OPINION: The Xbox One is a smart console in spite of itself

Leigh Harris
OPINION: The Xbox One is a smart console in spite of itself

It's no secret that gamers and specialist media were massively underwhelmed by the Xbox One reveal, but Microsoft knew that.

As Mark Serrels points out over at Kotaku, the mainstream media have largely flocked to the new console with open arms, with only some 20% of typically hardcore web sites poopooing what they saw.

The major cause for drama is in the console's presentation. As John Riccitiello stated just the other day (and as I suggested in a recent op-ed for MMGN), Microsoft had to woo gamers with this presentation by paying close attention to a few of Sony's blind spots.

What it did instead was to woo the very specifically middle-of-the-line Xbox gamer: one which has become very apparent in the last generation.

This person plays every Call of Duty game that comes out, is an avid multiplayer gamer on Xbox Live and loves their sports. (And, of course, they happen to live in North America.)

That person saw a show which has every reason to get them excited. Sports games, fantasy football while you watch the NFL, behind the scenes awesomeness from the new Call of Duty, Steven Spielberg (one of the three directors whose names they know) is turning Halo into a TV series... what's not to love?

Well, Sony wanted to make sure that the kernel of their audience, the focal point of all hype from which all other hype derives, was happy with what they were being shown. Thus, The Witness, inFamous: Second Son, DriveClub and a host of other games made up about half the presentation. If you get the most vocal and opinionated on board, the rest will be an easy sell.

At E3 last year, I interviewed Yusuf Medhi after the Xbox presentation. We spoke at length about SmartGlass and how Microsoft thought of the Xbox as the central hub of a wide range of services. Delivering games was slowly becoming a service, the whole industry was reshaping itself in such a way that access to games was the product rather than the games themselves being products.

Microsoft's tune at this morning's announcement is exactly in line with its vision for the console from last E3.

And that vision was smart.

Let the Xbox One talk to your smartphones and tablets, your set-top boxes and your over-the-air TV, let it browse the internet and be your central movie player at the same time. Excuses to keep the console getting turned on mean countless more times that Microsoft and other developers can continue to sell you content. Better yet, they can do it in a controlled and personalised environment. From Microsoft's perspective, such a direct route to an existing market is win-win.

The problem, however, and something Microsoft should've learned from last E3, was that nothing is less exciting to the people who are prone to get excited about new consoles than interfaces, apps and internet access.

It's a great long-term vision Microsoft has for the Xbox, but don't try and sell us on it!

The truth is, these things may well be the primary point of difference between the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One. The medium is the message, and why not? Let the games sell themselves later on, at E3, when they've each got time to have their moment in the sun. This is a hardware reveal, and the software experience which comes with that hardware is the point, these days.

At least, that's a sound way of thinking about what the primary differences between the consoles are from a clinical point of view, but those central gamers are still yearning for the next moment of utterly new exhileration in a game. Whether or not they can switch in an instant to skype with a friend isn't something they're asking for.

They may use it. They may even love it when it gets here, but it simply shouldn't be part of the pitch.

It comes down to this: if Microsoft were trying to woo gamers, they've missed the mark. If they're trying to woo tech enthusiasts, futurists and mainstream news outlets, they know exactly what they're doing.

Backlash now makes sense from the most vocal of us. But E3 is mere weeks away, and even if Microsoft has demonstrated how out of touch it is with a swath of its fans, it has a lot of time to correct this mistake.

Not that gamers are likely to be remotely forgiving if some games we don't already know about don't start making some noise in the next 21 days...

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Tags: Microsoft , Hardware , Opinion , john riccitiello , Xbox , kotaku , Mark Serrels , MMGN

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