Opinion: Four Mistakes Microsoft Should Correct Next Console Generation

With the next Xbox expected to arrive towards the end of 2013, expectations are high for Microsoft’s new console. But Mark Butler argues that there are several damaging disadvantages with the company’s current strategy, which they would do well to address next time around.

With more than 70 million units sold around the world and a particularly healthy commercial performance of late, there’s no doubt that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 system has more than held its own this console generation.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement when the console’s successor rolls around. And with the new Xbox due to land at the back-end of next year, a number of shortcomings really should be addressed. In particular, Microsoft should consider correcting…


The Lack Of Exclusives

When you compare the Xbox 360’s scheduled line-up for 2013 with that of the PlayStation 3, it rapidly becomes apparent that Sony have a lot more promising exclusives on the way.

Xbox 360 has Gears Of War: Judgement and State Of Decay landing next year (the latter of which will also release on PC). That’s about it.

By contrast, PS3 has Ni no Kuni, Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time, God Of War: Ascension, Until Dawn, Beyond: Two Souls and The Last Of Us, among others.

Ellen Page: only on PS3

Yes, there are plenty of fantastic-looking cross-platform games coming next year to sweeten the deal, but as an Xbox360 owner you can’t help but feel slightly short-changed. And despite some excellent exceptions, it’s fair to say this state-of-affairs isn’t exactly a recent development.

There have been strong suggestions that a newly-formed Microsoft team are working on a fresh sci-fi shooter for the next Xbox on the same epic scale as Gears or Halo. However, you also feel that going forward the company needs to try and achieve the same kind of compelling, original output that Sony has worked so hard to put-together. After all, where is the 360’s answer to Journey? Where is its Heavy Rain?

You could argue that when it comes to exclusives, Microsoft’s attentions have been far too focused on creating and promoting sub-standard content for their increasingly underwhelming Kinect system of late. Which brings us onto…


Over-Relying On Kinect

Yes, we all know that Microsoft’s shiny new motion-gaming toy sold like hotcakes at launch – but just how many of those same devices are now sitting unused and idle on the living room shelf, gathering more and more layers of dust as the months slip by?

That slogan “better with Kinect” really couldn’t have turned out to be less true, and we’re still waiting for the first truly excellent hardcore Kinect title to emerge. Various contenders have stepped forward (Rise of Nightmares; Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor), only to slink off to lick their wounds when exposed to the withering glare of the system’s limitations in a standard, everyday living room.

Even then, you can’t get over the basic problem that prancing around in your lounge while flailing your limbs and yelling is about as immersion-breaking as someone throwing ice-cold water over you during a lengthy Skyrim session.

"My God - it's like we're actually there!"

But despite this, Microsoft have spent a huge amount of time and money developing for and promoting Kinect games, arguably to the detriment of the console’s output overall. It’s worrying then that the so-called ‘Kinect 2.0’ appears to be such a big part of Microsoft’s plans for their next console, with no signs that they’re ready to ease up on their baby just yet.

Kinect seems to be at its best when used for dance or sports-based party and casual games, or adding fun voice-commands and gestures to conventional experiences. Microsoft would probably do best to concentrate on pushing it for those areas, but stop short of their current strategy to try and push it as some new great direction for hardcore gaming too.

Like 3D in cinema, Kinect is not some giant revolutionary leap forward. It’s a fad. A gimmick. And nothing alienates hardcore gamers like trying to convince them that it’s a suitable substitute for your bog-standard control pad. And speaking of alienating hardcore gamers, Microsoft should really stop…


Charging People For Playing Online

Look, there’s no doubt that Xbox Live has a terrific Marketplace. There’s also little doubt that it’s currently got many millions of paid-up subscribers, and is generating a LOT of ready revenue for the Microsoft corporation.

But is it really worth bringing in a nice short-term payday now if it means putting people off in the long-term? Xbox Live is the only current console service that charges you to play games over the web; and it’s really hard to build dedicated loyalty among your fans when you’re charging them a regular fee just to play the multiplayer components of games they have already bought.

Some men just want to watch their money burn...

Seriously, look at the PlayStation Network, which is free to join and then rewards people who pay to upgrade with entire free games (this month – Batman: Arkham City). Then compare that with Xbox Live, which charges you to simply access the online components of the titles you own, and has only recently started offering discount rewards (and they’re so unbelievably petty it makes you want to weep). Which is the one most likely to inspire customer loyalty?

From a business point of view Xbox Live is currently going great guns. But there are quite a few members who aren’t happy at the situation, and if the ‘always online’ facility really does come into play Next Gen as some have predicted, there could be full-scale fan rebellion on the cards.

Having said that, perhaps Microsoft could win over a hell of a lot more people to cover for any mass disgruntlement, if only they stopped…


Fudging The Japanese Market

Do you know how many Xbox 360’s have been sold in Japan? About 1.5 million. By way of comparison, the PS3 had managed 6.3 million sales in the Land Of The Rising Sun as of April last year. In fact, the situation has got so bleak for Microsoft in the Japanese market that some major multi-platform titles are not seeing an Xbox 360 release over there at all.

It seems ridiculous that one of gaming’s most dedicated and crucial markets should now be such a lost cause to Microsoft, especially at a time when more and more Japanese developers are actively embracing Western-style games. But as a recent Eurogamer article observed, attempts by the corporation to woo Japanese developers and consumers got off to the worst possible start, and have only continued to flop since then.

In fact, Xbox is about as popular in Japan as cat-abusers are on 4chan

But look; it’s not rocket science. There are some simple measures that can vastly improve the chances of the next Xbox doing a hell of a lot better over in Japan – even if many gamers in that country do love Sony and Nintendo’s output to bits.

Step one: make the design sleek and streamlined, with an aesthetic that screams cutting-edge. Step two: try and attract or produce more of the kinds of experiences that will sell well in Japan, rather than concentrating only on testosterone-fueled sci-fi shooters. Step three: get more of the country’s most talented and celebrated developers working on games for the console. Step four: make a real effort to actually understand the cultural differences that are integral to doing business and making an entertainment impact in Japan.

With just a bit more of a push, the next Xbox could certainly be more of a player in the Japanese market, even if it continues to trail in Nintendo and Sony’s wake.

Sort some more top exclusives, quit charging us to play online games, and stop thinking of Kinect as the answer to everything too, and Microsoft could be onto a real winner…


5 Responses to “Opinion: Four Mistakes Microsoft Should Correct Next Console Generation”
  1. Dan Jenko says:

    Sony have an advantage over Microsoft in terms of exclusives because they have their own family of in-house developers. Focus on quality control means that PS3-exclusives are usually very good games (Heavy Rain, Uncharted, Journey etc), so if MS want to rectify this next generation they should consider buying some talented studios (like Bungie) to ensure they stay exclusive.

    With that said, the more multi-platform games there are, the better it is for gamers. The truth is that a game like Journey would have thrived even more if it was released on XBLA, which is a much better, more widely-used online system than the PlayStation Network. As my Game of the Year I’d of loved to see Journey be multi-platform so more people could have played it.

  2. Zach says:

    I completely agree. As someone (15) who started gaming with a PS2 then progressed to a PS3 Slim, it was very nice having the exclusives, hard drive liberty, and free online. I just bought an Xbox 360 yesterday with Halo 4 and Gears of War 3 (which in my opinion is more than enough reason to get an Xbox) but I found complaints right off the bat.

    I had to pay 60 dollars just to play online. I bought a 4GB version thinking it would be enough to play those two games (I know, dumb) but it wasn’t. I was then forced (just to play online for those two games) to go buy a 320gb hard drive (the only kind they sold) for 150 extra dollars. I ripped my box when I first opened the 360 so I couldn’t return the arcade model.

    When you compare Live and PSN now, the difference is not even noticeable. I have a stable internet connection, and I have no problems with either. I actually found Live’s updating process to move slower. PS Plus though now competes against the subscription service for Live, and Microsoft still hasn’t changed it. I was tempted to use my 50 bucks to renew my yearly subscription for Plus (I did the math and you get $1200 worth of games if you download and play everything from it) but instead I had to pay 60 dollars JUST to play online. It is not enticing what so ever, and I know many people who can’t play online because of it.

    I have no interest in Kinect, but in my opinion it beats out Move and Wii. It’s more fun (although still a gimmick). I think Move caters just that much more to the hard core audience, and is more reliable and overall better, but Kinect is just more fun in general and sales numbers for it show that. I wish Microsoft just didn’t focus on it as much as they do like you said.

    As for Xbox in the Japanese market, I don’t think so. I think the Japanese live Nintendo and Sony too much. Xbox is really for the Western & European gamer in my opinion. At the beginning of the generation they actually had some good Japanese games, but they pretty much just flopped, even in Japan. Xbox really can’t succeed in Japan. I remember reading Kojima won’t even be releasing Metal Gear Rising on Xbox in Japan.

  3. James says:

    Difference not noticable? GTFO!

    -Cross-game chat
    -Party mode
    -Private voice chat channels
    -Voice messaging
    -Multi-user logins system wide
    -Multi-headset support system wide
    -Live status updates for all games
    -Achievements that auto-sync without you having to pay
    -Cross-game invites in all games
    -Join session in progress in all games
    -Mute options in all games
    -Mandatory demos for all downloadable XBLA and indie games
    -Cheaper prices for most downloadable games and DLC
    -Earlier access to many downloadable games and pieces of DLC
    -Windows Live Messenger integration (soon to replaced by Skype)
    -WAY more media apps and services
    -Far better privacy options
    -A WAY more functional website where you can queue up demos to your console etc.

    PSN is still WAAAY behind Xbox Live in functionality and stability and doesn’t require maintenance every other week.
    Who in their dumb minds pays the full price for those things? You can find 13month subs for around $30 on the internet everywhere (and eBay). I would love to see it free (maybe MS could use another business model for it next gen), but it is still far superior to PSN.
    What most people also don’t understand is the problems it would give the games if the multiplayer would suddenly be accessible without pay. That would seriously F up the code of many if not all games that are built around the Gold dependancy for multiplayer. If it is going free it’ll only be when the next gen games launch.

    I agree on the exclusive games and Kinect dependancy though, that has to change for the better.
    Japan is a patriotic lost cause that has less and less relevance in the games industry, so why bother?

    • MartinB105 says:

      With a huge list like that, it’s a good thing that PSPlus offers so many free games, which outweighs everything in your list tenfold. :)

  4. xino says:

    lol…at the Fudging the Japanese Market, and you see the woman who put the cat in the bin:P

    the £50 xbox live is what annoys me about Xbox.
    we are already paying for internet connection and why should I pay more money just to play games online!? WTF?

    Its like going to KFC you buy your food and you have to pay extra to buy spoon/fork, tissues and sauces.

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