There has been so much news and commentary about the Xbox One over the last few days that I felt compelled to contribute my own view.
The Xbox’s biggest competitor is obviously the PS4. However, if this was all Microsoft were thinking about then they would have made some bolder moves towards games developers and particularly indie games developers which they consciously neglected to do. In my view this is the major issue with the announcement. They should have waited another few months before announcing this ground-breaking system and used the time to go a lot further towards courting the indie games community.
Microsoft’s real battle is not with Sony. To a certain extent Sony is on a long term losing trajectory with some welcome respite in the form of positive feedback about the PS4. Somewhat controversially, Sony reminds me of Nokia. It is getting blindsided by its persistent focus on devices rather than focussing on building out an end-to-end digital media ecosystem which is the strategy being carefully executed by Apple and Google – Microsoft’s real opponents. However, Sony is not irrelevant in all of this. The announcement of the PS4, along with much of the surrounding commentary, focusses strongly on the platform being opened up to indie games developers whereas previously it had been quite a closed system. Here, Sony have chalked up an early victory over Microsoft. The question one might ask is – how much do Microsoft care?
Despite the Xbox’s deep roots in gaming, it is actually a very important component of Microsoft’s broader strategy to compete with Apple and Google for control over consumption of ALL media. For us gamers, this is slightly disappointing as what we really care about is the gaming platform. Microsoft on the other hand are more focused on something else which is why they have announced the Xbox One now and why they did not spend more time socializing it around the games community.
Much of the feedback from the gaming community criticizes the console for its more general purpose nature. There is no doubt, whatsoever, that the XBox One is designed to be a multimedia hub. This device is now as much about watching Movies & Television as it is about playing games. From a technical perspective there are no downsides to that. Today’s devices can easily be good at all of these things without any compromise. From a user experience perspective the new console is built on a new operating system which will increase its interoperability with other devices such as the phone. That has got to be a good thing, right? We are also lead to believe that the new Kinnect interface is better. That is definitely a positive step forward as we increasingly look to gesture control, facial recognition and voice control to drive devices. I don’t have an XBox One yet – none of us do – but I am most certainly looking forward to getting one.
A major part of the overall success of this and any other emerging consoles is how well they are connected to a set of backend services provided by the same vendor or indeed other 3rd parties. Apple has demonstrated this. There is no doubt that both Google and Microsoft have the capability to take the lead here going forward. The Windows Azure cloud platform is going to create a massive amount of opportunity for games developers and I am a little surprised that they do not seem to be embracing that a little more. The rapidly evolving ecosystems of Microsoft, Google and Apple create opportunity for us and I for one embrace them. Disclaimer: The company I work for GameSparks, provides a rich set of services and tools including player management, dynamic in-game content management, game state management and a host of game mechanics to the games development community so that they can build richer, better gaming experiences leveraging the cloud.
Microsoft have not made a mistake with the XBox One itself. They have erred with their announcement strategy though. They should have spent more effort courting the games development community a lot more and announced this epic new platform on the back of wide support from the games development community.