Brent’s Lessons for the Next Xbox

All things considered, I haven’t been an Xbox gamer for that long. I’ve been a Nintendo gamer for my entire life, and a PlayStation gamer since I first became a teenager, which was over a decade ago. Yes, that meant skipping the original PlayStation (which I frequently revisit now to catch up on classics), and joining the PlayStation family with the PlayStation 2 instead, but that’s still quite a long time with the PlayStation brand. Heck, if you count that GameGear I used to spend a lot of time with as a kid, and all of the times I snuck over to friends’ houses solely to mess around on their Genesis, you could even say that I’ve been a Sega gamer for over a decade-and-a-half in turn. With Xbox however, I didn’t even end up owning an original Xbox console at all (though my brother did, and eventually gave it to me a couple of years ago), and didn’t come into the Xbox fold until I received an Xbox 360 for Christmas 2006. It was a consolation prize from my parents when they couldn’t find me the Wii I so craved. Imagine that.

Forza Motorsport

Despite my late adoption of the Xbox brand, I’ve likely spent more time on my Xbox 360 than any other platform introduced this current generation, with only my DS possibly surpassing it in raw current-gen gaming hours. I’m on the cusp of amassing a 30,000 Gamerscore, which is all the more impressive when you consider that I’m a neutral multi-platform gamer that tries to evenly divide his attention between eight (soon ten) different platforms. I maintain a constant Xbox Live Gold membership. I have considerably more online friends on Xbox Live than PlayStation Network and Nintendo Network put together. Hell, I made not one, but two girlfriends from a first date doing nothing but playing Halo together on my Xbox 360! It’s no secret that I love my Xbox 360, and that it’s given me a lot of great times over the course of this hardware generation!

That said however, my Xbox 360 has also caused me by far the most grief as well, throughout this entire hardware generation too! I went through three of the damn things breaking past warranty (the first red-ringed, the second inexplicably lost the ability to read discs, and the third’s A/V chip shorted out), before I finally picked up an Xbox 360 Slim that has never given me any issues. I have let Microsoft gouge subscription money from me through Xbox Live Gold to stay in contact with faraway friends, even when Club Nintendo and PlayStation Plus, which I also maintain memberships for, provided far better incentives and rewards. I have also had to watch Microsoft completely botch their gaming platform time and again, which they’ve done more than Nintendo and Sony combined these past few years. They have consistently misused beloved second-party studios like Rare, they’ve ruined just about all of their E3 conferences with celebrity filler and needless business partnerships, they’ve coasted way too much on their third-party support to the point where the console barely has any exclusives to speak of (especially if you’re not into shooters), they have made the over-priced, underused Kinect the biggest missed opportunity of this hardware generation (and yes, I do own a Kinect, so I can safely say that), and, worst of all, Microsoft seems to be in constant denial that the Xbox 360 is supposed to be a gaming console! This whole ‘entertainment hub’ hook is well and good, but it’s played up to the point where it really sounds like Microsoft could care less about the gaming community, in favour of just making money.

What I’m trying to say is, I love my Xbox 360, but I’m no fanboy. I’m fully willing to admit that it’s not a perfect console, far from it in fact. As much as I love Halo and Gears of War, the Xbox 360 could have been a better platform. That’s not the worst of it though. The worst of it seems to be, according to various press reports and interviews with developers anyway, that Microsoft doesn’t seem to be learning from the mistakes of the Xbox 360, and now they’re going to be taking that arrogance into the next console generation. Even now, the Xbox platform remains despised in Japan, is still starved for noteworthy exclusives, and now, even the Xbox Live Arcade platform has gotten bad press for Microsoft’s draconian business policies, which has led to many indie developers jumping ship to the much friendlier Steam and PlayStation Store in particular. Even the stuck-in-their-ways Nintendo has modified their business plan extensively to embrace things like the indie market, while Microsoft just seems like they don’t care about how the Xbox brand will be perceived in the long-term. They think they can ride the wave of their (mainly North American) following that has given the Xbox 360 continued sales success forever, or so it appears.

Maybe they care more than they appear. Hell, maybe the new Xbox will fix all of the issues that are currently maligning the Xbox brand. Maybe. The fact remains however that Microsoft cannot carry on as they are with the Xbox 360, if they want to stay competitive with Sony, or even Nintendo! Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 4 console has already been redesigned to take away every advantage that the Xbox 360 has over the PlayStation 3, and with both Sony and Nintendo dropping high-quality exclusives and incentives like a torrential downpour these past few months, with only more to come before the end of the year, Microsoft needs to re-think their business plan before they launch a new platform.

I’ve been reviewing games and commenting on the games industry for a long, long time, well before I recently joined Eggplante. Thus, looking objectively at the current state of the Xbox 360 platform, I’ve assembled five key weaknesses in the platform that Microsoft needs to address in the next Xbox (currently rumoured to be called Xbox Infinity, but I’ll only call it that when it’s confirmed by Microsoft themselves), to drastically increase their chances of worldwide success with the next Xbox. Yes, worldwide. Just North America and some of Europe isn’t going to cut it, Microsoft, especially as the industry gets more and more expensive and cutthroat! Some of these will likely be predictable to those like me, who have owned an Xbox 360 for years now, but they’re worth speaking about nonetheless.

Chris will be posting his own article with his own take on the next Xbox and how he feels about it over the next couple of days, before it’s properly announced and we no doubt comment on the result. For now however, here’s my take on what the next Xbox will need to bear in mind in order to be a success, and be truly superior to the Xbox 360 that came before it:

#1: Make sure the damn thing works before you launch it!!

Xbox 360 Launch ModelThe Red Ring of Death epidemic may be an easy target, but it’s the most important question with the next Xbox. No matter what Microsoft announces with the new console, I’m immediately going to be suspicious of it, as will many other people, because we went through so many broken Xbox 360’s, that it has destroyed our trust in Microsoft launching a new console that actually works. Even Kinect had some odd issues that really shouldn’t have been in place, like an inability to recognize accents, or, worse, the inability to recognize dark-skinned people. Heck, it wouldn’t even read tall people properly! Microsoft, you have a QA department for a reason. They’re supposed to be catching these problems before you launch a product, not after!

I’m tight with the entire workforce at my local Gamestop, which may speak volumes about how much of a gaming nerd I really am, but I digress. One day, this Gamestop’s manager gave me the stats for defective consoles this hardware generation. Of everything they sold, 1.6% of Wii’s were defective. Pretty reliable odds, and a safe product, as Nintendo can always be trusted to deliver. 6% of PlayStation 3’s were defective. A little higher, but not nearly enough to get suspicious of Sony, especially with all of the unproven technology in that fat $700 initial launch build. As for Xbox 360, are you ready for this? 54% of Xbox 360’s sold were defective, and those are just the ones that people tried to return, not taking into account Xbox 360’s that were sent to Microsoft for repairs, or just chucked entirely. Wow. A product that broken is completely unacceptable, and needless to say, Microsoft cannot afford to pull that shit twice with the next Xbox!

What’s worse too is that Microsoft actually tried to profit from this! They charged people absurd fees to repair their broken consoles (which would just break down again in a matter of months), and released massively overpriced add-ons like a wi-fi adapter, which were supposed to put functionality into the console that it should have launched with. Yes, the original Xbox 360 wasn’t even wi-fi ready, if you weren’t aware, and Microsoft had the gall to charge people $100 for a wi-fi adapter until they released the Xbox 360 Slim, which actually is wi-fi ready. You can buy some wireless routers for less than that in the right places! That is bullshit! The Wii shipped wi-fi ready. Hell, the frackin’ DS shipped wi-fi ready, and that was a handheld with only barely more power than the Nintendo 64! It’s bad enough that Microsoft released such a terribly-built console, but the fact that they actually tried to make an extra buck off of their own laziness and greed is downright criminal, and it should have obliterated consumer trust completely. Hell, it probably did by itself in Japan! Somehow, it didn’t in North America and most of the PAL territories, and Microsoft is very lucky to that end!

Thus, Microsoft needs to prioritize build quality here. They need to make sure that the next Xbox is not only aesthetically presentable, but built with components that are actually reliable. They need to spend a lot of time going into fine detail about how the hardware works, how it can be trusted, and why it’s safe to buy one, even on launch day. This is very important! It is no exaggeration to say that the original Xbox 360 launch model, which endured for an unacceptable five years before the Xbox 360 Slim came out (which is what the Xbox 360 should have been in the first place!!), is the worst-built gaming device since the Atari Jaguar CD! It’s clearly an early prototype that was forced into mass-production to get a year-long leg-up over Sony and Nintendo. It’s fat, it’s ugly, it’s noisy, you can tell by looking at it that it’s going to destroy itself when given enough time, it’s difficult to figure out how add-ons are supposed to work with it in many cases (try plugging a Kinect into a launch model Xbox 360. I dare you), and, as I said, it’s missing features like wi-fi readiness and an internet browser. The fact that Microsoft took seven damn years to put Internet Explorer on the Xbox 360 is equally unacceptable! These are features that should have launched with the console on day one! How Microsoft was not permanently banned from the console market for that repugnant piece of shit that was the launch model Xbox 360, I will never know!

Bottom line; Microsoft can’t pull a Sony with their announcement. Sony may have been able to get away with not actually showing the console itself during the PlayStation 4 announcement, but that’s because the PlayStation 3 didn’t have widespread hardware issues at launch, even if it had numerous other launch problems related to software and price, which Sony wisely addressed during their reveal. Microsoft doesn’t have that luxury. They released an awful, defective, blatantly unfinished console to kick off our current console generation, and while they may have since fixed it and turned it into a good, reliable platform, they can’t pull that stunt again. We need to see the next Xbox immediately, and we need detailed rundowns of how it works, immediately. No mystery here. If Microsoft acts in any way shifty or mysterious with the hardware build, most consumers will not trust the new platform out of the gate, and that means more attention on the PlayStation 4. Well, most smart consumers who don’t want to throw away money, anyway.

#2: You can’t sell a console on Halo alone!

Halo 4I love Halo. I’m the guy that will spend hours upon hours playing Halo on Xbox Live with my buddies (and apparently my lovers), after completing a solo run of the campaign on Legendary difficulty, every time. You can bet that Halo 5 and Halo 6 are going to be some of my biggest incentives to purchase the next Xbox! As much as I love Halo however, it’s not enough to make me fully commit to buying a console by itself. Halo remains the only true first-party brand in the Microsoft stables that is developed in-house by a studio that Microsoft themselves created (and that wasn’t even the case until recently), with other exclusive properties like Fable, Gears of War, Forza Motorsport and Alan Wake, all handled by other developers, even if some are developers owned by Microsoft. That needs to change. Microsoft needs new exclusive franchises to stay competitive in the next generation, and now it’s more important than ever, since just about anything that isn’t a first-party brand is now going multiplatform. They can’t just dump all of their exclusive ideas on Xbox Live Arcade to save money either, since those games won’t get the attention of retail releases in most cases, especially with Steam and the PlayStation Store now poaching so much of the XBLA market. Even the 3DS and Wii U eShops have become a better development platform than XBLA in recent months! That’s a big problem for Microsoft!

This is made worse by the fact that Microsoft is sitting on some brilliant game developers, not the least of which is Rare, which they painfully yanked from Nintendo at the start of the previous console generation. Since then, what has Rare made? Kid-directed shovelware. I don’t get it. At the Xbox 360 launch, Kameo: Elements of Power and Perfect Dark Zero had Rare coming out swinging! Since then, the only half-decent game they produced for the Xbox 360 was Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, and that was a pretty flawed game that drew mixed reception.

Why, why, why does Microsoft acquire these studios, just to misuse them? The press has confirmed that Microsoft rejected ideas out of the gate for a Conker’s Bad Fur Day sequel from Rare, simply because it would be for an adult game. Are you kidding me?! People have been clamouring for a Conker’s Bad Fur Day sequel for ages! You would have a high-profile sequel that would sell big and show the fans that you care, and you’d think that the strong reception of remake, Conker: Live & Reloaded on the original Xbox would have proven that! What is Microsoft thinking, dividing their studios into potential audiences? Family audiences don’t pay attention to developer brands; Hardcore gamers pay attention to developer brands!

Nintendo and Sony are well-protected from the multi-platform trend, because both of them have massive libraries of high-quality exclusive franchises! Nintendo has Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Pokemon, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Pikmin, Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, and Super Smash Bros., among others. Plus, as much as Nintendo sometimes has a problem wooing third parties, they have already paired with third-party developers for some big Wii U-exclusive games, such as LEGO City Undercover, The Wonderful 101, Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, and Bayonetta 2. Sony has Uncharted, God of War, LittleBigPlanet, inFamous, Killzone, Ratchet & Clank, MotorStorm, Sly Cooper, and Gran Turismo, among a huge catalogue of one-off exclusives, both digital and retail. Again, even the struggling Vita has tried for some ambitious new first-party brand ideas, including Gravity Rush and Soul Sacrifice. If Nintendo and Sony need to draw attention to their platform while making some easy bucks for future endeavours, they’re more than covered. Microsoft is still making it very easy for their competitors to steal attention away from them, since they’re highly lacking in high-profile Xbox-exclusive games, and that’s a big reason why they tend to struggle at events like E3!¬†Oh, and, needless to say, Microsoft’s tendency to yank big third-party games like the latest Call of Duty, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6 or Tom Clancy’s *whatever*, slap something paltry like priority DLC into their Xbox 360 port, then pass these games off as their own, is not fooling anyone. Get your own games, Microsoft! Quit being lazy with your Xbox marketing, and quit dumping all of the work on third-party publishers like Activision and Ubisoft to sell your platform for you!

The next Xbox needs new franchises, and plenty of them! They need to give gamers a reason to buy a next Xbox over a PlayStation 4, which has already touted big new exclusive brands like Knack and DriveClub. As much as gamers would like to claim otherwise, even the Wii U has enough third-party-backed exclusives to at least see it through the fiscal year, with more announcements likely on the way soon. People are starting to get wise to the fact that most of the same games available on one platform are also available on another. Exclusives may be very expensive, but they’re more important than ever going into the next hardware generation! Microsoft can’t just keep showing off the same old Halo and Forza Motorsport games, only bigger and prettier. They need new ideas. They need to offset their established brands with some new ones. It shows that they’re looking forward, and it shows that they care about the gamers who invest in them over competing Nintendo and PlayStation platforms. The Xbox 360 is still dropping the ball here. Hopefully the next Xbox can fix it!

#3: Sweeten the pot for Xbox Live Gold!

Xbox Infinity LogoMicrosoft, I get why you need to charge people to play online. I really do. With that said however, charging people for the sole benefit of playing online is not going to be good enough going into the next console generation. The Xbox 360 could get away with Xbox Live Gold offering very little in the way of incentive compared to the competing PlayStation Plus, Sony’s way to try and earn some buck back for allowing gamers to play online for free. Nintendo also has a loyalty program in Club Nintendo that is completely free, while allowing both console and handheld gamers to play online free of charge, and Microsoft could compete with that too, thanks to superior network features on Xbox Live. Microsoft’s online play wasn’t free, and that was fine for this generation, since Xbox Live was an improved service over PlayStation Network and Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection (now Nintendo Network), offering several unique perks not present in competing platforms, such as cross-chat, party chat and shared streaming. The PlayStation 3 and the Wii weren’t able to do those things, so the subscription fees of Xbox Live Gold were thus, easier to swallow.

Now however, the PlayStation 4 has completely negated all of those advantages. It has cross-chat and party chat. Its share functionality allows shared streaming and screen captures, easily might I add. Its PlayStation Store platform even allows you to stream games and play them, even when they’re not finished downloading. That’s a huge amount of incentive for online players and digital consumers to invest in a PlayStation 4. Heck, even the Wii U has the superb Miiverse app going for it, which has revolutionized player connection and interaction in a way that Sony and Microsoft haven’t replicated, and players can even do video chat via the camera and screen of the Wii U Gamepad. The Xbox 360 is very rapidly appearing rigid and dated, even with its once-awesome online platform. The next Xbox needs an upgrade, and it needs better incentive to keep players investing in Xbox Live Gold, should Microsoft opt to stick with that subscription plan.

They can start by strengthening their digital platform. The digital platform of the Xbox 360, specifically in regards to retail purchases and sales, is really quite weak, even compared to the simpler game platforms that Nintendo offers. Nintendo is offering all of their big Wii U and 3DS releases digitally from day one, and while Sony has started doing this with Vita moreso than PlayStation 3, even a big chunk of PlayStation 3 releases are now starting to release digitally, simultaneously with their retail counterparts. Microsoft has some good sales every now and again on Xbox Live Marketplace, but they’re always for old games. Sony sometimes has sales for new releases, and even Nintendo has started occasionally offering temporary sales on eShop content for both 3DS and Wii U, even for newer games, and that’s before considering the free rewards that Club Nintendo offers for 3DS owners in particular.

Microsoft can no longer charge people just to play online and use Netflix, especially since so many games are now multiplatform. They need more benefits to come with an Xbox Live Gold membership, especially since PlayStation Plus is cheaper (while also offering numerous more rewards), and Club Nintendo is completely free. Xbox Live Gold should offer more sales, for newer content, and it should provide more benefits similar to its competitors. Consider integrating Xbox Live Rewards directly into a Gold membership, and making the rewards actually worthwhile. Like Nintendo, why not allow us to download a free Xbox Live Arcade game when we purchase a certain amount of retail products? That would be a great way to offset having to share the majority of the Xbox game library with Sony and Steam, and probably even Nintendo! Yes, that’s the idea behind Xbox Live Rewards, but currently, Xbox Live Rewards is absolutely pathetic. The payouts are laughable, and the conditions are way more trouble than they’re worth.

Since you’re getting rid of Microsoft Points, Microsoft (and you should), why not give Xbox Live Gold members priority beta access and exclusive discounts, just like PlayStation Plus? Why not add some cool, gamer-specific features for Xbox Live Gold, because you know what, it’s generally hardcore gamers that pay for Gold memberships every year, not families, so that ‘Family Pack’ Gold subscription offer, frankly, doesn’t make any sense. You could make the argument that families may use Xbox Live Gold for Netflix, but charging for Netflix didn’t make sense to begin with. Even competing handheld gaming platforms support Netflix, and Sony and Nintendo allow you to use it for free, beyond your Netflix subscription fee! Yeah, that mandatory Gold membership needed to use Netflix on the Xbox platform needs to go!

So, again, Microsoft, I get it if you need to charge people to play online. The fact remains however that, once again, you’re making it very easy for your competitors to steal your market, especially since multiplatform releases are now practically a given for any third-party console game. You need a more prompt and reliable digital platform for the next Xbox, and you need to give us gamers a lot more reasons besides Halo and Gears of War to keep our Xbox Live Gold memberships when the PlayStation 4 arrives especially!

#4: Find a better use for Kinect!

Xbox 360 Slim and Kinect

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Microsoft is not going to be burying Kinect with the next Xbox. In fact, they’re probably going to integrate it even more, if anything. That’s a good thing, since it means that it might actually be worth paying over $100 for. Of course, I can see Microsoft introducing a new variation of Kinect that will make the former model almost a complete waste of money, beyond making the current Xbox 360 dashboard’s navigation actually tolerable. The PlayStation 4 may have confirmed support for PlayStation Move, giving that add-on a second chance at relevance, but the next Xbox will likely scrap the old Kinect in favour of a new one, especially with ‘Xbox 360’ emblazoned right on the front of it, continually reminding us of Microsoft’s criminal underuse of Kinect the first time around.

Some hardcore titles have had solid Kinect implementation, such as Mass Effect 3 and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, but it’s always optional. Only a small, small handful of Kinect-mandatory games have been decent, such as The Gunstringer or Wreckateer. The rest of Kinect seems like it’s more directed at everyday people, and not really gamers. Even Microsoft’s own 343 Industries, the Halo studio, claimed that Halo 4 would not support Kinect, because it’s a, “Core game for actual gamers”. Well, what does the fact that it’s a core game have to do with the price of tea in China? Yes, Halo is meant to be played with a regular controller as it stands, but that doesn’t mean that Kinect should be dismissed as a gimmicky tool that’s not of any appeal to, “Actual gamers”, much less by Microsoft’s only first-party developer! That’s just not a vote of confidence, at all!

The problem isn’t that Kinect itself is bad. Kinect is actually very cool, and presents an innovative new way to both play and interact with video games. The problem is that Microsoft just can’t seem to use Kinect properly. They claimed that they would have Kinect support in every core game from the Microsoft umbrella after its announcement, but this never came to pass. Many developers are still shirking Kinect, dismissing it as a gimmick, while gamers sneer at it, because they see it as tacked-on motion controls. The technology is there, but the application hasn’t been found yet.

If the next Xbox can do something worthwhile with Kinect, beyond dashboard navigation and various exercise programs (which is just about all the current Kinect model is good for, not justifying the price tag in the least for most gamers), that would be a huge sales incentive for it! The potential for Kinect to integrate itself into hardcore games is so close, and Microsoft need only take a few more risks with their established properties, to get it there. Of course, this brings me back to my second point for the next Xbox, that it needs more exclusive brands! Oddly, only Nintendo seems to grasp this concept, with even Sony struggling with it. When you pioneer a revolutionary new technology, demonstrate it with your big exclusives, not original IP’s first and foremost, because the big exclusives are what people will pay attention to. This allows them to see the technology in action, and help it edge ever closer to being perfected. Gamers might initially groan in response to Microsoft incorporating Kinect into big brands, but that’s the only way that the technology will improve.

Now, I will admit that I don’t hate motion controls. I actually like them better than most people do. I will agree that tacked-on motion controls are annoying, but in order for them to be good and worthwhile, they have to have a base to work from and evolve from, which means that it will initially feel tacked-on and annoying. I actually despise the attitude from gamers that motion controls are innately bad, because it makes gamers sound incredibly lazy, bellyaching about having to get off their fat asses and actually move around a bit. Again, Kinect itself is not bad, but Microsoft seems to be afraid of alienating their core audience by pushing it more aggressively. That’s very ironic, because they’re happy to alienate their core audience in so many other ways.

So, Microsoft, if you want Kinect to be a big selling point, then you need to push it. You need to worry less about gamers bitching about it, and make it work, in core, high-profile games! It will take failures, it will take negative feedback, but it can be done. Perfecting it will give you a big advantage over your competitors, and if you want to integrate it into the console from the get-go, as with rumours, then fine. You just need to support it. Don’t be wishy-washy with it like you’ve done with the Xbox 360. Don’t relegate it to being an add-on for apps, like you’ve done with the Xbox 360. Don’t waste it on nothing but fitness games, like you’ve done with the Xbox 360. Make it a key hook. It deserves to be! Hell, once you do perfect Kinect, you could use it for more big new exclusives that the Xbox brand desperately needs. Win-win!

#5: By God, FOCUS!! Xbox is a gaming brand!!

FableSony went through this phase with the PlayStation 3, and wisely fell out of it eventually. Now, Microsoft seems to be going through it with the Xbox 360, and appears to be wanting to carry this direction forward with the next Xbox, as confirmed by Braid developer, Jonathan Blow. What I mean is, the phase where they take the stance, “Oh, you silly gamer, this isn’t a gaming console! This is a hub of endless possibility, meant to bring everything into your living room!”. Er, no, Microsoft. Just as Sony learned, an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach doesn’t make an ‘entertainment hub’, it makes an unfocused mess of a platform that doesn’t know who it’s trying to market itself to, trying to literally please everyone, and obviously failing. FOCUS!!

Of course, this strategy has worked fine in North America, where we like our devices all integrated with one another. This is yet another reason why the Xbox brand is failing in Japan however. Japan is more single-minded with their electronics (which has perhaps led to their gaming industry refusing to evolve at times), preferring mobile devices that they can experience away from home on more commonplace commutes, which is why gaming handhelds are big business there, and consoles are more of a niche market, the opposite of the North American gaming economy. The worst part however is that Microsoft seems to be in denial about the Xbox 360 being a gaming console, exacerbated by its lack of exclusives and weak E3 conferences that spend way too much time on partnerships that the platform doesn’t need.

In fact, this is something that the next Xbox needs to focus on a lot less; Not trying to buy exclusive deals with so many companies that have absolutely nothing to do with gaming, and almost nothing to do with media in general. If you’re hearing from so many gamers that they hate motion controls (however dumb and short-sighed that belief is), why in the world would you try to shoehorn a fitness partnership with Nike into the console, especially when it demands owning Kinect?! What’s the point of an app that lets you order pizza, from only Pizza Hut no less?! Can’t we just do this from any internet-enabled device, including the Xbox 360’s own Internet Explorer?! Why are there so many sports apps on here?! Why are there so many social apps on here?! Why, why, why?!

Look, Microsoft, collecting unrelated businesses to endorse Xbox does not increase consumer confidence. What increases consumer confidence is you actually having a business plan that doesn’t just involve buying out as many companies as you can, and throwing every last bit of functionality into the Xbox platform to see what sticks. You may move more consoles in the short term with this approach, but you set yourself up for problems with long-term support, when you can’t back up these partnerships with games and other exclusive content that actually make an Xbox console worth owning over competing PlayStation and Nintendo platforms. When you just try to throw any corporation that bites onto the Xbox platform, it makes it look like you don’t know what the hell you’re doing compared to Nintendo and Sony when it comes to making an actual gaming platform. Again, that’s made worse by the lack of exclusive games and an overhyped, overpriced add-on that you’ve almost completely failed to make use of! This might have been ok during the Xbox 360 era, when you had a social and media advantage over the PlayStation 3 and Wii, but Sony is wisely kicking down your social platform advantage with the PlayStation 4, leaving you in a bad spot. Even Nintendo has delivered better and more consistently focused and reliable app ideas for the Wii U than Microsoft has recently done for the Xbox 360. Microsoft needs a better business plan with the new Xbox, because their current ‘entertainment hub’ approach with the Xbox 360 is not going to fly in the next generation, if the platform wants to be taken seriously as a gaming device, worldwide, especially considering that this new Xbox is almost certainly a home console, not a mobile device meant to be taken on the go!

Now, this doesn’t mean that the next Xbox shouldn’t try to increase its audience beyond hardcore gamers. Heck, the over-emphasis on what gamers apparently want in the West was a mistake that the original Xbox made, which the Xbox 360 wisely learned from. Where the issue comes up is when the spearhead of Microsoft’s Xbox marketing platform is that it’s actively trying to avoid being declared a gaming console. This appears to hurt Microsoft’s confidence in their own gaming device in the eyes of avid gamers, who should still be a key audience, which will in turn hurt consumer confidence, since it makes Microsoft look greedy and incompetent, in contrast to Nintendo and Sony. Microsoft can certainly put apps and extra functionality in the new Xbox, and they definitely should, but the apps and extra functionality should never take precedence over the console’s primary reason for existing; Gaming. You’ve got to be in it to win it, Microsoft! The competition is only going to get more ruthless from here! If you want the Xbox brand to be embraced by gamers in the long term, don’t give Sony and Nintendo so many easy chances to woo people away. Given the amount of longtime Xbox gamers responding to next Xbox rumours by saying that they want to jump ship to PlayStation 4, perhaps you should try a little harder to court your main gaming audience, and not just prostitute the platform out to anyone with a fat wallet, because it seems like it’s pretty easy to tempt the Xbox community away at this point!

Gears of War

It may sound like I have huge beef with Microsoft after reading these five points, but again, allow me to remind you that the Xbox 360 is the console that I’ve used the most throughout this hardware generation. I love my Xbox 360. This is why I am able to be honest about its faults however, and how Microsoft needs to step it up if they want to stay competitive in the next console generation. They’ve done some great things with the Xbox 360, between the perks of the Xbox Live platform, pioneering Achievements, and yes, even Kinect, at least on paper. As a game publisher and console manufacturer however, they have gotten arrogant and lazy in recent years, which has of course led to all of the bad press that has been frequently published about the Xbox platform lately. It’s not helped by the fact that Gears of War: Judgment seems to be the only retail exclusive for the Xbox 360 this year, if you don’t count Xbox Live Arcade games like BattleBlock Theater or Motocross Madness, and even then, there aren’t a lot of those.

I’m sure I will purchase the next Xbox at some point, but I’m reserving judgment on exactly when and how I will, until I see the new console unveiled on Tuesday. Sony has already given me almost all of the incentive I need to buy a PlayStation 4 on launch day, and they’re going to be a tough act to follow, particularly with the console taking away the so-called ‘Xbox Live advantage’ with its online and digital platform.

Your move, Microsoft. Show me that your new Xbox platform means business, and is worth getting excited about! I’m anticipating what you’ve come up with!