The economy is tight, Nintendo has lost steam in the console race, and both high powered consoles are slated for release later this year. Compared to previous generations the build up to generation 8 is rather brisk, which is something you can probably thank Nintendo for. When they decided to release the Wii U in 2012 they essentially urged their competitors to put their future consoles on the fast track to a release.
Sony has already put together a mostly impressive but somewhat worrying presentation that showed us some of the PlayStation 4's grand features, specs, and social networking services, as well as games and the unfortunate truth that the system would not be backwards compatible – at least not in the traditional sense. Given the fact that Nintendo's console is already out with a relatively empty library and anemic sales, Sony looks to have the upper hand going into the 8th generation.
However, Microsoft has seen the cards and in one week's time it's their turn to show their hand. Given the current state of console gaming, the economy, and what Sony has shown us in the past few years, Microsoft certainly has a lot to prove if they want to make sure they get our gaming green.
They Need to Prove that Always-Online DRM isn't a thing
Anyone who's spent more than five minutes on any gaming news website in the last six months or so knows just how dire the rumors are surrounding the Next Xbox, codenamed Durango, occasionally called the Xbox 720, and more recently titled Infinity - Infinity, get it? It's an 8 on its side. Many of the rumors have been stating that the console will require an always active internet connection to play games, even offline, and one developer even went so far as to say the console would put a watermark on discs to ensure that any disc could only be used with a single console.
While none of these rumors were proven – even the 'proof' offered could easily be doctored – none were disproven either. Microsoft has not made any effort to quell the 'always on' DRM rumors, and instances such as Adam Orth's prodding humor about the issue certainly has done nothing to make the company look good. With rumors this persistent, and the reaction so overwhelmingly negative, Microsoft is being incredibly foolish to not snuff these rumors out. Every day that they don't assure gamers that they can play their console anywhere at any time hurts them, and deeper ingrains the belief that the console will be always on in the eyes of most. It's nothing special to hear “Microsoft does not comment on rumours or speculation” from PR vendors, but this time any sort of comment would have helped their cause.
Lending credibility to these rumors is the fact that so many developers and 'leaked internal documents' have come forth, and the Twitter battle with Adam Orth, followed by a sudden wave of counter-rumors makes many (myself included) think that Microsoft really was planning on requiring the console to be always-online. It now appears that they've scrapped the idea at the last minute due to overwhelming fan backlash. Frankly, they'd be stupid not to.
Granted, there will almost certainly be a day in the future where such draconian DRM is required on all digital devices, but that day is not – or should not be – today, especially when you consider how many people live in rural areas or lack access to reliable internet. Microsoft needs to prove that their console is not going to be one that potentially screws customers over, since Nintendo's Wii U does not require it and Sony has said loud and clear that they are not planning on imposing DRM or halting the used game market. The ball is in your court, Microsoft, don't let us down.
They Need to Prove that Kinect can Appeal to the Core Audience
And while you're at it, it's time to either saddle up or go home when it comes to Kinect.
The device will have been out for three years when the Xbox Infinity comes out, and to-date the only high quality games to come out for it have been dancing games like Dance Central and a few other party, sports, or casual games. The technology is impressive, no doubt, but there hasn't really been anything put out on the market to excite the core audience. The Steel Battalion game was an utter failure, most of the tech demos they show off are a joke, and while families might love Disneyland Kinect and Kinect Adventures, there really isn't much that would entice the average user to care.
As I said, the Kinect is a truly outstanding piece of technology – as demonstrated by the ever-creative and innovative modding community – but most devs are completely wasting its potential, and as a whole it's hard to not be immensely disappointed in it. With the heavy rumors that the Xbox Infinity will come packaged with the Kinect, Microsoft has to prove that the technology can be put to good use for ALL gamers, not just kids and grandmothers looking to get back in shape.
To capture the love of gamers worldwide, we need to see some games that need Kinect and aren't cheap gimmicks or faulty, and the 21st is the perfect date to show that they have what it takes to make motion control appealing to the masses. Either that or they need to crush the rumor that the Infinity will come with, and heavily support, Kinect 2.
I do have one restraint in terms of criticizing Kinect, and that is that some games like Child of Eden use the Kinect to amazing ends. That said, that's a nice cheap download game, not a properly full retail game; full retail games are the games that people buy consoles for. And that is one thing that Xbox has always, and likely always will, do well.
They Need to Prove that their Premium Online Service is Worth Paying For
Xbox Live Gold and its associated Xbox Live Arcade and Marketplace was once the (forgive the pun) gold standard in console digital distribution, but it has since been matched and in many ways surpassed by its competitors. Nintendo's eShop has a ways to go to catch up to Sony and Microsoft's online services, but Sony's PlayStation Plus has really boosted the brand's credibility and value in the eyes of many.
Hell, PSN – at no charge – has nearly caught up to the fidelity and reliability of Xbox Live Gold – a paid service – in almost every way, save the inexcusable exclusion of cross game chat and a slightly less intuitive interface. Not only that, but Sony's free service offers virtually everything you have to PAY for on Xbox, such as access to Netflix and other online services. Between Nintendo's online stepping up its game, Sony's free service being comparable in quality, and Steam's services being in every way superior – all at no cost – there's really no reason to pay for Xbox Live Gold anymore - especially going into the next generation, where presumably Sony's offerings will not suffer the same debilitations they did this generation due to RAM inadequacies. Not only is Sony's PSN+ Cheaper for a year than XBL is, but you get a lot more bang for your buck. Microsoft needs to reconfigure the service to compete with Sony's better value, and prove that Xbox Live Gold is still worth paying for in the wake of cheaper and better alternatives. The 21st is a great time to show off their innovative chops and to prove the service is still worth 60 bones a year.
It also needs to be noted that, even without the paid services, PSN Games have been greatly improved over the last few years. Where games like Braid and LIMBO were once Xbox 360 exclusives, and incredibly high quality titles at that, the fact is that the PSN now shares many of the same games as XBLA, and in many ways their exclusives are more profound or simply better. Take Journey, for example; that game won our 2012 Game of the Year award, and it was a relatively cheap download. While I'm certainly not saying that the XBLA is in any way lackluster, it can no longer claim to be king of the castle like it once could, and it's time for Microsoft to step up its game. They lost their crown, and if they want to entice players to their online services, they need to show that everything we pay for is worth it.
They Need to Prove there will be Must-Have Software you can't get Anywhere Else
I've been pretty critical of Microsoft's offerings so far, but the real issue is that Microsoft is lacking quality AAA exclusives. Don't get me wrong, despite my personal lack of enthusiasm for Halo, there's no denying it's a cultural phenomenon deserving of its praise, and Gears of War is a surprisingly fun dudebro fratboy series that I found I enjoyed a lot more than I'd like to admit. However, beyond the trifecta of exclusives, I really have to ask what Microsoft has to offer. There's Halo, Gears of War, and Forza, and off the top of my head I honestly can't think of anything else that is particularly exciting.
If you turn our attention to the Xbox, it's easy to see that the console has been suffering a bit of a drought of exclusives as of late. Halo 4 came out last year, and Gears of War Judgement was released in March of this year, but before that I can't think of a whole lot of games that were exclusive to the platform that would make most people care. A platform can't and shouldn't rely so heavily on only three franchises. I, for one, would love to see some new IP's, or some interesting takes on classics.
If Microsoft wants to impress the public and press, they really need to prove that their console offers better value for money and has features and options that people care about. As it stands, they are slipping from grace with an XBLA that is no longer the clear victor in digital distribution, and an exclusive line-up that is not that deep or varied, and for that reason a vast majority of their games can be played on the competitor's consoles, without having to pay extra to pay for online.
Even if the Always-on rumors prove to be untrue, Microsoft have a lot of work to do to fix their brand and prove to the community that an Xbox Infinity is worth having over the competition. The 21st is the perfect time to lay it all on the line, especially with E3 just around the corner. As it stands, many just don't see any reason to invest in Microsoft's next offering, and every day they don't fix that, the ire of the internet hate machine grows.
Now is the time.