Last month, before attending the event where Sony showed us “the future of PlayStation,” I wrote an article outlining features that I believed the company would have to unveil during the PS4 announcement. I was right on the money with two out of the four, although I’m fairly certain the other two will be announced either at or before E3 this year.
Now it’s time that I turn the tables and do the same for the competition. It’s time that we go over four big features Microsoft has to unveil alongside its successor to the XBOX 360. Let’s run through them, shall we?
Playing Games on Smartglass
At last year’s E3, viewers and attendees were introduced to Microsoft’s second-screen experience known as SmartGlass. At the time it was meant as a way of engaging users with meta-data from content that was being enjoyed on screen; the live demo shown on stage showcased players receiving backstory data as they made their way through Halo 4. Later in the year the team at Harmonix incorporated the SmartGlass feature into Dance Central 3 by using it as a means of choosing songs to be played, thus making song selection more communal when playing.
Since that time we’ve seen second-screen experiences on the Wii U gamepad as well as Sony’s announcement of attempting to “re-launch” remote play through the PlayStation Vita in conjunction with the upcoming PlayStation 4. While it may not be on the top of everyone’s list of priorities, it’s a functionality that comes standard from the competition next generation.
Sure, gaming on a button-less tablet or phone may not be the ideal configuration for everyone, but it’s better than not having the functionality at all.
Kinect-Less User Interface Option
This is one we’re probably not going to see, considering how much weight is likely to be thrown behind the successor to Microsoft’s Kinect sensor. Here’s the reality though: the XBOX User Interface, as it stands, is the opposite of intuitive. If Microsoft is truly trying to get its set-top-box ducks in a row and become an efficient one-stop shop for entertainment then it needs to clean up its UI and do so to the point that if someone doesn’t want to wave their hands around like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid, they can comfortably and quickly get to the content that they want to consume.
Scanning through countless pages and having to go through a handful of clicks to get content isn’t the way. And no, talking to Kinect isn’t going to make things any easier either. If Google and Apple (respectively) can’t nail down voice recognition 100%, I doubt Microsoft’s next XBOX will. A UI without the razzle-dazzle of Kinect should be an option at the very least.
For some time now, Microsoft has touted their plans to turn the XBOX into an entertainment hub for the living room, but that really hasn’t happened yet. It’s like this for a multitude of reasons. For starters, getting the content deals is not an easy task. Just ask Apple, who has been rumored to have been working on their own network deals for their own stable of products for what’s going on years now, but has yet to make significant progress — that we know of. If the most profitable technology company in the world is hitting these kinds of roadblocks when negotiating, you can only imagine the challenges Microsoft is facing with getting networks on board 100%.
If Microsoft is truly getting this ready for next-gen, the experience has to be inline with what one would get with a cable provider, if not better. Not only is TV a tricky business to get into, but so is ecosystem building. If Microsoft expects XBOX to be the be all, end all of entertainment they need to get this right. If rumors concerning their next console being not “as powerful” as Sony’s offering are true, then their alleged focus on content and distribution becomes even more important. They need to hit a home run with this. Sony will keep their core gamers, XBOX will grab hold of everybody else.
Multiplayer without the Paywall
I’ve saved this one for last because the likelihood of it happening is low. And it’s due mostly in part to the fact that millions of people already pay for being able to access competitive multiplayer on XBOX Live. But what has worked in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in the future and if the competition is dangling the free-to-play online carrot in front of gamers, Microsoft cannot turn a blind eye, not as the margin for error in the gaming industry is becoming smaller and smaller.
On the 360, Microsoft has already held free online weekends for Silver XBOX Live subscribers, and I’m sure it is done more so to gauge the audience and reception than it is a gesture of the company’s good will. I’m sure much of the data collected on those weekends is taken into account as Microsoft prepares its plans for online gaming on their upcoming console going forward.
Even if they gave everyone a set amount of hours per month that they can enjoy some online gaming with before having to pay for access would be a step in the right direction. Perhaps doubling the amount of ads for folks who don’t pay? The fact of the matter is that the current generation of consoles simply lasted too long, and players who might have originally purchased a 360 at launch and remained loyal for years have since defected; more and more of them bought PS3s as prices continued to fall. Once those players have a taste of free online gaming — whether the experience is as streamlined as XBOX Live or not — at the end of the day, it’s still free, and in the process, Microsoft loses a customer.
Putting it all together
In my opinion, these four features are a recipe for success when Microsoft decides to unveil the next XBOX. XBOX TV (or whatever it will be called) and gaming on SmartGlass will give the next XBOX the chance of finally becoming the hub for the living room that Microsoft has always envisioned; although in the process, it may just further alienate the gaming crowd that helped to get the brand where it is today. Hopefully, with a UI that isn’t so Kinect-heavy and the removal of the online multiplayer paywall will help them show their foundation of fans that they haven’t completely forgotten about them. Hopefully.