It’s worth noting upfront that I’m a big fan of TV, movies and sports. I would more readily define myself as a gamer, but I am a definite fan of all of these forms of entertainment. That said, I don’t commonly look at the games on offer with my TV set-top box and, likewise, I’ve never given much consideration to what TV-watching functionality is available when purchasing a games console. With the Xbox One, Microsoft are muddying digital waters that ‘intelligent fish’ might not like swimming in.
If you have been listening to BRBUK for the last few weeks or months, then you were probably already braced for impact when it came to some of the (not so great for gamers) news to come out of Tuesday night’s Xbox One Reveal – which saw the unveiling of Microsoft’s brand-new next-gen console (you know, the One with a previous-to-last-gen console’s name). My podcast co-hosts and I had discussed that we were all worried that Microsoft’s head had been turned by the non-gamer-centric successes of borne out of the Xbox 360 – namely TV content, dancing around your lounge and talking to your TV.
That the words ‘movies’, ‘TV’ and ‘entertainment’ were all mentioned well before anyone started talking about videogames was an early warning sign that these fears were well founded. Prior to Tuesday’s announcement there have been rumours that the Xbox One would have some sort of connectivity with TV set-top boxes and, from the functionality displayed at the One’s launch event, it appeared as though this may just act as a semi-intelligent voice-activated HDMI switch feature – which would seem to indicate that it would be instantly functional in all areas of the world. But, rather confusingly, we are being given mixed information by Microsoft that would seem to indicate otherwise; for example, Microsoft have already stated that “…live TV features will not be available outside of America at launch.” Most people seem to have taken this – I believe mistakenly – to mean that none of the TV functions on show will be available outside of the States at launch, but this could just relate to elements such as the fantasy football integration and TV guide listings, as opposed to the input switching feature.
While this might not have an effect on all of the functionality on offer, it will obviously have an effect on the content available. When questioned by Tom Bramwell of Eurogamer on the subject, Phil Harrison (formally with Sony and now with Xbox) had this to say in response; “...you might feel it gave an unfair impression that it’s very US-centric. We have to use examples from somewhere and anchor it…” When pushed as to whether future planned international announcements would include Premiership football in the UK, Phil Harrison gave a non-committal answer that would indicate it is something they are working towards. Interestingly, in a recent GTR audio interview given by Xbox Executive Aaron Greenburg, it was revealed that NFL content will also be coming to the Xbox 360, but that the experience on the Xbox One would be “significantly enhanced…because of the new architecture and some of the things we can do there.”
UK Xbox owners are perhaps even more wary of the problem this time around, especially as the parity of TV content we were indicated would follow did not occur in the last generation. Even when we were offered like-for-like services with names such as Netflix, the actual content on offer differed wildly on each side of the pond, with the UK wading in the shallow end of content by comparison to the depth of movie and TV content available in the US.
As gamers, we already pay a premium price for being an early adopter of a new console. The UK is likely to, once again, pay a comparatively higher price than in the US (and we’re well aware that other areas of the World such as Australia pay an even higher price than us) and yet we will all be expected to pay this premium to receive a product with less capabilities at launch. Due to the functionality and strengths that are being pitched as major selling points for the console – at least so far – this seems even more unfair than in previous console launches.
I have never desired a ‘secondary set-top box’ and I certainly don’t want to spend over £350 on something for which playing games is a secondary consideration. I will have to admit that I quite like the idea of ‘One box to rule them all’ and, in the darkness of my lounge bind them, in an effort to facilitate my instant digital desire. As it stands, switching between various input devices often does feel clunky and outdated – and I do welcome a solution to this (admittedly minor first world) problem. But it does seem like Microsoft aren’t in the best position to be the ones offering this; it feels like functionality that should be offered by TV manufacturers. In the Xbox ONE solution where does my PS4 (or my hypothetical Wii U) fit into this? Or my soon to be delivered OUYA? There’s no sign of being able to record live TV on the One (at least at launch), so I might want to save room for a set-top box or DVR. And, since the Xbox One isn’t backwards compatible, if I want to play an Xbox 360 game I’ll need to save room for that too. All of a sudden, the promised “One box you’ll ever need” is sitting on a very crowded shelf.
As much as the Xbox 360 may have proved there is a market for an all-in-one digital hub for the living room, there are some devices where I like the degree of separation. The one thing I prefer about Skype as opposed to owning a phone is the ability to turn it off when I am watching a film. I like the idea of this chat functionality existing for the purposes of re-watching a movie or watching a comedy with a group of friends, but generally I really prefer to concentrate on actually watching a movie, as part of my enjoyment comes from entirely immersing myself in the experience. As it stands, my Sky TV box doesn’t have in-built distractions that fill up 25% of my screen with friends’ faces.
The Halo TV series sounds intriguing, but I was a bit scared by the unexplained phrase “Premium TV” and a bit disappointed that their big specials guest, Steven Spielberg, is only an “Executive Producer” rather than fulfilling any sort of directorial role. However, I can’t pretend I wouldn’t be excited by the prospect of a high budget Halo live-action TV show.
There is definite backlash to the unveiling of the Xbox One console. Sony’s share price reportedly jumped 10% within hours of the end of the Xbox Reveal. Outlets such as IGN UK are reporting 75% of their readers polled reported back that they were “disappointed” with the Xbox One Reveal and Gamespot is showing a world map with PS4 leading the way over Xbox One with 88% of the vote. Microsoft have already stated that there will be a lot more said on games at E3 and are touting 15 Xbox One exclusives with 8 of those being new IP’s. This news can’t come soon enough for gamers or Microsoft.
Movies and services other than games may have made a great deal of money once the Xbox 360 reached mass market appeal, but it was gamers that were early adopters. Gamers that showed their shiny new consoles to the masses so that they could see the benefit of a digital hub. Gamers built the market that Microsoft went on to profit from – and perhaps they need a reminder of that. I only hope that all of this isn’t realised too late, when this One has become this generation’s Dreamcast or this decade’s Apple TV.