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Is Xbox One’s biggest problem Microsoft itself?

Before I truly get into this, I need to provide a bit of a disclaimer. I love Xbox. Ever since I first bought the original console back in 2002, an Xbox has always been my primary console, whether it was that console, the Xbox 360, or the Xbox One. Despite being a true Xbox Enthusiast, I am an Apple man through and through. I own an iPhone, an iPad, a MacBook Pro, and a Mac Pro, and it is extremely unlikely that I will ever buy a PC again. With that out in the open, let me explain why I think the biggest problem with the Xbox One is the company that created it.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Before the console was even released, Microsoft’s corporate meddling soiled the Xbox brand with a launch event that will go down in history as one of the most misjudged console launches ever. Lots has been said about the press launch of the Xbox One, from the lack of focus on gaming, to the necessity of the console to always be online, and the weirdness of not being able to lend a game disk to a friend. It all came across as the ideas of the out-of-touch executives in charge of a multi-billion dollar company who wouldn’t have a clue what the difference between an FPS and an RPG was.

Xbox One Launch

I can only assume it was these same executives who made the same decisions on the hardware configuration. Several hardware decisions were made that didn’t correlate with what gamers wanted. First of all there’s Kinect 2.0, but we’ll talk about that later, it doesn’t stop there though. How about the decision to include a TV input and guide, or the one-foot-in one-foot-out approach to 4k? Microsoft wanted the console to be the central hub of the living room in every house, this isn’t what gamers wanted though. Adding a true HDMI bypass to the console to allow Cable or Satellite TV to be routed through the machine adds hardware costs. Including a TV guide in the OS reduces the amount of processing resources and therefore lowers the power of the machine. Enabling the console to output a 4k signal, but not providing enough processing power in the machine to generate 4k images seems crazy. All of these decisions create costs which squeeze the budget for the other essential parts like the CPU, GPU, and memory. These costs weren’t quite as bad as Xbox’s biggest boondoggle though.

Kinect 2.0, where to start with Kinect 2.0? Let’s start with the hardware and the technology. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with the hardware and the technology featured in Kinect. The problem is that while it is very clever, and works pretty well, it doesn’t work fast enough to control a game properly. What’s more, hardcore gamers aren’t that interested in playing those type of games. Microsoft should have realized this from the fairly muted response to the original Kinect system that was released for Xbox 360. Instead of listening to their consumer base, Microsoft decided to double down and force Kinect 2.0 on everyone who bought an Xbox One at launch. This was foolish for a couple of reasons. First and foremost was that it forced Microsoft to sell the console for a $100 more than its rival Sony was selling the Playstation 4. The other reason was that at launch there were only two games that used Kinect; they were Zoo Tycoon, that used motion controls as an extra option in the game, and the truly awful Fighter Within, that used full motion controls but was so bad that you wouldn’t want to. While I do like the fact that Kinect automatically signs me in, allows me to use voice controls, and can enter a download code via a QR code, these benefits are not worth an extra $100.

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Currently my biggest issue with the Xbox One is the operating system. I was excited when I first heard that the OS on the console was being “upgraded” to a version of Windows 10. My excitement lasted right up to the point that I started using it. I just find the home screen is, cluttered and unstable. What do I mean by unstable? Well when you start your console up, the home screen pops up and will normally reboot itself at least twice as it tries to connect online to the Xbox Store. I’m not talking about the system shutting down just that the home screen itself resets a few times. For a company that made its name from creating an operating system, I do find it strange how much they have struggled to make user-friendly operating systems for their consoles. The original Xbox 360 operating system was fairly awful but they changed it to a pretty good system. The original Xbox One OS looked nice but was really slow. This new operating system is a lot quicker but I find it to be quite cluttered and not overly user-friendly.

This article has been quite negative so far, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is Phil Spencer. When Xbox One launched, Microsoft’s Xbox Division was in the hands of Marc Whitten. While Whitten did have success during his period of leadership, particularly spearheading Xbox Live, he is also the man responsible for Kinect, Xbox Avatars, and the Xbox One hardware. Since taking over, Phil Spencer has brought us some truly brilliant exclusives, backwards compatibility, and far superior E3 presentations. Spencer has put the Xbox division’s focus squarely back onto gaming and that can only be a good thing for us gamers. There are still some dubious decisions being made, HoloLens has me concerned, as does the announcement that all Xbox exclusives will be released on PC, but Phil has earned some goodwill and trust, so we’ll give them a chance. I just hope that he is in on these decisions and not having things forced on him.

Phil Spencer

Microsoft is a behemoth of a company worth billions of dollars. I understand that it is ultimately responsible to its shareholders and that at the end of the day the sole point of the company existing is to turn a profit. What I also understand though, is that you need to sell a game console to gamers. If you give gamers what they want, they will buy your product. The Microsoft executives need to listen to people like Phil Spencer who not only have great business acumen but are also devoted gamers.

Steve Clist
Joint Editor-in-Chief at Xbox Enthusiast as well as a contributor for Nintendo Enthusiast and PlayStation Enthusiast. Steve is a musician and gamer who loves sharing his passion for each. You will normally find him at the front of the grid in racing games or on the other end of the kill cam when you've just been killed in a first-person shooter.

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