On Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled their newest gaming system, dubbed Xbox One. Beyond the spectacle of the announcement, the actual details of the system itself were shrouded in confusion. It was pitched as an all-in-one entertainment system that would revolutionize the way we interact with our televisions. That’s all well and good but video gamers are the core market of the Xbox brand, not home consumers. For the first 30 minutes of the presentation, there wasn’t even a single mention of video games. What is the Xbox One, an all-in-one entertainment solution or an innovative gaming system?
Once Microsoft got around to talking about gaming, the demos they showed off were pretty lackluster. A partnership with EA Sports? Great, now the annual additions to Madden and FIFA will look better but will they play any different than five iterations before? Call of Duty: Ghosts and Forza 5? More sequels in oversaturated franchises. The only original IP that was shown was Remedy’s Quantum Break. Yet, the trailer for that game seemed more like a minute-long tech-demo intercut with live-action scenes. When the presentation turned to Halo, the game franchise that put the Xbox on the map in the first place, they announced a live-action TV show instead of a new game.
This clear lack of focus will make real gaming innovation elusive for Mircosoft. Where were the truly groundbreaking games? Bungie, once one of Microsoft’s core partners, is currently developing a massive game called Destiny. The killer features Bungie has talked about, if executed right, are truly groundbreaking; a persistent world blurring the lines between single-player and multiplayer gaming. Why didn’t Microsoft show a game like that built for the Xbox One? They talked in theory about games that could have features like this but nothing was actually shown.
Even more troubling is their ignorance of the new direction of the gaming industry. The most innovative games in the last few years have been made by small indie developers, games like Journey and The Walking Dead. In fact, Sony and, to a lesser extent, Nintendo have realized this and have welcomed these developers with open arms. When Sony announced the PS4 earlier this year, it was all about the developers and the games they could create for gamers. That’s a far cry from where Microsoft landed this week. Developers like EA Sports and Infinity Ward are not known for pioneering inventive new gameplay.
At least five times during the presentation, Microsoft said they would show more at E3, in June. Why split their announcement between two events? Gamers are the core market for the Xbox and they were the ones who were excitedly watching on Tuesday. Instead of showcasing the great gaming features of the new Xbox, Microsoft only paid lip-service to their core market and instead focused on the mainstream home consumer. These mixed messages do not bode well for gamers. Microsoft may have inadvertently created an atmosphere of confusion for the people who could be early adopters and the loudest supporters. E3 is the second half of the reveal for the Xbox One, lets hope gaming is a the center of their message this time.