XBox One, And Marginalizing The Gamer

Image credit: Forbes

Image credit: Forbes

Microsoft revealed their newest system, the XBox One, and other than the assertion of allowing the transfer of used games1, things went largely as planned. I’ve been critical on Twitter2 of the system just based on reports I’d heard, but knew one major thing, judging by how Microsoft managed the past year plus of the XBox 360: their interests aren’t in games so much as they are in games as a part of the larger ecosystem.

The system reveal did not disappoint (for anyone interested in the minutia, ask those who were there). The system’s hardware capabilities were played up. Over a half hour went by before a video game was even mentioned. Some rumors were proven, then immediately contradicted, leaving little more than confusion in its wake. And at the end of the night, many journalists, at least the ones who weren’t hooting and hollering in the stands like banshees, were left with more questions than answers.

I’m personally surprised at the fervor that this was covered with by the games industry. Yes, the One is technically a video game system, but I believe that’s akin to calling my Android phone a dedicated gaming system. Microsoft is not using video games to sell this system; in fact, they’re using the system’s video game heritage in order to get the gamers’ attention while they actually compete against smart TVs. They’re not going into this with the intention of taking over the games industry, but if they win this console generation, then that’s a bonus for them.

Of course, while they’re hanging around us gamers, that doesn’t mean they can’t find ways to tweak us. For every good thing that was announced – in particular, multitasking and eight new IPs sound nice – it seemed like Microsoft killed the buzz in a major way on others. Microsoft says that they will support used games, but that’s PR obfuscation; the real deal is that they’re forcing gamers to single-use install codes, rendering their $60 (or $70? $80?) discs into becoming coasters, and forcing someone renting or borrowing a game into purchasing the “license” for it. The first real shot has been fired in the war against used games, and it’s a devastating one. However, Microsoft doesn’t need to care about what Gamestop thinks, because once again, the gamer in this equation is largely irrelevant. Why concern yourself with Gamestop when you’re aiming at JC Penny’s?

Of other note to me is that for all the talk of Microsoft becoming an entertainment company, they still don’t mind throwing their weight around for selective exclusives. Obviously, Call of Duty exclusivity on map packs will still be the norm, but of note to me was the announcement that FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode will be exclusive to the XBox One. For the most part (so far), the announcement of a partnership with EA Sports has been a dud, but Ultimate Team being exclusive to Live, and behind their Gold paywall, is a huge deal. Love the mode or hate it – and my opinion on all Ultimate Team modes is well established – the fact is that millions of people across the world are heavily invested in the mode, and taking it off of the competing systems could be a system-selling decision for football fans across the world. Whereas Sony and Nintendo are selling their systems to gamers with carrots – “hey, come play our games! We have many wonderful ways to play!” – Microsoft is basically making people buy via the stick. “If you want to play this game, you have to do it our way.”

In terms of the next generation, whereas the PlayStation 3 and 360 largely became each other in terms of what they offered the gamer, there seems to be a very clear line of demarcation drawing. The PlayStation 4, and by extension the Wii U, are aiming at gamers, people who frequent sites like Kotaku, Destructoid and other game sites. The PS4 in particular is aimed at the “core” gamer, someone who wants the best AAA games, is invested in the best independent games, and will pay for the privilege to play them. The One, on the other hand, is aimed at more casual players, someone who will buy a few mega hits – a Halo here, a Call of Duty there – and then use the system to watch ESPN or Netflix. If the PS4 is aimed at the hardcore gamer, the One is aimed at his or her family and friends. The key is Sony betting that there are enough of those hardcore gamers to make up for the others, enough to make the PS4 a viable option. I have to seriously question if there are, if I’m being honest.

In the end, the XBox One is not a video console. It is an entertainment console that happens to play video games. There is a major difference in that distinction, and unlike in the past, gamers seem to have figured it out. Reactions to the presser are largely cynical, with a Kotaku poll showing heavy displeasure with the presser. However, the Kotaku readers are largely irrelevant to Microsoft’s thinking; they know those gamers, if tossed a couple of exclusives, will ultimately end up buying the system and subscribing to Gold, and coverage in mainstream media such as the BBC or the New York Times will take care of everyone else.

1 – We don’t know definites, and Wired’s story reporting that people were going to have to pay a fee was later updated to say that Microsoft declined it. My take: they’re going to allow digital transfers with a license fee paid to Microsoft.

2 – The heavy writing void can be explained away simply: too much shit to do, not enough time, and copious amounts of painkillers.

Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.