The Xbox One is playing it far too safe

 

The Xbox One has a real problem.

It feels weird saying that, having just spend good coin on an Xbox One S. If anything, you would think that any sort of insinuation that things weren't looking rosy for the Xbox brand would be met with a real head-in-the-sand response. However, the months following E3 have really started to paint a bleak picture, and Gamescom has now all but hammered it home.

It's not an issue of any technical inferiority, perceived or real, or even an issue of sales performance. It's an issue of support and, more importantly, it's an issue of originality. In short, the Xbox brand is playing it too safe.

I welcomed the original Xbox brand into my life shortly after the demise of the Dreamcast. Sega's games were scattered like ashes, and the Xbox was home to many attractive offerings such as Jet Set Radio Future and Panzer Dragoon Orta that I just could not say no to. 

Jet Set Radio Future was one of many quirky titles that
made the original Xbox something to pay attention to.

But it also opened up the door for a very North American school of thought when it came to game design that had traditionally been more at home on the PC than on consoles. Games like Morrowind, Knights of the Old Republic, The Chronicles of Ridd*ck, and even a port of Half-Life 2 were games that could only be found on the Xbox One. 

Even if the Xbox never stood a chance of competing against the mighty PS2, which to this day still remains the best-selling console of all time, even if it was going to miss out on many big titles, it was still a system that made you feel good about it because it was home to rich experiences that couldn't be found elsewhere in the console world.


Games like KOTOR introduced me to a whole new world of RPG.

Even in the early days of the Xbox 360, it was still something that held true. Games like Mass Effect, Bioshock, and Oblivion where originally games that PlayStation 3 owners looked enviously at. (Not to suggest that the PS3 didn't have its own set of enticing exclusives, because it very much did.)

However, in recent times as this school of thought became the dominant and driving force in the console market, and as Japanese publishers retreated to greener pastures of mobile gaming, the Xbox brand's stranglehold on these games waned. And while in itself that might not be an issue, it gained little in the way of creative, imaginative titles to make up for it.

Historically, my favourite periods in gaming have been console launches. This goes far beyond the enchantment with glittering new graphics made possible by the leaps in technology. No, I'm more enamoured by the creativity that is on parade before publishers begin to lock in the sure bets and churn out new iterations in some form of attempted mass production. 


Games like Folklore really helped the PS3 set itself apart
from the competition in the system's early years.

It's a period of experimentation and curiosity as developers test the waters about what this new technology will allow to be unlocked from the imagination, and it's given us some of the more endearing if lesser-known titles in gaming, such as Jumping Jack Flash, Zone of the Enders, and Folklore. 

Even games we know see as established franchises to the point where fatigue might have set in, such as Assassin's Creed, where once considered fresh, born into a space filled with eager early-adopters who were willing to allow such new ideas to breathe.

Now it appears that Sony is prepared to nuture such boldness going forward, whereas Microsoft, perhaps still reeling from the lashing it received going into this generation, has decided to hunker down and stick with known quantities and sure bets.


The so-called greatest line-up in Xbox history
took no risks and was less interesting for it.

That's not to say that the Xbox hasn't been home to some wonderfully fresh experiences. Sunset Overdrive and Ori and the Blind Forest have been two wonderful examples, and the upcoming Cuphead looks set to be another. But when you examine the Xbox strategy as a whole, the lack of imagination and creativity becomes salient.

Last E3, Microsoft trumpeted the greatest lineup in the history of Xbox, championed by Halo 5, Fable Legends, Forza 6, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. Three sequels, a spin-off, and a remake -- and the spin-off was cancelled. As if reaching into the cupboard and pulling out the Xbox Franchises™ wasn't bad enough, Rise of the Tomb Raider was especially troubling if only because Microsoft's reasoning was that it made sense to throw money at a game to lock it up for a period of time than to create something new.

This E3 it was a similar story. Sure, we saw Sea of Thieves, Recore, and Scalebound, but the heavy hitters, the headliners, were Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, and Halo Wars 2. I guess you could also include some appearances of Final Fantasy XV and Tekken 7 to essentially reassure you that, yes, those games would still come to Xbox One.

It wasn't exactly an unwarranted fear to soothe. The months following E3 have seen some truly imaginative games, the sort that look at all this technology and think not of how they can replicate the possible but how they can realise the impossible, released on the PS4 while skipping the Xbox completely. 


No Man's Sky might not be to everyone's tastes, but at
least it wasn't designed by committe and focus group.

Abzu, Bound, and No Man's Sky are examples of this, and while they might not be everyone's cup of tea, they sit alongside the rest of the PS4's catalogue, which includes much of which is available on Xbox One, augmenting it and giving it potential extra appeal.

Then there is what's in the pipe. Games like Nier Automata, Nioh, and Persona 5 won't be coming to Xbox One. Nier Automata is even willing to come to the PC but won't give the Xbox the time of day. There's also indie affair like Aragami that has decided to put the Xbox One version on the back-burner while it focuses its efforts on the PS4 and PC.

Yet it gets even worse if you are considering the Xbox One from a Kiwi perspective. Many independent and digital games simply don't launch in New Zealand, some for known reasons and some for mysterious reasons no one seems to understand. 

Games like Jackbox Party Pack 2 and Superhot pass on New Zealand because they are required to have OFLC ratings to be on the Xbox Store whereas they are not required to do this on the PS4. The cost of obtaining a rating means that many simply don't bother for such a small market. 


The critically acclaimed Superhot is console-exclusive to
Xbox One, but was never released in New Zealand.

And then there are the games that do have a rating but don't appear on the New Zealand store. The recent Song of the Deep is a great example of this, and while it appeared eventually, Telltale's Batman series is another. Any attempt to get an answer out of Microsoft as to why this is like trying to get blood out of a stone.

The upshot of all of this is that the Xbox One is left to appear wanting. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, and Halo Wars 2 will all be good, fun games, and I'm sure they will be well received by many. But they aren't fresh, they aren't exciting. They don't make the system stand out.

It's the same trap Nintendo falls into: they are good games if you already have one, but they aren't going to make you look at the system if they didn't make you look when Forza Horizon 2 and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition were on offer. And they don't make up for what you are missing.

Meanwhile, the PlayStation 4 has more variety and simply more games on offer -- and it has (slightly) better graphics to boot. Even Microsoft's original point of difference, that it was an excellent media centre with voice support, has been axed in favour of doubling down on the safe and familiar.


Even going forward, it appears the strategy is to double-down
on safe, sure bets -- that are also available elsewhere...

It's gotten past the point where when people ask me what console to get I have to honestly reply the PS4. Indeed, sadly, it's gotten to the point where the Xbox One no longer excites or entices me, and that I don't feel compelled to turn it on. It's the PlayStation 4 that has been stealing my attention lately, and for all the reasons I have outlined above. It's gotten to the point where I feel bad, even remorseful, about my Xbox One S purchase, and that's not how any console owner should feel.

The Xbox One has a real problem, and Microsoft doesn't seem to want to do anything to address it.

 


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Comments Comments (15)

 
Posted by CoffeeAddict
On Friday 19 Aug 2016 10:47 AM
1
Really interesting blog, I don't tend to read the xbox pages so wasn't aware that a lot of digital games are being held up from xbox release. I thought it was a one off c*ckup with telltales Batman but this is not the case. May I ask, did you make your choice to get the One S prior to having these feelings? If not why did you get one onto of your original Xbox one?
 
 
 
Posted by Bunnny
On Friday 19 Aug 2016 11:13 AM
3
"Ridd*ck"


Gosh... lol
 
 
 
Posted by oconnomiyaki
On Friday 19 Aug 2016 11:21 AM
-
19 August 2016, 10:47 AM Reply to CoffeeAddict
Really interesting blog, I don't tend to read the xbox pages so wasn't aware that a lot of digital games are being held up from xbox release. I thought it was a one off c*ckup with telltales Batman but this is not the case. May I ask, did you make your choice to get the One S prior to having these feelings? If not why did you get one onto of your original Xbox one?
I was really on the fence about it. Even when I was standing in the store ready to pick it up, I was still debating it. Two things really pushed me over the edge to purchasing that day.

The first was that I had already promised to sell my Xbox One to someone else and they had already paid me.

The second was that I was recently out of hospital for a serious and life-changing diagnosis and I wanted to carve out a fresh start. I do like the Xbox brand and have always been partial to it over much of the competition, and I felt like the new look could be a good little symbol for this new beginning in life.

But I don't think I thought long and hard enough about the kinds of games I like to play and experience, and a lot of the decision was influenced by old thinking and loyalties rather than looking forward to the future and the new. It's sort of ironic, in a sense, because it was a love of things like Halo and Forza that made me feel like it was the right decision, but it was more memories of the good times with those games in the past rather any massive desire or excitement to play new iterations of them now.

That and I really like the Xbox One controller.

Don't get me wrong, it's not my intention to sh*t on the Xbox. If anything, I say this as a fan who is beyond frustrated. The Xbox isn't doing enough to set itself apart from the competition, and what it is doing is far too familiar to the point where it feels stale. And this is all going on while it's also missing out on some really tasty titles.
 
 
 
Posted by Coddfish
On Friday 19 Aug 2016 11:26 AM
1
Really great piece, Occonomi.
For me, Xbox One is mainly a backwards compatibility machine--a chance to play those old Xbox 360 games that I love, and the cross platform games that mean I don't need to pull my PS3 out of storage. Xbox One has its share of creative games, like Ori and Beyond Eyes, but they're few and far between. PS4 has that market locked down, it has the Japanese-developed market locked down, and it's still pumping out the same sorts of blockbusters that Xbox One is trying to define itself with.
 
 
 
Posted by oconnomiyaki
On Friday 19 Aug 2016 11:42 AM
-
19 August 2016, 11:26 AM Reply to Coddfish
Really great piece, Occonomi.
For me, Xbox One is mainly a backwards compatibility machine--a chance to play those old Xbox 360 games that I love, and the cross platform games that mean I don't need to pull my PS3 out of storage. Xbox One has its share of creative games, like Ori and Beyond Eyes, but they're few and far between. PS4 has that market locked down, it has the Japanese-developed market locked down, and it's still pumping out the same sorts of blockbusters that Xbox One is trying to define itself with.
Thank you. :)

And it's funny because Beyond Eyes is also on the PS4, so it sort of just emphasizes the problem: the PS4 has most of it and more. As you say, it has all these other markets on lock while still being home to much of the Xbox's catalogue and pumping out big blockbusters of its own. And when you look at those blockbusters, at least Sony is prepared to take some risks on new ideas. Even God of War knew it had to reinvent itself to stay relevant rather than just wheeling out more of what came before.
 
 
 
Posted by drunk_monk
On Friday 19 Aug 2016 2:49 PM
2
This is a 5 star blog entry if I read one, really good read.
 
 
 
Posted by ChieftaiNZ
On Friday 19 Aug 2016 4:37 PM
-
Anyone else remember Oddworld New n Tasty. The game didn't release in Aus/NZ till like 6 months after is r,eleased every where else, it was ridiculous.
 
 
 
Posted by NZBuc
On Friday 19 Aug 2016 8:38 PM
-
Well thought out and written blog occono, for me, I still think if you prefer multiplayer games, Xbox is the way to go
 
 
 
Posted by Xenojay
On Saturday 20 Aug 2016 10:19 AM
-
THIS BLOG MAKES ME MAD...I COULD HAVE SUPERHOT AND I DON'T?

OUTRAGE.

But I loved this blog, good stuff. It makes me hope they figure out how to become more competitive to drive better creative across brands, but it feels like based off the argument you constructed that the XBOX may just become the 'Windows Everywhere' console...sigh...
 
 
 
Posted by KatalystaKaos
On Sunday 21 Aug 2016 6:16 PM
-
Fantastic reading oconnomiyaki, 5 Stars,

I am multi platform gamer and agree with you M$ seems to have lost their edge with the One, I'd go a step further and say that as a company they seem to faltered in recent years, infact maybe the departure of Mr. Gates was the catalyst for the decline,

The Xbox One got off on the wrong foot way back on reveal night, where gaming seemed to be given a back seat to TV and media streaming. There was the always online, "deal with it" fiasco that saw Microsoft's then creative director Adam Orth eventually lose his job. Kinect was to be required at all times and lets not forget the outrage that was invoked when gamers learnt they wouldn't be able to share, trade, sell their game discs. They created an uphill battle for themselves and a good portion of early adopters jumped ship to PS4 with Sony reveling in the way Microsoft seemed to be alienating their fans/customers.

A couple of the exclusives I had been really looking forward to have also disappointed, feeling somewhat rushed and lacking the polish expected, namely Quantum Leap & Halo 5 the later which to me seemed to have lost the magic that made Halo one of my favorite franchises.

Then there's the issue you have mentioned of NZ/AU missing on some titles due to OFLC requirements, The Solus Project being my biggest gripe.

Fingers crossed that upcoming games like GOW, Recore, and Scalebound can deliver.
 
 
 
Posted by atipuss
On Sunday 21 Aug 2016 6:38 PM
-
Nice read ocono...definitely on the same boat as just recently sold one of our xb1... still like xbox brand as it did give me good memories of games like Oblivion, fallout3 and Fable. Hopefully they will bounce back ...we need good competitions in console world :)
 
 
 
Posted by Ron
On Friday 26 Aug 2016 2:54 AM
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Sadly ms don't really care for gamers, and in nz it's becoming a bit like Nintendo where they're only a heartbeat away from just getting a 3rd party to deal with local distribution with no real local presence.
 
 
 
Posted by ptys
On Friday 26 Aug 2016 3:30 PM
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Good article, I thought it was interesting they launched backwards compatibility with Mass Effect last year, almost an ode to the bygone era. ME2 launching only for 360 on console was the high-point of Xbox cool... It went downhill from there.
 
 
 
Posted by Paorio
On Friday 2 Sep 2016 1:51 PM
-
Awesome read man!
 
 
 
Posted by Nibblo
On Friday 2 Sep 2016 7:00 PM
1
The PS4 has been handsomely beating the Xbox One this gen for 2 reasons:
1. The big FU made in 2013 by MS.
2. The perceived visual difference between the PS4 and the Xbox One in multiplats.

At the beginning of this gen the PS4 barely put any exclusives out but was still killing it in sales. MS can't control what has already happened but it does have some control over the future and looking back at what has happened it has come to the conclusion from the resolution wars is that the gamers want safe big budget games in high resolution.

Don't blame them if you don't like it (and by the way I have absolutely no problems with the direction they are going as it is why I got my 360 back in the day) blame consumers.

This type of thinking cracks me up, MS takes chances buyers flock to the PS4, MS doubles down and gives gamers what they want and they are being too conservative - they can't win with some people!

Of course you may have been on MS's side all along i don't know but a lot of the gaming community out there are very hypocritical and fickle, makes me shake my head sometimes.