Xbox One will fail as an entertainment hub, but thrive as a games console

We saw the next gen Xbox, new super-advanced Kinect and a new pad. We learned that Xbox One is built on cloud technology, designed to deliver ‘intelligent, interactive’ TV and we even saw Steven Spielberg, ready to helm a Halo TV series.

And yet the majority of the debate around Xbox One right now has little to do with that highfalutin stuff. The games playing public has rather earthier questions: what does the new console do that my 360 doesn’t? Which new games will I be playing on it? Can I play second-hand games? Will it be backwards compatible?

Games sites tied themselves in knots reporting on the Xbox One event, because Microsoft fumbled all of the answers. Hours later, when the press had the chance to ask the questions that the games playing public wanted to ask, Microsoft executives’ clammed up. It appeared as if they’d barely even considered these fundamentals – the strength of the reaction around second hand games and always-on in the last few days has surely brought this oversight into sharp focus at Microsoft HQ.

The questions Microsoft did answer during its reveal event were obscure, and entirely of its own invention. Can I search for something on the internet and watch a movie on the same screen, at the same time? Can I interact with TV shows through my Xbox? Is switching between inputs with Kinect as fast as using a remote control?

Xbox was always intended to be the connected hub at the heart of your home at some point, but the leap Microsoft is attempting to make here is too great. The rhetoric at the Xbox One reveal was so far removed from the principles Xbox 360 is built upon, it feels like Microsoft staged the launch of an entirely different product – as if the Xbox branding was arbitrarily slapped on at the last minute.

Simplicity and ease of use were the virtues so vigorously emphasised during our on-stage tour of the UI; next gen Kinect is a technical marvel, but I can’t personally ever envision a time when I will use its gestures and voice commands over the humble remote control. Right now, all-in-one entertainment appears to mean cramming the TV screen with as much stuff as possible, all at once.

I don’t want the distraction of running apps alongside a game. I don’t understand why I would want to be interrupted in the middle of Breaking Bad’s various escalating tensions with a Skype call from my mum. I will never want to switch between Grand Designs and Gears Of War in a flash, not least because it’d be a shocking change in tone. As we’ve already noted elsewhere, maybe TV is fine just as it is.

“How do you change the channel on this thing?”

In saying that all-in-one entertainment is its future, Microsoft seems to have decided that having a phone, tablet or laptop as well a TV is somehow a bad thing. On the contrary, I like the fact they are separate, and each does the thing it was designed to do really, really well.

And if Xbox One is powered by the cloud, built around online and as capable as Microsoft says it is, why not make a clean break and ditch the fusty old physical media? The presence of that Blu Ray drive in Xbox One turns its own Steam-style ‘one profile, one game library’ service into a messy controversy. Games players, quite rightly, expect to be able to do as they please with the discs that they own.

Forget all the bluster around interactive TV, Kinect and fiddling around with fantasy football teams. For me they are destined to end up as silly, transient distractions, no matter how hard Microsoft will try to make them a success. We can be confident, however, that Xbox One will become a formidable games console, though Microsoft would prefer you called it an all-in-one home entertainment system.

Microsoft’s studios are developing 15 new games for release in Xbox One’s first year on sale, and a flurry of expected confirmations this week from Ubisoft, Bungie, Warner and several others will ensure thirdparty support remains as strong as ever. Surely the Xbox team knows that it cannot afford to abandon the audience it has steadily built over the last decade. The fierce reaction across the games playing community this week will surely snap Microsoft out of its all-in-one entertainment daydream.

Forget owning the living room. At E3 2013, we’ll see the real Xbox One – a formidable videogame console with the blockbuster games and connected services to go toe-to-toe with PlayStation 4.

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