I write this a mere three hours after Microsoft's big Xbox press conference. It represents my collected thoughts at the time, not a Nostradamus-esque foretelling of exactly how it's going to be. Everyone else is busy talking about specs, games, rawkin' graphix, connectivity, online issues … fine little details that will change a hundred times before any actual launch. I'd rather take a few steps back and see where Microsoft has decided to steer the ship.
I had two thoughts Tuesday while watching the Xbox One reveal. The first thought was that Microsoft and the rest of these console companies really need a fashion consultant to properly dress them before they go out on stage. Seriously, Donny baby, call me! I'll even do it pro bono. No longer will you have to face the shame of your jacket flapping in the breeze as you walk across the stage, or sharing the stage with a Doctor Who underling who paired a suit with Chuck Taylors.
The second and more relevant thought I had while watching the press conference was that Microsoft has chosen to pursue a very specific core demographic with this launch. I am not in it.
And that's okay.
Console gaming has traditionally been like eating a family-style meal: Everyone sits at the same table, eating from the same dishes. Sure, there may be some variety — Platform Beans definitely taste different than Country-Fried RPG — but ultimately, it's the same people sitting down to the same meal. We could argue about why this has been the case: technical limitations, a relatively small pool of gamers, teeny tiny marketing budgets. But this is clearly no longer the case. New restaurants open up every day, promising new cuisines. Not just cuisines, but entirely new styles of eating. Imbibe by touch screen! Waggle your waiter! Share an asynchronous meal with someone halfway 'round the world!
New restaurants naturally bring in new diners. Those who found the family-style Grandma's Kountry Cookin' unappetizing find ever more options to entice them to the table. As the pool of diners expands in both size and demographic makeup, it allows increasingly specialized restaurants to break into the market and remain financially viable. Who would have thought ten years ago that AngryBucks would be on every street corner in America?
To finally break this tortured analogy, the game is changing. The combination of growth, demographic shift, and technological innovations allow for more profitable specialization that diverges from the main Console Borg. The Wii U doubles down on the Wii's insistence of carving its own niche and converting Octogenarians and families at the expense of "core gamers." The Xbox One, judging by Tuesday's reveal, pushes that divergence even further.
The first niche of gamers Microsoft excluded in the unveiling was, well, everyone outside of America. Perhaps turning the console into a honest-to-goodness cable box appeals to some people, but functionally it's not going to be very applicable across the board — even more so when you add on things like fantasy league integration (depending on which specific sports they target). Considering the 360's truly abysmal sales in the Eastern Hemisphere, this is not a surprising move — but it is still one that targets a much tighter demographic than a standard "game console" would do.
The second section that they eschewed in the conference was the, uh, "non-dudebro" demographic. Unlike some here on the writer staff who shall remain nameless, [Ed. note: He means Sean Sands.] I don't typically participate in things like Corona keg stands. I'm not passing judgement on those who do, [Ed. note: Yes, he is.] but highlighting nothing but major EA Sports titles and the new Call of Duty — to say nothing of a Halo TV series — clearly targets a very particular person.
And that's okay.
I get why Microsoft is drilling down this far. My day job is as a marketer and product manager, so I understand the important concept of accurately identifying and promoting to your core consumer. Microsoft will likely sell fewer consoles with this tactic, but they will also decrease what it costs them to market it. I don't begrudge them their decision. I may feel a twinge of pathos as I bid a fond adieu to my beloved console, but I can't deny it's simply where the market is headed. It's not like they haven't telegraphed this decision, with Halo-branded Mountain Dew and Doritos, or pictures of people playing Halo while eating Mountain Dew-flavored Doritos and drinking Dorito-flavored Mountain Dew.
I'm sure that the Xbox One will have other game types on it. The built-in upgraded Kinect — an announcement that my Dance Central-loving brain cheered — poises the console to break new ground just as the Wii U did. However, the complete and utter lack of Kinect integration into any of the actual games shown was disturbing. Will such games exist? I'm sure they will eventually, but it would be nice to see the Kinect thrive as more than a glorified remote control. I almost wish that it was on a different console, as I think the XBro One!!1!1 and the Kinect don't have much in common.
I guess there's always the PS4. Or Ouya. Or … who knows? The market is growing.
Yes, still growing. It's true that video game revenue has cooled from its meteoric rise a bit, but it's still increasing at a healthy clip. This growth creates more room for growing market segmentation. One person compared it to a muscle, which in order to grow stretches and creates fissures in the tissue itself, which are later filled in by newly-created cells. In order for growth to continue, it's not unreasonable to expect a more segmented console space.
And that's, well, I guess it's okay.
At some point we may feel that our favorite hobby has left us behind, abandoned us by the roadside while they chase people with more money or more highly prized by advertisers. We could become a "gap generation," if you will. But, as with muscles, those gaps will fill in eventually. Personally, I'm not worried about being left behind, even though I too sometimes feel the sting of a single tear as I wave forlornly at the Doritos Bus passing me on the street.
We will all get picked back up by someone, at some time. I don't know what that will look like. It could be a console specifically engineered to enjoy point-and-click adventure games in the most ergonomic way possible; it could be a premium service that selectively culls and cultivates games with the most thoughtful, engaging narratives; it could be whatever the PS4 winds up being. At this point it's impossible to tell.
And that's okay.