Next-Gen: #Fail

Note: written prior to the E3 conferences

I’ve been a big advocate of the Xbox 360. I’ve owned several, not suffered a RROD and played more games on my Xbox 360 than on any other gaming platform I’ve ever owned (inc PC) thanks in no small part to trade-ins, ease of use and being able to play in my living room rather than tucked away in a bedroom or study on a PC. It also serves as my entertainment platform for watching Netflix, streamed movies/music, DVDs and gaming – I no longer have an aerial in the back of my TV (well who would want one considering normal TV has become purely reality TV, soaps and cooking program crapola).  I also own a PS3 but, other than rented or borrowed exclusives, it is my bluray player and nothing else.  If my living room TV is turned on then it’s a 99% probability that my Xbox 360 is the reason why. I had hoped the same of the Xbox One…

Today though, I officially decided that I will not be joining Microsoft on their Xbox One adventure.  It wasn’t a fun decision to make; I’ll be turning my back on years of great gaming fun, achievements and friends all coming over to my place with their consoles so we can have a gaming weekend. So what on earth have Microsoft done to make me so anti-Xbox-One ?

You can read for yourself here:

Scientific community left baffled when an image turns up showing what appears to be a product launch from the 1970s, yet everyone around has cameras from the future

Until the PS2, I had been a computer gamer; from the Commodore VIC20 to the Commodore Amiga and through to PC. I never owned a NES, Megadrive or any other console until the PS2. Even then I only really played Dancing Stage and Guitar Hero games.  When I then took the plunge on the 360, everything changed. It swiftly overtook my choice of PC for gaming for three simple reasons:

  • It was accessible.  I could play a game within a few seconds of turning on my TV. With Steam (which was still in its infancy at the time) causing issues with lending PC games it also meant I could borrow a friend’s game before deciding if it was worth the money to purchase myself. Plus, on launch, the graphics were unlike anything seen on a TV/console combo – they were ‘PC good’.
  • It was portable. I hated LAN parties purely because of the hassle involved in dismantling the PC, the speakers, the monitor, the mouse/keyboard and the seemingly hundreds of wires and four-way sockets. When we all moved to Xbox 360 I could fit everything I needed in a rucksack and just needed an extra TV. Easy to set up and travel with. I even took my console on holiday a couple of times for when the good-old-British-weather-spoiled days out.
  • It was simple. One controller, one Gamertag and that was it. Turn it on, play a game, turn it off. It just worked, whenever, wherever.

Somewhere along the line that has all got a little forgotten. In the rush to catch up with the fads like social media, new tech and businesses looking to squeeze more cash out of players via DLC, online passes, etc, the three basic ideals of the console just fell to the wayside.

Kinect was an interesting addition; I even championed it when so many were quick to dismiss, but it destroyed accessibility and simplicity.  Having conversations with friends while the Xbox 360 and Kinect were on turned into a constant fight against it starting up random searches because it ‘thought’ it heard a command.  Since the Kinect updates and dash revisions the console now takes almost half a minute to boot up.  At least I can unplug Kinect at the moment so that party chats, visitors and the odd sentence in Netflix doesn’t interfere with my Xbox 360 with random commands.  Even Nike+ accepts the command ‘Ready’ to move onto the next activity and the woman instructor saying ‘are you ready?’ or whatever it is kicked my Kinect into thinking I had said that, thereby depriving me of my much-needed thirty-second cool-down!  ‘Always On’ Kinect 2.0 worries me greatly, with an expanded arm gesture and speech set – how much more often will activities be interrupted by false Kinect commands – especially as multi-tasking seems prevalent in the Xbox One.

Graphics have come a long way too and 1080p in the living room is much more of a standard than it was eight years ago.  I expected a 1080p minimum on the next gen and it looks as though that isn’t even being enforced. PC graphics are now so advanced compared to consoles (Borderlands 2 is a prime example) yet I’d hoped the next gen would catch up at least a little. I wasn’t expecting 4k compatibility from a console budget but was it unreasonable to expect 1080p at 60fps? I didn’t think so, but it looks like the consoles are already starting at a huge graphical disadvantage from day one.  Doesn’t say much for future proofing.

“With Xbox One you can game offline for up to 24 hours on your primary console, or one hour if you are logged on to a separate console accessing your library”
- Microsoft

Borderlands 2 comparison between Xbox 360 and PC, taken from HD Play (click image for original video)

Microsoft confirmed that the Xbox One needs to call home at least once every 24 hours to verify whatever it needs and allow you to play your games. That’s actually the most backward decision of the lot and the one that has put the nail in the coffin for my next-gen purchasing hopes.  I can see reasons behind doing so:

  • It stops modders and piracy because the console is hardwired/programmed to effectively become a paper weight if not online making it impossible to mod and run bootleg programs.
  • It ensures that someone doesn’t buy Watch Dogs, associate it to their account, go straight back to the shop and trade it in (which should strike it from your gamertag) but continue playing it offline for days (because the console thinks they still own it).

By ensuring it calls home then I would have been unable to play games at the following times over the last couple of years:

  • Moving house and being without Internet for several weeks because BT is too backed up to have a decent fibre turnaround
  • Recovering from an operation at my nan’s where it wasn’t feasible to run an ethernet cable though the house to access the non-wireless router
  • Going on holiday to a static caravan park with no Internet access.
  • Any time my ISP/phone line has issues for more than 24 hours – rare but when it happens you tend to be stranded for days whilst BT and ISP argue over whose fault it is.

Get real... you'll need to be closer to a mast than THAT if you want a decent signal!

And that’s in mainland Britain where we are not generally hard done by for Internet access. What are poorer countries and rural regions supposed to do with their Xbox Brick? That ‘feature’ has just broken the simplicity and accessibility tenets.  Hang on though, Microsoft has confirmed you can use your phone’s mobile data to authenticate. Yeah great, the aforementioned nan lives in a village fifteen minutes from Vodafone HQ in the UK, yet I still only get 2G signal with my phone there (an HTC 8X WinPho8..see Microsoft, I’m a loyal sucker!). It rarely loads one of the simplest web pages on the net (Google search), how is it supposed to authenticate a console? It fixes nothing. Let alone the data rates every 24 hours…can we get confirmation of how much of my pitiful mobile data contract would be consumed by Xbox One authentication (assuming this would also be required for every new game purchase to add to cloud-enabled Xbox Live account)? A lame workaround for an even lamer solution to a problem created by micro-managing the customer rights and access. At least allow physical media in the drive to verify the HDD install and run as it does on the current Xbox 360 if offline…pretty please?

With Xbox One requiring Kinect 2.0, what happens when my friends come over with their new Xboxes? Seven of us cramped into a living room definitely won’t give Kinect enough space, not even a spot for it to sit on, so hopefully Kinect 2.0 isn’t a requirement for recognising you and logging you in because otherwise that just killed gaming weekends.  Let alone working out how to mute the damn things otherwise everyone’s console will start freaking out when we all get chatting and Kinect 2.0 thinks we are talking to it – all SEVEN  instances of it.

Then there is the hardware/software element. Xbox One will be running three separate OS systems. Madness. How do they expect that to stand close to the PS4 a couple of years down the line? The PS4 outclasses the Xbox One in almost every way. Faster 8GB RAM, more GPU transistors where Xbox tried to make up the shortfall in DDR with a little more RAM on the graphics card and just one OS to program for and fight for resources with.  While the new multitasking features are nice, they are not a must-have, certainly not trumping or even coming close to the console’s primary purpose which should be (but worryingly doesn’t seem to be) playing games.

“A new generation of games with power from the cloud”
- Microsoft

Black clouds with no silver linings

Don’t even get me started on the cloud. How can it possibly add anything to your gaming experience? It’s too slow for on-the-fly gameplay enhancements due to Internet latency alone, then the bandwidth of your broadband massively affects the real-time streaming capability. I can see it being great for insta-DLC, persistent worlds, stats, saves, etc but actually enhancing the capability of your Xbox One (there was some talk of having 4x the power of your Xbox One accessible via the cloud) is pure baloney, surely?  Can your broadband match the data throughput of 68GB/s? Mine certainly doesn’t, it barely manages 10Mb/s.

When I look at the above, the potential £499 cost of the console (£429 as officially announced), the cost of games without the ability to trade in (mainly because it sounds like a ballache having to find ‘authorised’ places and that is even then only IF the publisher allows it…ffs, seriously?), the inevitable extra Xbox Live subscription cost plus the chance that the thing won’t be usable for days on end if I have broadband issues then I can’t help but look at a £600 PC and compare the two.

Xbox One 

  • 1080p not guaranteed
  • Media Centre (when online)
  • Gaming (when online)
  • Cloud sync (when online)
  • Kinect 2.0 Required
  • Xbox Live subscription
  • Locked software (maybe trade-in possible on some titles)
  • £39.99 rrp games
  • Netflix app
  • Smartglass
  • Multi-tasking
  • Skype, Xbox Live party chat(?)
  • Internet browser opens up all kinds of malware issues -
    no virus checker
  • Bluray
  • Achievements that have moving targets? Eeesh.
£600 PC 

  • 1080p guaranteed
  • Media Centre (when offline/online)
  • Gaming (when offline/online)
  • Cloud sync (when online via Steam)
  • No additional Subscriptions
  • Upgradable hardware
  • Locked software (but gifting allowed)
  • £29.99 rrp games
  • Netflix app
  • Multiple screen capability
  • Multi-taksing
  • Skype, Ventrilo, Teamspeak, many more
  • Plethora of Indie games
  • Anti-Virus/malware
  • Unlimited storage potential via ext HDD
  • Bluray
  • Achievements (fixed and maxable)

So my real choices are to stick with console and go PS4 in the hopes that the extra grunt and focus on games makes 1080p console gaming (with trade-ins, swapsies and stuff as it is on this gen) a reality, or I revert back to PC gaming for a larger initial outlay.

My living room TV isn’t going to change any time soon so 1080p is where it’s at for me. A £600 PC with cheaper games will cost me less in the long run and allow me to play online or offline with no stupid call home, no extra fees and no loss of functionality other than the ability to wave erratically at my TV and have it take me to the home screen. Plus most graphics cards do HDMI so a new PC will hook into the surround sound and native TV resolution easier than ever before.

Sorry, Microsoft, but in your bid to quash the pirate threat and force ‘always online’ before it is sensibly time to do so, as well as losing sight of the gamers’ needs, I’m afraid to say you’ve not just lost a potential customer but a loyal one too. I had high hopes for the next gen but it seems as though neither Sony nor Microsoft have really stepped up to the plate for gamers instead using fads like social, cloud and streaming – three things that gamers generally aren’t all that fussed about whilst doing what they enjoy… that’s playing games by the way…

Then again, perhaps it is I that needs to change, perhaps my demographic (mid 30s) are just not ‘down with the kids’ enough to get the need for social streaming, doing something else at the side of the screen whilst watching a movie and not being able to go ten seconds without being online and broadcasting their every move and piece of information to the public at large.  Am I the single-player dinosaur heading for extinction? It certainly feels that way, because the more I hear about next-gen console gaming the less I want to be a gamer. It was bad enough having multiplayer shoe-horned into everything (because supposedly that’d make people keep the game for longer… idiots) and season passes for overpriced DLC this generation, but having to check with Redmond before I am allowed to do anything on MY console with MY subscription crosses the line. In fact I can’t even see the line any more and so I am out. No matter what line-up or exclusives Microsoft parade around at E3, nothing will convince me the Xbox One is worth purchasing unless some sort of miracle U-turn around calling home occurs.




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3 Comments

  1. MarkuzR says:

    This. All this.

    I sold my Xbox Elites a few weeks ago and when the Xbox One was revealed I realised that I wasn’t actually going to buy one. That’s before I even knew about all the crap that came with it, and the higher price tag. I just can’t give a fuck about a console that tries to push TV and social media at me when I only want to play games.

    After everything finally came out though, all the DRM stuff, all the nonsense about this and that.. like the 24-hour-connection thing and that other crap… I’m out. We built a tiny gaming rig a week or so ago, fantastic piece of kit, great spec, runs very cool and quiet, yet it’s not much bigger than the GameCube was. So yeah, I’m now exclusively a PC gamer. I may still opt for the PS4 as I’ve been quite taken by it, it has to be said, but right now it’s just PC for me.

    I feel your pain.

  2. W31rdy says:

    I totally gave up on console gaming having done both PC as well for a few years! PS2 was the last one I had, I enjoyed cheap second hand games! Now I have a PC, the wife and iPad and the kids have a Wii. The availability of second hand games for the Wii means if we get one for the kids and they loose interest quickly, we loose £5/10 rather than £40/50!

    The use of the word ‘Micromanage’ sums this up well! Cloud support is nice, but overbearing nannying isn’t the way forward!

    I am a PC gamer now, through and through as there are so many flash based free games now that are MMO etc…

    X Box has had its day, the ONLY reason someone will by it is for the exclusive games, and that’s unfair to force player who love a particular series into this bondage relationship!

    I feel ALL my console buddies pains, at least online dependency solo games are still rare on PC, but getting more prevalent!

    Loved the article! Maybe we should take up knitting instead?

  3. Kris says:

    Agree 100%.

    “Somewhere along the line that has all got a little forgotten. In the rush to catch up with the fads like social media, new tech and businesses looking to squeeze more cash out of players via DLC, online passes, etc, the three basic ideals of the console just fell to the wayside.” – This, 100 times this. I feel as if the companies showed there true colours for a moment and have been trying to cover up ever since. The Next generation will be a PC generation – for me at least :) .

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