If you logged onto Twitter this morning, and you weren’t a gamer, you were probably faced with a bewildering array of tweets about how Sony had applied some sort of punch or slap to various parts of Microsoft’s figurative anatomy. Eventually, you might have figured out it was about gaming consoles. Here’s precisely what’s going on.
This is just the usual fanboy crap, right? These are the same boxes with different guys making them.
Normally you’d be right, but not this time. This time it’s a fight between a normal gaming console, the PlayStation 4 and the… ambitious Xbox One.
Ambitious? Does it want to be President?
No, it wants to be the One Box, the central computer in your living room. The Xbox One is designed to turn on your TV by speaking at it, change channels by waving your hands around, and other functions along those lines. Essentially, imagine the computer from any episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That’s what Microsoft wants to put in your living room.
It has other functions as well. For example, Microsoft has connected it to a cloud computing system called Azure that means that some games can offload calculations to the cloud. In theory that could make for new gaming experiences, like a racing game recording your style and then using you as a competitor in someone else’s race.
That sounds neat. So why isn’t Sony being mocked for being technologically behind?
Mostly because Microsoft’s ambitions come with some fairly painful limitations. For example, you don’t buy games on the Xbox One; you essentially buy a license. Even though the game comes on a physical disc, it’s downloaded to the Xbox One’s hard drive. As it stands, you can’t loan a game to a friend, you can’t rent games, and whether or not you can sell your old games will be left entirely up to the publishers of those games.
The console also has to phone home at least once every twenty-four hours, or it stops working. And some games, like the racing game we mentioned above, will likely need to be connected to the Internet just to work. This screws more people than you might think, like members of the military.
So basically, if you don’t have a great Internet connection, this thing is utterly useless. And if you do, you have to agree to a whole string of restrictions to use it.
Got it in one. Did we also mention that there’s a Kinect that has to be hooked up to the console, and is at least somewhat active, all the time?
So it potentially violates your privacy as well?
Yes. Although personally, I’m wondering just what Microsoft thinks will happen when it ships a high-quality webcam with Skype to millions of horny teenagers.
Man, is there anyway that Microsoft could make this thing less appealing?
Well, there was the massive PR disaster that was announcing the console. And it does cost $500. And to use Netflix, you’ll need to pay Microsoft $60 a year. Yes, Microsoft charges you to access the Internet, which you pay for.
Let me guess; the PlayStation 4 is cheaper.
Yep, $400, there are no restrictions on used games, and Netflix and the like works, for free, right out of the box. Sony is happy with being the most popular platform for Netflix streaming and would like to stay that way. You will have to pay for PlayStation Plus if you want online multiplayer, but that’s the only restriction so far.
And they’re both coming out this year?
They are likely going head-to-head this holiday season.
Can Microsoft turn this around? Or will it have to backpedal?
That’s the big question. As we said, the Xbox One is best described as “ambitious,” and it’s Microsoft’s job to explain to the consumer why it’s better than just sticking with the standard model they know and love. Technologically, some of what the Xbox One is doing is very exciting, but it’s also very abstract and hard to explain.
Adding to the problem are the games themselves. None of them look terrible, but there’s no game that feels like you need the cloud computing and other goodies to get the full experience. Microsoft needs to clarify why this is different and better, and quick, or all the Twitter jokes about losing E3 are going to translate into a miserable time at the mall this holiday season.
I want more like this!
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