Being A Console Is Actually Xbox One's Worst Asset
Posted on Wednesday, May 22 @ 18:00:00 Eastern by Daniel Bischoff
Microsoft revealed their next-generation console, dubbed Xbox One, in Washington at their corporate campus yesterday. It has a new controller, new Kinect capabilities, a new Forza Motorsport game, and some big improvements to Xbox Live, and I can't think about the system without immediately jumping to TV and media features. Obviously, Microsoft wants consumers to use Xbox One no matter what's happening on TV, but potential buyers probably already interact with social media while watching primetime sports and programming anyway.
People don't need Xbox One to use Twitter and Facebook while watching TV. They have smart phones, netbooks, tablets, and PCs. If consumers already own a Blu-ray player, a high-capacity HD DVR, and a tablet, do they really need Xbox One? The answer is no. That's why the immediate reaction around the industry is that Xbox One sucks and PS4 is "Awesome" with a capital Spider-man font "A". Being a console is actually a detriment to the Xbox One, driving up the cost of adoption and ultimately underselling the core market that will drive penetration for Microsoft in year one and two.
Who is the Xbox One consumer?
With Xbox One's central focus on all-inclusive media capabilities, consumers need to have a lot of disposable income, not just for games and Blu-ray discs, but additionally for Xbox LIVE subscription costs, cable TV service, internet service to compliment that cable TV, and the electricity all of that equipment and data will require. Maybe it's best we assume Xbox LIVE will see an increase in cost, just to brace ourselves for the sting we might feel at E3 in a few short weeks.
So, let's assume (generously because the number could be much higher) that Xbox LIVE will cost you $10/month and that cable TV, the other big entertainment pipeline into Xbox One, will cost you at least $60 a month. You're not going to want basic, Standard Definition television piped through your HDMI-equipped Xbox One are you? If you're lucky, both your internet and cable might come from the same provider, so let's make the two an even $100/month. To some, $110/month doesn't sound like a lot, but for a great many more it's just not within budget.
When you factor in that parents will force their teenagers to choose between things like a smart phone of their own or a new laptop for Christmas, Xbox One will certainly struggle to sell to the same folks that lifted the 360 to the top of the market.
Considering the promise of an all-in-one entertainment machine, Microsoft is positioning itself to oppose Google and Apple TV with Xbox One. In that market, it'll certainly find the consumers affluent and savvy enough to capitalize on all of Xbox One's media features. Of course, those same consumers probably already own a Blu-ray player, a DVR cable box, a tablet, and probably don't care about console video games. Xbox One's struggles in this market will surely be further compounded by the fact that it will be vastly overpriced sitting side-by-side with a Google or Apple TV in big box retailers.
Knowing what's in Xbox One and PS4 now in a general sense, it's clear that these machines should cost somewhere in the range of $400-500 USD at launch. There may be alternate SKUs, there might be subscription pricing plans, there might be any number of variants and bundles to get machines out of Best Buy or Target and into US homes. However, those alternative pricing models won't help Xbox One face off against its true Google and Apple competition.
Apple TV costs just $99. Google TV comes pre-installed in new TVs or low-cost boxes for upgrading your current High-Def display. American-made, established boxes come in way lower than Xbox One in cost and installation. What's more, Apple users like GR's Anthony Severino have become so plugged into an Apple-run world that Microsoft will find it incredibly difficult to get users to go from their Macbook, iPad, iPhone, and iTunes account in favor of an entirely new digital marketplace.
Despite this, there's a possibility for Microsoft to convince everyone to adopt this new box like they did with Kinect and 360 Slim, but even the company's massive marketing power can be thrown into doubt considering the distrust lingering from hardware errors in the company's last "all-in-one entertainment device."
Who should be the Xbox One consumer?
Microsoft needs to compete more directly with Sony on the "gamer" front. The Japanese electronics giant made it very clear to anyone and everyone willing to listen that PlayStation 4 will be first and foremost for the gamers. Did this early strike mean Microsoft couldn't follow the same messaging? Of course not, but the reality is that Microsoft was likely never going to take this approach because they don't want to align themselves so closely to one possible sale. Microsoft wants to compete with other major American corporations like Google and Apple, not only Sony.
Microsoft wants Xbox One to be a staple of the American household, and let the rest of the world figure it out later. They'll never say that, but the home territory is most important to the Washington-based software beast. PlayStation can have Europe and Japan; Xbox wants the heartland. Given the layout of the current generation's console wars, this seems a little too obvious.
Adding a Blu-ray player to PlayStation 3 didn't necessarily help the system in the early running, but Microsoft is counting on cloud computing, brand-recognition, and their usual 50-ton payload marketing blitz to move Xbox One this holiday, whether or not they have games ready for the system. Capturing the holiday-shopping zeitgeist isn't a matter of games to Microsoft, but a matter of developing one aspect for each member of the family in Xbox One. Adolescent boys can play Call of Duty: Ghosts and their fathers can check fantasy football stats while watching the NFL on Sundays. Women can do all those things too (and exercise, I guess?). What exactly were we all supposed to get out of yesterday's presentation?
On-stage at the reveal, we only saw seven different games and a whole lot of TV. Even if 15 exclusive titles are in development, it's impossible to feel anything other than a lack of software. What's more, the majority of those seven on-stage titles came in the form of sports ports from Electronic Arts. UFC, Madden, FIFA, and NBA Live (a title which EA has failed to ship for the past three years) don't really mean much towards the total count of Xbox One software since they'll likely be available on PS4 anyway.
The Xbox One consumer should be everyone, to be sure, but without attracting a huge swath of gamers, I'm not sure Xbox One will establish the foothold it needs to lead the next console generation as the Xbox 360 did.
We are everyone else.
In trying to capture mass appeal and box it, Microsoft has largely missed the target filled with dedicated console-gaming consumers ready to buy and align themselves with a piece of hardware for the years to come. PlayStation hit the ground with a lot of different software, ranging from family-friendly to first-person violence. This has ultimately allowed them to control video gaming's base weeks ahead of E3. Hell, if the exclusive software available on PS3 didn't get 360 users to switch by the time The Last of Us lands next month, the promise of further exclusive Sony first-party software could make an Xbox gamer into a PS4 gamer in no time flat.
If Sony had been similarly unprepared and the PS4 lineup had been as under-developed as what we saw for Xbox One, then the media features would have nudged Microsoft over the top. You can't deny the commercial appeal of Don Mattrick and Roger Goodell chatting about Xbox One.
As despised as "bro-gamer" Xbot fans are among the gaming populace, they've been an incredibly dedicated and reliable source of revenue for Microsoft. Why does the company continue to ignore them? Why does Activision have to fill that role in the Xbox One reveal? How the fuck did dogs steal the show? Doesn't the internet like cats?
Regardless, Microsoft has an uphill battle into, throughout, and beyond E3. We have to expect Sony to show even more games, even more PSN social features, and even more of the console's UI. Xbox One will try to maintain a sense of the Microsoft brand across Windows 8, Surface, Phone, etc., so we don't really have to wonder at how Xbox One looks when you turn it on. I feel like I have fewer questions about Xbox One and thus less interest. Everything seems typical of the Microsoft brand over the past 5-10 years: entertainment services, one-box under your tv, and less and less for the gamers out there.
Xbox One is for everyone, but ultimately, not for us.
Who knows? Microsoft has claimed more games will be on display at E3 and certainly many third-party publishers will have software to show off, but Xbox One's left-footed debut gave Microsoft a deficit they need to elminate immediately.
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