Feature: Unveiling 720 - What Microsoft Needs to Do
Posted by Ken Barnes
Some hints for the big show.
After Sony’s unveiling of the PlayStation 4, it’s clear to see that many people were left with a lot of questions. Too many, some would say. How does that controller work? Will the machine definitely play used games? When will Gaikai’s backward compatibility measures come into play? How much will the console cost? When can I reasonably expect to get my hands on the machine? Will I have to pay to access the PlayStation Network in the next generation?
And on it goes.
We think that after Sony fired their opening salvo, there are a number of things that Microsoft can take from the Japanese electronics giant’s presentation in order to ensure a successful showing of the next generation Xbox – something which will apparently happen in April. Here are just a few of them…
Get to the games, and make them good!
We don’t need to look very far in order to see that games make or break a console. The Wii U is a great machine, but with a distinct lack of high-quality software being made available for it, it’s floundering. Go back through time, and you’ll see the same issue repeat itself time and again. (RIP, Dreamcast.)
Sony’s conference was – for the greater part – a humdrum of executive speak and nonsense, up until Mark Cerny took to the stage to show off the first game for the machine – the somewhat lacklustre looking Knack. That was some 20+ minutes in, and a lot of people had already fallen asleep by then. Knack may well turn out to be a stellar game, but it isn’t the sort of title that you want to show first when you’re trying to get gamers excited about your new machine.
Microsoft needs to attack the audience from the get-go, with footage from games we can expect to play on the machine from day one. Big franchises, multiplatform titles, and console-exclusive releases – we want them all! Not making mountains out of molehills would be a great idea too, as we don’t need a repeat of the “Oh my! World of Warcraft is coming to consoles? Oh no, wait…it’s just Diablo III” debacle that took place at Sony’s show. Avoiding abstract displays such as the one involving Media Molecule would be a good idea, and we’ll probably fall out of our seats with amazement if they drop the heavily-rumoured PGR5 on us. That franchise sold us our Xbox 360s, and it can sell us the next version, too.
Get the Pacing Right
Sony’s conference was packed full of flat spots. You’d get excited for a game, and then somebody would come out and use the word “experience” thirty times before ambling off stage again.
If Microsoft can hit the ground running with a big title, and then keep the pace up by showing us hardware, functionality, and more games, all the while weaving bits of information in as and when needed, and then close things off with an absolute boomer of a title that nobody expected – they’ll take the spoils. They have to keep people interested. The fact that folks have turned up and are watching online just isn’t the final word.
It’s highly unlikely that Microsoft will come out and say “The Xbox 720 will be out on September 28th worldwide, and will cost $399 in the US, and £379 in the UK. Games will be $60 a pop, and an extra controller will cost $60 as well” – but it would be mighty nice if they did. Again, people with responsibilities have to plan to make big purchases, and when you consider that they’ll want to be picking up a couple of games and an extra controller on day one, that £379 console could suddenly run them in the region of five or six hundred pounds. That’s a decent chunk of change, and one that will need to be planned for. Sony might come out and undercut the price, which is just one of the reasons that it’s unlikely that Microsoft will fire first, but maybe it would be worth the risk?
At least define the release date...
By defining the release date, you begin to build the hype for that day. People will be booking time off work to play, kids will know that they can put “Xbox 720” down on their Christmas list and at least have a chance of getting one, and gamers with other responsibilities can start putting the pennies to one side in preparation for that big day one purchase. Retailers can prepare their advertising and marketing (to an extent) and most importantly – people can begin to get excited.
The vague “Holiday 2013 in North America” release date that just sort of appeared on the screen at the end of Sony’s conference was a little bit tough to swallow, as we all knew that the machine would be launched this year in at least one territory. But what about Europe? What about Japan? Are we talking the retailer definition of “Holiday” (which starts in June and runs through to February) or are we talking about real people’s definition - Christmas Day and Boxing Day?
Microsoft needs to not be stingy with the details, here.
Show the Machine
When it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter what a games console looks like. We aren’t staring at it 24/7 when we’re trying to focus on the screen, and we know that it’ll probably be a black hunk of plastic with some sort of rounded edges. But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to know what our means to an end looks like, all the same. We all want our desire mechanisms to be triggered, and at this stage, there’s no excuse for not showing the hardware – be it a mockup of the final machine or otherwise.
Answer the Burning Questions
Aside from the release date and pricing, Microsoft needs to answer the burning questions – especially those that are still unanswered by Sony. Are you going to block used games? Will the price of Xbox Live go up? Is the machine backwards compatible? Does it definitely have a Blu-Ray drive? Will retail titles be downloadable on day one at a reasonable price? If just half of the gaming public’s questions are answered, it would be an improvement on previous shows.
Cut the Trash – Speak to Gamers
This is a matter of opinion – clearly - but for us, the Sony conference seemed to be aimed more towards corporations, advertisers, parents, and retailers, than the people who will be buying the machine itself on day one – early adopters on the bleeding edge of technology. Executive claptrap was spouted at every turn, and even some of the games shown were absolutely unintelligible. Were they games? Are they tech demos? In some cases, we were left wondering – and that isn’t good enough. Microsoft, if you drop the word “experience” from your presentation, you’ll go far. We bet that you won’t though, and we’re lining up the shots already so that we can play a few drinking games during your show.
We know that Kinect is going to be a big part of the next generation for Xbox. Given the overly negative feeling that surrounds the device right now – just head to any forum and run a search for “Kinect” to see what we mean – this is something that has to be worked artfully into proceedings. Show us what Kinect 2.0 can and WILL do. Not what you want it to but that it can’t. Ditch the pre-recorded game demonstrations and show people using the device live. Tell us what the improvements are. In short, Microsoft has to show the naysayers that there’s a point to the device and that it can improve the gameplay experience, rather than just being a gimmicky add-on – which is something that they undoubtedly failed to do first time around.
Skip the Living Room
We know that Microsoft will want to position the next Xbox as the one device that you need in your living room. But the simple fact is that we already know that Netflix, LoveFilm, and several on-demand TV services will work with it either at launch, or shortly after. Also, Xbox Music and Xbox Movies will be there from day one. It’s just a given. For this reason, there’s very little reason for Microsoft to spend 20 minutes of their show reconfirming that all these things will be available. The bleeding edge consumers that will buy the machine the second it launches are generally not going to be the sorts of folks that don’t already have access to all the streaming media that money can buy – so we reckon they should skip it. Maybe a brief touch upon the subject just to confirm that they haven’t forgotten about it completely, but that’s all we need.
Show Us the Controller
The Xbox 360 controller is a marvellous device. It doesn’t get in the way, it has nice triggers, it doesn’t contain an expensive gyroscope that’s only used in 0.01% of the console’s game library, it’s responsive, and everything appears to be in the right place. There’s undoubtedly going to be a new revision with the new machine, so Microsoft has to show us what it’s come up with. They can show off the greatest game in the world, but some of the more sceptical gamers (and there are a lot of them) will be convinced that they’ll be controlling it using Kinect and a stick if Microsoft don’t prove otherwise.
Give us the 411
We know something’s going on with EA. We know that they didn’t show up at the Sony conference. We know that there’s some sort of exclusivity deal going on somewhere. Is it the traditional “DLC will appear on Xbox 720 first” deal, or is it something huge, such as “FIFA 14 will only be available on 720 for the first three months” or even an entirely platform-exclusive title release?
We know a few million gamers that could probably be tempted away from other machines in order to get their FIFA early - so shedding some light on this subject is a must.
If Microsoft follows our trademarkably brilliant guidelines, we’re in for a heck of a show, and we’ll be happy gamers. Of course, we want them to leave SOMETHING on the table for E3. If Microsoft has nothing new to show in June barring some new footage of some games that they announced two months before, the ball will be firmly in Sony and Nintendo’s court once again. With that said, it wouldn’t take a great deal to show off more than Sony did a few weeks ago, so we think there will be plenty to go round across two presentations.
All we know is that even if Microsoft totally ignore all we’ve said, we’re far too excited to care. April can’t come soon enough.