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The Next Gen-Gameplan: Microsoft

We may all be getting geared up for the next generation of home consoles, but that doesn't mean there aren't glaring holes in the games of even the largest companies. I'm going to attempt to layout a gameplan for each of the big console manufacturers, publishers, and finally the industry as a whole when it comes to moving forward. Keep in mind that this is just what I think they need to do in order to be successful, your opinion as well as what they chose to do may be completely different. 

Microsoft

Where They're At

At the start of this generation Microsoft was a relatively small player in the videogame industry. Sitting in their laps was what amounted to little more than a larger, slightly upgraded and rebranded version of the Sega Dreamcast that they collaborated with Sega to develop just a few years earlier. Xbox Live was little more than a shell of what would become a revolutionary online platform. While most people likely thought that Microsoft would play a larger role in this generation, it's highly unlikely that anyone predicted they would outpace the established brand and large stable of high profile exclusive titles that was Sony's Playstation.

Fast forward to the present and Microsoft holds a lion's share of the online gaming space for home consoles. The reason for that is up for debate, whether it be Sony and Nintendo's relative neglect of their online services for at least the first half of the generation or Microsoft's extra year with a console on the market. While they may not be the all encompassing kings of this generation that they claim to be, they have still put up fairly impressive sales numbers for a company launching at the start of a generation for the first time. That's not to say they haven't tripped up along the way though.

The Xbox 360 launched with some fairly serious hardware issues. Enough issues that they redesigned the motherboard specifically to fix overheating issues that caused consoles to experience the now infamous "Red Ring of Death". How those related failures factored into their overall sales is a question that we likely won't be answering anytime soon. Also lacking at launch were HDMI ports, sufficient HDD storage space, and built in WiFi. All of this is coupled with some not-so-user-friendly dashboard revisions and lack luster support for their motion peripheral. While they're far from on the verge of disaster, there's certainly room for improvement.

What They Need To Do

The Xbox 360 has a strong following, tight - if slightly barren - online service, and a boatload of money backing it. All of this is fine and dandy, but doesn't make for a complete package. There are a few area that I think Microsoft could at the very least consider when readying their new console for the market.

  • Games For The Gamers - More than either of the other two console manufacturers, Microsoft has adopted the concept of their device being a media center first. Unfortunately, this focus has done more than just shape the feature set of their console, it's taken over the events in which they address their core gaming audience directly. It's nice that they include a wealth of non-gaming features, but gamers around the globe don't tune into E3 to hear about exercise and streaming television. While Sony may also be able to learn a bit on that front, their press conferences and marketing also haven't been as obsessed with shoving non-gaming features down the throat of their gaming constituency as Microsoft's. Along with that should come an expanded number of games from Microsoft's internal studios. The Xbox is popular, but has little outside of Halo and Gears to hang its hats on. The days of 3rd party studios developing for just one platform may be waning, but that doesn't mean the big M$ shouldn't consider bringing some talent in house and building new IPs to hang their their hat on.
  • Significant Storage - The Xbox 360 launched with a pathetically small amount of storage. The exorbitantly priced replacement options and Microsoft's decision to limit external, non-console specific storage options to 32GBs total hasn't helped any. Even the redesigned Xbox 360 S still has a model with only 4GBs of storage space. To put that in perspective, that's not enough to store all the DLC for Mass Effect 2, Fallout 3, or Battlefield 3 among others. Compare that to the PS3 which offers 160GBs on its current base model and as much as 320GBs and it's clear that Microsoft isn't quite in tune with just how much storage is needed for modern games. With an ever growing focus on downloadable games and content it's imperative that Microsoft provides enough storage to accommodate that for their next-gen system. I'd personally like to see at least 250GBs standard and perhaps a fair price on replacement options, considering at the moment a 250GB Xbox 360 HDD currently costs around the same as a drive four times that size on the PC market.
  • Better With Kinect - The "Better With Kinect" tagline has, without a doubt, elicited eye rolls from hardcore gamers since Microsoft announced it along side launch of the peripheral in 2010. Likewise, more than one consumer has expressed distaste with the large purple stripe slapped on the box of any game with even the slightest bit of Kinect functionality. Even though the device has sold well and excels in voice recognition despite being marketed as a motion controller, it's hard to say the the strange looking little camera has made many games better. "Different With Kinect" might be a more apt description at this point. With Kinect V2 expected to be packed-in with Microsoft's next-gen console it would be nice to see it head to the back of the box where the rest of the features are listed instead of getting forced down the throats of consumers.
  • Solid Hardware - Microsoft came out of the gates early last time around. Jumping the gun helped them gain a strong foothold in an industry that has been notoriously hard for newcomers to break into. That success came at a price though. The original Xbox 360 failed at a rate which likely would have seen a recall and refund in any other market. Many gamers had multiple devices fail and the RRoD phenomenon has almost certainly damaged Microsoft's reputation with some people. Even with half a decade and two new models since the breakdowns were a serious issue it's not an entirely moot point. It is unlikely that Microsoft will make a mistake on that scale again, but at the same time they are on a shorter leash whether they like it or not. The console also launched on the wrong side of the HD format wars, backing an HD DVD format that ultimately failed. The result was a group of consumers with a space wasting little box and a system forced to ship larger games on multiple discs. Again, while that storm seems to have blown over now, even the smallest slip could bring it back around for another go.
  • Free To Play - Microsoft's Xbox Live played a large role into growing the online gaming space. Even though online gaming was around well before Xbox was a brand, the service's streamlining of online integration lit a fire under the rear end of that side of the industry. At the inception of Xbox Live, it didn't seem unreasonable to charge gamers for that service. Things have changed however. All major competing services don't charge for people to simply access the multiplayer components of games they've already bought. On top of that Xbox Live's most direct competitor, Sony's Playstation Network, offers gamers much more value from its paid service. With online play free on every other platform, and the economy struggling, asking people to pay extra just to play their games won't sit well with a lot of people.
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