Sunday, May 26, 2013

Xbox One...possibly the worst "gaming" console in history

Microsoft is arguably the most unscrupulous, corrupt, monopolistic modern company out there these days. That's really saying something when you compare it to Apple's bullying lawsuit tactics, Google's potential privacy violations, and just about anything Big Oil is doing. MS has been on an odd up and down streak for a while. They do something decent and then follow it up with something disasterous. A good example is following up the wildly successful Windows 7 with the drastic, highly polarizing changes of Windows 8.

So when rumors began floating around about the sequel to the Xbox 360, I pretty much figured things were going to get hairy. First off, let's not even get into what was actually announced or specs or drawbacks. Let's just do a comparison between the appearance of the 360 to the One.

That's the One at top. No, it's not a CD player from the 1980's or the Philips CD-i, that's the actual console. Compare it against the 360 Slim. The new model 360 isn't the pinnacle of art, but it's more modern looking and has the nice touch of actually telling you its name. How nice of it. 

So right off the bat, this console isn't something you're going to be showing off to your friends. How about specs though? Surely this thing must be powerful right? Well yes and no. Comparing it against the 360, the One would thoroughly thrash its predecessor. It packs an eight core processor, 8 GB DDR3 RAM shared between the system and the Radeon GPU, Blu-Ray drive (finally followed Sony's lead eh?), 500 GB hard drive, and support for 4K video output and 7.1 surround sound. Pretty good? Well, not so much when compared to the Playstation 4. 

This is a comparison sheet of the Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. As you can see, Playstation 4's GPU is about 33% more powerful and its system memory is over twice as fast and has nearly three times the bandwidth. The really depressing part about it is the chips are fundamentally the same in most ways. 

So maybe the specs aren't top notch? That didn't stop the Playstation 2 from dominating its generation even when more powerful systems arrived. Surely, it can't all be bad. No, in fact, it gets much, much worse. Let's go play by play on the announcements for this system:

All games must be installed to the hard drive - PC gamers have dealt with this for years, but consoles should be simple. Installation only happened on the PS3 because of the slow read speed on the Blu-Ray drive. Newer drives are three times faster so there's no reason installation needs to happen.

The hard drive is non-removable - Eh? So in addition to forcing me to install games onto the hard drive, I can't even replace it if it gets full. The only "bright" side is that the console will allow you to attach external hard drives over USB 3.0. However, you'll likely need to have a 7200 rpm minimum or I'm guessing you'll potentially have latency issues during gaming. Not sure on this so I'll have to do a little more research.

You're forced to have the console connected to the internet at all times - Microsoft says the console needs the internet for the best experience possible. They say the console only checks for internet connection once every 24 hours. They also go on to say that single player games will be unaffected if you lose your connection...until, you know, it tries to validate your connection later. Then, you're screwed. Lots of bullshit double talk here.

The Kinect is required to be connected and remains listening at all times - Microsoft says the Kinect can be turned off by the user but is always listening even when turned off so you can give it voice commands. Once again, double talk. Something is or it isn't when it comes to basic equipment. We're not talking quantum mechanics here. The sheer fact that you have to have the Kinect is annoying enough.

The word on used games is a clusterfuck - Used gaming has been the apparent bane of the gaming industry. How dare consumers sell and resell things they have bought for themselves? As we all know, used cars nearly destroyed the automobile industry. No, wait, they didn't. So what did Microsoft do here? Well, approximately the same thing they did in the PC gaming industry.

Now, those games that you have installed are locked to your account. So while you could theoretically go to a friend's house and install your game and play with them, if you log out of the account, they're stuck with several GB of worthless data. So how would one even deal with used games? Well, details are sketchy at this point, but it's rumored that you will be able to sell your rights to say Gamestop and a certain percentage of the used game sales with go to the developers (more likely MS though given their greed). 

They've also said once the game is installed on a friend's console, they could buy it at a reduced cost, effectively as it is used. The cost? No one is saying yet till E3 this year. Rumors have even said it will be full price. What it all amounts to? The gaming industry is trying to destroy Gamestop and used games. Is it legal? Well, perhaps. It's hard to say what one classifies games as. Are they considered computer software or are they considered forms of entertainment like movies? If they are the former then yes it's legal as computer software is exempted from First Sale Doctrine (a legal reason people can sell their belongings to others without intervention by outside forces). If it's the latter however, and games are included in First Sale Doctrine, boy oh boy are the lawsuits going to come flying. 

There are other pet peeves with the Xbox One I have are mostly minor and not worth mentioning. Basically, the system is more of an entertainment system than a gaming console. What does it amount to? Microsoft is trying to grasp on to the digital entertainment market long since cornered by Apple, Google, and Amazon. Their PC market is shrinking rapidly and adoption rates of Windows 8 and Phone are abysmal. Are we seeing the beginning of the end of Microsoft? Unlikely, but potentially possible. Android is now showing up on laptops and Google's software is tightly integrated with its environment and costs significantly less than say Office. 

All in all, Microsoft has seemingly gone out of their way to make the process of owning a gaming console as painful as possible. Is there a reason why? Well, my contemplation was the change from PowerPC architecture in the CPU to x86-64. I assume they are expecting people to hack the console and basically steal games by buying them, installing them, and returning them. And they're are right. It's going to happen, but only BECAUSE they chose this route. A gaming console should be as simple as turning it on, inserting a disk, and playing till you're too tired to see. The Xbox One is not a gaming console. As a journalist put it, it's the equivalent to Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose. Welcome to the next crash in the gaming industry.

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