May 22, 2013

The Astonishing X-Box One?


Microsoft wants to put its new console in every living room. Will they succeed?

Today’s post is by Cathedral Creative Studio’s newest team member, Devin Bambrick.

Some of my favorite moments at work are when I get caught up asking Gary, our junior art

director, about video games.

I’d classify myself as a ‘casual gamer,’ dropping in and playing the tent-pole titles on my Playstation 3 when my girlfriend goes on business trips. While I try my best to stay optimistic, I’m often bamboozled or confused by new fangled games. In a sense, I’m like those old men who only want to watch The Godfather, except I’m talking about how Mega Man X is the pinnacle of the art form.

Gary, though, is a futurist. He looks at gaming with the eye of a developer and a designer. So when I have qualms about storytelling, gameplay functions, and clunky dialogue, he always counters with constructive notes from a more informed and technical perspective.

Today we both tuned into the big press conference for the new Xbox One, Microsoft’s hot new thing in cross-platform entertainment. I wanted to ask Gary some questions about his take on the announcements and what they might mean for the future of pop.

Gary, let’s start with the name. Xbox One. What’s the messaging here?

The name shows that Microsoft is making their intention very clear right out of the gate. They want sole dominion over your entertainment space. I think it was pretty clear to everyone even during the last generation’s debut that gaming consoles were beginning to position themselves as a permanent fixture in living room instead of the garish box the kids dragged down from their bedrooms to play on the bigger screen. It was very plain during the conference that the Xbox One aims to solidify this idea. Not only that, but it wants to completely replace your current entertainment structure, namely your cable box, your Roku, your TiVo, or whatever you are currently using and become your only entertainment need. The majority of this conference was focused on the console’s seamless capability of switching between watching TV, surfing the internet, playing games, and listening to music–which are the foundations of living room entertainment nowadays. The Xbox One wants to convince you to put it all in one place.

2. That makes sense. Right now, my PS3 pretty much runs everything in my living room. In the past, PS3 and Xbox have had a reputation for being the boxes geared toward the ‘real gamers’ among us, while Nintendo has been for the ‘casual’ types. This all-in-one approach is clearly geared to capture those of us who don’t consider themselves gamers as well, which brings me to my second question: were you surprised by how much the focus seemed to be on sports?

Xbox is a video game entity first and while there are, of course, sports games, they are by no means a driving force in the market, nor are they particularly lauded in the core video game community. In fact, most sports gamers are often treated by core gamers in the way real life gamers are often treated by most other social cultures: with a kind of begrudging acknowledgement.

At the reveal of one of the most influential game consoles, I expected to see new gameplay mechanics, and what new things in gaming this console was going to bring me. So when the very first gameplay footage being shown on the Xbox One were shots of EA Sports titles I was, like many on Twitter, confused and a more than a little annoyed.

As the footage kept rolling to various sports stars, most of whom I did not recognize or much less care about, I initially wrote it off that Microsoft was merely putting the worst first to keep their gaming audience captive till the end when they revealed bigger titles. But at the point when they announced their actual partnership with the NFL, I had a realization, which actualized as the conference went on: this conference was not for gamers like me.

In fact, this conference was for everyone who was a non-gamer, or just had “gaming-tendencies.” Under that light it became obvious why the presentation was structured this way. Segueing from “do everything you already do in one place!” to real world concepts with applications in gaming like fantasy leagues, Madden games with real-world stats, exclusives with the NFL and the like. They were getting into the topic about games, but they were still talking to the non-gamer to get them on board. [This was just the inverse with the recent PS4 reveal, which showed almost exclusively high profile game footage, and almost nothing about the console itself.]

This makes complete sense, again considering the intention of the system: gamers will buy the Xbox because it’s the next thing. As long as the console has the games they want and they look prettier and bigger than ever, gamers will buy the next thing. However, to get that console in Mom and Dad’s living room, you are going to have to convince them that it will make entertainment simple and more engaging. The details of the sports engagement and the entertainment features previously mentioned are what the 12-18 year old audience are already telling their parents about to convince them to buy what will likely be an expensive system. Getting those features out to develop and mature in the social sphere is more important to the marketing of the Xbox One console. Microsoft will leave showing off the “real” games to the game developers at E3, which is only weeks away.

Tomorrow, I’ll ask Gary about the key differences between Xbox and PS4′s rollout strategies and we’ll speculate on the biggest question of all: how much is this thing going to cost?