By now we’re all familiar with Don Mattrick’s very public blog on Xbox Wire, and the flash-meme ”Xbox One-80.” In almost exactly a month’s time since the initial Xbox One reveal, Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment division has redesigned the entire concept of the Xbox One in less than 24 hours. The system is no longer always online, and its DRM shackles completely unlocked. Hurray for Xbox One fans, am I right? Yeah, uh, no. Take away ideal cloud-based game sharing, and reestablish the status quo made familiar in the last 8 years. But find solace, friend, the One is now unbounded by region, and can play games from anywhere in the world, and its surrounding 7 seas. Because the Xbox brand is real popular in Japan.
But let’s get this straight — I’m all for certain aspects of the Xbox One’s change. After all, I’ve been against a 24-hour connection from the start. What I do have a problem with, though, is how this ‘new’ Xbox One makes itself different, unique to the video game console market. In-game Skype, Fantasy leagues, and interactive TV aside, how are games different than they are now, on the Xbox 360? Take away the One’s then-definitive features, and you’ve got a suped-up 360 with live tiles and snaptastic on-screen multitasking. It’s fairly evident throughout Mattrick’s Xbox Wire blog that many of the One’s changes are meant to make the system and its games run “just like on Xbox 360.”
I can’t help feeling that certain parts of the Xbox One update are perhaps snarky, or bitter even — though not without just cause. Mattrick’s Xbox team has been trampled upon time and time again by the lowliest of blogs to the most read articles featured on the Gawker Media empire. Microsoft has been slammed for their all business, no games May reveal, and their DRM policies straight-up called out by Sony’s Jack Tretton himself. The Xbox team even braved through the entirety of last week’s E3 Expo, ignoring the humongous polka-dotted, internet-ready elephant loitering at every turn. So why back out now?
The team has no-doubt seen the overwhelmingly one-sided polls on IGN, Amazon, and any other number of games related sites on the web. “Which system will you buy?” the polls ask. The answers are an undeniable 80/20, with Sony’s PlayStation 4 in the lead. All signs seem to lead to immediate redesign, code red on Microsoft’s Washington campus. Above all, the games industry is an industry, and profits can’t be turned with underwhelming support. If Microsoft really wants to push 1 billion Xbox One units, they cannot and will not do so with their core community at 20% morale.
To play devil’s advocate, what does the Xbox One’s “reshaping” do to the actual, perceived experience itself? This is a console that has been planned, negotiated, and designed long before you and I stepped into Disqus with our nicknames and birth years. This is a console that is coming out this Holiday season. Above all, this is a console that developers have already designed games for. An over-confident vision for a digital future has seemingly been second-guessed overnight, its design turned topsy-turvy in favor of consumer demand.
To be sure, this is one of the most demonstrative instances of the consumer vote we have seen in some time — the journalist voice, even. “We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity,” Mattrick writes. But to what end? What creative sacrifices has the Xbox team made in recognition of our “candid feedback” to what seemed an initially egregious online design? We have asked and Microsoft has answered, but some of us do not like the results. The question is, what do you really want from the Xbox One?