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.
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.