By Bryan Smith on January 17, 2016 at 3:07pm
The Xbox One. One of the least intelligently named consoles out there, when we have the original Xbox and Xbox 360 before it. Or as many would call it, the Xbone when it was revealed. When it comes to the eighth generation consoles, those being the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii U, and PC (not including handhelds), the Xbone is generally regarded as the punching bag.
Many have laughed at it for the awful anti-consumer features it once touted, the lack of enticing software that can't be played on other hardware, and the focus of not being a gaming machine first. That was in 2013. Now we're in 2016, that image is quite different. With Phil Spencer being the head of the Xbox division, he's spearheading the Xbox One, and Xbox brand in general, back from the awful decisions from before, and he's damn near determined. Let it be known that once terrible decisions, and products too, can be turned around.
Don't Forget the Past
Pointing out the positive here without context would be rather meaningless, seeing how the title of this article is “How the Xbox One Is Catching Up.” We need to understand why the Xbox One has to catch up to its competition. Don Mattrick. He was the previous head of the Xbox division before Spencer took over. Yeah, you know where I'm going with this one. “We have a product for people who aren't able to get some form of [internet] connectivity; it's called Xbox 360.” Keep in mind, this wasn't to a teenager who simply couldn't afford an Xbone. That statement was towards those serving as armed forces for the United States, as in they knew they were going to outright alienate extremely large numbers of their consumers. Microsoft was ok with these anti-consumer features until they saw everyone panning it, where a few days later they would reverse those negatives.
Let's round off those features, shall we? The always online requirement (every 24 hours), the DRM, the attempt to limit used-games, the always connected Kinect (pun!), and not a whole lot of incentive to upgrade from the Xbox 360 to the Xbone (i.e. lack of compelling software, said anti-consumer features, etc.). That E3 presentation did a lot of damage that Microsoft is still recovering from. Don Mattrick would later resign the month after of that E3 presentation for the Xbone. Microsoft's message was so muddled people didn't think this was much a gaming console. Sure, there was the family sharing and digital loan thing, but at the seemingly expense of the consumer for DRM and the like. There's a reason the nickname for the Xbone (aside from that one), Xbox 180, stuck. They flipped-flopped and just didn't know what to do. It took them a good year, maybe two, to get the Xbox One back on its feet.
Most of the damage has been with 2013 and the reveal, for certain, but there have been a few negatives scattered throughout the time between then and now. Microsoft's obnoxious cockiness with its marketing, “The Greatest Games Lineup in Xbox History,” was insufferable. A collection of old games Microsoft didn't play a large role in, a remake of a game from the last generation, a timed exclusive, and “Forza Motorsports 6” & “Halo 5: Guardians.” I can think of a year that blows that statement out of the water... 2007, with “Crackdown,” “Halo 3,” “Mass Effect,” “Forza Motorsport 2,” and “Bioshock” as Xbox 360 exclusives (in the sense of “Resident Evil 4” exclusive, not “Rise of the Tomb Raider” “timed exclusive”).
Now for my favorite punching bag topic, there's “Rise of the Tomb Raider's” dumb timed-exclusivity deal. I wrote an article about that. Go read that as to not flood this article with things already beaten to the ground. Sales have been poor for a AAA release. I think I covered everything stupid for this one.
The last thing I'll say is the lack of compelling software that you can't get anywhere else. As of right now, the games you can only get on the Xbox One, and nowhere else, that aren't awful include “Crimson Dragon,” “Forza Motorsport 5 & 6,” “Halo 5,” and “Sunset Overdrive,” and maybe “The Master Chief Collection” if you want to get technical with 360 games. If you can get the rest on PC, the Xbox One doesn't scream “must have.” In technical terms, the PlayStation 4 is slightly better hardware if we were ignore the PC, meaning multiplatform games would be better for the PS4 (and the installing times are looooooooooong) and the Wii U just has better exclusives hands down.
With that said then, let's look at what the Xbox One is doing to improve itself.
Gold Sharing/Games With Gold
The idea of paying for online multiplayer is... distasteful, to say the least. Xbox's Gold Membership got the PS4 to charge for multiplayer now. However, then there's the Games with Gold/Plus competition. For these services, you can get free games. These games included “Tomb Raider (2013),” “Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag,” “The Walking Dead Season 1,” and many more along with indie games. Better than the PS3 Plus, however, is that the 360 games you keep forever, as in if your service runs out, you still keep it. That is an excellent feature and a great incentive to buy Gold.
My favorite thing, outside free games, is that the Xbox One has Gold Sharing. That means if at least one account on the Xbox One has Gold, everyone on that same console has it as well. You get to play online on the same console without needing to pay for a second (or multiple) Gold memberships! Heck, I don't even think you can play with two accounts at the same time on the PlayStation 3 or 4 (please correct me on that one). Granted, you can't cheese the system and have it so the one without paying for it goes to another system and somehow share it, but these features is pretty darn good.
Albeit not crashing through the wall good and not quite refined yet, backwards compatibility is a great feature to help ease 360 users, heck even those who don't play on Xbox consoles, to dropping the 360 for the Xbox One. I can play the previous “Gears of War” games, “Halo Reach,” “Mass Effect,” “Bioshock” games (eventually), and more on my Xbox One. It's certainly more enticing than PlayStation Now. Sony, I don't want to rent games I already own. Either get them on the PS4 or don't bother at all.
The backward compatibility does have a long way to go, though. Many large, important, and wanted games such as “Red Dead Redemption,” “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” “Lost Odyssey,” “Blue Dragon,” and more are missing... for now. Hopefully by the end of the year, the list of 360 games goes from 50 some to somewhere near the high hundreds or even thousands. That would give everyone who has a 360 a reason to get a Xbox One.
Ditching the Kinect
This may need some clarification. Perhaps you liked the Kinect and it makes navigation easier. Good for you. A lot of other people, myself including, don't want that thing in our houses. The troubling rumors of the camera certainly don't make many easy, and the Kinect really isn't that useful for gaming. A device that doesn't particularly help with the gaming of a game console that is meant to help gaming is rather useless.
So Microsoft then pushed the Xbox One back to more gaming was a sigh of relief. Now more focus and effort can be put on the games, rather than motion controls that don't really benefit the game save for something like “Dance Central.” That also means more games from Rare that aren't Kinect! Hooray! Hopefully. Spencer seems like he wants to push Rare out of the Kinect slump and actually use their properties, like Microsoft should be doing. Speaking of Spencer...
Phil Spencer and Listening to Fans
God bless this man, for he turned a train wreck somehow back into a fully functional train again. You know what this guy likes to do? He likes to play games, and it shows that he knows what fans want. We wanted backward compatibility? He had the team work to get it. We wanted something from Rare and “Battletoads?” He got “Rare Replay,” “Sea of Thieves,” and got those toads into “Shovel Knight” and “Killer Instict (2013)” (though Rare has a loooooong road to go to be anywhere near their glory days).
The thing that some people don't understand, though, is that Spencer can't do everything so the Xbox One can be the best console ever. Mattrick and Microsoft- yes, they are just as much to blame as he is- damaged the Xbox One's name enough to make people turn their noses at it (aside from fans and their biases). We saw that much with the first few weeks, months, and year. Sony is quick (at times) to announce how many PS4 consoles have been sold, with the number at 36 million (or close as of this writing). Meanwhile, Microsoft suddenly decides that direct sale numbers aren't worthwhile to the public... despite them doing the opposite when the 360 trumped the PS3. Heck, software sales have been dodgy as well, seeing how quick companies like Bethesda and Sony were with “Fallout 4,” “Bloodborne,” and even “Until Dawn,” which is more niche than most games you can think of. Yet Microsoft (not Spencer) doesn't have enough confidence to say how much their games sold.
And that's exactly what people like about Spencer, not so much Microsoft. He's confident, straightforward (save for that stint with “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” but I'm willing to bet he had nothing to do with that deal and just had to say something to make him not look bad and not get in trouble), and clearly wants the good for the consumers. His tweets show care for the backward compatibility, where he's been asking if the team can get the original Xbox titles onto the Xbox One. The best mentality a person in a company can have is one where he says things like this: “This is for the gamers.” That is why we need people who care about the fans.
Where Does the Xbox One Go From Here?
The best way for anyone is to keep going up. The Xbox One is still heading up, with things like the backward compatibility, Games with Gold, and Spencer gearing the Xbox One to be a gaming console and not a multimedia device. However, they started pretty low to begin with, seeing how most people lambasted the Xbone's 2013 reveal. It started out bad, and it can certainly go back, though to be fair anything can eventually go bad. In any case, Microsoft needs to keep throwing a bunch of acts of good will to the fans and consumers if they want to continue moving forward.
You know what I want to see Microsoft do? They need their own properties that they own and created to compete with Sony's and Nintendo's. They want a big platformer mascot like Mario? Make someone who is unique and does something fun, similar to how Sonic the Hedgehog was created. They want a treasure hunter like Nathan Drake? Instead of buying out Lara Croft, they should make their own treasure hunter-like game. There aren't a whole lot of faces for the Xbox, save for Master Chief, Marcus Fenix, and the Rare mascots (USE THEM!!). Push for something new, like “Sunset Overdrive.”
Give us a reason to get Xbox consoles.
How else do you think Microsoft can continue to improve from the original state of the Xbox One? There's always room for improvement, you know? No one wants future products to be worse.