The Game Jar Files: Cutting Costs; The Xbox One price cut rumour

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Originally published on The Game Jar – February 19th 2014

A few weeks ago, a rumour popped up on the internet regarding a potential Xbox One price cut, and ever since then I’ve been considering just how likely that would be. Well, to be honest, I spent a fair amount of that time rolling my eyes at the notion, given that a price cut at some point is almost inevitable. But today I’ve started to take it a little more seriously after reading the news that Sony’s PlayStation 4 is still outselling the Xbox One. I know that sales between the two consoles are reasonably close, but as I noted a little while ago, I don’t think Microsoft knows how to ‘do second place’ any longer. Leading the race is where they’re most familiar, and I’m sure a price drop is one of the things they’ve talked about to get them there. What I want to know is; what does a cheaper Xbox One look like?

The discless option

Removing the Bluray drive was one of the things being guessed at by the internet hive mind, and I guess it kind of makes sense given Microsoft’s push towards a digital future, but to me it seems a little contradictory. ‘Welcome to the all-in-one, Xbox One’ is the tagline encapsulating the multimedia pitch for the console, but doesn’t removing the disc drive mean making it a little less all-in-one? The thing I think that people forget is, you’re not just removing the capability to play Blurays. You’re also removing the capability to play DVDs and CDs, and that is a big deal. I know we have iTunes and Netflix, but just imagine saying to every household with a large DVD collection ‘here’s a box that will do everything except play all the movies you’ve spent years collecting’. Its insanity. Removing the disc drive from the Xbox One would only be viable if Microsoft fully committed to the digital delivery only model, and as we all know, they’ve already pulled back from that.

The kinect-less option

Removing Kinect from the box is perhaps the most obvious option when trying to reduce the cost of the Xbox One, but to my mind it’s also the least likely. If you watched the initial Xbox One reveal, you’ll no doubt recall how much of that presentation was given over to demonstrating how Kinect was central to the Xbox One experience, and as such it makes removing the peripheral a massive PR disaster. Kinect is absolutely integral the console’s design. It’s why they couldn’t launch with a cheaper, Kinect-free hardware bundle. It’s why they redesigned an operating system that didn’t need redesigning. Admitting they got those decisions wrong by removing Kinect (which is essentially what they’d be doing) would be a step too far for Microsoft, and that’s why I think they won’t do it. Kinect is a game-changer as far as Microsoft is concerned, it’s what separates their console from the rivals. To abandon that just a year in after selling it so hard? Inconceivable!

The suck it up option

Assuming that Microsoft haven’t reduced manufacturing costs for the One by the end of the year, the ‘suck it up’ option is the most likely route to a price cut in my opinion. Having ruled out removing either the disc drive or Kinect, Microsoft is left with no other choice than to simply swallow the loss on each unit sold until costs come down. I know that sounds drastic, but it’s not unprecedented, and it doesn’t dilute the integrity of the Xbox One’s offer either. For all my criticism of Microsoft’s original pitch, I do believe they’ve got a good console on their hands, albeit one that costs too much. By leaving the console as it is and cutting the price, they could fully support the hardware – Kinect and all – whilst competing with Sony on price. For many people, the only thing preventing them buying an Xbox One is the price. Temporarily making a loss on each one sold is the quickest way to solve that problem

Whether Microsoft drop the price of the Xbox One is a question that doesn’t need asking. There’s absolutely no way they’ll want to go into a second holiday period with the most expensive hardware – especially as they’re already being outsold. How they go about it is the real question. All consoles get cheaper to manufacture over time, and usually these cost savings get passed on to the customer, but will Microsoft wait that long? In the end, I’m only making educated guesses here, but of the options I’ve listed, only making a loss in the short-term makes any real sense to me. No doubt time will tell how wrong I am, hopefully I’m not too far off though, as I have an Xbox One-shaped hole under my TV that needs filling.

The Game Jar Files: The Next Gen Games I Want to see Happen.

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 06/09/2013

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The older gaming gets, the less original it feels. Almost every genre has been done a dozen different ways already, and it’s getting increasingly harder to find some new way of entertaining the masses. This state of affairs is only exacerbated by the big publishers unwillingness to take risks on new and unproven IP’s, instead relying on yet another sequel to keep them going. But with a new generation comes the hope of fresh thinking. The old, jaded gamer me is replaced by a cherubic, fresh-faced optimist. In this article, I let my imagination run riot. I pretend that the accountants are no longer in charge, and game developers make all my dreams come true. Here are the games I want to see on my next-gen console.

Spelljammer. If you were to ask me which role-playing game I recall the fondest, the answer wouldn’t be a video game. I’d go all the way back to 1989, and tell you about an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting called Spelljammer, and I’d probably get all misty eyed whilst doing it. Introducing the concept of fantasy astrophysics to AD&D, Spelljammer allowed players to explore the stars on special galleons, equipped with “spelljammer helms”. These ships had their own atmosphere and gravity, and could travel between Crystal Spheres and visit other worlds. I loved playing this game. There was a certain kind of romanticism in sailing the stars, finding adventure wherever you went, and I’d love to do it again. Only once has Spelljammer been converted into a video game, and that was in 1992, so I think a new title is well overdue. Please game developers out there, make my dream come true – make me a Spelljammer MMO. Please?

Discworld. Unsurprisingly, the wildly popular Discworld universe has made the transition to video games several times already, but none of them, in my opinion, have ever done the obvious thing, and gone down the open-world RPG path. Think about it; a fully realised, open world Ankh-Morpork that you can wander through with your own Discworld character. You could join the City Watch and hang out with Commander Vimes. Or enrol in the Unseen University and visit the library to meet The Librarian. Or join the Assassin Guild… There are so many iconic places to visit in Ankh-Morpork and the larger Discworld itself, that an open world makes perfect sense. Discworld is a massive franchise that’s been mechanised in almost every conceivable way. All that’s left is to let the fans create their own virtual character, and explore the world they love.

Band of Brothers. Lets face it, a decent story is not something most FPS developers bother with these days. Single player mode has been reduced down to twelve hours of Hollywood cheese, and is much more likely to be the last part to the game a gamer plays. But why can’t we an FPS with a decent story? I realise making a game based on historical events involving real people would need a sensitive touch, but haven’t certain developers already proved their capable of doing so? Naughty Dog demonstrated with The Last of Us, that it is possible to tell a gritty, realistic story with emotional weight via the medium of video games, so I think it could be done with the FPS. In the right hands, the story of Easy Company could be sensitively told, without glorifying real human loss. Hopefully, in the future, a developer will come along with the courage to do so.

Knightmare. A bit of a tap in, this one, as the TV series was practically a video game to begin with, but it still surprises me that no-one has had a proper crack at bringing it to our consoles. With today’s internet technology, four-player co-op gaming is a walk in the park. Three players could view the dungeon, and via party chat, guide the fourth player safely through each room. We also have fairly decent camera technology now, so projecting the player into the dungeon wouldn’t be a problem. Obviously, it goes without saying that the hardware is powerful enough to render an environment better looking than the actual show, so why don’t we have this game yet? I guess the answer is that, outside of the indies, gaming isn’t really doing new and original IP any more. That doesn’t stop me dreaming though, and I’d rather have this than all that Kinect/Move shovelware.

The reality is, these IP’s are probably never going to transition to the world of video games, but a bit of dreaming never hurt anybody, did it? The eve of a new generation of hardware is all about optimism in my opinion, and if you can’t dream big now, when can you? All of my above suggestions are perfectly suited to becoming a video game, and I can only hope that somewhere, a developer is secretly working away on one of them. Preferably Spelljammer.

The obligatory E3 post

I’m sorry, it’s in the local blogging by-laws. During E3 every blogger is legally obliged to give us “there take” on the big three’s briefings.

In general, all three briefings weren’t very good. Nintendo’s was marginally better than the other two, but both Sony and Microsoft were clearly treading water until their next console turns up. A quick trip around the various major gaming sites reveals pretty much the same thing, reheated franchises that are all too familiar, and a presser almost identical to last years. I’d like to propose a new rule for next year, Microsoft cannot mention Kinect and Sony cannot mention Move until I personally have seen proof that Kinect-playing Mrs Casual Gamer, and Move-playing Mr Casual Gamer are actually tuning in to watch the live stream. Core gamers don’t care about these devices, so just who do Sony and Microsoft think they’re talking to? Were the casual gamers really tuning in to the live streams?

And before you say “they must be”, you know a casual gamer or two, ever seen a gaming magazine on their coffee table? No, you haven’t, have you? 😛

But my real ire, my furious anger is saved for Sony. Three games. Actually scratch that, two games. Two games and a game logo. That’s the best showing you can muster for your brand new handheld gaming machine, Sony? Yes OK, they’re busy saying right now that they’ve got “25 games on the show floor..”, but they sent out a terrible message at their press briefing. After the failure to properly support the PSP, and no real content on show for the out going PS3, this was a golden opportunity to put the Vita front and centre in it’s launch year. Instead they dropped the ball badly, and many of my friends and fellow Vita owners are now left wondering whether we’ve bought another PSP, doomed to early abandonment.

 

 

What’s Plan B?

Imagine you’re Microsoft for a moment. You’ve got a highly successful console that has a solid user base, largely made up of what most of us would term as hard core gamers. After initially trying to laugh off Nintendo’s Wii console, you now see the potential of the “casual” market and would quite like a slice of that lucrative pie…

Kinect is Microsoft’s new peripheral, designed to move the Xbox 360 from the domain of the hardcore, into the family conscious. Right from this year’s big E3 launch, through the massive on-going promotional campaign, and ending with Xbox.Com re-brand,  it’s clear that Kinect is the single biggest element in Microsoft’s strategy for taking the Xbox 360 forward. There’s no doubt that Kinect works and works well, and maybe the cost is reasonable but what if Kinect isn’t the success that Microsoft hopes, what’s Plan B?

One of the concerns raised by us hardcore gamers after the E3 keynote was the lack anything really new aimed at us, the Xbox’s core user base. Many of us, including myself, took the E3 briefing to mean that for the foreseeable future the hardcore gamer will be taking a backseat. Whilst I’m sure that’s not the case, and that many of the hardcore will be buying Kinect, I’m almost certain that the add-on won’t be as successful as Microsoft hopes. Should that be the case, what happens to the 360’s lifespan?

I ask because it seems to me that the 360 is reaching it’s limits within the hardcore realm, there simply cannot be much more growth to be had, beyond yearly updates to popular first party software sales. Therefore, I suggest that the success (or failure) of Kinect will determine the 360’s future lifespan, a runaway launch ensuring fresh blood to sustain the ageing box. In fact I’d go even further, I’d suggest that the success of Kinect will impact upon Microsoft’s next console, especially if it manages to extend the 360’s life for another two or three years.

Even though I’m not considering buying Kinect, I am really looking forward to just how Microsoft takes the 360 forward post Kinect launch. Keeping the hardcore happy whilst wooing the casual won’t be easy, but maybe Microsoft can pull it off.

Dis-Kinect?

It’s clear from yesterdays Xbox keynote that Kinect (formally Project Natal) is pretty important to Microsoft. I’ll agree the technology is pretty impressive, but I really can’t work out just who MS thinks will be buying this? In my opinion the Xbox 360 is seen as a hardcore gamers console, not a casual gamers one, and I really don’t think Kinect is going to change that image, or appeal to it’s core audience.

I am willing to be proved wrong though, so I guess we’ll wait and see. Oh and put me down for a new Xbox slim as well 🙂

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