I want to apologize once again. Because of unforeseen personal issues, I have not had time to finish my intended article. It’s a long story, but it appears that my plans for the future will have to be put on hold, if not reworked entirely. Also, my favorite podcasts over at spill.com were cancelled: The Loading Bar and Remote Viewing.
All the same, I do want to take this chance to talk about the developments this week, specifically regarding the Xbox One. I’m going to skip over the name. True, it’s kind of stupid, but ultimately it won’t matter. People will just take to calling it the Xbox, or the X1, or whatever. The name is the least of the issues that I’ll be talking about.
Let’s start with conference itself and the terminology they used. I at one point was trying to count the times they used the words “TV” or “Television”, “Sports”, “Call of Duty”, “Content”, and “experience”, but I lost track after each hit a dozen or so. The conference was 60 minutes long, so they used each of these words AT LEAST once every 5 minutes on average. In the case of Television, it was significantly higher. It’s kind of startling to watch the videos, where they spent nearly 4 minutes or so just saying these words and nothing else.
There are two possible trains of thought. Either they were really trying to hammer in that this was the ultimate “Television experience for all your Call of Duty and Sports content!”, or that these presenters really need to get a thesaurus. Frankly, I’d say both are likely. I do have to wonder, however, how much of the hatred the system is now getting is because of this not-so-subliminal message. Would people be more accepting if Microsoft hadn’t hammered it in that this is all they care about for the future?
It took half the press conference to show anything resembling video games. 31 minutes, of a 60 minute video game console announcement, to show video games. Actually, scratch that, because the EA sports thing has been confirmed that it was not actual gameplay, but a pre-rendered video based on what they WISH it looked like. Then we get Remedies new game…which is a live action trailer with CGI shots of a boat crashing into a bridge. Then 343 Industries comes out and announces…A HALO TV SHOW! Umm, ok, Call of Duty Gameplay trailer? Sounds promising. Only this “gameplay” trailer shows no “gameplay” whatsoever.
So, if we made it to the end of the VIDEO GAME CONSOLE announcement without seeing any gameplay, and only a handful of in-engine shots of games. The rest of the announcement was spent talking about TV and how we can now Skype while we watch TV. They completely failed to address any of the concerns people had during the conference. The rumours about it still requiring an always on internet connection, and that it couldn’t play used games were both completely ignored.
After the conference, we got our answers. Sort of. Not really, they mentioned the issues, but remained elusive. The Xbox One Q&A on the MS site proclaimed “No, it does not have to be always connected, but Xbox One does require a connection to the Internet.” Whoever wrote that needs to be smacked. While we still know the details, members of the MS team have given us the information that the system needs to be connected to the internet once every 24 hours. This information is subject to change, but for now, this is the stated plan. Presumably, if you try to play a game while not connected to the internet, and haven’t verified it online within the past 24 hours, then the system will lock you out of it.
Next we have the used games issue. These two issues are largely related, as each game disc is not really the game, but a license and the files needed to play it. If the license is being used elsewhere, then the disc is worthless. The license applies to the console, and the gamertag used to install it. It’s installed on Xbox A, and Profile A. I can then play the game on any profile on Xbox A, or any Xbox, so long as I’m signed into profile A. However, if I have 2 xbox’s in my house (say one for me, one for my significant other), and we each have our own profile, I can’t switch it to Xbox B without purchasing a new license (of which we have no details on how this will work, other than a vague comment saying it will likely be the full cost of the game).
This gets more confusing when you talk about multiple games. Let’s say I have Call of Duty, BioShock, Assassin’s Creed, and Battlefield. I install Call of Duty and Bioshock on Xbox A, Profile A, and Assassin’s Creed and Battlefield on Xbox B, Profile B. I decide I want to play Call of Duty, while my significant other wants to play Bioshock. We cannot do this under what Microsoft is telling us right now, even though we have a disc for both games. One of us is confined to Xbox B, and has the option of Assassin’s Creed and Battlefield.
What’s even more interesting is that Microsoft seems to notice this, but is either confused, or trying to confuse the issue. A Eurogamer article quotes Phil Harrison as saying “What we’re doing with the digital permissions that we have for the Xbox One is no different than [how it works now on the Xbox 360].” He then acknowledges the difference, that the game has to be played on a specific system, all the while maintaining that the game can be shared amongst a household. As I said, he either doesn’t understand, or he’s intentionally trying to misinform the public.
The MS team maintains that trading in games will continue. The currently proposed system is that I can trade in a game at an approved retailer. When the game gets traded in, their system will send information to my console telling it to not let me play that game anymore (hence why I need to be connected to the internet at least once every 24 hours). The retailer then pays a cut of their profit from selling that game to MS, who then takes part of that and gives it to the publisher of the game.
There seems to be no real consistency in their statements however, whether it’s Phil Harrison, or “Major Nelson”. They’ve muddled the issue, and changed their stance over the past few days, and it’s rather confusing to watch. It honestly feels like they’re intentionally releasing information piece by piece to either a) soften the blow, or b) change their plan to see how much they can get away with.
So, who does this all benefit, who does it condemn, and who is left out to dry? Well, it benefits Microsoft, first and foremost. They’re pretty well known for taking a fairly substantial cut of the profits on their XBLA games, with 30% being thrown around quite a bit. The second beneficiary is other major publishers. EA, Activision, Ubisoft, and Capcom have all been pushing for similar measures to reduce used game sales. The amount they benefit is debatable, but if used games go away, they’re the most likely to survive.
The people it condemns are the mid-level publishers, and us; the consumer. Nobody wants to buy an unknown game by an unfamiliar company for a $60 investment. The ability to trade that game in and get some of the money back is a compromise. Why spend my money trying out something new that might suck, if I can purchase a known quantity? Why take the chance on another Gearbox game when only half of them are good games? Instead, buy Call of Duty, because you liked it last year so you know it’s not as much of a risk. The industry will stagnate. People are afraid to develop original games as it is, imagine how it will be when people are legitimately afraid to buy an unknown game.
And those that are left out to dry? The Developers. That’s right, you may have noticed, we haven’t been talking about them. Many developers, the people who actually make the games, are owned by Publishers, but there are many that work independently as well. The independent developers usually make a deal with a Publisher to release their games. This income is going to the Publishers, while the amount that goes to the developers seems to be at the sole discretion of the publisher. I can imagine that this will be part of contracts going forward, but then again, so is having a bonus based on metacritic performance.
I’m attempting to reserve judgment until we get the full, official details, but let’s just say I’m skeptical. This doesn’t seem like a system “by gamers, for gamers”, but a system made by major corporations making closed meeting deals designed to hurt their consumers.
The last thing I want to talk about is the Kinect 2.0. Because the system requires an internet connection at least once every 24 hours, it’s most likely that people will leave it connected. This means a camera, in the living room of every household that purchases the system, which is always connected to Microsoft’s “cloud”. A camera with voice recognition software, nonetheless. The camera is always on, and always connected, even when the system is turned off, because it needs to respond to “xbox, turn on”.
Let’s forget about the Big Brother style implications of having a major corporation have unconditional access to your home. Instead, let’s talk about how Skype will always be connected, and how it can affect the simple things. If you should accidentally say something that sounds like “call mom”, then it will video call your mom for you. If someone calls you during a movie, it shrinks the movie and displays their feed. If you think the xbox alerts can be annoying now, just wait until you start getting interrupted constantly by people signing in and out of Skype as well. Throw in potential privacy concerns (hey, maybe I felt like walking around in my underwear all day because I wasn’t expecting anyone to see me?) and it seems like an unnecessary mess.
Microsoft has filed a patent that will use the Kinect 2.0 to tell how many people are in a room. If there are “too many” people, it will refuse to play movies. It will bring up a prompt, asking you to pay extra money for this “public showing”, or won’t play until the number of people goes down. “Too many” seems to be any number greater than 4. So all you families of 5 out there, prepare to shell out extra money for content you already own. In fact, I can’t imagine that too many people have NEVER watched a movie with more than 3 other people in their own homes. It should be noted that MS puts out hundreds of patents that are never used, but it does give an interesting viewpoint on how MS is already thinking of ways to abuse the system.
Obviously, this wasn’t as short as I wanted it to be originally. Was hoping to keep it short, particularly since I haven’t found the time to write what I promised. I sat down to write this, and ended up writing & researching until well past my bedtime, so I hope you can understand. Next week I’ll begin posting about gender issues, and during the course of the week I’ll have at least one new review and a special letter.
By the way, a lot of this information was taken from Ryzaki’s post here, which was in turn taken from Robbie H on Neogaf. I’ve verified most of it personally, at least so far as to the original interviews.