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The Xbox One won’t save console gaming, and neither will the PS4

Xbox One
Xbox One
The Xbox One attempts to lure the “all things to all people, one and done” demographic. But many are questioning the relevance of consoles as a useful future model for consumption of either games or media.

Microsoft previewed its much anticipated Xbox360 replacement today, and called it the Xbox One. The system is being touted as “all-in-one”, as it promises to be the hub of the user’s television, gaming, movie, music, sport and Skype usage.

Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices division accounted for $9.6 billion in sales last year, about 13% of the firm’s total revenues. With PC sales in free-fall and the Windows Phone a distant non-competitor to its rivals, Xbox One represents a bold gambit not only to introduce a new gaming console, but also to rethink the console as a “one and done” hub for users to consolidate all of their entertainment and online communications, a strategy that essentially mirrors SONY’s.

Brian Crecente, news editor at games site Polygon, said Microsoft is looking to go the chameleon route with XBox One. “Where Nintendo’s approach to next-gen gaming seems to ignore the need to share time with television and other forms of entertainment, and Sony’s approach seems willing to share the space,” he said, “Microsoft’s vision is to so blur the line between different forms of entertainment that switching from game to television or movie watching will be as simply as flipping between television channels.”

For anyone who has prognosticated the rise of the cable-cutter generation (people who don’t have cable or even watch TV that isn’t torrented or streamed), the Xbox One must seem a colossal wager on consumer lethargy.

Repeated use of the word “blockbuster” in Microsoft’s press release may be viewed as mere bluster by the legion of independent or smaller game designers and players. Owners of Xbox 360 will be disappointed to learn that the new system is not backwards compatible with their old games.

To anyone who has prognosticated the rise of the cable-cutter generation (people who don’t have cable or even watch TV that isn’t torrented or streamed), the Xbox One must seem a colossal wager on consumer lethargy. For the gamer who doesn’t have cable or who watches TV online exclusively, there seems to be literally no point in owning this device. The presence of a Blu-ray player is a further gamble on the continued relevance in the marketplace of physical disc media. That’s a gamble, if a minor one.

The reveal of the Xbox One could be regarded as a response to the impending release of SONY’s PlayStation 4. But now that the specs of the two systems are out there, it seems likely that gamers who have owned a Playstation 3 will simply wait for the PS4. Meanwhile, many are questioning the relevance of consoles as a useful future model for consumption of either games or media.

CNN’s Blake Snow says the ground beneath gaming is changing more than it has since in any year since 1983’s collapse. “The console’s influence is waning, and there’s uncertainty about its future,” he says. “Gamers’ tastes have evolved to include quick, bite-size gaming sessions — something consoles have never been good at…(Gamers must go to the living room, wait for the console to power on, load the game from the main menu, wait for it to boot.) It’s much slower than tapping an icon on the smartphone you already carry in your pocket.”

In the United States, sales of consoles dropped 21% in 2012, to just over $4 billion.

Lewis Ward, research manager of gaming at IDC, says Microsoft and SONY’s bets on consoles could give rise to competition.

“In the future, I think that could become a significant challenge to the entrenched incumbents,” Ward says. Consoles might not die out completely, but they could be transformed into something hardly recognizable to today’s gamers”.

One unintended consequence of the Xbox One release is that SONY’s stock rose 9% today. Microsoft will be revealing further details of Xbox One at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles next month. SONY’s stock may rise further in the meantime, but those who are hoping that that company will draw a kind of lasting momentum from a win in the console wars should be aware that this is a consumer vertical that appears to be shrinking in relevance.

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