The future of the Xbox Controller
I recently came across a rumor reporting that the controller for the next Xbox (720?) will have a multitouch screen in it, along the lines of the Wii U controller. The article noted that the look of it may be more along the lines of what we see in the PS Vita and iPad. Specifically, noting it will be more sleek rather than the fun and cute feel of the Wii U.
I’m not sure what to make of this rumor. Part of me thinks this makes sense, seeing as technology seems to be trending towards multitouch devices. However, the other part of me remembers that Microsoft has put tons of time and money into developing and marketing the Kinect. Now apparently the sales of this have been pretty good. I can only assume then, that MSFT will will be ramping up their efforts of developing an even more advanced Kinect 2 for the next iteration of the Xbox.
My point here, is that those good folks over in Redmond, WA have focused on building a console and interface around that. Just look at the new Xbox Dashboard. While I don’t have a Kinect, I get the feeling that just talking to your Xbox is a pretty cool thing. Assuming Microsoft has, in fact, been working hard on developing the Kinect 2, we are sure to see some major improvements, which should reflect in future games, too. That said, why would Microsoft need another input such as multitouch when they have such a natural input like speech or movement?
Now don’t get me wrong, I do see the draw to multitouch (I do have an iPad, myself), and I can imagine how it would be implemented in a console, but I’m just not so sure it’s really what Microsoft needs, now that they are pushing the Kinect.
I suppose at this point all we can do is wait patiently. I expect that we will be hearing some more details by the time E3 rolls around this summer.
Predictions for Next Gen Consoles
It’s hard to believe that we are only a few days away from the Xbox 360’s 6 year birthday! In fact, the other day was the 10 year birthday of the Xbox product line (from the release of the original Xbox). Congrats, Xbox! I think it’s safe to say that this piece of hardware has had its fair share of failures over the course of its life. Yet, it has also rebounded nicely, and has consistently beat out Sony’s PS3 in the console wars over the course of this current generation. It is interesting to see how the Xbox 360 product has evolved from being an expensive, high-end gaming console targeted at moderate to hardcore gamers. Today, I think it’s safe to say that while it does garner a large portion of that segment of consumers, it has done a reasonably good job of taking some of the wind of Nintendo’s sails by going after those consumers who will use a console as a family device. The $199 starting price point matches that focus, as does the new emphasis on Microsoft Kinect. All in all, Microsoft has done a fine job of reaching out to all sorts of consumers: those who will enjoy bustin’ some grooves on Dance Central, and those who will enjoy bustin’ some brains in Gears of War.
On the other side of things, Sony had to make up some lost ground from not only a year long lag time after the release of the 360, but also an high launch price, starting at $499 for the base 20GB model, and reaching $599 for the 60GB unit. Undoubtedly, this was a more advanced system than the 360, and was thus geared towards the more hardcore of gamers. Because of that, Sony truly had some issues playing catch up. Nevertheless, they have done a commendable job of really creating value for this product. Also not to forget one of my favorite ad campaigns of all time:
I must say, while I am an avid Xbox 360 user, Mr. Butler had a pretty good smack on the Kinect at 0:49. I also must add this: after having a chance to give both the Kinect and the PS Move a try (at Best Buy), I must confess that I had a better experience on the PS Move. Granted, both were a very limited sample.
So that was a look at this current generation of consoles, but now begs the question: what comes next? There has been plenty of online chatter and speculation about what might show up in the next iteration of both of these consoles. Rather than taking stabs in the dark about the exact specifications, I’m going to take a more broad approach, and look at how both of these companies may try to follow up their recent success.
‘Microsoft Xbox 720’
First up, the ‘Xbox 720’. While there has been no leaks from Microsoft, the name that is being tossed around the web is naturally the ‘720’, considering it is the next step after the 360. While logical, I am not so sure this is the way they are going to go. Lately, it seems that there has been a shift from creative product names, and instead moving to “safer” names focused on the product line, itself. Some examples of this include Apple’s iPhone 4(S) and the Playstation 3. Even Microsoft has done this with their operating system, already announcing the successor to Windows 7 will be Windows 8. Keep in mind, this is after they tried out a creative name in Windows Vista. In addition, there have been rumors that the next Xbox will have some sort of Windows 8 running on it, but I will touch more on that later. If my hunch is right, the name to the next version of Microsofts video game console will be the Xbox 3. But as I write that…part of me is not so sure. First off, it doesn’t look good, nor does it roll of the tongue as smoothly as something like the Playstation 3. Also, it might be a bit too similar to the 360…simply dropping off two digits from the name. Then again, Microsoft could go back to the drawing boards and come up with something creative. I’ll leave that up to them to decide.
The next aspect I will address is what sort of performance this console will have. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not about to go into details of the hardware, but take a more relative stance. Considering Microsoft’s current target market, they are going to try to keep the price within reach of every type of consumer. To accomplish that, they are not going to be stuffing this console full of the next great technology, much like what they did with the 360. At the time, it was a very good piece of hardware, but nothing to blow the roof off. They will likely take the same route this time around (it seemed to have worked last time).
What will the device look like? Well…it appears that Microsoft is making a shift towards darker tones, both in their hardware and their software. The Xbox 360S made a jump to only being available in black (matte and glossy). I expect that the Xbox 720 will have a similar color theme, however the shape of the device is entirely up in the air. I expect that they will try to make it relatively thin, but not so thin that the air circulation isn’t sufficient. We are all well aware of the issues that caused, and I am sure that the Microsoft engineers won’t let it happen again. I don’t expect the 720 to be as insanely thin as some of these UltraBooks, but I would hope that they would trim some significant size off of the console.
In terms of the controller, I expect that we won’t see any major changes. One upgrade will be the D-pad, however. While I am not a regular user of the D-pad (considering I don’t play too many of those side-scrolling fighter games), I have heard enough upset users online. Apparently so did Microsoft, as they introduced a controller with an upgraded D-pad specifically for those types of players. I don’t expect them to use that twist-up technology from the new controller, though. Instead, I expect that they have been hard at work on developing an entirely new D-pad that won’t frustrate users.
On the User Interface side of the console, I am predicting that Microsoft will continue to push their Metro UI, as seen on Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8. There are rumors that the Xbox 720 may incorporate Windows 8 into the Dashboard, and this seems like a logical choice by Microsoft. They have already confirmed that it will be used on the mobile phones, tablets, and desktops…adding the Xbox to the repertoire of Windows 8 only makes sense.
Considering Microsoft has put lots of money into developing and marketing the Kinect peripheral, I think it’s a safe assumption that it will make its way to the next version, in some way or another. Having it built into the device would clean things up, but not it’s not likely, as there is no one standard place to put video game consoles. Maybe they will sell TVs or monitors with it built in? Again, a cool idea, but highly unlikely. Instead, we will likely be stuck again with a separate bar that we put on top or below our TV. Kinect has been out long enough that Microsoft has surely worked out some of the kinks, and will be releasing an updated and more advanced version with the next console. Similar to how they sell the Kinect now, I’m sure they will have Kinect-specific bundles that will cost probably about $100 more than the base console. I’ve questioned myself over whether they would make this peripheral necessary to play the next console, and my guess is no. While they have done some neat things with it, the accessory has not been picked up by enough big game developers, and there have not been enough big games to warrant making everyone purchase it. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some more high quality games utilizing Kinect not only for the Xbox 720, but also for the 360.
One big question is whether this device will support Blu-Ray. Microsoft attempted to shift the HD movie standard to HD-DVD back in the day, but that didn’t work. I’d say that the 360 suffered for that decision with some graphics heavy games such as LA Noire, where the game is split up onto 3 separate discs! That is a bit absurd, and Microsoft I’m sure will try to avoid that. But is Blu-Ray really worth investing in? With the recent focus on streaming movies, even of HD quality, physical discs may be a thing of the past…but not quite yet. While I’m sure Microsoft will ramp up their downloadable content section (included new full games) for this next console, they will surely still sell physical copies of the games. That said, Microsoft will take the jump and add a Blu-Ray player to the Xbox 720.
The next question, is whether this console will be 3D-ready. While I don’t necessarily see 3D as a necessity, its tacky capabilities seem to be catching on to some extent, and it appears to be the next step (be it, a minor one) to viewing content on your TV. Considering the PS3 already has it this generation, it is quite likely that Microsoft will add this feature on.
How much will this device cost? Well when the 360 was first released, it was available starting at $299 for the Core model, and $399 for the Pro. I think both of those price points are reasonable to expect yet again, based on their current offering of the Xbox 360. My first instinct is that the lower-priced model will be the bare bones - enough to just let you play games. But the more I think about it, I realize they will likely include some sort of a hard drive in the bundle. I’m expecting downloadable content (including full new games) will be at the forefront of this next generation of video game consoles, and having a hard drive will be key. When the PS3 was originally released, 5 years ago, it even included a 20GB hard drive. It would be silly (considering the low low cost of hard drives these days) to not include some sort of storage capabilities on a device. On the high-end, that version will surely come bundled with a large hard drive, probably no less than 160GB, but probably closer to 250GB or even 500GB. While that seems like a lot, hard drives are getting increasingly cheaper, meaning Microsoft may splurge a little. On top of that, the increasing downloads and streaming of HD video content will make a bigger hard drive more of a necessity.
Based on the overall success of the Xbox 360, I expect that Microsoft will take a very similar stance with the next version of their popular console. Their focus will be on the moderate video game player, as well as the family. They will push Kinect heavily, make the user experience seamless from Xbox to phone to computer, all the while keeping the price reasonable.
‘Sony Playstation 4’
Of all the predications I am making in this post, this one is probably the easiest one to make. Since the release of the original Playstation, Sony has followed with the Playstation 2, Playstation 3, and what can only be assumed to be the Playstation 4. This console is founded on the brand that it has built up over the years, as being one of the premier home entertainment consoles on the market. It would be highly unlikely for Sony to stray away from that.
This is a tricky one. Nobody will argue that the Playstation 3 wasn’t the better console compared to the Xbox 360. In fact, it blew the 360 away. It had wi-fi built in, has a Blu-Ray player, and came ready to roll with HD graphics. When 3D starting gaining popularity again, Sony was quick to make it available on their console, further differentiating itself from the more casual-gamer focused Xbox 360. There is no question - this console was geared towards hardcore gamers who wanted the best home entertainment video game console on the market. Still not quite at the same level as a high-end gaming computer, but it can definitely hold its own in the hardware department.
However, the issue for the Playstation 3 was not with the hardware…it was that the price was simply a bit too steep for the average gamer. I will go more in depth regarding the pricing strategy later on, but the fact of the matter is that Sony has a major decision to make, with two main avenues they can take. 1) Make the Playstation 4 another high-end console that will dominate (in terms of its hardware) for foreseeable future, and be at the leading edge of console gaming. This would call for top of the line hardware specifications, and a high price, like that of the original Playstation 3. Or option 2) Make the Playstation 4 more geared towards the casual gamer, along the lines of the the Xbox 360’s strategy in this current generation. Specifically, the hardware will be solid, but nothing out of this world (but definitely a spec bump on what we already have with the Playstation 3).
I am having a very tough time picking which direction they may go, but I am actually leaning towards Option 2. While Sony did make up some market share ground over the past several years since the original release of the Playstation 3, they dug themselves in a big whole simply based on having a premium pricing strategy. It goes to show that having the best physical product is not the bottom line…gamers simply did not want to pay that much. That said, it appears lately that their marketing efforts have been focused on the casual gamer. In some of those other PS3 commercials, it shows a grandfather and a child playing PS Move together. Of course, they will still have their exclusive games such as Uncharted, Resistance, and Little Big Planet, to name a few. The trend I am seeing, though, is that while there are hardcore gamers that still play on consoles, there has been a rebirth of extreme players who settle for nothing less than top of the line Alienware computers to get their video game fix in. Ultimately, though, these are not the users that Sony or Microsoft will be going after. They are both clearly trying to make a stake in the family and casual gamer market that Nintendo solidified with the Wii.
I expect that the PS4 will look very clean and sleek. Sony has always done a good job of that with several of their product lines, most notably the VAIO. I expect that it will be dark, much like the current PS3. I was actually a fan of the buttonless PS3, and it is possible that they may mimic that for the successor. The same goes for the built-in disk tray, with no tray that actually comes out.
Much like the naming of the PS4, the same can be said for the controller. Sony has used nearly the exact same controller for every single iteration, and I dont forsee them changing it. Personally, I prefer the controller of the Xbox 360, but that of the Playstation gets the job done. I’m sure they will work out a better way of including some form of SIAXIS and the rumble pack.
Considering its steady adoption, I expect that Sony will continue to push this peripheral into the next generation, much like Microsoft with the Kinect. Undoubtedly, they will make hardware updates to this device, but overall, it is actually quite accurate and responsive as of now.
Okay…I am going to make a bold statement. PS Move will in some way incorporate the main Playstation controller. Maybe this doesn’t make sense from a profits point of view, because they’d be missing out on the sales of an entire new set of controllers, but part of me thinks it’s worth it. So many more people would play with the PS Move because they already have the controllers! That would lead to more sales of Move-enabled games, and Sony would make up some potentially lost profits.
For me, the big unknown with the Playstation 4 is not if, but how it will incorporate the Playstation Vita, Sony’s successor the the PSP. It is an impressive little mobile gaming device, and should provide many opportunities for Sony. While they didn’t integrate the PSP with the PS3, I could see them doing something this time around. My big reason of “why?” comes back to their goal of taking market share back from Nintendo. With the Wii U, users will have that touchscreen device as an extra peripheral to interact with while playing. Sony could swing the Vita in a very similar way, which would open up the door for more sales. If kids saw how much cool stuff they could do through their Vita onto their PS4, you can bet they will be begging for this device come Christmas time. It will surely be interesting to see how Sony handles the integration between these two upcoming devices.
As I touched on earlier, there are two possible routes Sony can take with the PS4. Considering I am predicting that they will go down route #2, targeting the casual-moderate gamer, they will try to match the price to that of the Xbox 720. So, I will go off the prices I previously mentioned, and those that were used for the initial release at the start of this current generation of consoles. The PS4 will be offered with at least two separate options. The lower-end model, somewhere around $299, will again be a pretty basic model in terms of its hard drive space. However, I expect that Sony might try to offer a bit more than Microsoft, and that may bump up the price to $349. Much like how the PS3 currently comes with at least a 160GB hard drive for $249 compared to the base Xbox 360 with a 4GB hard drive space for $199, they may try to do the same this upcoming time around. Sony is walking a fine line, though…trying to capture both the casual gamer and more moderate-hardcore gamer. They have to be careful, so as to not confuse their customer. It may be more beneficial for them in the long-term to pick one or the other, but only time will tell how this decision pans out (assuming my aforementioned price points are even accurate).
All in all, this is my take on what to expect for the next round of video game consoles from Microsoft and Sony. This generation has been a long, hard-fought ‘console war’, and I expect that we will see much of the same this next time around. I can only hope that we get to see more of Kevin Butler for the Playstation 4!