Candied, crushed sago't gulaman
What a week for games. Microsoft invited the games press to their unveiling of the Xbox One, and barely showed any games for it. The scope of the conference has been ably covered by the mainstream gaming media, but this hilarious video summarizes the event perfectly. Alternately, Kevin Spacey and Brad Pitt can tell you what’s in the box:
A bit facetious, but pretty spot-on. The Xbox One is attempting to usurp the living room and live television, a space and medium that have largely become irrelevant with the ubiquity of the personal screen and on-demand programming.
What does Microsoft’s new console mean for those in the Philippines (and people not in Americaland in general)? We’ve got something to say about that.
[Co-Op Ed is a regular roundtable on relevant gaming news.]
The console war. The console war never changes.
Slightly untrue. In the Xbox One’s case, its reveal did, in a way, change the console war. Arguably for the worse. You’ve read and heard this all before, so I’m just going to tumble through all of the problems: bundled Kinect, games tied to one account, a used games fee that costs as much as buying new (or not?), a not-always-online connection that is pretty much an always-online deal. Some other things.
But Call of Duty! It has CoD, which will automatically make it a success. Or not. Let’s see. As much as I like watching things crash and burn, there’s still a devious bit of me that wants to live in a truly awful world. Maybe I’m a masochist. Maybe it’s what we all deserve. Maybe I just want to build a city under the sea where consumerist ethics have no power over product development. Maybe we’re already there.
It does kind of sound like a Randian nightmare, to be honest. Mocapped dogs. Voice commands. The Kinect eye surveilling your sedentary gaming habits. Sports. It’s a horrifying height what Microsoft has reached. What has science done?
Man, and it’s such an ungainly piece of… thing, isn’t it? It’s like an old friend who got some work done and is now sporting tattooed-on eyebrows, leopard-print leggings and an inflated ego wrapped around their fragile sense of identity. You know she’s still inside there somehow. The tiniest sliver of familiarity tries blinds you. But she’s changed. She’s grown long in the tooth but leathery in the disposition. She’s not there anymore, guy. She’s made her choice.
Let her go. Buy a better PC instead.
More than three months ago on our very first Co-Op Ed (hey look we’re still here), we talked about the two rumors that had the biggest implications for the gaming industry – the console requiring a constant Internet connection and its games working exclusively for the original purchaser. Turns out those rumors were only partially true, and they don’t seem as bad in comparison at first blush.
The XBONE will not require a constant Internet connection, but it will need to go online for an as of yet unknown number of times for game authentication. Microsoft will still allow games to be resold, in some form or another (more on that below).
The first issue isn’t awful like it originally sounded, but it still poses a great inconvenience for some who might experience temporary Internet loss. For others who simply don’t have a robust Internet connection, they are completely lost to Microsoft. That probably means most developing countries, like the Philippines! But hey, piracy is already a huge deal in these parts of the world, and maybe Microsoft already looked at their sales numbers in these regions and just said to hell with it.
Piracy could very well be discouraged if Microsoft’s plans to push developers to offload the work necessary to run parts of their games to Microsoft’s cloud-computing architecture, justifying a constant Internet connection. Recall the SimCity debacle which caught EA in a lie about the game requiring an online connection to run. The difference is that Microsoft could be telling the truth, having already upgraded their Xbox Live servers from 15,000 to 300,000 in preparation. As for the used games argument, Microsoft’s unwillingness to actually confirm anything has gotten me all sorts of confused now about where they actually stand.
According to a report from MCV who asked UK retailers, if people want to resell a game, they will have to go to a Microsoft-approved reseller with the game in hand and have their “license” to play the game tied to their personal accounts revoked through the cloud-based Azure system. The approved retailer can then sell the game for whatever price they want, although this time Microsoft and the game’s publishers will get a cut from its sale. This could end up with used games turning out to be much more expensive than they used to, as some VG retailers thrive on profits from selling used games.
Eurogamer’s Robert Purchese comes up with another report from his inside source that there will be no activation fee for used games for the new owners, as the fee will apparently be paid for by the retailers. But then here’s another report from Polygon whose sources say that there will be no fee for playing used games on another XBONE. It simply has to be installed, and an online authentication will then tie it to the new owner’s personal account and erase the previous owner’s “license” to play the game. If this does turn out to be true, then there’s no stopping players from just directly selling their games to other people and bypassing the middlemen altogether to make a full profit.
Whatever the case may be, I believe we can all at least agree that Microsoft has handled all this very poorly by refusing to come out with clear statements regarding these issues, letting all these “reports” and rumors swirl around the net and destroying their image to gaming audiences. The latest statement from Xbox Live Director of Programming Larry Hyrb AKA “Major Nelson” isn’t enough, and it came too late. At least someone is benefiting from Microsoft’s incompetence!
Also, Microsoft is Big Brother. The new Xbox was announced, and we’re disappointed. The new PlayStation was announced, and we’re disappointed. Maybe there’s some truth to the rumor that gamers are an entitled lot that can’t be pleased. Or maybe the gaming industry can’t live with the business tenet of “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Or maybe the PC really is the most ideal platform for gaming. Maybe I should just chew broken glass.
The one unshakable thing I got from this week’s internet blow-up over the Xbox is that the “new generation” of consoles isn’t all that new after all. Here’s a handy chart I found on The Economist:
While every generation consistently has one “winner,” I can’t help but be paranoid that because of the steady growth per generation, we’re moving toward a more homogenous gaming era. Over the past few generations, we’ve entered a cycle of hype and disappointment, in which the big developers announce a revolutionary new console that will change the way we game. But when they finally launch it, it’s mostly the same things we’ve been playing forever. The market’s saturated with FPSes, and how different have RPGs become since the first Final Fantasy came out? In this aspect, I’ve got to hand it to Nintendo: their games may be weird and arguably lame, but they’re definitely new. Are there any other console developers beyond the horizon? Will we see the dawn of a new generation where Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo aren’t the only contenders? Whatever happened to that rumor that Valve’s making a Steambox console?
Also, can we not call it the XBONE? X-bone? It’s creepy enough that it’s always listening without us having to keep saying “bone” in its presence.
With the Xbox One announcement, Microsoft, in one stroke, revealed a name even worse than “Wii U” and made the PlayStation 4 reveal look amazing by comparison. Microsoft’s focus on multimedia and sharing have come at a cost to hardware—the Xbone (sorry, Mixka) is essentially identical to the PS4, but with lower-bandwidth RAM and a GPU that’s 33% less powerful. This hardware gulf is further widened by the same multimedia focus— the Xbone’s three operating systems will use three gigs of the available RAM, leaving only five for games, though of course workarounds are always a possibility. (Digital Foundry and AnandTech both feature much better analyses of the hardware.)
The real issue with the Xbox One, and something that most people are neglecting to consider, is what it means for the rest of the world. Its multimedia functionality aside (did you hear the good news, Filipinos? Microsoft has an unprecedented partnership with the NFL! You can play fantasy football in real-time, while watching Star Trek and Skyping someone!), the philosophy behind the Xbox One is that it is a console for the privileged. The Xbox One Percent, as it were.
The Xbone’s focus on DRM and connectivity are worrying for video game enthusiasts in countries where the infrastructure doesn’t exactly support a perpetually-connected video game console. Sure, we run a video games website, but the dedication necessary for keeping an online console functional is on another level altogether (i.e., we can keep Kambyero running even on our terrible mobile internet). At present, we have no idea how often the Xbone needs to phone home to make sure we’re staying on the straight and narrow— due to Microsoft’s continual backpedaling, we have no idea whether it’s two minutes, two hours, or a whole 24. That said, when the internet goes down for long stretches of time, will we be able to play games on our Xbox One? We may have the money to buy the console, the games, and its accoutrements, but we might not be able to use any of it if our ISPs go out.
The funny thing is, like all DRM, pirates will not be inconvenienced by it one bit— it’s the paying customers that will have to deal with this. And “deal with it” they will. Ben Kuchera, editor of the Penny Arcade Report, has effectively told his readers to embrace this future, even going so far as saying on Twitter, “Why are people who can’t afford Internet buying next-generation gaming consoles?”. The article itself raises interesting, but flawed points. For one, the economy Kuchera discusses means that Microsoft will have a monopoly on Xbone games—which Kuchera hopes will lower prices. A monopoly, lowering its prices.
Jason Schreier (one of the only reasons to read Kotaku) in a counterpoint to Kuchera’s article, notes that used games, just like piracy, have become the scapegoat for contemporary games industry woes. To echo the words of NeoGAF user Burai, used games are not the reason why studios are shuttered as soon as their games go gold. Used games are not the reason why sequel fatigue occurs. Used games are not the reason why the “AAA” space is so bereft of creativity. At the end of the day, for the rest of the world, it all comes down to the games. Most of the 360’s exclusives had superior versions on the PC, or were not worth purchasing a 360 for. What few games they showed at the reveal seems to indicate that this trend will continue in the coming generation, and the PS4’s technical superiority removes the multiplatform dominance the Microsoft once had.
That said, these issues could all be because of the confusion from Microsoft’s abysmal PR during and post-conference (the muddy communications waters discussed by Joseph above are the reason why we can’t delve further into the used games situation– private selling is a huge part of the games economy here in the Philippines).
[Note: After everyone chimed in, it took two Kambyero editors a hundred kilometers apart nearly an hour to fix and upload everything all proper-like. How will we ever use the Xbone in this state?]
Update: A few minutes after we went live, Jim Sterling posted an excellent rebuttal to the Ben Kuchera article– and did a mean Starscream– in this week’s Jimquisition.