Ah, the Xbox One. The vast majority of the gaming world loves shitting all over Microsoft’s upcoming new console, and rightfully so. The Xbox One’s connectivity requirements, used game restrictions, and focus on non-gaming content imply a certain tone deafness toward both the desires of its audience and the failure of other similar business decisions. The console’s become such an easy punching bag that Sony managed to completely upstage Microsoft at E3 with the simplest possible strategy: sticking with the status quo. In an industry ostensibly fueled by technical innovation, that’s fucking nuts.
So what’s the deal? Is the Xbox One doomed to an eternity of hanging out with the Sega Saturn and the Atari Jaguar wherever it is failed consoles go? It’s possible. Hell, I’d even say it’s pretty likely given the average gamer’s response to it so far. On paper, the Xbox One looks dead on arrival–but if I may borrow a cliche from the world of sports, that’s why they play the games.
The Xbox One has a chance. It’s not a good chance given its current reputation; if it stumbles out of the box with hardware issues or connectivity problems, it may never recover. The cynical gamer, of course, expects Microsoft’s servers to be just fine at launch because no one will be using them, but I digress. Those very servers could the thing that saves the Xbox One.
How? Simple: Microsoft’s new digital distribution model seems to be an attempt to emulate Steam. If the boys in Redmond have been paying attention, they’ve recognized the thing that really makes Valve’s software sales platform so successful: the pricing. Steam sales get games into the hands of many more players than would otherwise pay full price for a title. A digital video game distribution service that forces consumers to spend $59.99 (or maybe more) for every new game is going to fall on its face quicker than your humble narrator on a pair of rollerblades. There’s no real benefit to the consumer, and it’s a new system that removes the beloved benefits of the old way of interacting with Microsoft’s products. If Xbox One brings the deep discounts, consumers just might be willing to overlook some of its other warts.
But will it? I doubt it. I don’t think Microsoft understands that their audience isn’t made of money. I don’t think they understand the benefit of getting gamers hooked on their new titles. Above all, I have a hard time imagining that console game developers will be willing to sell their games for cheap. Many of the games available for less on Steam are smaller titles built on smaller budgets. Say what you will about Microsoft’s launch lineup, but none of it looks like it was cheap or easy to put together. Developers are going to want a return on their investment, and I’m not sure they’re forward-thinking enough to understand that they’ll be able to get it if they aren’t in a huge rush to sell as many full-price copies as possible.
So yeah. The Xbox One has a chance to keep up with the Playstation 4, but I wouldn’t bet on it.