The Xbox One Reveal: 60 Minutes of Silence

Kevin ruminates on whether Microsoft actually revealed anything surprising when announcing the Xbox One.

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The most remarkable aspect of Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal was how utterly unremarkable it was. It was a predictable rundown of Kinect swipe gestures, media partnerships, and interface features, with a few games thrown in to remind us that the Xbox One’s key demographic is young men into sports, cars, and online shooting. There was little I didn’t expect--and it was this predictability that disappointed me most about the console’s reveal. The moment I most hoped for was the one that would surprise me. I craved the unexpected, the game that would make our jaws drop, the announcement that would make it all worthwhile, the feature that would make the Xbox One a sure win. It never came. And suddenly, I feel less optimistic about the future of game consoles than I did before the conference.

That feeling is distinctly different from the one I had following the PlayStation 4 announcement, though Sony hardly announced anything that groundbreaking either. But Sony had diversity: an indie game, a shooter, a platformer, and so forth. It gave me things to look forward to, and a couple of those things, like Media Molecule’s unnamed creation tool, were different enough from what I’ve seen before to convince me that the next generation might indeed have something new to show us. Or at least, if they weren’t new, the experiences were varied. We had a David Cage-penned interactive film and a Jonathan Blow-designed puzzle adventure to anticipate. There were games there for me, and for others too.

In contrast, the Xbox One announcement left me cold. It was carefully calculated to speak to a specific group of people that didn’t include me. Good on Microsoft for knowing its audience. But where does that leave the rest of us? I game because there are so many different interactive experiences. Military bombast is one kind of experience I enjoy, but it’s a common experience and an easy one to rely on in a press conference, like flashy car porn and contact sports. Sony showed car porn and shooting too, but they balanced it with other types of games. What I wouldn’t have given for Gabe Newell to take the stage, or Phil Fish to emerge from the wings. Some humanity and legitimate passion could have inspired my confidence.

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Instead, the talking heads went through the usual list of buzzwords, and I grew increasingly despondent. For all the times words like “emotions” and “excitement” were uttered, all I saw was a script being closely followed to the letter. Call of Duty? Check. Forza? Check. FIFA? Check. There was no room for error, and therefore no live gameplay shown on stage. Thus, there was no chance of a standout moment to define the conference, either. When a new Remedy game was announced, I sat up straight, ready for the buzz I get from a new game announcement, but the vague trailer didn’t inspire me, coming as it did after the canned praise touting Remedy as “world-class storytellers.” Microsoft promises an amazing game lineup at E3, but today's announcement set a lackluster tone.

And so Microsoft communicated what they wished: that the Xbox One is (unsurprisingly) meant to be an all-in-one entertainment system that (unsurprisingly) lets you use your hands and voice to manipulate it, and (unsurprisingly) lets you watch ESPN. And it (unsurprisingly) runs Call of Duty, though that would seem to be of secondary importance. This string of announcements might as well have been for an upcoming update to the Xbox 360, though I don’t want to be unfair to the clearly impressive technology.

Ultimately, however, it’s about the games for me, and how the system improves the way I interact with them. The one thing I look forward to in any reveal is the “a-ha” moment where I see something I couldn’t have predicted. I don’t want to see what Microsoft thinks I want to see; I want Microsoft to show me something I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it. With the Xbox One, Microsoft showed us everything they think we want. Perhaps they are right. But when marketing trumps creativity, we get a conference like the Xbox One reveal, which stayed right on message by saying almost nothing we’ve never heard before.

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