Back in the olden days when libraries weren’t just a novelty, my brother awoke one birthday morning to unwrap a grotesquely colored Microsoft console, complete with a smattering of new and interesting games. From then on, my brother and I spent our respective high school afternoons playing Halo 2 — a game considered revolutionary sci-fi in the eyes of every 10 year-old who hadn’t played Warhammer 40K or read Dune.
When the Xbox released in 2001, it stood for innovation. Never before had we seen a console with a built-in HDD, or played online on a console that lasted longer than three years (sorry, Dreamcast). The Xbox was a revolution; it showed Nintendo and Playstation that they could do so much more than just single-player experiences with 8MB memory cards. Above all, Xbox was a challenger, and it had to prove itself worthy of taking on the big boys. Sony had killed it with the Playstation, and Nintendo was a seasoned veteran, still chugging after four generations of battle.
That was then, and this is now. As of this writing, it’s been mere hours since the E3 Microsoft press conference started, and all it did was leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. The first-party offerings they showed were rather dull: two new IPs were shown, two re-releases were announced, and the rest were either sequels or spin-offs.
Nothing jumped out at me — it was all, “been there done that.” I’ve played Forza, I’ve played Halo, I’ve played Gears of War. I never once sat up to go, “wow.” Nothing was niche. It was all very safe, and I’m sure you, dear reader, will agree this is an ungodly contrast to what they offered with the original Xbox.
The first two years of the original console saw the release of Halo: Combat Evolved, Mech Assault, Crimson Sea, Project Gotham Racing, Blood Wake, Gunvalkyrie, and Phantom Crash. What did the Xbox One get in its first two years? Killer Instinct and Sunset Overdrive.
Microsoft has grown comfortable and stagnant in its veteran status. Unlike in 2001, Microsoft doesn’t feel they need to prove anything. They are trusting in the power of their brands, rather than selling them on their own merits, and I feel very much that this will be the catalyst for their downfall.
The average consumer of games is well informed. They watch Let’s Plays, read articles, and talk about games on a regular basis. They take their time making a purchase, thoroughly contemplating it beforehand. The reason games like Gears of War and Halo succeeded was because there wasn’t much like them at the time, but now we live in an age where many of the systems pioneered in those games are commonplace.
Microsoft, much like Activision with their Call of Duty franchise, needs a change in scenery. D4 was a start, Scalebound is a continuation, but their “killer apps” need to follow those rabbits down the hole. They need the formulas to be mixed up.
Microsoft can’t stay safe forever. Interest has been dwindling rapidly since the inception of the Xbox One, and the only way to bring it back is to do something truly interesting. Make an open world action-RPG Halo spin-off, or a high speed, anti-gravity Forza.
Xbox One should be Microsoft’s video game renaissance, an opportunity to go mad with creativity. They should move away from being a product for reiterated media consumption, toward a platform for new experiences.