After almost eight years of the Xbox 360, Microsoft has announced the next-generation successor: Xbox One. The worlds of gaming and technology have changed much since 2005, but the hour-long unveiling showed that its enduring target demographic of the twentysomething male is very much the beating heart of Xbox One's future.
Microsoft wheeled out its familiar procession of executives, with smart hair and suits as slick as the hardware itself, who wore their cheshire cat grins and dropped a familiar string of platitudes and praise about the boundless possibilities of the upcoming console. The games were big and important, but boring and typical: Forza Motorsport, Call of Duty, FIFA, Madden, NBA Live, and UFC. Quantum Break was the outlier, a new IP with its roots in mystery and sci-fi. But the overall message felt clear and obvious: this is a big boy's toy designed for sports, television, and Call of Duty.
It's a real shame that Microsoft didn't have the inclination to promote a more diverse vision of gaming and, by its self-defined extension, entertainment. If Microsoft was preaching anything today, it was that core gaming can co-exist as part of a broader entertainment device. Of course it can, and Microsoft is right to invest so much in showing that. Yet it's just a galling, painful shame that it felt a need to laser-focus such breadth into that ever-present, perpetually weary stereotypical vision of a core (read: likely male) gamer.
Maybe things will be different when Microsoft exhibits its self-hyped software catalogue at E3 in June, but from today's announcement alone I couldn't possibly see my girlfriend, younger siblings, or parents getting anything out of the Xbox One. It just didn't feel like a console (device?) designed with them in mind. But never mind that, here's some inane marketing chatter about how Call of Duty: Ghosts is going to have better mantling.
Microsoft is not foolish, of course: it's seen the sales numbers for Kinect software. Despite its frequent boasts about the uptake of the peripheral, it knows that the all-singing, all-dancing family market it has been so busy courting in previous years is in no rush to buy more copies of Dance Central and Kinect Sports, and that the average Halo fan is far more agreeable when it comes to parting with a few hundred dollars in time for Christmas. But Microsoft also looks desperate to be taken seriously outside of the games industry--hence the creation of its own bespoke entertainment division now headed up by a live-action Halo series--and I can't help but think embracing a richer, more diverse lineup would have allowed the publisher to make real strides towards that goal at a cost much less than what's written on Spielberg's cheque.
It's worth remembering, of course, that Sony was virtually the same when it announced the PlayStation 4 back in February, focusing on those same tried-and-true archetypes in its attempt to snag its core audience. And Sony's decision to invite a grand total of zero women to its stage was a particularly poor show, but at least it tried to show off Knack and The Witness.
The question remains whether Microsoft is even aware of its restrictive attitude. The reality of the content behind the Xbox One announcement fundamentally clashes with shots of beaming mouthpiece Major Nelson interlocking arms with his co-host before blasting into a tiresome montage showing a group of diverse, multicultural Xbox lovers and developers talking about how the brand makes them feel alive. Based on what was shown over the next 60 minutes, however, Microsoft's montage should have been a sports bar full of dudes all shouting the names of their favourite football teams, MMA fighters, and Call of Duty weapons.
These days, Microsoft is trying to appeal to the masses. But what Microsoft has always failed to properly grasp from Steve Jobs' legacy, despite years of ardent emulation, is that mass appeal is more than simple numbers. When Jobs sat down in a comfy armchair and wistfully flicked through a photo album on an iPad, everyone in the world could relate. Call of Duty's eye-watering sales numbers fail to cross such generational borders.
It gets worse as Microsoft tries harder to bleed this all-encompassing vision of entertainment into the Xbox One. When Jobs stood clutching an iPod and waxed lyrical of his fondness for Dylan and The Beatles, his personal connection to the music felt like it was enhanced by the technology. When a Microsoft executive stands on stage and barks a fondness for Game of Thrones, it feels like it was coldly spouted by a demographic-analysing computer algorithm. It's depressing to watch, and eerily reminiscent of those childhood moments when out-of-touch adults did their best to awkwardly relate to your interests.
I don't think it's any real secret that Microsoft has always envisioned Xbox as its trojan horse of the living room, and the Xbox One represents the company's most significant assault on the space under your telly to date. Focusing on affluent twentysomething males is likely another tactic in this strategy: win over a passionate core demographic at the start and the rest will follow. And, yes, perhaps that is the case: I will almost certainly buy one at launch, at least. But for all of Microsoft's use of the word "entertainment," the corporation fails to understand that the greatest power of entertainment is its wonderful ability to collate and unify. Sport, books, movies, TV, and games are at their best when they are bringing everyone together, and Microsoft's bold statement of intent about the very future of entertainment, in its current form, feels just as likely to alienate. The next Xbox needs to appeal to All rather than One.'