Editorial: What the Hell Is Microsoft Thinking?

Better get your Ethernet cables ready.

Xbox Durango! The PC that looks like a video game console!

Rumors about Microsoft’s Durango have been growing, especially since the PlayStation 4 announcement event. Microsoft, who have been silent on the specifics of their next console, have yet to even set a date for an announcement event. Microsoft’s silence, however, has not stopped a series of leaks about everything from the technical specs to features of the new console. Last week brought a small bombshell about features for the next Xbox, with screenshots of the Durango XDK being posted for the gaming public to see. The screenshots include a hardware overview for the console detailing a number of features that will be incorporated with the next-gen system. While none of these features have been officially announced, it is not too early to look at the potential fallout from what has been leaked.

For every person that makes the decision of buying a Durango console, Microsoft has decided to compound that mistake by including a new version of their Kinect hardware. Not only will Kinect be included with each console, but now it will be required for the system to function! Besides using Kinect to further alienate the physically retarded, I have to imagine that Microsoft is trying to entice the casual gamers to buy the Durango. Many of those same casual gamers neglected to buy a Wii U, even after the success of the Wii within the same demographic. This could be a losing proposition for Microsoft, especially if the Wii U is proof that the home console fad is over for casual gamers. While the exact extent of use for the new Kinect is not known, the hardware overview alludes to a physical controller only being used in a few of the rarer system interactions.

In November of 2008, Microsoft introduced the ability to install any game to the HDD of the 360. This was practically required, due to the enormous amount of noise the 360 generated when reading from the optical media. With the next Xbox, installation to the hard drive will be required. In much the same way a home PC works, the Blu-Ray disc will only be used to deliver the game to the purchaser. While it will be necessary to install all games to the hard drive, the disc will probably still be required to run the game, much the same way that a computer would function. Specifics about the hard drive have yet to be finalized, but Microsoft has said it will be of “considerable” size. What is not mentioned is what speed the HDD will be, a detail that is important when games will be fully run from the HDD.

Oh wait, [insert generic FPS title here] was released today, and the brotards are overloading the servers.

What do you mean “no connection to the server?” I just want to play Lost Odyssey!

The most controversial of the features has been rumored since last month, the need for a constant internet connection. With the disastrous release of SimCity still fresh in many gamers’ minds, it is easy to wonder exactly what the hell Microsoft is thinking with this move. EA, Blizzard, and Ubisoft have all been hit with a massive amount of backlash in the past for utilizing DRM that requires constant internet access, however Microsoft is taking it to the next step with its “Always On, Always Connected” design. Instead of gamers only being punished for buying SimCity or Diablo 3 on launch day, they will now be punished for the mere fact of owning the next Xbox. While online gameplay will still be hosted on servers specifically for the game, there still will have to be communication to Microsoft’s servers, and it can be assumed that if a gamer loses connection to the Microsoft server, they will be booted from their game. Somehow, Microsoft thinks it can support the seven million Call of Duty players, which is strange because EA could not support a million SimCity players.

As I stated before, Microsoft has been very tight lipped about the Durango, and while these features have yet to been announced, it is reasonable to expect them to become official when Microsoft decides to formally announce their console. Forcing all games to be installed to the HDD could have some interesting consequences for Microsoft. The new console will have a x86 CPU and will more than likely run Windows 8 in some shape, which could open up the console to pirates. Perhaps pirates will be able to crack the installed content in the same way that is done on PCs. All that will stand in the way is the constant internet connection, but that could be circumvented as well.

What strikes me the most with last week’s leak is the stark contrast between Microsoft and Sony. Sony’s PS4 announcement seemed to indicate that their desire was to keep the gamer in the driver seat, however the leaked features for the Durango scream Microsoft trying to tighten its reigns on the consumers. Julian summed it up the best when he said that the Durango is heading towards being a worse value-proposition than the Wii U. That is a tall order, but maybe that is their goal, and if they are able to achieve it, Microsoft will finally be first in the list of home consoles. That is, as long as you are looking at the “Worst Console of the Eighth Generation” list.

8 comments on “Editorial: What the Hell Is Microsoft Thinking?”

  1. If all these things are true, it’s not only a matter of being (easily) worse than the software-starved but conceptually strong Wii U, but being worse than the Maybe 5 Good Games original Wii console.
    I had no interest in the original Xbox and got a 360 when PS3 took its sweet time getting its shit together. These days, my broken 360 sits in a corner, not missed for a second. If all this shit is true about the Xbox3, it’s not even a matter of “good games might fix it”. It’s simply unpurchaseable.

  2. I wonder if these leaks are MS’s way of noncommittally announcing these specs to field public reaction.

    DRM is such a ham-fisted way of trying to keep the consumer honest and it pays no heed to the collateral damage it does (like wrecking consumer good will). Who here would have bought Sim City if it were on Steam and required no internet connection (likely increasing the max world size in the process)? I would have. And even though Sim City still sold well, it wouldn’t have sold WORSE in my hypothetical case.

    So far, Nintendo has put out a sad attempt to keep their Wii momentum (that died out 2 and a half years ago), Sony has shown us a press event with all the substance that buzzwords and pixie farts can possibly contain, and MS is potentially poised to put out the most restricted piece of DRM laden hardware I’ve yet to even hear of.

    So, all in all, lookin’ good!

  3. The harddrive installs are probably mandatory in an effort to mitigate the fact that Microsoft has opted to use far slower RAM than the PS4.

  4. With regards to the always online DRM, for me the issue remains and will always remain to be support. Once internet use becomes as ubiquitous as telephone or television (that is, if it already hasn’t) and once companies (EA, Blizzard, and hypothetically Microsoft) make their financial obligation equal or greater than their anti-piracy obligation, the idea being always-online isn’t really that much of an issue.

    Of course, if world peace could be achieved and the hungry were fed and rich Americans were taxed more, the world would be an awesome place, too.

  5. @Julian GDDR5 has the higher bandwidth numbers than DDR3, however GDDR5 is just the graphic version of DDR3. The memory bandwidth will only matter if the other components can generate enough memory to result in a bottleneck. The speed of the memory would only be noticeable if Sony’s clock rate was insanely higher than Microsoft.

    @Mel The best thing about DRM is that there is a lot of evidence that it is more of a money sink than anything else. The developers of Witcher 2 released a DRM-free version of the game on GOG at the same time of the DRM laden version. To their surprise the DRM version was pirated far more than the DRM-free version, because of this the company decided to abandon DRM for all future games.

    So much money goes into the development of DRM that companies could probably drop the price of a title by ten dollars and sell more copies because of the cheaper price and the lack of castrating DRM. Also, take pirating numbers with a grain of salt, many people will purchase a title and download a crack just for the sake of avoiding DRM.

  6. @James: I’d have thought the faster memory would make all the difference for streaming engines [such as most anything which runs an open world game]. At any rate, it is my understanding that PS3 and Durango will basically have the same CPU [though some of the Durango’s cores will be reserved for OS]. The PS4 sounds like it will have a much more capable GPU though.

  7. PS4 will push 1.85 terraflops, while Durango will push 1.2 terraflops.

    Wii U is about 300 gigaflops.

    Though of course flops isn’t exactly the best way to measure a console’s capabilities.

  8. @Julian Faster memory can make the difference in such games. The problem is that it is hard to see the difference if the speed of the memory is not huge. My guess would be that the clock speed for both consoles will be similar.

    It seems like Sony and Microsoft are focused on having consoles that will merely survive the rest of the 1080p generation, with their successors coming when 4k gaming takes off. When the PS3 and 360 were released, they had the specs that outdid most, if not all, home gaming PCs. However both consoles screwed up because they did not have the necessary RAM for most games to render at 1080p.

    The PS4’s hardware is indeed better, but because of how similar the two consoles are hardware-wise, I suspect that the bulk of dual-platform games will look identical.

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