Catching up on some of the recent comedy routines surrounding the next next gen in this post E3 haze. There’s a lot of talk about Sony winning E3 by announcing they’re not changing much so err, we’re cheering the status quo or something. That’s sort of true and whilst I happily grinned my head off at Jack Tretton putting the boot into Microsoft by doing next to fuck all, I was really cheering them not sending us down a dark alley for a kicking like MS are. Which is subtly but importantly different.
But anyway, that whole status quo thing. Microsoft appear to be really pushing hard insisting that what the Xbox One is doing is future proofing itself and that’s why we need such a massive jump from what we have now. From frankly bizarre claims about a myriad of Xbox Ones able to power your videogames which seems insanely detached from any sort of quantifiable reality to insisting that the digital library is better than owning things because nothing bad ever happens to it at all ever unlike those pesky discs, the future proofing angle is coming thick and fast and that appears to be the party line. The Xbox One is the future, it’s the safe bet for the future.
But by and large, they’re just after the fact justifications for decisions made and it’s really quite obvious to anyone watching at the moment that MS are floundering to make them sound convincingly anything but. They’re worth mentioning in passing if only to snigger at but they’re fleeting distractions, noise and little more.
Interestingly, Microsoft are coming from a previous position whereby they could, in all honesty, claim future proofing with the launch of the 360.
In many ways their claims then sometimes seemed absurd but the decisions around the 360 were made on the cusp of a changing landscape and more importantly based on things that could change. The move to HDTV came at a point where prices were beginning to reach consumer level, widescreen adoption was already on the up and had been for a number of years so whilst there was some damage done (hello anyone who tried to play Dead Rising on a CRT), in the short term tech and the prices of tech caught up in no time. The same goes for broadband requirements. XBLA might have seemed like a fancy privilege to many (arguably for a lot of the world it still is), the rise in ease of internet access and the fall in prices meant that the world would, in -enough- cases, catch up with what the 360 needed.
Unfortunately, this time round the future proofing they’re talking about appears to be born of a series of affluent first world fantasies of how things work, seemingly in stark contrast to how Sony view things. Because the thing is, the things I need to resolve to get the most out of Microsoft’s fantasy land console and indeed for most of the known universe as we know it aren’t things that can be resolved in the same way that HDTV and broadband adoption was and certainly on nowhere near the same scale.
We’re not going to find our living rooms magically expanding over the next few years, certainly in these enforced times of austerity many will find the exact opposite as they are forced to downsize just to keep heads above water. The chances of people magically having enough money to purchase only brand new games or tightly controlled second hand games and not rely on lending and trade ins as we have them now are slim, the chances of people’s connections becoming more stable are slim, the chances of MS (even allowing for their massive server farms) not dropping the ball on their end are slim too. 100% uptime is a crazy dream for most people. Those with disabilities aren’t going to suddenly find Kinect any easier a peripheral to deal with and the push towards voice control or full body motion detection will leave many stranded where buttons did and do not.
And of course, titles not disappearing from digital libraries is a construct, an ideal and nothing more. From the wanted like Outrun Online Arcade to the unwanted like Stalin Va Martians, titles disappear from digital stores all the time and unlike with boxed copies, well, you can’t just nip down the charity shop and grab one, right? The digital world is not some magic utopia where everything is magically better and more fantastic. It just isn’t.
Of course, there are people who won’t be effected by these things and well, good for them. They should rightly consider themeselves fortunate indeed. For everyone else, Microsoft’s new idea of future proofing is a series of unresolvable exclusions and they’re likely to remain so for most, if not all, of the console’s lifespan.
You see, that’s why people applaud the status quo Sony have proposed right now. Because it means they can still take part in and play the games they love comfortably. It’s not just about DRM, it’s about access to entertainment and how Microsoft’s policies would leave many with less options than they have now, less ways to take part and play.
It’s not future proofing a thing for them, it’s flat out taking it away.
It’s hard not to see MS policies being built around a certain subset of people to the expense of the many because, well, you only have to look at the requirements, you only have to look at the restrictions and you only have to look at the region locking and you only have to listen to the words uttered by executives who seem to have no idea why these things are considered problematic by many. It’s telling that most defences of the new Xbox come with statements like “I have good broadband, I don’t trade games, my living room is big enough for Kinect, I don’t have a problem with voice commands” and/or many variations on the same thing. We’re generally not always good at understanding the world outside of our windows and the Xbox One is that writ large. Because if Microsoft did understand the issues most people face they wouldn’t have to be resorting to “hey, we have an Xbox 360 for you guys” as the stock response.
And we’ve been here before last generation haven’t we? And that’s the reason I linked the round table argument off earlier because it contains this gem…
Why target a price of $399, specifically? Yoshida’s answer was simple. “We still remember the PS3 launch.”
If only MS could remember that too, eh? Or maybe this is just something that happens when you reach console number 3? Maybe you’re required by some sort of universal law to go off your box mental? Sony’s PS4 policies are no doubt born out of “been there, done that, that didn’t go so well”, it’s a shame that this gen Microsoft appear to want to make all the same ones Sony did and throw in a few more of their own for good measure.