The Xbox One: A Tale of Hubris
The Xbox One: Means More Than You Think.
I thought it best to wait 48 hours before weighing in on the Xbox One. While there are some statistical benefits to being first, there is nothing personally satisfying about bellowing a knee-jerk reaction at the top of my lungs. Microsoft had effectively bought itself the benefit of the doubt. I use my Xbox 360 for such a variety of tasks that my assessment of its sequel must be measured and thoughtful. The Xbox 360 changed the way we use our game consoles forever. I appreciate that.
After much research and consideration. One word stood tall. Hubris.
Beyond the specs and facts there is the tone. A tone that I admittedly ignored for months before the announcement. Speculation about the system demanding an internet connection to work. Ignored. The strangely elitist rhetoric from former Microsoft Executive Adam Orth. I held firm in the belief that after soaking in the massive quantities of goodwill garnered by the Xbox 360 Microsoft would remember exactly how it came to power: options. The Xbox 360 started as a game console. Then became a social media hub. Then a multimedia hub. Then just an outright cable box. Or none of these things. You could use it as you pleased. It could be argued that the success of the Xbox 360 came from numerous ideas being thrown against the wall and, even in the case of failure, consumer appreciation trumped everything. We appreciated the removable hard drive even if it was costly to upgrade. We appreciated the USB computer adaptable controllers even though they broke as they saw fit. We appreciated the digitally downloadable games featured in the Xbox Live Arcade space even as the Xbox Live Indie Games space created awful (and awkward) games right next door. We appreciated the implementation of the Xbox Live service even though the words ‘Xbox Live’ generate an entirely different set of emotions if you are a person of color or a woman. Something about the juxtaposition of Microsoft just ‘doing stuff to see what works’ next to Sony struggling to keep its online service secure from hackers worked for consumers.
So logically Microsoft would ride the wave of momentum right into its next console.
Apparently, not so much. The Xbox One seems to be riddled with strangely rigid choices of implementation. There are small choices that will grow in importance as we approach launch (NO Xbox 360 peripherals are compatible with the Xbox One despite the pile of Xbox 360 junk you acquired over eight years). Then there are choices that will rear their head in a year or so after launch (no one can independently release games for the Xbox One, stifling an indie space that EVERYONE BUT MICROSOFT is embracing to great effect). There are also stupid choices (NO Xbox 360 games will work on the Xbox One, not even digitally purchased games) which undercuts enormous swaths of momentum from your installed user base. And There are odd choices that telegraph a money grab within the year (The Xbox One will launch with a non-removable 500 GB hard drive and games that automatically install to said hard drive when you insert the disc, which means you’ll be out of memory within 18 months).
Then there are monumentally problematic lapses in judgement that have spurred mobs of angry consumers, with pitchforks and torches in hand instead of wallets. For example, the Xbox One, after the aforementioned install, will essentially lock the disc to the active profile on that console. If you’d like to use the disc on another console or profile you will have to acquire a code that allows that disc to be installed elsewhere. The access code will not be free. It will cost you the price of the game in retail, as if you bought it inside the shrink wrap. So if you are a person who buys one game for a household (sharing it between children, or siblings, or roommates, for example) then you would have to pay full price for each time you install it onto a new machine. One disc may cost you the price of three in the right circumstances. I firmly believe Microsoft will iron out the kinks in this plan and shape it into something functional and interesting. But they have unfortunately set the tone and it looks like they are out to turn all of our goodwill into cash.
“Now Aaron isn’t that what Microsoft has ALWAYS done?” – You.
Valid. However, in the decade of the Xbox 360 Microsoft’s willingness to try anything once worked to create a veil (of varying density depending on where you sat) between their immediate goal of vacuuming your wages and the appearance of working for the greater entertainment good. In comparison to Sony (aggressively stagnant until about 3 years ago) Microsoft at least wore a convincing mask, like a good politician.
The Xbox One has torn away the veil. Hubris, in the short term, seems to have won the day. It would be fair to say that Microsoft has effectively forgotten how they originally wormed their way into our hearts. I wish it was also fair to say that public opinion will help Microsoft right the ship. But, according to the writing on the wall, they’d much rather have our dollar than our opinion.