With rumors of a new Xbox already being manufactured, speculation has begun to run rampant through the industry as hypothesized technical specifications and other hardware-specific gossip circulates amongst gamers curious to see what Microsoft has in store for the future. While it’s a given that the next Xbox, whatever it’s called, will be a substantial leap forward in terms of technical prowess, it’s going to take a whole hell of a lot more than prettier graphics to sell a brand new console. Fortunately for Microsoft and you, my fellow gamers, I’ve broken down the ideal strategy for the software megacorporation to deliver a fresh gaming experience that will have geeks around the world rushing out on launch day.
1.) Digital Distribution at the Forefront of the Experience
Rumors of a purely digital, next-generation Xbox have been pretty standard for quite some time now, but the reasoning behind such an idea is extraordinarily sound. Although Microsoft certainly won’t want to find itself responsible for killing brick and mortar gaming stores, adopting the Steam digital distribution model could do wonders for gamers. When you give your userbase an easy, efficient, and convenient way to use your service (in this case, Xbox Live in the future) they will use it more. It’s essentially the same business strategy that companies like Valve and Apple employ: once they’ve got their hooks in you with a single product or service, you’ll find yourself wanting to purchase additional products that work well with that particular service. Microsoft needs to bring digital distribution to game consoles in a big way, and although Games on Demand was a step in the right direction, such a concept needs to be at the forefront of the entire experience.
With the constant shift towards cloud computing, this could be a serious selling point if purchased games were always available to the user. No more selling used games, no more concerns of piracy, the entire market would shift to a more profitable and convenient system that would benefit everyone. Of course, a disc-based (or, perhaps, flash-based) option would need to be standard as well, considering that no matter how great your idea may be, it is impossible to immediately convert the majority who have settled comfortably into their media consumption lifestyle. Once you’ve hooked in buyers with the assurance that they can still do things they used to, should they so choose, only then do you have the ability to introduce new and markedly improved alternatives to the former.
The Xbox 360, as it stands, is a pretty solid media consumption device, thanks to the implementation of apps in the last few dashboard updates. While this makes the 360 appealing as an all-in-one device, it often fails to do any one thing exceptionally, due to how each app is designed and worked into the framework of the dashboard itself. Netflix, while good, feels detached from the main Xbox experience, which is a bit jarring. Better integration of each of these media apps into the core, basic functionality of the next Xbox will ensure that enjoying your favorite shows or movies will feel more organic, as the new system will hopefully be designed for such things from the ground up.
As mentioned earlier, Games on Demand was a good idea, but as we all know, its selection is pretty awful. With the new Xbox, I should be able to decide between going to the midnight launch of a title, and staying at home to begin the download process at 12:01 AM. Preordering titles through Microsoft’s Games Marketplace should become standard, as should larger hard drives to accommodate the increase in digital content. By building a digital alternative on console hardware, Microsoft could actively compete with the likes of Steam and other PC clients to entice more of the PC crowd to give console gaming a shot. Again, everyone wins.
2.) Complete and Improved Kinect Integration
While some might argue that the Kinect is a dead platform, the reality is that many developers just have no idea what to do with it. Given that the device was implemented into the Xbox 360 several years after its launch, Kinect could have been substantially better integrated into the entire framework of the interface. Apps utilizing Kinect features feel tacked on and forced, and the way that most triple-A titles implement its technology appear to be mere afterthoughts to the core experience.
This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the device hadn’t been so utterly and wildly successful, and Kinect has loads of unrealized potential. While the limitations of the hardware make it somewhat difficult to deliver innovative and truly extraordinary experiences, if Microsoft does a little forward-thinking with its next console, the Kinect could be almost essential to the ultimate Xbox experience, much like Xbox Live is almost a necessity to get the most out of your box.
Microsoft needs to take notes from the modding community that has already begun to do some pretty impressive stuff with the device on their own, and understand the possibilities of what Kinect can really hope to accomplish as a supplementary device. To ditch motion-based gaming at this point would likely be a misstep, and although many hardcore gamers feel otherwise, it’s only the developers that the industry has to blame. Kinect games, as with Wii titles, can be widely successful if developed correctly with the technology in mind every step of the way. If the next generation of Kinect games brings the level of immersion and entertainment that Dance Central does, then the sensor will enjoy a much more critical place in Xbox owners’ living rooms.
3.) Reliable, Sexy, and Future-Proofed Hardware
At this point, it’s likely that nearly every Xbox 360 gamer has experienced it: the Red Ring of Death. When Microsoft’s earlier models of the console weren’t RRODing, their disc trays were breaking, and when the disc trays weren’t breaking, the graphics cards were becoming unsoldered from the motherboard. The poor design of the launch box put an enormous dent in the Xbox’s reputation, and soiled Microsoft’s name for quite some time. In order to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again, the software giant is going to need to go into great detail about the precautionary measures and design decisions that were made to guarantee that the next Xbox was built to last.
For a good example, examine Apple products. Even though some of the products from the house that Jobs built tend to look like minor upgrades, Apple sells them as revolutionary new experiences with elegantly produced promotional content. Take one look at the new iPad’s promo video, and you’ll be hard-pressed to believe that its predecessor is anything more than old news. Microsoft needs to adopt a similar approach to create a message that the Xbox 360 is basically a big piece of garbage now, and that whatever new technology they’ve concocted in the meantime is lightyears ahead of the 360’s now-outdated guts. Instill some faith into the gaming public to keep early adopter rates high, or (like most companies tend to do) end up blaming the economy for poor sales when in reality, the public image is the problem.
Lastly, the next Xbox needs to feature a design that will not only be future-proofed for trends on the horizon, but also sleek and sexy enough to retain entertainment room appeal for years to come. The Xbox 360 did an okay job of this, but failed to keep possibilities open for future tech, such as Blu-Ray and hard drive expansion, which frustrated a lot of gamers. Whether the new Xbox uses solid state drives for memory and flash storage rather than optical for games (which, in my opinion, would be totally awesome) isn’t so much important as is the ability to do so easily without too much hassle. If Microsoft, of all people, sees that there are technological trends that are up and coming, there should be tech built into the new Xbox that can accommodate that if need be.
So, what do you think? Does the next Xbox have potential to wow you with these features? Or is something missing from the equation? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!