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 last giant left to enter the fray succumb under the tremendous pressure? Or will the esteemed designers and programmers of Microsoft answer the call with a deafening retort 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, at least a few of these whispers are worthy of our attention (even just for entertainment's sake), 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? Well 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 results were tallied and 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 (since GameStop conducting a survey 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% of their consumers right out 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 can see this working two ways: First, if all the major console developers were on board (they're not), and second, if Microsoft can manage to persuade major developers into developing exclusively for the next Xbox. Think about it. The used game industry is a multibillion dollar industry that earns the vast majority of its funds from the pockets of both publishers and developers. Sure, they 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 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 developing solely for a console that prevents this kind of third party loss is better, it could provide enough incentive for many brands to hop aboard. More developers making exclusive content essentially creates a greater appeal for the console, which evolves into an increase in sales, resulting in more appeal 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 regain 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 lifespan limited to a company's commitment to their servers. Forget the inconveniences of not having the internet or the embarrassment of having a connection only suitable 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. Don't get me started. Constantly connected games are a trend that needed to die yesterday. If you support the notion of always online-DRM (Digital Rights Management), please stop reading, go outside, and walk into oncoming traffic. Actually don't, I don't want your mother suing me when she discovers you've left her basement to follow the advice of someone you met on the internet. Honestly though (and yes, that was sarcastic, I really love you and I'd never say anything that mean), if you can legitimately defend always online-DRM, I'd love to hear your thoughts because, after the Diablo 3 launch and the Sim City 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 the Kinect 2.0 be Enabled to Play: Big brother is watching you references aside, the Kinect is little more than a decent idea that's been poorly executed. Could it succeed? Absolutelyif you can forget about the mandatory airline-hanger-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, revolutionary, and cutting edge while voice commands are fun (until someone walks through the room while you're playing Madden 13 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?
How it Could Succeed: The Kinect has always had the potential to be something special, though traditionally 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 managed to implement it properly. Imagine a fighting game that legitimately tracked a player's movements and speed against another combatant? Or a fantasy title that accurately tracked sword-wielding reflexes or spell casting prowess against single player foes or online adversaries? Regardless, if the rumors are true and Microsoft intends to force the Kinect down our throats, they'd better bring a perfected product to the table. No justifications. No work in progress nonsense. No exceptions. If you're going to force gamers to incorporate something new into their traditional habits, you'd better do it as smooth and as gently as possible. Sugarcoat that medicine Microsoft! Or don't feed us a problem we would have lived happily without.
The Rumor: The Next Xbox will Feature 70 dollar Games: Just when the good news of an increase in minimum wage rang through the halls of slums and campus dorms alike--the cold rumor of games increasing to 70 dollars a title has come whispering from the darkness like the icy breath of a shadow. Coincidence? Perhaps. Good move? Absolutely: If you're the one developing or publishing the games and not the sucker paying to play them.
Videogames are already pricey, and the average consumer has to be wise with their purchases, but a ten 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? Who do we support? Which is the lesser of two evils? 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 towards day one DLC, micro-transactions, and digital advantages, why wouldn't they be willing to part with a little more money for the games they love? That's partially the logic behind Microsoft's thinking if the rumors are true, and I'm willing to bet they're banking on the horrible spending habits of gamers and society's need to have the latest and greatest as well. If Apple can manage to sell overpriced phones and computers like snake oil, I'm willing to bet that raising the cost of a game by a measly 10 dollars won't impact a consumer's decisions any more than a speed bump in a parking lot stops them from frequenting their favorite store. 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, but an obvious evolution only a fool would hesitate in making. Welcome to the future ladies and gentlemen: We reap what we sow.
The Rumor: The Next Xbox will be Less Powerful than the Ps4: The reason I mention this, (and mention it last for that matter) is not as a deal breaker itself, but as another strike if any of the other rumors are true. Sure, the current Xbox and PlayStation are neck to neck graphically now, but Microsoft has managed to appeal to consumers through offers and other incentives that seemingly make it a viable option in relation to its competitors Blu-ray featured console. With the Kinect, a full lineup of multimedia distractions, and a large library of Live Arcade games and other multiplayer features, the current Xbox can afford its graphical similarities and slightly limited functionality while still remaining 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 is decreasing the cost of the system, increasing their profit margins, and essentially making their model friendlier to fans and holiday shopping parents alike. Besides, if the difference in visuals is minimal, while the difference in price is enough for a few more games, many gamers would spring for the option that netted the bigger short-term payout verse the better long term value.
So, what are your thoughts? If any of the rumors are true, are they enough to keep you away from the next Xbox? If not, why? What is your breaking point and when is enough, enough? And if you do support any of the possible changes, I'd love to hear your arguments why.
Thanks for reading.