I’m normally not one to shy away from a nice shiny new console. So nice. So shiny. Yet, I find myself being drawn to the inevitable conclusion that I won’t be buying an Xbox One any time soon. Here’s why.
There is one important caveat before I start, and that it’s that I’m thinking here as a consumer, not as a technology journalist. I own too many consoles (just ask any adult member of my family; the kids are delighted), but several of them sit there primarily because, at one time or another, I’ve worked as a games journalist and they’ve been, in effect, tools of the trade. As a freelancer I’m not going to throw money away per se, so if there’s work on the table I may well end up with one.
But as a consumer who likes video games quite a lot? That’s a different story — and it’s not really one that’s all that much about the games.
It’s most certainly not that I doubt that Microsoft can bring it when it comes to powerhouse gaming franchises. Unlike the woes that have befallen Nintendo’s Wii U in terms of third party developers, Microsoft has both the track record and the cold, hard cash to throw around to get big-name titles onto its shiny new box of tricks. I have a standard rule for personal console buying that I’ve applied to every single games system I’ve ever purchased, and it’s this: There must be six unique titles that I want and will play for the system before I’ll buy.
“Killer” applications are all well and good, but I’d rather have a bit of depth if you’re expecting me to drop north of $500 on a games machine. The Xbox One will probably have those games in relatively short order. I’m not wild about the blurry picture for second-hand games sales, but that’s more from an ownership stake than a resale one, as it’s rare for me to actually trade any games in at all.
The issue is that the Xbox One isn’t being pitched as just a games machine, and that’s where I tilt towards not being that keen on it, for two key reasons.
Firstly, a lot of the hype at its launch centered around factors that either aren’t relevant to me (or many other Australians), such as “fantasy” NFL football and links with US cable providers. There’s one major Pay-TV provider in Australia in Foxtel, and some minnows such as Fetch, and that’s it. In one sense, that should make any kinds of TV-based rights agreements easier than the mix in the States, but history has shown that rights issues in the Australian TV market are often slow to resolve. Microsoft might have all the will in the world, but then the same was (arguably) true for Hybrid TV and the TiVO, and that didn’t manage to live up to its lofty plans.
Secondly, and more of a concern for both the Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 is the increasing use of online, cloud-based gaming and entertainment options.
I cannot put it any simpler that this; my home/office Internet connection sucks. It sucks badly. How badly? I recently ran a comparison of my average home speeds against worldwide averages, and found that I’d get a better connection speed (on average) in Malawi. Nothing against the fine people of Malawi (and there’s the obvious caveat that the number of users is probably even more metropolitan-averaged and smaller than in Australia), but it does pinpoint an issue for a service that may want to save, store or deliver games or other content over the Internet.
My connection simply can’t keep up. I have an Apple TV, and it’s fine for streaming content across my local network, but if I want to rent a new release HD movie, I have to start making those plans the day before I actually want to watch it. I’m technically on the tail end of the current three-year NBN plan, but let’s just say that I’m not optimistic of connecting up any time faster before the turn of the decade, no matter who wins the upcoming election.
As such, I struggle to see the consumer-end value in the Xbox One proposition for myself, and, I suspect, a large number of other Australians. It’s not that Microsoft can’t deliver the games, and maybe, just maybe the other content. But without a pipe able to send it to me in a reasonably timely fashion, it’s just another power-sucking box sitting underneath the TV screen — and I’ve already got enough of those.