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Opinion: How Microsoft might lose me with next-gen consoles

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It feels somewhat difficult to believe that we’re five years in to this console generation – if this were 2006 we’d have just seen the release of the Xbox 360 a few months ago – with the PS3 still to arrive on British shores. Traditionally this is the point in a consoles life cycle where we start to get glimpses of the “next generation” of consoles – the successors of the current lineup that we saw in the mid 2000’s with the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii replacing the original Xbox, PS2 and Nintendo Gamecube respectively.

And yet with tough economic times it seems that console manufacturers are finding it difficult to justify releasing a brand new £300 games console to the masses – especially since there’s nothing really wrong with the current lineup that we’ve got now. People are buying the software – why bother fruitlessly making them buy a brand new box?

Both Sony and Microsoft have made it clear that they want their consoles to have a ten year lifespan – meaning that the Xbox 360 probably won’t completely die out until late 2015. That gives the 360 about four more years left in it.

Though it may sound odd I’ve already begun considering who I might side with come the next wave of consoles. I had a PS1 but swapped it for my uncles Xbox (I know, right?), and then I just naturally transitioned over to the Xbox 360. Halo was a big franchise for me and, well – I couldn’t go and miss out on finishing the fight now could I?

It was only last year that I bought my PS3 – some time after E3 and over the course of the year I’ve decided that if Microsoft don’t change a lot of things I’ll almost certainly be jumping ship to the PS4, or whatever Sony decide to call it.

Xbox Live needs to be free

Charging for an online service was something that Microsoft could get away with for a while – no other consoles were doing a good job of it in the previous generation of consoles, and the PS3 was suffering from poor sales until a few years ago. Microsoft were dominant because they were so much better than the competition.

But now Sony are starting to catch up with basic online functionality and the PlayStation Store occasionally has some good sales on. Xbox Live seems insistent on giving me more stuff that I don’t want – I don’t want Twitter or Facebook on my Xbox, I’ve got a computer for that. No – all I want to do is play my games online. Why should I stick with Microsoft and pay £40 a year for the pleasure when I can get the exact same service on a different system for free?

This also causes problems for customers – I’m a huge fan of the BBC iPlayer and bringing it to the Xbox 360 would be an absolute joy – but it’s not happening because Microsoft would want to charge you for it (which would be illegal for the BBC to do). The PS3 and Nintendo Wii have been enjoying access to iPlayer for yonks. iPlayer on the Xbox probably wouldn’t even cost Microsoft anything – since the content is streamed from the BBC and the app would most likely be developed by the BBC as well. Thanks for nothing, Microsoft.

Ditch the in-dashboard advertisements

This sort of ties in with Xbox Live being a premium service. I’m paying £40 a year for a service that should be free and on top of that Microsoft deems it appropriate to bombard my dashboard with irrelevant advertising. In the last week I’ve seen ads for Lynx and a brand of Margarine.

Advertisements for music, movies and games are fair enough – by all means point out products that I might be interested in, but everything else strikes me as irrelevant (Margarine, really?). I’d be fine with such advertisements if Xbox Live was free, but it isn’t, so I’m not.

This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen ads like this on the dashboard either – Wired UK editor and chum Nate Lanxon had an almighty whinge about the situation over a year ago and it would seem that things still haven’t changed.

Microsoft points need to be abolished

Does this really need to be explained? Display everything in the users local currency – I’m fed up of looking up how much some DLC costs on the Internet. Just display everything in real money. Simple.

Exclusive games

Each big console manufacturer has exclusive (or first party) titles. These are the heavy hitters – the ones that can be the deciding factor in which console you purchase, and in my honest opinion this is an area where Sony have an enormous advantage: its exclusive titles are generally of a higher quality than those published by Microsoft.

Sure they may be two completely different genres but which would you buy? Peter Molyneux’s bastard child of an RPG or one of the most charming, beloved, and creative platformers of our time? It’s a no brainer. The only “must have” franchises that Microsoft own for me right now are Halo and Gears of War. Halo developer Bungie has gone multiplatform and won’t be making any new Halo games, and you could argue that the PS3’s counterpart to Gears of War is the Uncharted series – so by jumping ship I’m not particularly missing out on anything.

Physical media

We seem to be living in a world that’s pushing digital downloads more than ever – the music industry is doing it, movies are slowly warming to it and with video games it’s already a reality – full games are already sold on services like Steam, Xbox Live, and the PlayStation Network.

Unfortunately digital downloads don’t provide all that many benefits to the customer. Sure you get to play the content “instantly” and it doesn’t take up shelf space, but then I’ve got a degree of patience and am able to wait for the postie to work his magic and as for taking up shelf space then yeah, that’s kind of what shelves are for. While businesses keep pushing for digital downloads I discover just how much I value the real thing.

I like owning my games – rather than a “license”, I like being able to resell them, I like being able to carry a disc around with me to play at a friends house, I like being able to let someone borrow a game from me. Digital downloads let you do none of these things, and for me a console that doesn’t support physical media is a no go – this applies to Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.

Thankfully Sony appears to be in favor of physical media – perhaps learning a harsh lesson from the failure of the PSP Go – but that’s a point in their favour, and with Microsoft claiming that digital downloads are “the future” that’s a mark against them – though I’ll have to wait and see if the next Xbox features a physical media drive or not to be sure.

Reliability issues

Through the course of owning an Xbox 360 I’ve gone through two consoles (I had to send one of those in for repairs too), at least seven headsets, three play and charge kits and three controllers just through normal use. Why is Microsofts hardware so hideously unreliable? I can accept the typical wear and tear but come on – seven headsets?  Throughout the course of my original Xbox I had one headset that lasted me longer – and I only had one controller break on me. I’ve never known of a console to have hardware problems this bad and it puts a serious dent in Microsofts reputation. I’m not paying for its mistakes again.

Of course a lot of this stuff is speculative but right now all of the signs are pushing me to favor Sony – a free online service, reliable hardware, better games, and a more open attitude towards what can go on its platform. If Microsoft doesn’t get its act together then I can’t see myself sticking with its platform come the next generation of consoles – and I’m sure that I’m not the only one.

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Written by Pokeh

February 11, 2011 at 3:11 pm

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