Microsoft held its televised press conference yesterday where it unveiled the newest iteration of its game console, the Xbox
720 Infinity One. The presenters talked a good game and showed off some pretty impressive tricks (routing your live TV feed through your Xbox and using it like a cable box was pretty fancy), but they glossed over some pretty damning facts that have come out in the wash afterwards.
Much has been said about how the Xbox One won’t need an always-on internet connection, which would be a relief to people who don’t enjoy the prospect of having to connect a console they’re only using for single-player games. However, it turns out that you will actually need to connect your Xbox One to the internet at least once every 24 hours in order to keep it playing that single-player game. Certainly not as bad as the Diablo III or SimCity always-on DRM debacles of 2012 and 2013, but it still means that you’re out of luck if you just want to stick your console in your room and play some games by yourself before bed every night. The argument can be made that internet access is so ubiquitous nowadays that having a console that at a minimum periodically connects itself to the internet for a few minutes in order to download daily updates seems relatively benign, but there are still plenty of people who don’t or can’t have a reliable internet source at home for a myriad of reasons (considering that I live in a 200 year old stone cottage with a cable drop so tenuous that it usually goes out in high winds, it’s not as uncommon as you might think). Moreover, marginalizing these classes of consumers is a dumb goddamn move on Microsoft’s part and while it may not impact their prospective customer base too severely, the public relations nightmare that can be caused by enough people saying “Microsoft doesn’t care about you if you don’t have an internet connection” is a serious risk indeed.
Speaking of Microsoft giving off the appearance of not caring about its customers, it’s also become widely known that the Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with the massive library of Xbox 360 games that are currently out there. Core architecture differences are cited as the main reason that all your Xbox 360 games are nothing better than coasters when it comes to Microsoft’s new console, with the excuse being given that the One’s new x86 architecture is simply too different than the 360’s PowerPC core. Meanwhile, that claim has already been proven to be utter bullshit as there’s a fully capable Xbox 360 emulator out there right now that runs on both Mac and PC – modern computers that run on x86 architecture, by the way. This is just another nail in the coffin for the Xbox One, but there’s much more that’s wrong with the console (and it’s not even out yet).
There are some serious privacy concerns with the new console, as Xbox One simply won’t function without the new Kinect peripheral that comes bundled with the system. The Kinect’s microphone is also always on, even when the console is powered down, and while Microsoft assures the press that it takes the privacy concerns of its customers very seriously, do you really want to keep a device in your house that is always listening – and possibly always watching as well, considering that the new Kinect has a 1080p HD camera with a zero-light infrared sensor that can not only see you in pitch darkness but can actually read your heart rate about as accurately as a pulse oximeter? It’s an amazing, impressive piece of technology but I’m the one who would like to be in control of it – and I’d like the option to not use it if I don’t want to. Unfortunately the core design of the Xbox One has robbed that agency and choice from the consumer.
Finally there is the very pinnacle of Shit Mountain, the rotten cherry on top of a vile sundae (that ain’t chocolate sauce): the fact that buying and selling used games is about to become as lot harder for anyone looking to use the Xbox One. The core mechanic behind purchasing a game for the new console revolves around installing the game off the physical disc – or downloading the game directly via Xbox Live – to your home console. The game then lives on your console and anyone in the household can play it, but if you want to go to a friend’s house and bring your new game to play on their Xbox One, you’re going to have to login to your account on their machine in order to access your game. If you don’t, you’ll be prompted to quite literally buy the game again when you go to install it on a console that someone else is logged in to. This means that the days of lending a friend of yours a game for a week or so are pretty much over, unless you want to provide him unlimited access to your login details; likewise this completely cripples the game rental industry as well, as you simply can’t get a disc in the mail from GameFly or go down to your corner Redbox any more. The new move is undoubtedly Microsoft’s attempt to regain control of the used game market in the US – a sector where developers and publishers don’t see even one red cent from resold games at outfits such as GameStop – but again it’s robbing consumers of the choice to do what they see fit with their own property.
Right now there are amorphous, half-formed plans on Microsoft’s part to support the buying, selling, and trading of Xbox One games at retail, but any concrete plans for how they’re going to accomplish this have yet to be announced. Some feel that it will take the place of transferring the rights to play a given game from one Gamertag to another over a revamped Xbox Live Marketplace, but whether these purchases will be made using real money or for Microsoft Points is anyone’s guess.
All of these fundamental flaws are heartbreaking, considering the actual technological leaps forward Microsoft has taken with their new console. Poor corporate marketing decisions will most likely lead to the untimely death of this console despite its innovative features, driving consumers into the arms of competitors such as Sony and Nintendo – or drive the more technologically-savvy folks back to their PCs where they can have full control over their environment. It’s a shame, really – so much wasted potential.