Microsoft Corp. revealed its successor to the widely popular Xbox 360 – called the Xbox One this time around — in a press event on May 21, three months after competitor Sony Corp. announced its new gaming console, the PlayStation 4. While Sony did not reveal the physical appearance of the PS4, Microsoft did nothing but play up its box — an oversight that cost the support of many of the faithful gamers who watched the event unfold.
The name alone is likely to confuse many. “Xbox One” has typically been used to refer to 2001’s Xbox, the predecessor to the 360, which makes Microsoft’s latest effort seem like a reboot. In a lot of ways, it is; the new Xbox One aims to be the center of “entertainment” rather than gaming. It feels more cable box than Xbox, sporting enhanced TV-watching features via a Comcast connection and a partnership with the NFL.
Although the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3, is less than three weeks away, bringing with it the promise of game announcements galore, the lack of games at Microsoft’s May 21 conference proved bothersome for a lot of gamers. The problem wasn’t the absence of the games themselves but Microsoft’s complete shift in focus; it seems that this iteration of the Xbox was not made with gamers in mind.
In fact, the hour-long conference mentioned television far more than it did games, emphasizing things like Xbox One’s “snap” feature — in which multiple applications can run simultaneously on the same screen, allowing for things like searching for movie tickets while watching a new movie’s prequel — and fantasy sports capabilities during a game’s broadcast. Xbox One users can search for TV shows and movies in several ways, including surfing what’s “trending” among other users, but all these services only work if the user has Comcast cable, which alienates those who either do not have a television provider or use a satellite service like DirecTV.
The features are interesting, of course. The new version of Kinect, a motion and voice sensor introduced for the Xbox 360, has been fine-tuned for precision in movement and voice commands (e.g. “Xbox: Watch TV”), and the new operating systems allow for little latency when switching between applications. It’s an impressive display of technology, but it falls short of compelling gamers to purchase Xbox One when it launches later this year.
Why do gamers care, though? Couldn’t they just buy from Sony — who has said that the PS4 was designed for games and gamers — instead of Xbox One? The biggest problem is that Microsoft has a few beloved exclusive games. The “Halo” and “Gears of War” franchises helped the Xbox and Xbox 360 gain traction with consumers, and they remain extremely popular. Gamers who want to play future “Halo” and “Gears” games will have to buy the Xbox One in order to do so, and because it’s likely to cost upward of $400, it’s not a purchase to take lightly.
It remains to be seen whether Xbox One will be a worthwhile purchase, but early signs point to the success of the PS4; during the one-hour Microsoft conference, Sony’s stock rose by over 9 percent, and early polls on gaming website GameSpot show that 89 percent of its readership supported the PS4 over the Xbox One as of the end of the day on May 21. E3 is Microsoft’s chance to show gamers that Xbox One is worth buying; otherwise, it will find success in the hands of more general consumers of entertainment.