A week after its biggest competitor’s successful launch, Microsoft rolled out its own next-generation video game console, the Xbox One, in a midnight party in Hollywood amid hundreds of gamers and a fair smattering of rappers, actors, YouTube personalities and other celebrities of varying wattage. The Xbox One is $100 more expensive than Sony’s PS4 at $499, but more technically capable thanks to included motion, face and voice sensors. Sony’s console sold 1 million units on its launch day a week ago. Both companies will be fighting for consumer attention this holiday season, which kicks off officially in one more week.
At last night’s event at the Milk Studios in Hollywood, as electronic dance music star Deadmau5 and other DJs spun on a stage, the company showed off its biggest games — including some 22 titles exclusive to the platform — to fans who played for hours ahead of the machine’s first official sale at 12:01 AM. But all the night’s noise obscured Microsoft’s broader push, which is that the machine can integrate all kinds of entertainment while easing access to them all. One of the machine’s niftiest tricks is a slick and relatively reliable ability to seamlessly switch between, or even simultaneously watch/use/play, a TV show, the Internet and a game with virtually no delays. The device’s sensors can recognize when a person has sat down in front of it, and automatically open up that person’s customized interface on screen. It can even do so for more than one person at a time. Voice and gesture commands work pretty well, though many reviewers have said the gee-whiz tech isn’t reliable enough yet to completely replace using a hand controller to navigate.
When they introduced the console six months ago, Microsoft reps talked up new kinds of interactive programming being created by Microsoft Studios under former CBS honcho Nancy Tellem. But last night only games were on display. They didn’t even demonstrate the offerings for fantasy football as part of their new deal with the NFL.
The rapidly changing game business has dramatically shifted and expanded since the Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 debuted seven years ago. Now, tens of millions of people who have never owned a game console routinely play inexpensive, quickly developed and frequently lucrative games on tablets, smartphones and through social media platforms such as Facebook. Microsoft executives said last night that the Xbox One’s various capabilities will future-proof it, ensuring a long life for the platform as a general-use device in the living room for accessing Internet, TV and online video that can also play the highest-quality games. They declined to speculate on likely sales today and through the holiday season.
The Xbox One machine itself has been given generally high marks for its technical achievements and ease of use. But it had a rocky start after its unveiling when consumer advocates became concerned about policies, mostly retracted later, on used games; required regular online check-ins; and sharing limits. In the wake of disclosures of widespread NSA spying, some privacy advocates also worried about the machine’s most remarkable technologies — the sensors — because they are essentially an always-on camera and microphone connected to the Internet. As well, the machine does not play games created for its predecessor, the Xbox 360, and displays even high-definition games in a lower resolution than the Sony PS4.