XBox One: Should We Forgive Microsoft?

Anyone who is interested in video games (or knows any such individual) will have likely heard that the new generation of consoles are on their way–or have arrived, as is the case of the WiiU (even though it doesn’t have enough good games to warrant being out already). Naturally, this carries the usual myriad of promises. Children’s rooms shall remain a mess. Parent’s wallets shall suffer. The geeky kid down the street is guaranteed at least another three years of virginity.

Two games = at least two months until he realizes game pads don't attract many women.

Two games = at least two months until he realizes game pads don’t attract many women.

Amongst the new arrivals, there was one that caused more of a stir than the others in a bad way: the Xbox One. With the new system announcement came a PR nightmare on several levels, and I’m not sure if the system really deserves a second look.
Not only had Microsoft completely failed to learn from the PlayStation 3’s critical mistake of charging $500 plus for the base game console, but they introduced an entire series of unwelcome changes. First off, the One tones down the fact that it’s a gaming console, instead touting itself as an “all in one entertainment system.” Microsoft has created a gaming console that it claims will enable the streaming of television. It can also link up to Skype, use voice commands to change channels, and it can talk to your Windows devices.
That’s all cool in the same sense that a tablet without WiFi is. It’s nice and all, but it feels a bit half-done.

Now, I could remind you that a PC will do everything an Xbox does and more–and you won’t have to fork over $60 a year to play Halo online. Interestingly, the One is so lame that you might not even need that argument. For example, the One doesn’t really stream live TV through the internet. You have to plug it into your current TV box to play TV. So you’re still going to be paying that cable bill. Only now you will have a $500 brick and the XBox Live fee to go along with it. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Apple and Google both tried the same thing a few years ago… And failed.

Not a very good idea is it? And the web-browsing? Skype? Again, PC can do it. And most smartphones. Even the Nintendo Wii could surf the web, and that came out in 2006.

All of these new add-ons are possibly the best things about the One. That and the claim that the system will use Cloud storage to boost gaming power. Exactly how consuming mass quantities of bandwidth to store data caches that need to be streamed back to the system will make things run quicker is beyond me, but I’m willing to give them a shot to get that right.

So what is and was wrong?

What is wrong is the Kinect, which will be tacked on whether you like it or not… And I’ve never met anyone who actually thought that it was cool to play with one. Honestly, it makes the Wii Remote and PlayStation Move look cooler than Bruce Willis beating up terrorists–spray tan and all. As a peripheral, the Kinect costs $100. That’s $100 on the One’s price that doesn’t need to be there.

To make matters worse, the One’s Kinect allegedly has ten times the recognition power of the 360’s Kinect. While that is neat and all, it’s a bit creepy. The system can fully recognize your face–it sees you. This gives it the ability to make changes to how the button set-up in your fighting games work. Which is cool if you’re fussy about that sort of thing, which most people aren’t. These are games after all.
More questionable is the fact that Microsoft is granting the Fed access to all of their systems (for a fee of course). And word has it that the Kinect can be used as a monitoring system by the NSA. How much can they see through the camera? What are the restrictions? And why can’t someone just play a goddamned video game without Big Brother peeping the scene?

What was wrong can be noted by two ideas so dim-witted that they made the Facebook IPO look like divine brilliance. First, Microsoft declared that they had a right to charge people a licensing fee for used games. Second, they indicated that the system would need to be connected to internet constantly so that it could receive daily updates–the implication being that the One wouldn’t work without it. Inconveniencing customers is never a good idea–enough said.

More upsetting to me was the notion of fees for used games. This idea was likely born in a late night meeting when Microsoft’s crack team of accountants realized that they could get even more money from games if they shook down the secondhand market. Microsoft gets direct profit from new games. By sapping the savings of the used market they would be boosting their own profits from new games and nullifying the benefits of buying a sub-par sports game for the low price it should have always been.

The fees could have effectively screwed the pooch for the used game market, which is where independent video game stores (and even chains) get most of their money from. By snuffing out the used game market, game shops would be even more stressed to keep the doors open in tough economic times. In my mind, knowingly attacking consumers and businesses is unforgivable. While Xbox may have done an about face on the worst of the policies, ethics matter. Six Franklins for attempted commercial thuggery isn’t justifiable.

Does the One deserve to be bought? I can’t tell you what to do with your money, but I’m not eager to purchase one. If it proves to be more dynamic than I’m expecting and the price drops to $300 for the base, I’ll give it a look. But the PS4 and WiiU are much higher on my wishlist.

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