Let’s Agree: The Next Xbox

For this special edition of Let’s Argue, Ben and I will not be arguing. The next Xbox is coming, and Microsoft is botching the reveal process SO badly that we just had to take a few minutes of your time to yell at them, together.

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What would Microsoft need to show, at this point, to impress you with the next Xbox?

Colin:

Straight talk? Not sure that’s even possible anymore. Call me a Sony fanboy, but the PS4 almost literally does everything I want. I like the controller, I like the streaming tech, I love their commitment to indies, I’m glad they’re on x86, the list goes on.

What could Microsoft do? More Kinect? My problem with the EyeToy wasn’t the goddamn technology. More deals with Netflix and Flixster? Guess what, I buy a gaming console to play games. I’m really not being facetious, I don’t see how they’ll make me give a shit. Last year I didn’t even watch their E3 conference. I just don’t caaaare.

Ben:

I’ve only been without a 360 since mine died last year, but I haven’t missed it at all. Microsoft has slowly turned a pleasant console experience into a horror show, with dashboard updates that show more ads than functions, a price hike on their Live service, and general disdain for developers and customers alike. The Microsoft in 2013 is akin to a phone company like Verizon; sure, they may be the biggest fish in town, but almost everyone familiar with them has some level of disdain for their archaic practices.

If they want to win me back, they’ll have to make some major changes. No more fees for multiplayer or basic functions that their competitors happily perform for free. Unless they’re planning on launching a cheaper “with special offers” model like Amazon’s Kindle, they should nix every ad on this device if they expect us to pay hundreds of dollars for their device. Much like produce, I tend to shop with distributors that are friendly to the little guys, so matching the benefits Sony and Nintendo provide for indie developers would go a long way.

Even if they manage to accomplish every one of those steps, they’ll need something more to make them stand out from the Wii U and PS4. The lineup of first-party Microsoft games has become dismal to say the least, with retreads of well-worn ground like Gears of War, Halo and Forza, and no fresh blood in sight. Month-long exclusive periods for DLC in Call of Duty may be enough for some customers, but for many others it isn’t a sufficient excuse to stay with a lethargic brand. Show me something that gives me the same feeling of wonder from watching The Witness at Sony’s press conference, and I’ll show you enthusiasm.

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What is the biggest problem with this ridiculous wait to announce?

Colin:

Sony is running rampant, that’s the biggest problem. Trailers for games are coming out with the PS4 logo on them and no Nextbox logo, and even if that changes later it won’t matter. The first impression of a game is key, and right now these games look like PS4 exclusives. Sony is also getting to take credit for things both systems will probably have. Demo streaming, suspend play, x86? The Xbox will have those too, but since Sony beat them so thoroughly to the punch, it’s a pro coming from them and a shrug coming from Msoft. It raises expectation massively.

Not to mention that while this is going on, Sony has a goddamn grass roots “dev for the PS4” push going on. They are letting everyone in on the party, and it’s going to be a good time for everybody. Sony, indies, the consumer, everybody.

Oh, wait. Not Microsoft. SUCKS TO BE THEM.

Ben:

Every problem I mentioned in the previous section has been magnified in the recent weeks thanks to Microsoft’s silence. I’ve seen developers come out of the woodwork to talk about the pain in the ass that is the Xbox Live Arcade service, from sneaky contract clauses to burying games behind swaths of menus on their release day. Microsoft neither confirmed nor denied that the next Xbox would use always-online security measures after Adam Orth’s tweets blew up. Reports from anonymous developers are blowing far and wide, bearing rumors that make the system look worse and worse.

By refusing to speak, Microsoft has let the story of their soon-to-be-announced console slip through their fingers. Even if none of the rumors are true, their reputation has been significantly harmed. By the time they finally end up holding a press conference, they’ll be working against a strong tide of negativity that can only be fought with a strong hand of cards. They need to pull out a royal flush, but at this point, it’s easy to doubt that they even have a pair.

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Given that we both favor the PS4 in this fight, who do you think is in a better position for second place– Microsoft or Nintendo?

Colin:

Ehhhh. EHHHHH. I guess I’ll give it to Microsoft? Hell of a race to the bottom, frankly. The Wii U has no goddamn games, it’s selling like ass. What’s more, it isn’t able to keep up with the PS4 and the presumed specs of the next Xbox for the most part, so it won’t be able to share most multiplatform games with it. So Microsoft will get some games to share with the PS4 that Nintendo will just straight up miss out on.

What’s more, as much as it doesn’t appeal to me, Microsoft’s strategy of making Xbox an all-in-one media device is really a pretty killer strategy for the marketplace. The idea of just having one box hooked up to their TV sets that does everything appeals to a lot of people. And hell, their gimmick, Kinect, is dumb, but it doesn’t seem as dumb as the Gamepad to me. So yeah, I guess I’ll say Microsoft.

Ben:

Though the Wii U is taking an absolute beating at the moment, I haven’t counted the little black box out just yet; the 3DS was in similarly dire straits only a year ago, yet it is clearly flourishing today. As Nintendo continue to pour their effort into winning consumers and developers in the living room, they’re kicking ass on the go. If the Wii U really does make a comeback, they’ll be sitting comfortably close to their Wii/DS numbers, which is a healthy place to be in this market.

Meanwhile, it only takes one bad console to sink an entire company. It happened to SEGA with the Dreamcast, and it almost happened to Sony with the PS3 before they reversed their fortunes. Microsoft has no handheld to fall back on, and every other division is hurting in the same way that Sony’s electronic business took a tumble. They don’t just need to be on their A game; they need to be on their A++ game and blow everyone away. While I’d love it if they pulled out all the stops and sold me on their next console, I’ve slowly lost my faith in Microsoft’s ability to achieve that sense of wonder. I’d hate to be the team at Redmond right now.