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Informed Speculation: Xbox One and What it Means for Sports GamesPosted on May 24, 2013 at 09:55 AM.
Now that we know a lot more about the Xbox One, there are certain realities that are setting in for the future of sports games. Without a doubt, there are aspects of the new system worth getting excited about. It'll be awesome to be able to switch between tasks quickly, and the speedy system boot-up and resume features will mean that players will be able to get in and out of games that much faster. I think it's awesome for many reasons, not the least of which is that you can get into a season mode or tournament without all of the cumbersome loading times and menus. It'll certainly be nice to bypass all of that when you wake the system up and get back into your game, and loading times should be better thanks to mandatory installs, faster processors and cloud-powered features.
Just the same, it'll be cool to have the snap feature that will allow for fantasy league users to stay up to date on a given day, and the NFL license and exclusive content is great for those who are looking for that kind of experience. Honestly, even Skype probably has some uses within sports games, as users can have a richer chat experience when they're setting up leagues, conducting fantasy drafts or just playing one-on-one.
I'm also excited about the revised Kinect camera, and I think the improved latency, resolution and voice detection will be awesome for fitness and dance games, and it will help augment games of all types. I can imagine some pretty cool voice technology for football and hockey, and the potential for the Kinect measuring heartbeat, engagement and things of that nature could yield interesting results for games that are going for a certain intensity.
But with all of this good stuff comes some negatives, and these will impact sports games just as much as any other genre. The reasoning behind some of these decisions varies, with certain choices being made to combat piracy and others being made just purely for profit reasons. Either way, it's hard not to be disappointed by a lot of these items listed below.
(1) The Xbox One will not ship with a headset
In a truly baffling move, Microsoft has said that the Xbox One will have no headset bundled in. This means that users will have to either pony up substantial bucks for a Turtle Beach headset (partnership just announced today), or stick with the improved but still less-than-desirable Kinect microphone for in-game chat. I think this is a massive miscalculation on Microsoft's part, especially in light of old headsets not working on the new system.
What possible reason is there to not include a headset and shut out current headsets? This reeks of MS just wanting to offload an expense onto consumers, and it's an indication that the console won't be cheap. They're looking for ways to save a couple of bucks, and they want to get a piece of the audio money pie that Turtle Beach has been enjoying for a while. Smart for business; bad for consumers. Not including a headset with the system emulates the Sony model from this generation, where the PS3 community suffered because you couldn't count on everyone having a headset. This is hugely important for sports games, especially for users in online leagues. Of course, people can go buy a headset, but this is purely a profit move on MS' part.
(2) Used games will not work the same as they do now
Now, this one is definitely some informed speculation, but we all knew there was a reason that EA was getting rid of the online pass system. I had figured that MS was going to bring in their own form of authentication system for each game, and it appears they've done just that. This is obviously to combat lost revenue to used games as well as piracy, but from everything they've said, it seems like they're going too far.
MS has alluded that you will be able to trade games back or something to that effect (possibly even trading licenses to friends), but the fact that you can't lend a game to a friend or family member for them to use is absolute nonsense. The reason Steam is viewed positively is because Valve has leaned completely into digital, with competitive sale pricing, a proper offline mode, gifting of games and free online multiplayer. Microsoft seems to be straddling the line between physical and digital, and I get the feeling that they won't be pricing as competitively as the stuff you see on Steam.
(3) The Xbox One requires some sort of always-online DRM
The details on this feature have been murky as well, but the general consensus seems to be that the Xbox One is meant to function with power all of the time (thanks to its varying power states), and ideally it needs an internet connection all of the time as well. It will allow for some kind of off-line time (currently set at 24 hours), but presumably after that interval, you will have to reconnect with the system in order to use your games and content.
Now, where sports gamers -- and gamers in general -- should be concerned here is not with just one small use case but with all of the possible use cases put together. What if your ISP goes down? What if your local network (router) goes down? What if you want to take a system over to a friend's house where internet isn't going to be easy to hook up? What if you want to take the system to a vacation spot or a hotel? What about people in the military? What about -- and this is the biggest one -- Microsoft's servers going down? There are plenty of legitimate reasons that people might not have a connection for a while, and this type of setup also assumes that Microsoft's servers will never have problems or downtime.
I think it will take just one major title having an issue on launch before MS feels the heat for something like this. What if someone can't play single-player Madden when they get home from the store? That's a problem.
(4) The Xbox One will not allow indies to self-publish
This decision is just mean-spirited to me. It sounds as if MS really wants to curate their store, and frankly, I think they just don't want to have to deal with indie devs as much, especially since some of them can be quite vocal about their grievances.
Honestly, what would be the harm in having self-publishers on the Xbox One marketplace? Microsoft still gets a cut of the sales, even if a game isn't selling like gangbusters. Also, and I'm sure fellow OS staffer Jayson Young will agree, we won't see fun little diversions like Blockey or Avatar Football on the Xbox One. For shame, Microsoft.
(5) The EA exclusive deal helps no one except Microsoft and EA
Obviously, this is a big deal -- pun intended -- for Microsoft and Electronic Arts. It will help steer early adopters of the new systems towards Microsoft's ecosystem, and EA gets a big pile of money. While this is nice if you're lucky enough to own two systems or choose to take part in the Xbox One, it's ultimately just a business move that shuts out content (and potentially even shifts release dates of games) for half of your user base. These kind of partnerships are going to happen, because that's just how business works, but it's nothing for gamers to really be excited about.
I am genuinely interested in a lot of features in the Xbox One, and I'm hopeful that there will be some awesome game experiences that aren't just about pushing poly counts and adding new animations. However, the "features" I outlined above give me pause, and I think these factors are a big negative for gamers in general. I hope some of these decisions and policies get revisited, because as it stands, they actually make the ecosystem worse off than it was before.
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