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Is Xbox One's media focus a sign MS is leaving the console war?

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So the Xbox One presentation has just finished and I’m looking over the notes I e-scribbled as I pored the screen for what felt like the important points. 

"TV experience"
“TV again”
“Runs live TV”
“TV integral”
“Instant switching between media channels”
“Snap mode - Like watching a film with a smartphone in your hand”
“Live action Halo series with Spielberg” 

Hmmm. I think it’s safe to say that we’re seeing yet another lurch away from gaming for the Xbox brand. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that at the moment, but I do know that I’m not in any way surprised. As I’ve written before, anyone who was paying attention to the bigger picture in 2001 would have seen it coming. Control of living room entertainment has been part of Microsoft’s big dream for years, and the original Xbox was the Trojan Horse foundation for a much longer game. 

The world wasn’t ready for the idea of a connected, integrated multimedia living room 12 years ago. The idea existed only in the secret Long Term Planning for World Domination chambers of companies like Microsoft and Apple. But those companies knew that within a decade the world would have caught up with the vision, both technologically and culturally. A foot had to be wedged through the door early. And the nearest contemporary cultural fit for the kind of box Microsoft eventually wanted to make? A games console. 

People were used to having those under their TVs. Consoles had been naturalised as part of that environment since the ‘80s. Stick a new console in the living room, give it a few exciting but not quite ahead-of-their-time online and media functions, and you’ve taken your first step. That’s why Microsoft didn’t seem to mind that the Xbox didn’t sell much more than the Gamecube. That’s why it rushed on to the 360 after what felt like far too short a period of time. The important work was done. The Xbox brand existed and the idea of a more versatile, connected console was established. The 360 went even further with the idea, and now we have the Xbox One, which feels like the ultimate realisation of the real end-game. 

I can’t help but feel that Microsoft’s game-talk during the Xbox One reveal felt like a series of economical token gestures, designed to make maximum impact with core gamers while taking up as little of the presentation’s running time as possible. There was Call of Duty. There was a new one from the makers of Max Payne and Alan Wake. There was Halo. Big brand-recognition points for sure. But one of those titles was a multi-format game, one might take 100 years to develop, going off Remedy’s track record with the Xbox 360, and one was a live-action TV series. 

If anything, Spielberg’s Halo show sums up the Xbox One presentation pretty beautifully for me. It was the point at which gaming segued into the wider multimedia environment, and at which one of gaming’s most iconic brands resolutely stopped being a gaming brand. 

Don’t forget that the opening salvo of Microsoft’s Xbox One presentation was a lengthy, showy exhibition of the new machine’s exciting new innovations in the groundbreaking field of changing TV channels. While an undoubtedly cool bit of functionality, is Snap Mode really thrilling enough to require the kind of presentation it got? Does anyone really enjoy films more when they’re reading the internet and checking the football scores at the same time? Isn’t the system really, as I’ve accused Microsoft of doing before, just solving problems that don’t really exist in order to justify running time in a presentation? 

And that stuff got a fair old chunk of running time. Way too much running time, with completely unnecessary repeat viewings. If actions speak louder than words, then the time Microsoft gave to innocuous—even potentially arbitrary—multimedia interfaces at the expense of objectively more interesting games seems to scream in one’s face like a banshee on angeldust. Of course, all of this could change at E3. If Microsoft’s promise of 15 year-one exclusives furnishes us with a legitimate, killer AAA line-up and not merely a few big hitters hidden amongst a raft of Kinect-powered XBLA games, then I’m happily on board for the ride. But right now, most of the Xbox One’s showboating next-gen bells and whistles seem to be built around channel switching and the console equivalent of pressing Alt+Tab. 

With Sony proclaiming the PS4 to be a real game developer’s console (admittedly perhaps partially to build bridges after the user-unfriendliness of the PS3’s Cell Processor), I’m going to be keeping a very close eye on next month’s show. I reckon we could be about to see the two big hitters of the console war parting ways to fight on very different fronts. 

To get up to speed with everything else there is to know about the Xbox One, check out our Xbox One info blowout

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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45 comments

  • Technodude - May 22, 2013 11:52 a.m.

    Exactly the reason why I was captivated more by the PS4 reveal - they focused solely on games. Gaming was at the core of Sony's conference, and they've improved on the PS3 experience by adding social media sharing too, which could arguably be done without, but still, games are at the centre of that feature as well. I'm glad Microsoft looks like its planning to leave the console war - the 360 was a decent console but MS is gonna crash and burn the xbox when it realises everyone already has some sort of device for doing everything they presented and there's nobody who wants to waste £300 (plus £20 a year to have your dashboard attacked by adverts) on something they already have.
  • Swedish_Chef - May 22, 2013 7:45 a.m.

    That awkward moment when the Wii-U is starting to look the most desirable of all the next gen consoles.
  • Rub3z - May 23, 2013 1:09 a.m.

    I was wondering when that would happen. I just figure that it's a matter of time. Slowly but surely, people that want games will pull their heads out of their asses and realize that the U is delivering on that front when the competitors are trying to get their consoles off the ground whilst peddling their extraneous and arbitrary features. You know what the primary , almost singular word that Nintendo is using when it comes to improving its experience for its consumers and owners of the U and 3DS? "Games." That's the big difference between Nintendo and the rest, and that's exactly why I'm not really in trepidation at all that I've adopted their console too early. In fact, I'm looking forward to seeing if I can purchase one for my friend this summer so we'll both be ready for the avalanche of games that are hitting in the next year.
  • BoltActionRevolver - May 22, 2013 1:30 a.m.

    Xbox, change browser to Firefox. Xbox, default search Engine Google. Xbox.... screw it, I'm going to my PC It may be that I like my TV experience simple, and my multi-tasking on one screen to be with precise input devices, but some how this seems silly, and overly complicated to me, a guy that has no interest in Fantasy Football
  • ShadowOps117 - May 22, 2013 1:09 a.m.

    They have made the Microsoft PSX.
  • ShadowOps117 - May 22, 2013 1:09 a.m.

    Screw Microsoft. That is it. I've had it with them.
  • Jacko415 - May 21, 2013 11:20 p.m.

    So it plays beautiful games and TV... SO WHY IS EVERYONE BITCHING!? IT DOES BOTH. Its a suped up xbox 360 PLUS A whole slew of tv stuff. WHY IS THAT BAD!? Cause its not. ITS AWESOME. Quit bitching, most of you will buy it anyways, you all just seem to need something to hate because this is the internet. You're all acting like it'll stop playing games one day... which it wont. MY only complaint is the stupid name.
  • Jacko415 - May 21, 2013 11:22 p.m.

    Seriously, why does it NEED to be exclusively about games?
  • BoltActionRevolver - May 22, 2013 1:23 a.m.

    I think the issue here is not that it does both, but that its Microsoft trying to do both. Microsoft has a track record with innovating when its not needed, and generally making a mess of it. For recent examples: See Internet Explorer See Bing They did online better then PS3 and Nintendo from the start the last generation... But that may just be experience with their OS development side.
  • mikehoncho - May 22, 2013 12:45 p.m.

    You forgot Windows Vista
  • Jacko415 - May 22, 2013 4:15 p.m.

    Well, then just use the game side. Oh, and i never refered to it as "innovative." But since i posted that comment the news about its once every 24 hours online thing did kinda piss me off, seems extremely unnecessary, heres to hoping they give us a good reason as to WHY it needs that sometime soon.
  • Jacko415 - May 22, 2013 4:18 p.m.

    Plus i prefer to not buy used games so i can support the people who actually MADE the game... To me, it seams peoples complaints about no used games are just coming from their wallets. If you cant afford it, you don't get it, that's that.
  • Jacko415 - May 22, 2013 5:27 p.m.

    It also costs a shit load of money to MAKE a game so i want developers to MAKE more games. It also doesn't look like Microsoft would be profiting from the denial of used games, only the publishers and developers will be profiting. Though, just bringing down the cost of individual games would solve a lot of the piracy and used game problems right there. Theres a huge demand for games, so $60 price tags just hurt the industry when you think about it. It just looks like renting and trading is going to be a thing of the past and that's something we'll have to accept. Plus, fuck gamestop, you have to trade in like 6 games just to get 1 new one.
  • davie-culpepper - May 21, 2013 9:43 p.m.

    As a 35 year old gamer that has played every system ever released!I actually like the XBOX ONE and its features!I might be naive,but I believe come E3 they will show us that gaming wise it's on par with the PS4!The Internet connect issue isn't one to me,my ps3,ipad,iPhone,pc,and xbox 360 is always connected! The used game news I don't believe will be that big as it is now.! Believe when it's all said and done they will have some rent games program for the XBOX ONE!I also believe you will be able to buy used games at GameStop and it will have the code to activate it,and it will not cost the full price! I also believe Microsoft did the press conference this way to get all the grips and over all road map of this system laid out there!Then at E3 and PAX they will ease everyone's minds and the good times will roll!
  • KrAzEd - May 21, 2013 10:41 p.m.

    AGREED!

Showing 1-20 of 45 comments

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