There is no doubt that this generation has been an uphill battle for the Xbox brand. With 2013’s lackluster reveal and launch of Xbox One, which led to a less powerful and more expensive console then the competition. This was the start of several situations Xbox would find themselves in this generation. Whether it’s the cancellation of Scalebound or closing down Lionhead Studios, Xbox has had a rough generation. However, along with these negatives have been some overwhelming positives that cannot be diminished. A change of leadership under Phil Spencer has certainly led to many positive changes. From the hiring of Matt Booty and the doubling down on first-party studios with massive purchases of developers such as Playground Games, Obsidian, Ninja Theory and more. As well as these purchases, Xbox has been building their own new studio The Initiative, which houses such industry talent as Darrel Gallagher and Drew Murray. In a generation where we have seen more studio closures then new one’s opening, this is a great thing to see. With E3 2019, just a month away Xbox seems more ready than ever, with promises of new IPs, next-generation hardware and xCloud on the horizon. Things truly seem to be turning around for the brand. However, there are a few key issues that many Xbox fans have been acknowledging that Microsoft has been very silent about.
Xbox Gold Versus PC
This generation Xbox has brought more focus to the PC ecosystem, this first began with the Play Anywhere program. This program allowed consumers to purchase a game like ReCore, Quantum Break or Halo Wars 2, on either PC or Xbox and only need one copy to play on either platform. This was a great consumer-minded program, that unfortunately was not adopted by many developers outside of Microsoft’s first-party teams. Now in 2019, PC players have full access to Xbox’s first party games through the Windows Store. Whether you want to race with your friends through the streets of Britain in Forza Horizon 4 or fight for the 7 seas in Sea Of Thieves as a PC player these options are open to you for only the cost of the game.
However, this is at the detriment of the Xbox console player base. While PC gamers get to enjoy online features of Xbox ecosystem exclusive games, as well as features such as party chat free of charge, Xbox console owners are forced to spend $60 on a 12 month Xbox Live Gold membership. This is not how you should treat people, who go out and spend hundreds of dollars to play on your console, to then turn around to charge them access to the online aspects of the console. This needs to change, whether in terms of Xbox Gold not being required to access online functionality on Xbox One, or PC players pay for Xbox Gold as well to access these features.
A few years ago, I would have told you there is no chance that Xbox would ever break down the online paywall for Xbox Gold. Now with Xbox Game Pass in play, it could mean Xbox could be in a position to remove this wall. This could be used as a massive E3 announcement to launch into the next console generation. While the likelihood of this happening is very slim, something does need to be done to rectify this problem.
Free-to-Play Isn’t Free To Play
When you hear the words “free -to-play” you would assume that this means, you know, free? Not on Xbox, in the Xbox ecosystem, you once again need an Xbox Gold membership in order to play games such as Fortnite, Smite, Realm Royale and more online. Not only does this make the term “free to play” redundant, but the oversight on this issue also becomes twice as bad. When both competing platforms PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch don’t require PS Plus or Nintendo Online in order to play these games. Xbox Gold feels like its being harbored down by archaic rules that have been around since the beginning of Xbox Live. With the rise of popularity of free to play games this generation, this requirement needs to be reviewed by Xbox. It would essentially cost them nothing to remove the gold requirement for free-to-play games, so just do it, especially before the competition can grab a hold of it and use it as a marketing point.
Cross-play Needs To Stay Optional
I have been quite public in my views of cross-play and how both cross play and cross progression are the future, especially for online focused games. However, it has been brought to my attention via quite a few of my followers who are huge Sea of Thieves fans how cross-play has been ruining their experiences online. With currently no opt-out option of cross-play in Sea of Thieves Xbox console players can be matched up in the same world with PC players. There is a host of problems that can come with this unfortunately, mouse and keyboard provide an advantage to PC players over players using a gamepad. One of the biggest complaints has been the amount of cheating and hacking in Sea of Thieves as a whole.
While I am not myself saying that PC players are all cheaters by any stretch of the imagination, however, it is a lot easier to mod and hack on the PC platform then it is on the Xbox console. While hacking could affect a small minority of players, being able to disable cross-play so you can decrease the risk of it happening to you by 99% could be attractive to many. While Xbox has made a huge marketing push about their pro-consumer stance on cross-play which I truly admire. My big issue is that cross-play should be an option, not mandatory. If players do not want to mix with a different player base that should be 100% their choice, especially since the Xbox console player has to play to access the online aspects of Sea of Thieves and PC player does not. While Rare has commented that they will be adding cross-play opt-out soon, there is no solid date for its release. After this week’s massive anniversary update not having this feature, it feels like Sea of Thieves console fans may be waiting a while longer yet.
xCloud and Bringing Game Streaming Forward
Streaming video games may be one of the most ambitious technological pushes forward we have seen this generation. While many people forget this was part of PlayStation’s vision after the launch of the PS4, with the primary focus being PS Now. Unfortunately, adoption rates have been slow due to a wide variety of factors. Availability of consistent high-speed internet has been an uphill struggle just in North America, not including other parts of the world. Add in the fact that if the internet is unstable it can cause performance drops and input lag which can ruin anyone’s gaming experience. With Microsoft leading the way with cloud computing could this possibly be the answer to a strong and consistent streaming platform? Maybe, however, Xbox has a much bigger battle ahead of them, what is that battle? Convincing people that streaming their games is OK. Despite many consumers adopting services such as Spotify for their music needs and services like Hulu, Netflix and more to fill their TV entertainment needs. However, gaming due to internet accessibility and the current inability of streaming to deliver experiences anywhere close to playing the game on native hardware remains untapped. It will take a lot of marketing and giving consumers hands-on with the technology in order for it to really take off. With public trials coming later this year, Xbox truly has its work cut out for them.
I have been a massive Xbox fan since originally purchasing my Xbox 360 back in the late 2000s. They have created some of my favorite games and experiences this generation. Completing Cuphead remains one of my happiest gaming moments this generation, and State of Decay 2 remains a game that I will start a new community every few months and then lose myself for weeks. With 2019 and the future looking bright, it would be a huge move if they could address some of these issues and continue moving forward. With E3 2019 just around the corner, anything could happen?