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Xbox One – Electronic Popcorn

A visit to the local multiplex cinema has changed a lot since my younger years. I can recall the half-time break during Free Willy for a quiz and popcorn. Now technology leads the way and, in the multiplex, additional services are key to survival. There are automatic ticket machines. Like a large touchscreen tablet, you select your choice of film and pay. There’s no human interaction. No physical money changes hands. There’s a small arcade, whose costs never drop, easing extra coins from the younger audience. Walking towards the designated cinema screening there are many large advertisements for upcoming films coating the walls. Finally, before reaching the cinema door, there’s an long desk dedicated to selling popcorn at extortionate prices.

Many of the services shown at Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal were electronic popcorn.

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And popcorn helps to keep the price of a film ticket down. Allowing the pricing of secondary goods to support the primary consumers: “The fact that the people who show up only for good or popular movies consume a lot less popcorn means that the total they pay is substantially less than that of people who will come to see anything. If you want to bring more consumers into the market, you need to keep ticket prices lower to attract them.”

It’s entirely sensible to understand that you don’t want something and to be aware that it can serve a wider purpose. If a large chain of cinemas ceased to sell popcorn people would go elsewhere, contrary to my belief that this food is irrelevant to the enjoyment of film. Console users will spend huge amounts of time on Netflix – responsible for 33% of all downstream traffic in North America during peak hours – and Skype – servicing two billion minutes of calls a day – next to gaming.

And so I’m not entirely sure what people want from a next-gen ‘console’. We have enough evidence that the ‘core’ market is not stable enough to keep AAA development afloat (the biggest games of the year aiming for 5% of the console market – 7 million consumers from 140 million consoles – and failing). Us – you and me – cannot support what it has grown into alone. Sony’s answer of ‘the same but bigger!’ is great for the ‘core’ audience, but financially it’s a minefield. Whilst Microsoft saying ‘we want your living room!’ may not be what the ‘core’ audience wants, it makes more financial sense. If these services – this electronic popcorn – keep development flowing and the price of games down, then a larger audience subsidising my niche love, gaming, is fair play.

Let’s see what history says about the 360 reveal:

When the smoke cleared, the audience seemed to all have the same reaction. “Huh. So that’s that.”

But Microsoft’s conference was a friendly version of the infomercial shown on MTV last Thursday. There wasn’t as much substance as there could have been.

The thing is this; Microsoft tries to make you need their system, and with Sony, they try to make you want it.

For a year when the big three systems are all set to debut, Microsoft should have made more time to dedicate to showing off their titles.

The Microsoft news conference was spare of actual surprise, news, and the all-important…knockout punch.

What we got was an exceptionally thrilling presentation that solidified Microsoft’s objective to expand the console’s parameters to be a multi-purpose entertainment unit…I think consoles should stay focused on being gaming entertainment devices – not an alternative multimedia peripheral for recording televised programs and making toast.

Deja-vu indeed.

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The Xbox One reveal suited the audience that Microsoft is aiming for. An audience who are captivated with these film trailer-like videogame teasers. The conference wasn’t aimed at me, it was casting a wider net; it was about the hardware and services. The electronic popcorn has been proposed. I won’t buy it but many others willfully will. If that helps to keep the doors open then so be it.

All the Kinect waffle impressed my girlfriend, who was sat watching the conference with me, and when it came to games she asked me “so does that look good?”. We assume everyone can tell the difference in graphical fidelity but it’s untrue. That’s why we had the Modern Warfare 3 to Ghosts texture comparison. That was another clear indication of who Microsoft is marketing the One at.

Microsoft did make mistakes during their conference. One was the lack of actual gameplay. Whether that would have been an exclusive new IP or a short event in Call of Duty: Ghosts, they only needed to show one gameplay section. That’s all Sony did and it worked a treat for them. Throwing the terms ‘game changing,’ immersion’ and ‘experience’ around to pre-rendered footage is old-fashioned and borderline condescending. Then there’s the Kinect possibly being always on and small print possibly being enforced. The Luddite in me is not impressed.

Post-reveal, there are concerns regarding rumoured ‘anti-consumer’ practices. There’s a cynicism circulating that Microsoft are killing games and Sony are saving them, but I’m yet to see the hard evidence – not rumour – of this. Perhaps that evidence is days away. I’m a patient man and can wait for it. The realms of digital ownership and no used games are already part and parcel of successful services, such as Steam. Whilst excusing an action because another has done it isn’t acceptable, neither is focusing the blame directly on one source. This is where gaming is heading. We’ve been financially supporting these models for years with our own wallets.

The electronic popcorn Microsoft has proposed will not reduce the price of games. However, it may go some way to ensure that they don’t need to increase for the foreseeable future. The message Microsoft sent was that solely a videogame console doesn’t cut the financial mustard anymore. Therefore, supplemental services are required so as to keep the ‘core’ experience viable. Like popcorn, they are an unessential part of the medium that is enjoyed by some to keep the doors open for all, even if it does make the place a bit of a mess.

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Microsoft and Sony have now presented two different consoles with separate core ideologies and neither are spilling oil into the sea. They’re both trying to stop the market from crashing in different ways. For Microsoft, one tactic is to introduce as much electronic popcorn as possible. Best of luck to both of them.

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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