7 Things We Don't Know About the Xbox One
Tuesday (May 21) was a big day for Microsoft, as the company finally took the wraps off its next-generation game console, the Xbox One.
With a number of built-in features, including Skype and improvements to both the Kinect camera and game controller, the console unveiling was aimed at creating a lot of positive buzz for the final version's holiday release.
But there are questions still unanswered. With no big pronouncements expected from Microsoft until the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles in three weeks, we're left to wonder what's up with a few particular issues.
Will independent games be left in the dust?
In the past, Microsoft let independent game developers offer products through the Indie Games channel on Xbox Live.
But Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison told Eurogamer yesterday (May 22) that the channel will be discontinued with the launch of the Xbox One, and that indie games will be thrown into the same category as titles from corporate behemoths like EA and Activision.
Many up-and-coming game makers may have to turn elsewhere to get attention, such as to the PlayStation 4, where Sony is welcoming independent products with open arms.
Microsoft needs to address what it can do for smaller game publishers, because turning its back on them could be bad news in the long run.
Switching to live TV is great — but who supports it?
One feature prominent in the Xbox One presentation was the ability to switch between an ongoing game and a television show, as well as the Snap Mode, where you could split the screen and do two things at once with a live feed.
But Microsoft failed to mention which cable and satellite providers will support the Xbox One.
What's the point of purchasing a console if it doesn't support your DirecTV service? Microsoft needs to clarify this feature at E3, and explain exactly which TV providers are on board.
Can the Xbox One play used games?
There's a rumor that you won't be able to play a copy of an Xbox One game on more than one machine without paying a fee. In other words, you couldn't borrow a game, or buy a second-hand game, without paying Microsoft.
This could be bad news for those who want to show off games to their friends, or trade it in at their local GameStop store to get something else. (Following the Xbox One presentation, GameStop's stock took a serious dip.)
Harrison tried to clarify this situation to both Eurogamer and Wired, but apparently not well enough — he had to speak to Eurogamer about it twice.
From what Harrison said, it appears each copy of a game is tied to a single player's Xbox Live account.
A registered owner of a copy of a game can play the game anywhere, including a friend's house.
But if that friend wants to continue playing the game after the game owner leaves, he'll have to pay for his own copy — technically, a license, since the full game will already have been copied to the second Xbox One's hard drive and only needs to be unlocked.
Members of the registered owner's household will not have to pay for their own licenses, Harrison told Wired and Eurogamer, but one copy of the game cannot be running at the same time on two different Xbox Ones in the same household.
Used games follow the same logic. Since all games are immediately copied from the game disc to the Xbox One's hard drive, and game discs are not needed for subsequent play, the game disc has essentially become disposable.
"Once you put the disc into your machine, you never need it again," Harrison told Wired yesterday. "You don’t actually have to have a physical disc after that point, but you can then share that disc with your friends, which is basically a great way of distributing the content to other people."
But does that mean those friends get the game for free? Absolutely not.
"The bits that are on the disc, I can give to anybody else," Harrison told Eurogamer, "but if we both want to play it at the same time, we both have to own it."
As for buying and selling used games at GameStop or another game retailer, Harrison was cagey.
"We will have a system where you can take that digital content and trade a previously played game at a retail store," he told Eurogamer. "We're not announcing the details of that today."
Is the Kinect required?
The Kinect is a cool little motion-controlled device for the Xbox 360, but it's not necessary if you prefer playing with a controller.
However, on the Xbox One, you may not have a choice. It's being reported that the motion device will be required to do anything on the system.
Harrison dodged a direct question about that from Wired, saying only that "Kinect and Xbox One are one and the same."
This scenario sounds rather limiting, especially to those who don't have ample room to activate a Kinect, or lack the physicality to use it.
A full explanation of how the system works would be much appreciated.
Does Xbox One always need to be online?
Most of Xbox One's features that were revealed yesterday indicate that the system will need a continuous, or at least frequent, online connection to operate.
The presentation failed to address one of the bigger issues making the rounds before the presentation: Does the console always need to be connected to the Internet to play games?
Not everyone has the benefit of a high-speed network, after all. (Some people still use AOL dial-up.)
Playing catch-up the next day, Harrison couldn't fully answer the question.
"It's not required that you are connected all the time, every second of every day," he told Wired.
But when asked about rumors that the Xbox One becomes inoperable if it can't ping Microsoft servers at least once per day, Harrison replied, "I don't think that's what was said."
Is the Xbox One backward compatible?
In a word, no, at least not where game discs are concerned.
"The system is based on a different core architecture, so back-compat doesn't really work from that perspective," Xbox Live vice president Marc Whitten told The Verge.
A lot of money has been invested in Xbox 360 and Xbox Live Arcade games, and, for the time being, it seems like they'll be played only on that platform. (Whitten said Microsoft would continue to manufacture the 360 after the One's launch.)
Lack of backward compatibility is understandable if the company wants to reserve the system for "new" experiences, but those who prefer Microsoft's current offerings may feel burned by the deal.
Microsoft, at the very least, should offer some comfort in this department, kind of like how Sony plans to offer PlayStation 3 games over the PlayStation 4's cloud-streaming services.
By the way, the 360 controllers won't work on the Xbox One either, a Microsoft spokesperson told The Escapist. But did you really expect them to?
What's the price?
Finally, there's the big question: How much will the Xbox One cost? We know it'll be on store shelves before Christmas, but we still don't how much it'll set us back.
Estimates are pointing at anywhere between $400 and $500, with the possibility of a subscription-based model that's tied in with a two-year Xbox Live account.
We'll probably — hopefully — find out all these answers at E3 in just a few weeks' time.