News, Views, and Reviews
It’s hard to believe it, but this time last year, we were hearing rumors about the next-gen consoles coming from Sony and Microsoft. The PS4 was unveiled at the end of February, and the Xbox One was revealed in May. Now, with both systems released and selling well, we’re already hearing rumors of what Sony and Microsoft have planned for 2014. The rumors surrounding Sony and its PlayStation brand seem to deal more with their services and streaming plans, and they are interesting, but the recent rumors regarding the Xbox One were much more interesting in my opinion. Keep in mind, these are just rumors. Microsoft hasn’t confirmed or denied anything at this point.
The first rumor shouldn’t be a big surprise, but it is still really cool. A picture can say 1,000 words:
The Xbox has released a number of special editions over the years. There was the original Xbox 360 “Elite” edition that featured a much bigger hard drive than the regular version, and a cool black instead of white paint job. After that, there was a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 special edition, a Gears of War 3 edition, and a Halo 4 edition. Each of these special, game-themed variations came bundled with that game and an extra controller, and the Xbox 360 and controllers had special matching paint jobs. These controllers were also sold separately for those that liked the paint job but didn’t need to buy a whole new system. I believe each of these special editions also featured a larger hard drive capacity than the regular versions at that time. For example, when the MW3 edition came out, the standard hard drive size was still only 60 GB, so a 250 GB HDD on the MW3 edition was special. But, when the Halo 4 edition came out, the standard Xbox 360 had a 250 GB HDD, so a 350 GB HDD on the Halo 4 edition was special.
IF this Xbox One special Titanfall edition is real, there are still some questions: Will its hard drive be bigger than the Xbox One “regular”500 GB HDD? Will it be bundled with an additional controller? Titanfall is scheduled to be released in March, which by some strange definition, still puts it in the “launch window” of the Xbox One. Will customers be angry that a special edition is already being released in the console’s launch window?
Beyond these questions and concerns, I would be happy if this rumor was true. I think many people are waiting for that “killer app” or special game that justifies buying a new console, and Titanfall is supposed to be that game. Microsoft will unquestionably want to market their exclusive “killer app launch title” as much as they can, and a special Xbox One Titanfall edition is a good way to do that. (That also makes me wonder if they’ll release a special Xbox 360 Titanfall edition? Why not?) Judging by the rumored box art, and based on the fact that MW3, Gears of War 3, and Halo 4 all featured local 2 player split-screen options, and Titanfall does not, I would guess that the Titanfall edition will not have a second controller. So the FINAL question regarding the Titanfall edition remains: how much will it cost? I predict that it will either be THE SAME PRICE as the “regular” Xbox One or at the most, only $50 more. I don’t think it will have a second controller OR a bigger hard drive, so adding more than the cost of the game, $50, and a special paint job, won’t justify any higher price than that.
This first rumor is not a big surprise, and nothing too dramatic in the video game industry. The OTHER rumors about the Xbox One are much more interesting, but if they are true, we won’t see them released until October or November. That’s also important to keep in mind, as that will be about an entire year after the original release of the Xbox One, in November of 2013. What are those rumors?
How does a smaller, cheaper, digital-only Xbox One sound? It’s no big secret that the Xbox One was originally designed as an always-online, mostly digital device. The current, “regular” version has a Blu-ray disc drive, but the original plans for the Xbox One was to run every game from the hard drive, like a PC. Buying a disc would just be a delivery method of copying the game to the hard drive, as an alternative for those that don’t have the internet capacity for downloading large games. Also like a PC, then, each Xbox One would have to be periodically “checked” online to confirm the digital contents of its hard drive were legitimate and not pirated copies. There was some outrage that the Xbox One would have to be connected to the internet all the time, so Microsoft changed their plans and kept the disc drive functioning like a “regular” console. This means that, unless you buy a digital-only copy of a game, the game disc HAS to be in the disc tray to run.
A “digital only” Xbox One was supposed to have other advantages. Families and friends could share their digital libraries with up to ten people, for example. Microsoft even said they planned on creating online markets for selling and trading “used” digital copies of games, something that the PC market currently lacks. If Xbox Live became more like Valve’s “Steam” online store, and offered big sales on games and the ability to re-download any game in your library, any number of times, on any different machine you wanted, the “digital only” version of console gaming would be just as cheap and convenient as the PC gaming world.
It has always been my theory that Microsoft backed off their original plans for the “digital only” Xbox One, not just because of customer outrage, but because of immense pressure from retailers like Best Buy and Game Stop behind the scenes. Reducing used-game sales would be a big blow to stores like Game Stop, and even new copies of games generally have higher mark up at retail stores than the hardware provides. With a brand new console coming to market, Microsoft probably agreed to “play nice” with the retailers for at least one more year before they roll out their original “digital only” plans.
That leads us back to the rumors of a disc-less Xbox One. Pulling out the Blu-ray drive will make the console cheaper to manufacture for one thing, and they won’t have to pay licensing fees to Sony for another thing. Microsoft could spend the rest of the year preparing to roll out their new and improved Xbox Live later this year with this rumored Xbox One. Launching a bigger “digital only” presence online is inevitable, so Microsoft will also have to prepare themselves for any backlash from retailers. Giving them this one year head start, I think, is a good compromise. Plus, there is no reason to believe that MS can’t KEEP SELLING THE REGULAR version of the Xbox One, for those that are still unsure about the “digital only” future.
In this scenario, I think everyone will be happy. Retailers can keep selling the disc-required version, and keep selling and trading used games. Meanwhile, MS can release their digital vision on those brave enough to try it, and once the lower prices and convenience win them over, it will just be a matter of time before more and more people make the switch. As they switch, the retailers will have a little more time to prepare themselves for that digital market, and make whatever adjustments they need to make.
I think this is a much more dramatic set of rumors, and I’d like to go on record with the predictions that this digital-only version of the Xbox One will be smaller and cheaper, and include a bigger hard drive, at least a 1 TB HDD. I’ll also happily buy one if and when they are released!