rumors are true, then say goodbye to the simple days when all you needed was a console and somewhere to plug it in, and roll out the red carpet for an online experience handicapped by connectivity issues with a life span limited to a company's commitment to its servers. Forget the inconveniences of not having the Internet or the embarrassment of having a connection suitable only for email--once the servers go down on an online-only game, all you have left is a useless disc and a broken heart full of memories.
Why It Could Succeed: It can't. Constantly connected games are a trend that needed to die yesterday. If you can legitimately defend always-online DRM (digital rights management), I'd love to hear your thoughts, because after the Diablo III launch and the SimCity fiasco, the always-online idea seems like the digital start of the Black Death. Maybe if companies sold heavily chained DRM titles at half price, or even offered incentives for playing online (while still offering the option of an offline single-player experience), it could work, but you're still going to have to sell me on the idea before getting me aboard that Titanic. No sir, no ma'am, no thanks!
The future of gaming?
The Rumor: The Next Xbox Will Require an Enabled Kinect 2.0. The Kinect is little more than a decent idea that has been poorly executed. Could it succeed? Absolutely, if you can forget about the airline-hangar-for-a-living-room that's required to enjoy it, and the fact that not everyone wants a workout when they sit down to play. Sure, it's innovative, and voice commands are fun (until someone walks through the room while you're playing Madden and calls for a spike on 3rd and 1), but the Kinect generally serves as little more than an entertaining party trick that just isn't necessary in most games. So why make it mandatory?
Why It Could Succeed: The Kinect has always had the potential to be something special, though it has traditionally been hindered by the limitations of its own capabilities and design. Microsoft has undoubtedly made significant improvements since its conception, and rumors of the new Kinect being capable of detecting movements from inches away are promising, but the Kinect 2.0 still has miles to go before venturing out from beneath the shadow of its less-than-perfect predecessor. Still, the possibilities are undoubtedly there, and the results could be spectacular if Microsoft manages to implement them properly. Imagine a fighting game that legitimately tracked your movements and speed against another combatant, or a fantasy game that accurately tracked sword-wielding reflexes or spellcasting prowess against single-player foes or online adversaries. If the rumors are true and Microsoft intends to force the Kinect down our throats, it had better bring a perfected product to the table. No exceptions. If you're going to force gamers to incorporate something new into their traditional habits, you'd better do it as smoothly and as gently as possible. Sugarcoat that medicine, Microsoft! Or don't feed us a problem we would have happily lived without.
The Rumor: Games for the Next Xbox Will Cost $70. Video games are already pricey, and the average consumer has to be wise with his or her purchases, so a 10-dollar increase could very well be the breaking point for many. Is now the time to stop our ranting on GameSpot and Facebook and finally let our wallets do the talking? Or does the new $70 become the old $60 as we line up like sheep for Call of Duty 25, Madden 82, and Assassin's Creed 14?
Why It Could Succeed: If gamers are willing to throw cash at day-one downloadable content, microtransactions, and digital advantages, why wouldn't they be willing to part with a little more money for the games they love? If the rumors are true, I'm willing to bet Microsoft is banking on the horrible spending habits of gamers and society's need to have the latest and greatest. If Apple can manage to sell overpriced phones and computers like hotcakes, I'm willing to bet that raising the cost of a game by a measly 10 dollars won't impact consumers' decisions any more than a speed bump in a parking lot stops shoppers from frequenting their favorite stores. If gamers keep inhaling their beloved games like spoiled children eating candy, I'd say a price increase isn't just a good business move; it's an obvious opportunity only a fool would hesitate to seize. Welcome to the future, ladies and gentlemen: We reap what we sow.
The Rumor: The Next Xbox Will Be Less Powerful Than the PlayStation 4. With the Kinect, a full lineup of multimedia distractions, and a large library of Xbox Live Arcade games, the current Xbox has mitigated its technical disadvantages relative to the PlayStation 3 and remained a successful force in the market. But what happens when you strip away these selling points, add limitations, and throw graphical disparity into the mix? You're left with an inferior system that won't sell unless it's at a dramatically reduced price or marketed to an incredibly susceptible audience. Either way, it's another potential strike in a fierce game that Microsoft won't want to lose.
Why It Could Succeed: Any credible gamer can tell you that graphics aren't everything. The current generation showcases a perfect example with the Wii, which is graphically inferior to both the Xbox 360 and the PS3, but managed to outsell both systems worldwide. By lowering the graphical output of its next-generation contender, Microsoft would decrease the cost of the system, increase its profit margins, and essentially make its console friendlier to fans and holiday shopping parents alike. Besides, if the difference in visuals is minimal, while the difference in price is enough to allow purchasers to buy a few more games, many gamers would spring for the less-expensive option.
So, what are your thoughts? If any of the rumors are true, are they enough to keep you away from the next Xbox? What is your breaking point, and when is enough enough?