The next Xbox: What Ben and Andrew want to see at Microsoft’s reveal
We're less than a week away from finding out at least part of what Microsoft has planned for the next generation. I'll be visiting the company's Redmond campus for what promises to be an extensive tour filled with news about the next-generation Xbox system. There are plenty of reports that cite this or that source and offer speculation about what we might see, but I'm not interested in re-hashing those stories. Today let's talk about what we'd like to see, and what would make us happy.
The bad news for Microsoft is that Sony has been owning the next-generation conversation due to its early reveal of the PlayStation 4, and the company's newfound friendliness towards smaller developers. The PlayStation 4 seems to be focusing on games, and the social features that help us enjoy games together, and that's a good play. I want my gaming console to be primarily for games, and Microsoft seems to be moving towards a box that does a bit of everything with the current Xbox.
So that's the first thing I want: A focus on games. I'd like to see the controller, learn about what Microsoft is doing to make the lives of developers easier, and I'd love to see some high-quality content I can't get anywhere else. Make it about the games, and draw us in that way. Once we're happy with our purchase, that's the time to start adding in more value. I'm pretty much resigned to continue to pay for Xbox Live, there's no way Microsoft is going to get rid of that revenue stream, and I feel the same way about the ads on the service. Microsoft won't be rolling out changes that lead to less money coming in from players. So show me the games, and prove to me that the investment in their hardware and service will be worth it.
Andrew, what's the one thing you'd love to see from the reveal?
Andrew's top pick
I'm one of those weird people who was a legitimate fan of the original Xbox, so my wish list for the next Xbox is pretty long. The thing I'd like to see the most, though, is a solution from Microsoft for helping publishers survive. I'm not sure the average gaming publisher apart from EA and Activision can handle another 5-7 years of business as usual. They need leadership to guide them away from the suicidal business model of modern AAA games.
It sounds like that's exactly what we're going to get too. The early scuttlebutt is that Microsoft may be embracing free-to-play gaming, and it's obvious that they're going to be making a continued push for a console where more games are downloaded. That's been one of the main goals of Xbox Live for a decade and it isn't likely to stop now.
I hear you on the desire to see Microsoft refocus on video games as the core of their business though, Ben. Unfortunately, the beast that is Xbox has been growing for the better part of 15 years with one singular goal: become the all-encompassing living room entertainment machine. Ideally I think the best we can hope for from Microsoft is a lot of chest-thumping that declares they won this console war, their gaming division is healthier than ever (and Sony's isn't,) and because of these facts they're big enough and wealthy enough to succeed in every area of living room entertainment.
I just don't see them realistically refocusing on video games exclusively, but I'd settle for a mighty Microsoft convincing us they can do it all.
So we've heard about what you're hoping for from Microsoft next week, but what do you expect will actually happen?
Well, I'm not sure anything Microsoft can do will help publishers realize that AAA is in a rough spot, but allowing free-to-play games would at least mean that the company is being less restrictive about monetization strategies. I'd love to see Microsoft allow the sort of freedom that allows things like Dust 514 to happen on the PS3.
But what do I think will happen? I think we're likely to see one or two new games in well-established franchises, we're going to get an early look at some of the services that will be present in the system, including something to do with cable television. I hope it's not a matter of Microsoft becoming the middle man for cable companies, because another box pumping out content I'm already paying for isn't attractive, especially if Microsoft wants to charge me a monthly fee for the ability to watch my existing cable subscription.
The dream would be a service where I could pay for HBO, and only HBO, but I don't think that Microsoft has the clout to make that happen. I'd love to be proven wrong.
So I think we're going to see a strategy that's very much like the existing Xbox, simply with more powerful hardware and an updated controller. I don't need a game console that doubles as a DVR, but Microsoft's press events have long focused on just that sort of service.
I believe we're going to get a media box that plays games, is a little too restrictive, and is based on a number of add-on services and content deals. I'd love to be proven wrong. But let's change it up a bit: What is your worst fear for the reveal?
Andrew's motion-controlled nightmare
My nightmare for next week is basically the Xbox 360 reveal except with a bunch of Kinect 2 stuff that nobody is asking for. I first became an Xbox fan because Microsoft's vision was inspiring. Even looking back at 2001 and the original Xbox launch it's remarkable how steadily the division has grown. It's pretty obvious that they had a long-term plan worked out for what the Xbox division would become, and each new step built a foundation for the next step.
My worry is that they've reached the end of that plan, and now they're just winging it. Microsoft lately has felt much less like a leader than it once did when it pioneered the PC-style gaming console and Xbox Live. These days they seem much more concerned with branding and popularity than they do with innovation and leadership.
Their misguided mission to force a motion-controlled gaming platform down our throats has been cringe-worthy over the past few years, and I'm afraid that's what Microsoft is now: a company that tries to use its muscle to replicate other people's success rather than finding ways to create its own.
That's my fear as an ex-Xbox fan. As a gamer, my fear is that Xbox Infinity or whatever they call it is going to be a half-step designed to maintain the status quo. I'd like to hope that whatever Microsoft has planned, it will acknowledge that the business has substantially changed since the launch of Xbox 360. What I fear is that we'll get Xbox 360-2 that tries to recapture the glory days by shutting down used games and continuing to ignore small game and app developers.
What about you? What are your big fears going into the event?
Ben's final thoughts
My biggest fears are technology that somehow limits used games, or a console that requires an Internet connection to function. Do I think those things will happen? Not really. But I'm afraid they could. I'm afraid that Microsoft is going to think that the same strategy that got them to this point will continue to work. The world has changed, and they have to change with it.
It would be great if we were able to play a bunch of games, if the announced system is powerful, easy to develop for, and relatively inexpensive. It would be great if players were offered more for their money, and not less.
Even though I'm a little nervous, I can't wait to see what's down the line. I like new hardware, and new game reveals are exciting. To be honest I don't really have a good read on what's going to happen next in the industry, and that's a pretty exciting place to be. I hope everyone, from Microsoft to Nintendo, takes advantage of this time of change to do wonderful things.
I'll kick to the comments, though. What do you want to see?