Saturday, June 22, 2013

Xbox No Fun – Preliminary Review Of Something I'll Never Actually Buy

The differences between Microsoft and Apple are many, but the biggest distinction among these two companies probably boils down to their philosophy on customer service: Apple consistently delivers its consumers everything they want, nothing more, while Microsoft habitually offers consumers nothing they want, and much more.  Apple reliably rehashes its main products every year, maintaining the core of their appeal to successfully coax millions of buyers into emptying their wallets for essentially the same thing they purchased last year, whereas Microsoft always endeavours to sell its fans goodies and packages they don’t really want in order to inflate the prices of their wares.  This tendency of Bill Gates’ giant industry has exhibited itself numerous times in the past, from the numerous, unsolicited ‘upgrades’ to its once user-friendly Word program, the deservedly maligned, tablet-like revamp of its Windows 8 operating system, and its frequent efforts to transform the Xbox 360 from a gaming console into a social-media platform, but all of these transgressions are overshadowed by Microsoft’s latest center of controversy, the Xbox One, a system so hostile to the desires and interests of the corporation’s consumers that its absurdity makes a mockery even of the infamous Windows Phone.

The Xbox One separates itself from the pack of next-generation consoles in its attempt to unite and integrate multiple forms of media entertainment, among them television, social media, and Skype, along with the traditional video games which are, of course, the only reason people buy an video gaming system in the first place.  Those who still have an interest in recording their entire lives for the amusement of total strangers on Facebook, Google Plus, Yahoo!, or any other sites that now relay countless articles of personal information straight to Obama’s office will gladly use a computer with a keyboard or perhaps a phone to accomplish that purpose.  Entering or reading text on a big screen with nothing more than some analog sticks, triggers, and buttons is cumbersome and awkward; even more awkward is the practice of talking to one’s screen to execute simple functions better done in silence with a keyboard.  Microsoft’s past experiments in putting ‘apps’ on the 360 have proven at best unpopular and at worst maddening, as gamers who use Xbox Live are constantly frustrated by the arbitrary task of downloading menial, 45-minute updates so that they can use all manner of worthless diversions like Instagram, Pandora, ESPN, and CNN, when all said gamers want to do is play online or browse the marketplace for games.  In marketing its new product as an all-inclusive ‘entertainment system’ and shoving tons of extra junk down the throats of current 360 owners, Microsoft has evidently overlooked the difference between apps and applications: the former term is abbreviated for a reason, specifically because it’s too simple and archaic to be suitable for a real computer, thus being relegated to handheld devices, rather than to home PCs, laptops, or powerful gaming machines.  Some might assert that these secondary attractions are entirely optional and just constitute more bang for the consumer’s buck, but these features are better seen as less bang for more buck.  All these distractions and alternative entertainment venues just serve to artificially inflate the XB1’s price tag far above its actual value to its primary users; moreover, both empirical examples from the Live member’s 360 experience and Microsoft’s current emphasis on tailoring the new Xbox to the user (by tracking his patterns and behavior – more on that later) demonstrate it will be impossible to avoid dealing with these social apps altogether.

Microsoft has rarely existed on the cutting edge of societal evolution, often electing to follow the course of Apple instead of being truly innovative (and I speak as a Windows pre-8 fan).  When the company’s creative directors do try to sail new technological waters, they often sacrifice functionality for originality, giving the world such embarrassments as the Kinect under the pretense that people have no conscience for social propriety (OK, most don’t) and enjoy dancing, pretending to be animals, or using The Force in front of their television (again, most don’t).  The XB1 seems poised to continue that record of creative stupidity, offering a slew of conveniences that no one wants or needs.  Microsoft has boasted about its hardware’s ability to swap in between different programs without losing progress in any of them, claiming that players can effectively pause their game, open Skype and talk to their friends, then return to the game at a later time with the press of a button.  This seemingly revolutionary design was actually invented long ago and is commonly referred to as ‘windows’; likewise, the concept of talking to friends while gaming was introduced and developed many years ago with the advent of headphones and chat integration.  The idea of swapping between a game and TV instantly is admittedly novel, if silly and unwarranted.  The ludicrous assumption that people sit down on the couch, pick up a controller, and turn on their television to play a video game for 5 minutes before switching to some other media, e.g. a social network, an e-magazine, or a video streaming site, misconstrues the roles that gaming consoles and cell phones play in peoples’ lives.  Xbox owners don’t fire up Halo or Call of Duty to shoot cannonballs at enemy forts as they sit on the toilet, order their fast food, or wait for their friends to pull up something on their phones (because that’s how people socialize/kill time nowadays – they show each other crap on their phones).  Whether one uses a Wii, PS3, XB360, or PC for electronic gaming, he most often plans to utilize his console for extended periods of time, rather than as a temporary amusement while he’s otherwise occupied.  Microsoft mistakenly presumes that serious gamers have even the slightest desire to juggle multiple applications, or apps to be precise, at once, when just the opposite is true.  People absorb themselves in video games to focus their senses on a single object, to isolate themselves from the world at large, and to escape from multi-tasking, one of the many bothers associated with working.  The XB1 hurls that concept under the bus and costs an enormous sum as a result.

By far the most egregious offense of the Xbox One is its disturbing intent to extract personal information about the user by observing his habits and studying him through the camera Kinected to the console.  The acknowledgment that unseen executives will be constantly monitoring the living rooms of their consumers is rendered even more unsettling by the revelation that Microsoft is transferring innumerable private documents and data to unelected, unaccountable, and morally bankrupt bureaucrats.  The XB1 will inevitably compound the crisis of federal corruption, giving power-hungry agents immeasurably more control over citizens and further manifesting the bleak vision of totalitarian government that George Orwell illustrated back in 1949.  What’s more, the justification for permanently fixing the Kinect attachment to the main hardware unit cannot be gleaned in light of the lackluster reception of the original, motion-tracking peripheral.  In truth, Xbox owners have little to no patience for jumping in front of or talking to their gaming set and are perfectly content to settle for a traditional controller with buttons and joysticks.  If such people were interested in playing motion-based games, they would buy a dinky, family-oriented Wii instead of an Xbox or Playstation, both of which cater more to adult audiences – better yet, they would grab a ball or an Airsoft gun and play real, physical sports outside, as opposed to acting out a part in the narrow, sheltered confines of their homes.

In an unmitigated slight to its once broad fan base, Microsoft gives gamers a plethora of useless, unwanted features while denying them all their simplest requests.  Although the company has backtracked substantially in the past few days regarding the XB1’s inflammatory “always-online” requirement and support for used games, the exact status of both these issues remains dubious and less than clear.  PC gamers have been pestered and cheated in recent years by a surge in digital rights management, and the new Xbox appears to be adapting these restrictions to the console medium.  If one thing is certain, it’s that the next-gen system will not be compatible with 360 or original Xbox games, which means that nostalgic fans will be hard pressed to sell or trade in their older consoles without bidding farewell to some of their favorite games.

The Xbox Done is hardly the first time that Microsoft has flipped off its fans, but it may be the last FU we get from this specific console.  The PS4 has its own share of faults, mainly Sony’s idiotic belief that gamers like to ‘share’ their fictional feats with friends or use touch pads to play their big-screen titles, but at the moment it has a sizeable lead in this disappointing, next-gen race to profits.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please be aware that Google/Blogger has a regrettable habit of crashing before you hit the Preview or Publish button, so writing out longer comments separately before entering them into the browser is well advised.