I just got finished watching the new reveal for Microsoft's Next Gen console, dubbed XBox One. My thoughts and reactions will assume you know what the fuck I am talking about, so if you are not up to speed yet, you can read a brief rundown of the presentation HERE
With the caveat that this is a preliminary announcement that delineates direction, rather than details, I am extremely encouraged by the Xbox reveal. Those of you who listened to Season 2, Episode 3 of the podcast know that I was not a huge fan of the PS4 reveal from a few months ago, and the difference is this: Microsoft understands the role of the console going into the next generation, and this presentation was a clear expression of that vision.
What Microsoft understood, and Sony did not, was that they are simply not going to compete based on "This is the ultimate gaming platform" as was the case, more or less, when the last generation debuted, but since that time has become increasingly specious as a claim for any console. Their hardware is simply not going to be able to compete with anything but the most basic gaming rigs, by necessity, at launch, and will soon be outpaced by them. I'm not really interested in how sweet your gigamawatts are, nor how many tiny tyrannosaurus rexes with lasers are running on hamster wheels to power it. These things are table stakes. Move on.
And so, after approximately 30 seconds of confirming that there is, indeed, a computer in this thing, the pitch was given and it was perfect:The XBox One is a very good gaming platform, with exclusive IPs, some of which are new and revolutionary, and there are gaming things it does well (like Sportsballs). Ultimately, however, this piece of hardware is going to be about the experience of your living room, not just the games you play on it. It is going to be the point device to control all aspects of what you experience as entertainment and living room interactivity, with your family, friends and the world.
(Continued After the Break)
The use case of a console has evolved over time, and Microsoft is riding it into the future, while Sony slaps "Social" buttons onto their controller and talks about "What the kids are into these days." Personally, I spend WAYYYY more time using XBox 360 in ways that I could not have imagined when I purchased the console however many years ago. Primarily, it is a very fancy Netflix/Twitch.tv/WatchESPN/On Demand Movie box. I no longer spend time futzing about with video games that I can buy on Steam, for cheaper, that look better, offer more features, and often better, more comprehensive controls. I don't believe my use case is particularly unique, in that respect, either. My Xbox, even with it's ad hoc operating system, late to the game sloppy app integrations, and "Whoops we lost the format wars" HD DVD player have become the focal point of my living room TIME, in the same way that the TV and the couches dominate the SPACE.
The idea of seemingly seamless integration of live TV, gaming, and internet browsing on one box, with a slick, familiar UI, as well as seemingly intuitive, easy to use controls is compelling.
Consider the implications of the skype multi-user hang outs type feature as an example. That's a game changer from a user experience stand point. When you're watching whatever the next appointment television is (i.e. LOST or Game of Thrones) or when all of your fucking drunk ass idiot friends are watching the Rutgers game, spread to the winds like the shittiest most unwanted diaspora their respective regions have ever sheltered, you now have a fucking direct skyped-in tunnel to each other's houses. That's fucking awesome.
Sure, you can say "Well you can do that now, and nobody does." But I think that has a lot more to do with the idea that it's not just sitting their on your TV, easy as fucking pie to use. It requires setting up a laptop and a webcam and saying "IS THE POSITIONING RIGHT? I CAN ONLY SEE YOUR SHIRT! OH THERE IT IS!" for 40 fucking minutes while the opposing team has just hung 3 touchdowns on you and you haven't even been able to drink enough to handle that sort of information when it slams down on your consciousness like an Acme Anvil of misplaced peter pan syndrome on a Monday morning when you're finally able to glance at the score board. Now you're just staring at your fucking laptop, looking at his idiot face, hoping he endures a massive coronary from the fucking bagel bites he's chewing with his mouth open, that disgusting lout, and that he is still trapped there on his couch, clutching at his chest in futility and mouthing "help" desperately into the camera, when the mozzarella sticks he's heating up catch fire and burn down his house with all of his cherished possessions and memories inside. I don't like my friends enough to put up with that sort of bother, and frankly, it would be weird if I did. The integration with the 360 and Kinect enables it to go from a huge hassle to socially normative. It's a button push. Fuck, it's not even a button push it's as simple as saying it out loud. "Snap Skype. Call Derek. Call Dubs. Call Matt. Bring me a fucking beer and a lion from Mount Nittany to slaughter at half time."* Now you're aiding your team's defense, preventing crucial mistakes via the magic of shouting into the television (which, as everyone knows, sends the critical information back in time, and telepathically implants itself in the brains of your secondary) whilst providing effective audio and gestural aid to the feelings of hopelessness and futility that is welling up inside your shithead friend whom you know to be a bad person because he is rooting for the incorrect team. All of this magic while never breaking your view from the piece of furniture you've built the physical reality of your living room around: The TV.
Clearly, with the next generation, video games will be just a bonus. A nice, valuable bonus, but a bonus none the less. What's worth talking about, at this early stage, is that Microsoft did hit upon the two things that sell consoles and presents value to a user: exclusive IP and new IP. I was very impressed with the announcement that Microsoft Studios will be developing 15 exclusives to be released in the first year, 8 of which are brand new IPs. There is a huge gap between expectation and execution that is yet to be filled, but Microsoft is at least starting down the right path, and I'm encouraged.
Some people are wondering why it is called the XBox One. I think the name is a brilliant move. Why participate in the sequential "Bigger and Better" dialogue? Microsoft has changed the conversation by using the incongruous designative. Instead, they choose to make a very effective point: Your living room is going to have A focal point. One.
*Although there was nothing explicit in the presentation about mascot slaughtering or beer fetching, I think it's best to envision the future we want to live in, and apply pressure to Microsoft to meet our reasonable expectations.