As we inch closer and closer to the release of next-gen consoles, we're starting to learn more and more about their features — and some of what we're hearing might not be great news for anyone who expected a totally stable experience at launch.
Over the past few days, the Internet has exploded with drama surrounding the Xbox One. We've seen a maelstrom of rumours revolving around resolutions, power issues, and potential bugs in the console's software. Rumours suggest that Microsoft's next console is dealing with some issues affecting the operating system and Xbox Live, and Kotaku has heard from our own industry sources that software development kits for the system have been buggy as well.
Microsoft, both in public and in statements to Kotaku, is optimistic about their console but will not address specific rumours.
It's worth noting, of course, that video game console launches are rarely smooth. The Red Ring of Death fiasco killed a seemingly endless number of Xbox 360s back when Microsoft's last console hit stores, and, more recently, Nintendo's Wii U launched with missing features and a sluggish operating system.
In other words, these systems tend to come in hot.
That said, we've been hearing for months now about issues facing Microsoft's next system, and the rumours that have been floating around for the past couple of days seem to support what we reported back in May: that the folks behind the Xbox One have been hard-pressed to get it ready for its launch on November 22.
We hear, for example, that the Xbox One software development kit — the set of tools that development studios use to facilitate game creation — has been stumbling recently. Yesterday, two developer sources told Kotaku that Microsoft found a number of bugs in one of the most recent versions of the SDK.
One source said that as of at least a few weeks ago, Xbox One SDKs were very buggy. Another source said some developers who have already submitted their games to Microsoft for certification have had to resubmit those games with a more recent version of the SDK. In other words, both developers and Microsoft staff have been working overtime to get games shipped and approved.
"It's going to be a fun few weeks in Microsoft QA," one developer source said.
What does that all mean for people who plan to buy an Xbox One on November 22? At this point, it's tough to say. A third, high-level developer source assures us that this sort of thing is par for the course. Hardware launches are always rocky, and while this is the type of issue that will lead to all-nighters for people working on the console and its games, these last-minute SDK bugs might not have much effect on what we see and play this fall.
One of the rumours that seems to be worrying gamers the most involves possible issues with the console's operating system. Our sources have had less to say about this, one way or other, but we needed to address it.
Pete Dodd, a frequent NeoGAF poster and blogger, reports that multiple developer contacts tell him the Xbox One operating system is plagued by bugs that affect applications like party grouping on Xbox Live. Since Dodd's blog post went up last night, it's been widely circulated on Reddit, NeoGAF, and other large websites. People are panicking.
"My understanding from [my sources] is that the [OS] problem happens with the apps," Dodd told me when I asked him to elaborate on what he'd heard. "So if you are playing by yourself and just playing the game online it should be fine. But if you're in a party, people get dropped. Voice chat cuts in and out. Certain app combinations make the machine crash completely."
Dodd, perhaps best known for launching the #PS4NoDRM campaign earlier this year, is not a professional journalist. He doesn't have the cachet of a well-known gaming website or magazine. However, he has been publicly correct about rumours in the past, such as the delay of Sony's PS4 racing game DriveClub, which he reported was true two days before Sony confirmed the news.
When we reached out to Microsoft for comment both on SDK bugs and these OS issues, they sent over this statement:
We're on track for a great launch. We're in the final stages of development and things are progressing well. Games are moving through certification now. We also feel great about the platform and Xbox Live. We've been building great multiplayer experiences for more than 10 years and Xbox Live multiplayer on Xbox One will be the best it's ever been.
Microsoft top executive Phil Spencer did address this rumour on Twitter, although he didn't exactly confirm or deny it. "Games are in certification now and we are playing SP & MP nightly," he wrote. "Anyone can post 'stuff' to the web."
Microsoft spokesman Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb also addressed the rumour: "As far as Xbox One, I've been testing the OS at home it's been great," he said.
I talked to Dodd privately both last night and today, and although I haven't been yet able to confirm the rumours he's reporting, I believe that they do come from developer sources. What we don't know — and what we might not know until November 22 — is just how many of these alleged issues will still be problematic when Xbox One launches.
The PlayStation 4, of course, may have issues of its own. We've already seen Sony confirm that their suspend/resume feature won't be available at launch, and that much of the PS4's functionality will be enabled by a day-one patch. Who knows what else we'll learn as we get closer to the next PlayStation's release on November 15?
This is all just the latest news in what has become a large, dramatic debate over the next generation of gaming consoles. Conversation has fired up on sites like Reddit and NeoGAF in response to vague tweets from game journalists and rumours that the next Call of Duty runs at a higher resolution on PlayStation 4 than it does on Xbox One. It's led to some insane, totally false conspiracy theories.
It's also led to some panic around the current status of next-gen consoles, and we feel compelled to share everything we've heard so far. As always, we'll keep you updated as we hear more.