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Sound Off Vol. 6 – Microsoft Announcement Predictions

Microsoft

Welcome, dear readers, to the sixth volume of our Sound Off feature. Following months of rumour and wild speculation, from the believable to the absurd, Microsoft will be holding an event on May 21st to unveil its next generation console. Here are some of our thoughts before their announcement is made.

Shane Ryan: Now then, gentlemen. Thoughts about Microsoft’s ‘Nextbox’ please.

James Dewitt: With Sony making a big push for the integration of social media in the gaming experience, it’s reasonable to assume Microsoft is going to have something similar (like more of a reliance on Facebook/Twitter), although it’s hard to imagine them one-upping the PlayStation 4’s ‘share’ button. After the issues with Adam Orth and rampant rumors about always-online, I’d imagine those concerns would be downplayed or otherwise ignored entirely lest another unwanted controversy erupts. Title-wise, we can expect the mainstays like a new Fable and Halo title while probably the unveiling a Kinect 2.0 and motion-control titles for demonstration. If Microsoft wants to get an edge over Sony they’re going to need to devote some time to talking about backwards compatibility. Sony dropped the ball on that one and Microsoft would be foolish not to capitalize on the opportunity, so long as it’s not some convoluted work-around like emulation.

Shane Ryan: When the 360 released it was broadband only. ‘Online-only’ is a logical step. How many XBLA and PSN games currently work without an internet connection?

James Dewitt: Largely, that depends on whether or not the game in question is online multiplayer only. Most titles have at least a single player mode, so once the game is downloaded you can pretty much play it offline.

Calvin Kemph: I fully expect Microsoft to push for the big guns. They will have to corner the market on the games with the bloated budgets and pursue all the biggest third party deals. They need the next Halo. From their internal studios, most expect consistency and the continuation of this generation’s progress but to truly mark the console as the next step forward, they will have to make it new. The need for a new console is to push innovation and the way we play. New IPs will have to be the difference maker, or I’m entirely uninterested.

Shane Ryan: A new console cycle has historically been the time to birth new IP. Do you expect we’ll see direct comparisions to fill the Halo/Gears gaps?

Calvin Kemph: They’ll need a Halo replacement to push consoles, yes, but there’s no need to fill a Gears of War gap. Judgment’s shown that there isn’t much of a gap or demand left. Now that Bungie and Epic have moved on, I would like Microsoft to do the same and work on creating games with a similar impact that create new gaps for others to fill.

First party expectations are also high and I expect Microsoft to maintain their footing with internal studios. Expect new AAA IP from Remedy, Rare, Lionhead, and Black Tusk early in the console’s life.

Also need to see Microsoft’s commitment to XBLA games and the devs who realized the potential early on. It’s disheartening when their interest comes and goes with each marketing campaign and it’ll be interesting to see whether they’re in-touch with the best thing about their last console going into the next one.

Nick Vracar: There’s an expectation that Microsoft will give the final word on whether or not their newest system will require an internet connection, but it’s reasoning, at least the one given, will not be DRM. Their reasoning will be that systems that are always online are always connected to each other. If everyone is online than no one is missing out on the kind of connections Microsoft wants people to be able to establish with each other.

In truth, the reasoning for their console to be online will not be DRM, but rather marketing. Consider the Xbox 360 dashboard and compare what it looks like, offline against online. When offline, on the very first screen that loads, you’re presented with an option to play whatever disc is in the console and an advertisement for Xbox Live. When online there are advertisements to fill in the extra space. These ads vary from new DLC to movies now available to random products, sponsored by affiliates. Using the always online console increases exposure to their advertised content.

Shane Ryan: This is true and the success of Xbox Live Gold is one they’ll want to continue. Is there any benefit to the consumer here?

Nick Vracar: As a gaming console, not necessarily. Personally, most games I play are single player, and multiplayer requires a Gold membership, of which comes at a premium. As a media center, an online Xbox simply has a larger set of features than an offline Xbox. Forcing the internet connection on every user means that everyone has access to those features.

Shane Ryan: Going back to streaming, from what we’ve seen the PS4 ‘Share’ button seems limited in length. So what if MS had a twitch.tv or similar streaming service, producing content such as competitive e-sports (COD, FIFA)?

Calvin Kemph: It sounds impractical to me. Would be a very limited audience who’d be able to stream in HD. Most ISPs just aren’t up to it and can’t imagine Microsoft or Twitch wanting to highlight next gen in SD. Could definitely see an app for watching streams. Most likely that’s why Sony’s will be limited to 15 minutes. Would be an excellent feature if they have a workaround for that.

James Dewitt: Given how ingrained online play is with generation, it would actually be one of the better ideas rather than trying to one-up Sony in the Share button department. Devoting an entire button for that sort of feature would still seem like overkill, however.

Matthew Sawrey: We all know that the presence of mega-budget blockbuster titles is a certainty, but I’m more interested to learn about how Microsoft intends to support independent developers on their next machine. Xbox Live helped propel independent development to the thriving scene it is today, but as a distribution platform, Live has failed to evolve alongside its competitors – Steam and the App Store. Microsoft need to loosen up their pricing model and provide an easy, hassle-free development environment and certification process. Doing so could really help support the inevitable Kinect 2.0: Why not let people play around with low-budget, low-risk Kinect projects? It’s forced implementation into big-budget titles hasn’t exactly worked out very well this generation.

I’m also interested to hear just how Microsoft intends to compete with Playstation Plus. Sony really has done a great job of positioning Plus as a genuinely worthwhile, value-for-money investment on PS3, by offering ridiculous amounts of high-quality free content. I would like to see Microsoft take a similar approach with Xbox Live Gold for the next Xbox, but I think they’ll stick to their laurels, using Xbox exclusive Call of Duty map packs to entice the Live audience.

Oh, and picking up Beyond Good and Evil 2 as a Ubisoft launch exclusive would seal the deal for me. Just saying.

Shane Ryan: With Microsoft recently releasing the Twitch.tv app for 360 it seems some of our predictions and ideas are already falling into place. We’ll be continuing this discussion via a reaction podcast following the upcoming announcement.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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