Opinion: Xbox One is losing its “Next Gen” vision

Let me tell you my morning routine – I wake up, walk into my living room, and say “Xbox, on”. After this, the Xbox logo under my TV glows and – like magic – my TV and TiVo start-up. Kinect impresses me every single morning and, gradually, it’s been impressing friends and family (this is important.)

Before I bought a “next-gen” console I wanted to be sold on how I can be given different experiences from the previous generation. The PS4 looked like a PS3 with enhanced graphics – nothing impressed me in the slightest. It remains a dumb PC in my eyes.

I’m both a PlayStation and an Xbox fan before I start a flame war – I’ve always bought every generation of each console. Sony has some great franchises but currently, and for the foreseeable future, it looks like last generation’s titles are just being remade (although ‘The Last of Us’ on PS4 is one I wouldn’t mind getting some alone time with!)

Xbox One caught my attention right-off-the-bat for its talk of Cloud processing, the ability to digitally share games, and for cool Kinect functionality like auto sign-in via facial recognition.

Games have already started taking advantage of the Cloud; Forza 5 uses “Drivatar” which tracks the way you drive in a scarily realistic manner so your friends can feel like you’re playing them in their games, and them in yours. Titanfall, the best-selling exclusive of this generation so far, was only possible due to the Cloud being able to render enemies en masse. This, is a truly “next gen” vision.

If you follow the crowd and say “but games aren’t in 1080p” then first I’ll show you Forza 5, which is, then I'll show you Ryse and you can see for yourself how ridiculous you sound. Crytek’s title is widely-regarded as the most graphically advanced thus far, it's 900p, and it’s only available on Xbox One. Although if this is still really going to cause you an issue; remember by the time PS4 starts getting its real killer titles such as God of War and Uncharted in 2015 – DirectX 12 will be out which is expected to boost performance twice what it can achieve today through enhanced multi-core processing.

Yes, sales of PS4 are unprecedented, but both are selling like hot cakes. When enough people get over the Microsoft backlash which Sony naturally jumped on for marketing purposes – they’ll realise the new and most unique experiences are on Xbox One.

Tell me, could you be playing a game and say “Record that” to get that exact clip you want to brag about at a later point? Can you say “Broadcast” to start streaming on Twitch when you’re on a roll? Can you sit down and be signed-in to your own personalised dashboard automatically? Can you just say “Xbox, go to Titanfall” to jump straight into a game? Can you instantly switch to TV when you’re done with your gaming marathon? Well, every Xbox user could, until Microsoft unbundled Kinect.

These were all experiences I didn’t know I wanted so much – until I had them. Now I find myself shouting at other people’s TVs before realising they don’t have Kinect.

Right now, granted, there are no compelling games which use Kinect. I’m not a casual gamer, you won’t find me waving my hands and legs around like a kid on a Nintendo Wii. What you would have seen me do is sit down with my controller and “lean” around corners or shout abuse at cashiers to get them to hurry up in GTA V… little additions which have helped to make games more immersive.

If you’ve seen the development community which has hacked the Kinect for their own innovative uses – it’s incredibly exciting. The fact developers knew every Xbox was shipping with Kinect and would eventually be opened for development was something I most eagerly anticipated.

Unfortunately, due to pressure, Microsoft removed this guarantee.

It is similar to their DRM reversal which means games can no longer be digitally “shared” with friends and family. For those, like me, who originally believed in Microsoft’s futuristic vision for the Xbox One – it is now becoming just another dumb PC.

Let’s go back to the start of this piece, where I said “this is important”. It was that friends and family were gradually becoming impressed with all the cool and unique things the Xbox One was able to do. This reversal comes just as people were realising the benefits, and the turnaround happened after only six months.  Not only that, but it looks like another admission from Microsoft they were wrong about their vision – which they never were.

Don’t get me wrong, the decision will boost sales in the short-term, but at the expense of an exciting long-term plan. Many will have lost faith that Microsoft knows the direction it should be taking with Xbox. That’s really unfortunate.

Speaking with Polygon, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for devices and studios Medhi said: “We remain deeply committed to the Kinect as a core component of a next-generation console. We think that the bio-metric sign-in, voice controls of the menu, ability to say ‘record that’ and capture a moment of gameplay are all critical to the experience.

“We have never wavered from that since the launch.”

He added, “The decision we’re announcing today is offering a choice to people that would allow people to buy an Xbox One and then ramp up to Kinect when they can afford to,” and claimed, “We have over 80 million people who have yet to buy Xbox One.”

Currently the Xbox One reserves about 10% of its graphics processing power for the Kinect – Microsoft is “in discussions” with whether they should unlock this to give developers extra grunt to work with and help close this initial resolution gap which is causing the Xbox One to look significantly less powerful than the PS4.

Luckily, Microsoft still arguably offers the best experiences, although perhaps not for the right reasons. Have you noticed the exclusive DLCs and games which are appearing on Xbox? And the monthly updates? That’s down to money, and Microsoft has it in tons. Sony’s losses however are up to $1.3 billion this year, 18% higher than expected, and it’s thought to be a similar story until at least 2015.

The Xbox also has the world’s most popular operating system behind it, Windows, and the promise of cross-device development remains a compelling proposition for developers. There are plenty of reasons Xbox is still a fighter, but unfortunately, it’s losing why it was the only console which could rightfully call itself “next gen”.

Do you think Microsoft should have made the u-turns it has? Let us know in the comments.

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