Entries in Microsoft (2)

Tuesday
May212013

Xbox One

Microsoft just finished their conference announcing the Xbox One, successor to the Xbox 360 releasing this fall against competition from Sony’s PS4. I’m just going to give my thoughts on their presentation.

Here is a link to a side by side hardware comparison for Sony and Microsoft’s next gen platforms.

 

First, I want to say overall I was immensely disappointed with this presentation. Compared to Sony’s PS4 announcement earlier this year, it felt like a lot of fluff. It took them 30 minutes to even acknowledge new games on the platform, and when they did, the continued to trot out the old same sports and fps games. With all the EA, NFL, NBA and fantasy sports attention, I’m worried about the positioning and targeting of this device. The presentation was filled with sensational numbers like 5 billion transistors and Xbox servers having more computing power than 1999 (wtf?). But before I get too negative, let’s take a look at the strengths of this presentation.

 

Pros

 

-         Xbox integration. What they are calling the Xbox OS based on a Windows core gave a glimpse at their most enticing feature, a true living room media box. The speed at which users can switch between internet, TV, movies, music and games is a real forward thinking symbiosis of content that can be tailored to best suit the individual users. With the “instant switching” and Kinect driven motion and voice controls, this really feels like the Jetsons future that people dreamed about 20 and 30 years ago. There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered about usability, like how will people input and control Internet Explorer and customize settings with just gestures and the new controller.

 

-         Xbox One controller. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Xbox controller, but the improvements to this new controller over the current 360 pad have me intrigued. The D-pad seems notably improved, and the texturing on the thumb sticks leaves me to think there will be more granular and precise control. I’m also hoping that they continue third party support as the 360 pad has become the de facto gaming pad for PC (something Sony could take a cue from).

 

-         Xbox Live. While there it still remains to be seen if Microsoft will continue to hold the use of your own internet at ransom through annual purchases of Xbox live, this looks to easily be the strongest social hub of next gen consoles. They are going way past simple twitter and char integration in order to make their system feel current and connected both to your friends and larger world events.

 

-         Clout. Admittedly this is kind of nebulous, but Microsoft is making a strong push on a variety of platforms as seen by their announcement of a Halo TV series (which really doesn’t have anything to do with the console) and working with leaders such as Steven Spielberg. While this also means more Bing and IE in your face, all the different tie-ins will have more pull than Sony who seems to be more focused on pure product development.

 

-         Connectivity. USB3, built in Wifi and HDMI in from cable box seems like a general improvement of modern appliances that will help the Xbox One function as a media hub.

 

Cons

-         Graphics. This was the biggest reminder of the diminishing returns on graphic fidelity with each new generation. Both the Xbox and the PS4 will already be a generation behind their PC counterparts, and the wow factor that occurred with the jump from 8 to 16 bit and later polygonal graphics just simply isn’t there. I’m not saying the games look bad, just that the improvements are much more subtle, even reaching into the uncanny valley as seen a few times during this event.

 

-         The box. I know it’s just a case, but the physical appearance of the Xbox One is incredibly underwhelming. I think it looks like a big shiny cable box. It lacks the pure simplicity of compared to other high end devices and doesn’t have any distinctive characteristics other than the two-tone styling, which seems kind of out of place.

 

-         The name. Have they not learned anything from the branding failure of the Wii U? Quick, what do you call the Xbox that came out before the 360? Most people would say “Xbox one.” This is just more needless confusion. While I’m sure Microsoft will run a much better marketing campaign to try to prevent this, it is another uphill battle for consumer clarity. Theorized pre-event names like the Xbox Infinity feel much more unique and identifiable, while still capturing the goal of a pervasive media hub.

 

-         Used Games. Game discs will need to be installed to the hard drive and linked to a specific Xbox Live account before playing. This essentially kills the traditional used game market, but I think this is only a minor nuisance. PC gaming has been operating successfully under this scheme for a long time. Users will have the option of pay an additional fee to install the game to a different system/account, but the exact amount is yet to be determined. Console users are going to have to get used to no more used games whether they like it or not.

 

Other

 

-         Backwards compatibility. With a specialized CPU direct from Redmond, it’s not really a surprise there won’t be any backwards compatibility for the Xbox One. Outside of the original fat 60 GB PS3 and spotty compatibility on the Xbox 360, backwards compatibility didn’t really exist last gen either, so it wouldn’t be fair to criticize the One for not including it.

 

 

Finally, one amusing tidbit is that it seemss Microsoft will be paying royalties to both Sony and Nintendo for features on the One. The inclusion of Blu-Ray and a cross-shaped D-pad are patents owned by Sony and Nintendo respectively.  Now we can only wait and see if the inclusion of these features is worth directly funding their competition.

 

Edit: Here is a reaction from Adam Sessler of Revision3 Games

 Also Sony Stock is up 9% today since the end of the Xbox One event.

Monday
Feb252013

Next Step for Nintendo

You may be asking why so soon after Sony’s big PS4 announcement am I writing about Nintendo? The reason is as the shine fades away from the newness of the Wii U and we finally have concrete information about the Nintendo’s new competition, we can start to see the future of the console landscape take form.

 

While the Wii U was not able to match the same sales figures as the Wii launch, they did perform better compared to the PS3 and Xbox 360 launch. Nintendo also claims higher revenue over the launch period despite lower volume versus the Wii due to the higher price tag of the Wii U at $299.99 and $349.99 versus the original Wii’s $249.99. Recently, Nintendo has had to cut its forecast as sales plummeted after the holiday season. A Gamasutra source reported that the Wii U sold fewer than 100,000 units in January, and was outsold by both the PS3 and Xbox 360.

 

It is worrying just two months after launch, Nintendo’s new console is already losing against last gen opposition. This is even before we get to the potential problem of weak third party support and the perception of weak hardware that may reduce the number of console selling titles from making it to market in the future. At the end of the Wii’s cycle, more and more third party developers shied away from Nintendo’s console citing reasons of low sales, and difficulty porting games to the Wii from the PS3 or Xbox. Last week’s PS4 announcement showed off an 8 core x86 CPU and Radeon based GPU on the same die from AMD. Meanwhile the Wii U’s more unusual Power PC based three core setup has a lower clockspeed than either the PS3 and  Xbox 360 has led to some developers to say the Wii U is under powered. At the very least it highlights the difficulty third party devs will face when trying to port games to the Wii U. This problem will be exacerbated after the release of the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft. With the last generation of consoles having close to a 10 year life cycle, I believe Nintendo will be forced into a mid-generation hardware refresh in order to keep up.

 

Nintendo also has to contend with a branding problem where many consumers are still confused by the difference between the Wii and Wii U. Furthermore, there are frustrating inconsistencies that prevent some games from using old Wii controllers and peripherals for no apparent reason. This is also compounded by a platform strategy seemingly devised in an era before the internet in which every Nintendo system is treated as a different ecosystem, unlike Sony’s PlayStation Network that closely integrates account and purchases across the PS3 and Vita. There has also been news of a Sony App for Android and iOS that will allow purchases to be made from a smartphone, similar to Steam Mobile as well as the ability to play non-camera based PS4 games on the Vita remotely.

 

This isn’t to say it is all doom and gloom over at Nintendo. The 3DS continues to dominate the handheld market, with Sony admitting sales are well below expectations in addition to an announced price drop in Japan. Nintendo also has a war chest of around 13 billion in cash reserves, so they aren’t in immediate danger of being forced to go software only a la post Dreamcast Sega. Nintendo has also shown resiliency after initial 3DS sales did not perform up to expectation, and has since corrected those problems growing stronger and stronger since.

 

The next big date for all three companies will be E3 where Microsoft is predicted to unveil their next gen system code named Durango. It will be up to Nintendo to deliver something in order to counter these new consoles when these new consoles are relived during the next holiday season sales battle.