The Strange 3 Year Journey Of The Xbox One

People are cheering.

Sincere, enthusiastic cheers. People clapping with a level of excitement you normally hear from kids who see a pile of presents under a Christmas tree. There's even the occasional "Woo!" from the crowd. From the audio alone, something is obviously worth all this noise. Something new, something exciting. What could it be? What incredible thing has people so worked up?

A man is standing on a stage changing television channels with his voice. At the time, some people considered it revolutionary. Today, that seems ridiculous.

This month marks the three year anniversary of the very first reveal of the Xbox One. In Redmond, Washington, livestreamed around the world, we learned the name, functionalities and design of the latest generation Xbox. Microsoft saw it as a bold step into the future. A new way to experience entertainment. It was delivered with a conviction that indicated this platform would be a leader in the 21st century for all others to follow.

Everyone else saw it as a confusing mess. In the hours, days and weeks that followed, chaos reigned. It costs how much? It's always online? Is Kinect mandatory for it to work or not? You can't play used games? Wait, you can but only if the Xbox checks if you're online? All the time or once a day? Why is Phil Harrison saying one thing but Major Nelson saying another? Where are the games? What the hell is fantasy football? Why is that man smiling? WHY IS THAT MAN SMILING?

Since the unveiling, Microsoft's subsequent tsunami of reversals on its all-in-one, always-online future was flat out bonkers. A month after showing the world the Xbox One in all its glory, the mandatory online functionality was removed, along with any restrictions on used games and region-locking. A few weeks later, Microsoft announced that their revolutionary all-seeing eye Kinect would no longer be required for the Xbox One to function. But Kinect will still be included with every Xbox One and that would never change. A year later Microsoft started selling Xbox Ones without Kinect. In October 2015, Microsoft claimed the "vast majority" of Kinect owners still used the device. Less than a month later, the Kinect hand gesture function was removed via a dashboard update.

A mere twenty-four hours after the reveal of the Xbox One, Microsoft's Don Mattrick told the Wall Street Journal that "If you're backwards compatible, you're really backwards". At E3 2015, backwards compatibility was announced for Xbox One and has become one of the more exciting aspects of its design. As it stands today it's virtually unrecognizable compared to the box that was first shown to the world in 2013.

After all these twists and turns, the Xbox platform should be dead in the court of public opinion. Microsoft's video game division should be cast into the annals of history alongside the Sega Saturn, Guitar Hero DS and holy hell do you remember somebody actually made a game about the murderous private military contractor Blackwater and sold it for money? How gross was that? Did you buy a copy? How’s it feel knowing you’ll go straight to hell one day?

But it's not dead. Somehow, it's hanging in there like a season pass nobody wants. It almost feels like the Xbox One is now being manufactured out of sheer obligation rather than any sort of passion for a revolutionary future. How does it remain? Is it the software? There has indeed been some great games developed for the Xbox One. Ori And The Blind Forest, Sunset Overdrive, Halo 5, Quantum Break. Hold on, there has to be more than that. There’s got to be a slew of games that you can only get on Xbox One that aren’t timed exclusives or also available on PC. Games that you NEED an Xbox One to experience. Right?

Not counting the titles I’ve already mentioned or Kinect games, there’s the troubled Halo: Master Chief Collection, Forza Motorsport 5, Rare Replay, Crimson Dragon, Powerstar Golf, Raiden V, Fighter Within, Voice Commander (North America only) and Azito x Tatsunoko Legends (Japan only). Despite double-checking and then triple-checking, I’m 99% sure that’s your lot. Games that you can only get on an Xbox One. For almost three years. Any way you cut it, that’s a positively tragic lineup.

You can argue about console wars and Wii U vs PS4 all you like but for Microsoft to have more games about attacking things with motion controls than Halo or Gears Of War games over the course of three years is downright bananas. And that’s just for people who aren’t tired of those franchises quite yet. Oh boy.

But what if you are? What if you’ve had your fill of four Gears games (not counting the remake), ten Halo games and eight Forza games? It’s possible you just might want something fresh and new. On that day in 2013, if you didn’t want those games or Call Of Duty, you pinned your hopes on the newly announced Quantum Break which was revealed that same afternoon. In 2016, Quantum Break has just been released. In terms of Xbox One exclusives, those three years were as lean as Dom’s wife in Gears Of War 2.

If there’s one universal memory of the day of the Xbox One reveal, it’s Don Mattrick. At the time, he was President of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment unit and ostensibly the face of the new console. Between May and June 2013, Mattrick copped the brunt of people’s outrage in regards to the Xbox One culminating in the now infamous Geoff Keighley E3 interview where Mattrick said “Fortunately, we have a product for people who aren't able to get some form of connectivity, it's called Xbox 360”. A quote which immediately ranked high in the realm of colossal PR disasters. By telling their loyal fans around the world that you weren’t worth their time if you didn’t have a decent, reliable internet connection, Mattrick was instantly ridiculed and entered the halls of internet legend.

Less than a month later, Mattrick was gone. A lateral move to a $50 million-per-year salary at mobile gaming giant Zynga, it would be two more years before he moved on again. His last known public appearance was co-hosting Vancouver’s BC Innovation Council’s summit in January 2016 which showcased, among other things, augmented reality unicorns on smartphones. Since then, there’s been barely a whisper. As far as the internet is concerned, Don Mattrick is staying out of the spotlight.

Yusuf Mehdi, who was then the head of Xbox Marketing and the man who spearheaded the TV via Xbox One with Kinect aspect of the unveiling, has not gone far. Now the Corporate Vice-President of the Windows and Devices Group of Microsoft, Mehdi spent months following the Xbox One reveal defending the reversals and changes to their vision for the future. But despite his best efforts, he’ll always be remembered as the man who said “TV” dozens of times that day instead of “games”.

I happily own an Xbox One but to be honest, I'm increasingly unsure as to why. I had fun with Titanfall back in the day but since that very bright light fizzled out, this box is now a Minecraft and WWE Network machine. Two things I can access on pretty much any other device. When it was unveiled, it seemed the Xbox One was designed to appeal to any possible human being that has ever existed with its Frankenstein-esque melding of TV, sports, voice commands, motion controls, movies and er, games. The presentation also focused heavily on Skype, which made sense since Microsoft shelled out $8.5 billion for it just two years prior. But despite them spending more money than I’ll ever see in ten lifetimes, I still have never used Skype on Xbox One. And as for the Kinect camera, I think I sold it for around $30 at a Cash Converters last year.

The trajectory of the Xbox One in the last three years is something you could not invent. Well, I suppose you could if you were an escaped lunatic trying your best to destroy the legacy of the Xbox in between babbling about chemtrails and making human flesh toilet roll holders. To try and explain to a complete stranger just how Microsoft went about designing this device followed by all the events that came afterwards would be an exercise in futility. It’s a deranged and unbelievable comedy of errors.

It’s not all negative though. The Xbox One versions of Elite Dangerous and The Long Dark are astounding. The instant switching between games and apps still works mostly as advertised. The Xbox Game Preview Program acts as an Early Access venue for more obscure games and hopefully it will continue and thrive for all types of developers. And this year’s E3 potentially has some big game announcements as well as a rumoured hardware upgrade. Fingers crossed that this year they drop excitement bombs big enough to take your head off.

Until then, that weird box that sits under my TV will remain. It’s not what it was meant to when it was first shown to the world in May 2013 and it is certainly unsure of what it wants to be today.

It’s still early days. This generation is just getting started. Right now, the Xbox One is a piece of technology that’s simply clinging on in the hopes of finding an identity. Nevertheless, I’ll cheer it on. With sincere, enthusiastic cheers. Because despite its almost suicidal beginnings, it still has a crazy amount of untapped potential. Let’s hope it doesn’t go to waste.


Comments

    Always a better day when it's a Raygun day.

    That said, consoles like the Xbox One had/have an unenviable job in the pre-release phase. They need to sell us on a way of life, not a plastic box.

    If you showed me another snooty holier-than-thou pundit that says 'ew console wars' I'll show you someone who's blissfully ignorant as to how exactly how the industry is supposed to work. Or a PC user.

    I don't expect I'll buy an Xbox One any time soon, but I can't say I 'love' my PS4 like I did my other video game devices either. It's sad to see Microsoft fumble, whereas there was definitely an element of 'serves you right' when Sony fell over after PS3 debacle. It was arrogance then, but this is different. This is (in the most politest way possible) incompetence. In a corporate sense.

    I have always got time for Nintendo's gear, but I've been a closet PC fan for as long as I could remember. Because have you met PC fans.

    It's impossible to talk console fortunes without really laying your own personal history/card on the table so that'd be mine.

    All I know is David, it's a crime AGAINST THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND THE WRITTEN WORD ITSELF you've never bothered with writing about Wii U games. A CRIME.

      The wii u has a great quiver of exclusives, and the OS is very intuitive compared to the others.

      But Nintendo buggered up their marketing so badly that the xbone is leading it, at least in assumed competence.

      To be fair, I had a PS3 and switched across to the Xbone because all my friends were on it. I used the PS3 to play games and watch/record TV. I miss the record function of the PlayTV (why can't Microsoft add it in??) but with that in mind I really like my Xbox. I also really use my Kinect and love that. I watch TV through my Xbox and its great to be able to pause/adjust volume/switch channels etc when I am too lazy to restart my remote or usually when I am doing something else from across the room. I use Skype occasionally on it but being able to walk into a room and tell the Xbox to switch on and watch a certain channel or Netflix is something I still think is cool and very useful. I loved the last of us and I'll miss the Uncharted games but game wise, that's about it. Ultimately gaming is just one of the many things I do on it. I still buy physical games so I can resell them later so a busted store doesn't bother me.
      I can't say I love it either. I love my Bose Headphones but an Xbox is just a thing I use to watch my shows and play games with friends. If Nintendo could do the same and have good games (that aren't Mario related) I'd be onboard for that. I think sales tell a interesting story but ultimately its what works best for the person using it. For me, currently, its the Xbox.

      If all his articles include this self-righteous bullshit is rather no day is raygun day.

      I don't think it was incompetence, I think it was a similar situation to Windows 8, where Microsoft simply overestimated the willingness of customers to embrace the future. They thought they needed to throw everything at ti when all customers wanted was more of the same, no matter how tired it was getting. If XBOne isn't the console you wanted it to be, it's not because Microsoft didn't want it to be, it because users wouldn't let it be.

    I'll be honest in saying that I prefer the Xbox One UI over the PS4's. Not saying the PS4's is bad, but I think the Xbox One's just flows better overall. Things make sense and common functions are quick and convenient. For example, taking screenshots and recording quick clips is quick and easy and they can then be accessed online instantly. Also, I may be in the minority here, but I actually use the Kinect voice controls quite a bit when watching movies to pause, change the volume, skip forward or backward - because voice commands are quicker and easier than turning on my controller just to push one button mid movie.

    It's these elements of the User Experience that Xbox got right, and when you see how much focus is being put on gathering user feedback and re-iterating on that information with each update, you can see that they genuinely want to continue building it into the best platform they can. Of course, all they need now are some damn exclusive games, then they may be a contender.

    But hey, at least they haven't announced an Xbox One-Point-Five, right? (not yet anyway).

      I think it's one of those things where, once you get used to it, the Xbox One's interface flows well.

      But if you were to use the PS4 for the first time and the Xbox One for the first time, the PS4 just makes more sense. At least in my experience.

        You know what though? Over two years years for both systems, and they both still have pretty horrid user interfaces and missing features compared to their predecessors.

      If I could use the same Logitech universal remote that worked with the 360 and PS3, and is already sitting right next to me to control volume, then I wouldn't need to turn on the controller or use voice control either...

      PS4 camera voice controls are actually very very good. Not many people use them (or even know they exist). I mainly use them to impress people or to find games that I haven't played for a while.

        I just spent the past hour yelling at my PS4 and it did nothing. Don't tell me I need one of those PS4 Camera's to use the PS4 Camera voice controls?

          Any microphone equipped headset/headphones support the voice controls as well.

    Searching the Xbox Live store for anything.

    Nope.

      Let me introduce you to the hell that is the PS4 store :P.

      Personally, I've taken to buying my games thru each individuals website.

        For some reason my PS3 connection to the network whenever I launch the store on it has become seriously impaired recently, but no problems whatsoever on PS4. I still agree with you though that buying on the web and then setting to download automatically is one of the best things ever.

    I eventually decided to go X1 rather than PS4 when they ditched Kinect and introduced GWG, the reveal of BC last year literally had me leaping around my loungeroom at 3 in the morning because I have a huge digital library on the 360! If they'd had BC figured out from the offset they would have gotten a lot further against Sony's machine.

    I think also the fact that MS is coming second means that they're trying a lot harder than they did during the later 360 years to compete which is resulting in a much better product with way more perks!

      The benefits of competition. This was Sony's position in the second half of the PS360 generation (after it woke up to the fact).

      I just wish the backwards compatibility was universal rather than only covering about 10% of the library. Exactly none of the 360 games I'm most interested in work on the XB1. Part of that is the lack of support for multi-disc games.

    I was never really interested in the XBONE since it was announced - everything about it just irked me. It's like they didn't actually WANT it to be a gaming console.
    Then things started looking up in amongst all the mess and i was half interested.
    Then i finally played 2 xbones at PAX last year... both of which kept losing sync to their controllers.

    Yeah.. no chance, Microsoft. Which is a damn shame because I absolutely love my 360, regardless of the fact it's red-ringed 3 times now (but still going for some reason).

      It's like they didn't actually WANT it to be a gaming console.

      I think they did what Sony did with the PS3 and assumed that since it was coming off the back of a strong console a good library of solid games was implied. They focused on what else it could do so much that it seemed like that all it was meant to do. They were in the classic upstaging mode too, so they were showing off what it could do that the competition couldn't. Again forgetting that they had to actually show games.
      Both Sony and Microsoft seem to think that good sales during a console generation means everyone who brought the console is now loyal to the brand. They get cocky without realising how many people are actually on the fence.

      Also for the record, I use my Kinect every day. Going back to remote controls after Kinect is like manually re-tuning to change channels. It doesn't sound like it but being able to say 'XBOX mute' when someone walks into the room or 'XBOX on, go to Netflix' when I'm making breakfast is the best. Being able to say 'XBOX pause' really kicks the crap out of finding the controller, powering it up, pressing pause, then accidentally pressing one of the bumpers and skipping ahead as you throw the controller down because you're about to pee your pants.
      Smartglass remote works nicely too, although it'd work a whole lot better if I could stream audio only to it while my phone was locked.

    I love how they made a point of explaining the many hours used to research and develop the name, all the market research...only for it to be reduced to XBone within minutes.

      For me, the clincher behind the name sticking was the fact that they distributed marketing materials explicitly dictating what retailers and other outlets could and could not call it.

      They WANTED it to be called 'The One', and were pissy about it in the same way as that kid in school who invented their own nickname, insisted that everyone start using it, then was somehow surprised when people decided to use a mocking parody of it instead.

      No, Microsoft. Your inferior-specced console does not get to be called 'The One'. You do not get to think you're clever for positioning it to be called that.

        I laugh every time I see someone legitimately refer to it as the X1.

        If they wanted people to call it "The One" then they should have called it that. Pretty simple concept, really.

    I've had it since launch and I don't LOVE it. I like it but not like the 360. The system itself is a compromise and that's what bugs me about it. When it gets that despretley needed redesign sales will go up, everything else aside, as a marketed product the shape and 'look' ooze with that misdirected launch and reckless launch. It needs a new face to match it's changes over the years more than anything else at the moment.

    For me the Xbone will always be the slow one.

      "You can get all these games on both platforms! But one of them will always be slightly worse than the other! Which platform do you choose?"

      My favourite is Albert Penello saying there was no way they would give up a 30% advantage to PS4. Then came all the 1080p vs 900p games.

    Saw Don Mattrick's face on the screen.
    Punched the computer.
    Need new Computer.
    Thanks Kotaku.

      It's not the poor man's fault he looks like the human equivalent of a damp fart.

        Thats really mean but it made me burst out laughing.

      He really does have a punchable face, doesn't he? I think it's that smug half-grin. Reminds me strongly of Tom Cruise too.

    Is this cross platform gaming going to happen? I have my xbox one and PC in the same room and was a little excited about being able to play multiplayer in the same room. One on PC and the other on Xbox one.

    I like my Xbox one. Its my one stop entertainment center. Got access to games, youtube, skype, netflix, all my music, I stream videos from my PC through plex and run my tv through it. Never been easier for me consume content. Once they open it up to independant developers later this year its only going to get better. From multimedia perspective beats everything in my opinion all the smart tv UI's dont even come close it.

    After all these twists and turns, the Xbox platform should be dead in the court of public opinion.
    But... but... gamerscore!

      Laugh all you want, you know there is a sizable group of people who feel too invested in their gamertag to leave XBOX Live. That stupid, meaningless number probably did more to keep the XBOX afloat during the launch than Microsoft did.

        Oh, I'm amused by it, but I'm also deadly serious about it being a top-3 factor behind Xbone's survival. Investment in the ecosystem. "It's where all my friends/cheevos are."

        (Edit: In fact, if it weren't for the fact that PS3's strong finish in the last gen's race broke my attachment to the gamerscore, I might even have been influenced by it myself. I have so many 360 titles. But PS3 just out-performed the 360 in the later stages. It was a better media machine and it started getting some really great exclusives.)

        Last edited 23/05/16 3:52 pm

    "holy hell do you remember somebody actually made a game about the murderous private military contractor Blackwater and sold it for money? How gross was that? Did you buy a copy? How’s it feel knowing you’ll go straight to hell one day?"

    Great... another self righteous judgemental over moralising douche writing for kotaku.

    Last edited 23/05/16 2:49 pm

      Eh... you kind of get used to it. Now I'm surprised when I DON'T see some sort of virtue-signalling in an article. It's the way of the world, sadly.

        It was the how does it feel knowing you'll go to hell one day shit that really made me facepalm.

        I'm sure the author is a real saint, and not just someone who says these things on the internet to feel smug and morally superior while going nothing meaningful in the real world.

        Doesn't the recursive nature of the term "virtue signalling" make it useless for putting down an opinion?

          I don't think it's used for putting down an opinion so much as to elicit an opinion of the signaler. Sort of like a tribal tattoo ;-) As for use of the term...

      I sorta got this vibe from the beginning of the article. I wondered why it took so long for someone to notice.

      I dont think the Xbone is a bad console. I dont think the PS4 is a bad console. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses. I tend to use my Xbone more because I like the UI, I like the controller and I do use voice commands pretty regularly and it works well for me.

      I was also excited when they announced it because it was trying to be MORE. PS4 didnt for the exact opposite reason; it was just for games. I guess the people who just wanted games got upset. But at this stage in my life I would say that 20% of my time on my consoles, computer etc. is actually spent playing a game. Usually I am streaming something, or buying a game I wont ever play... or watching tv etc. The Xbox does that for me.

    Sony and Microsoft both have their ups and down, they've both had moments of genius and moments of "What the hell were they thinking".

    It was only about 5 years ago that Sony gave millions of Playstation Network accounts to the internet, along with their associated credit card information, then Jack Tretton showed up at E3 and made a good show of apologising without actually apologising. Skip ahead a few years and now they're everyone's favourite again, and so the wheel turns.

    Personally, I've got both consoles and I just jump back and forth depending on what I want to play or what is the current flavour of the season. Best of both worlds that way. I never saw the point in console wars and taking sides, I don't identify as "PC" or "XBox" or "PS4", I'm just a gamer, I go where the games are and I'm not gonna dismiss one particular platform out of pride or hubris because theres probably some great gaming experiences on that platform that I want to be a part of at some point.

    The answer to the author's question is Phil Spencer.. but omitting him from the entire article/ history of the Xbox One conveniently makes the article more sensational than it has the right to be.

    To this day, to this very day I still get the odd person out of touch with 'the gaming' ask me if its true that the xbox cant play used games and/or needs to be online all the time. Amazing the legs that negative publicity had on MS.

    The Xbox One is great, except for when Microsoft didnt implement custom soundracks / the ability to play music over a game (thats not in a snapped window). It will probably never come now, although we could have said that about backwards compatibility.

      This is the key feature I missed. Besides Backwards Compatibility, and yeah while they fixed that - and are still cranking out new BC title conversions - I agree , Custom Soundtracks - the full fat, mixes in with the game sound effects, pauses for cutscenes - the real360 deal - will probably never arrive. Only recently I figured why.

      Royalties. Both Sony and MS have angles on their own music stores/streaming delivery systems - and as Youtube license payments are a thing now - and both platforms have to cater to the twitch streaming market. Being seen to facilitate unlicensed music streaming ( cause face it - if on guys playing the new forza/gt or whatever - and the other guy is playing it with some bangin' trax (is that what the kids say?) - all things being relatively even - I'm watching the one with the music. I mean , this probably happens already - but you facilitate it on your platform and maybe those artists companies start looking for their .00001% of a cent per play royalties. Because why not?

      Or not. Either way it was just something that occurred to me as I was navigating a WWE 2k16 menu, while streaming - Skid Rows "Youth Gone Wild" was the (licensed) song playing, I left it on to hear some cheesy hard rock that's still pretty darn catchy (even if as a 14 yo in 1990 I thought SR were pretty "soft"!) - and I gained a few viewers! Who subsequently left when the song finished. Pretty shoddy theory eh, but hey - if I was flicking through the live twitch channels and caught that riff, I'd probably stick around a bit.

        Interesting point, it must be something like that. It surely can't be a technical reason.

        (Although surely it would be possible to pause this type of music from being played when you are streaming via the Twitch app on the Xbone).

        You would think that Microsoft would be promoting the Groove Pass and allow that to be played in the background of games in order for people to actually buy it? I probably would just for this purpose.

        It could be that the music labels wouldn't sign up to the Groove Pass if you could stream your own music via the Xbox or iPod or whatever. Microsoft may have had to compromise?

    I had a xbox one it was awesome but then no games. So i sold it and got another PS4. 2 ps4's and 2 vitas. I do occasionally miss The One but with nothing really exciting coming out why have one.

    my only gripe with the xbone is how useless it is when you have a shitty internet connection. When I boot it up half the time it errors out when trying to sign in to my account, and it really shits me as well that when you are downloading something and trying to sign in, or browse the store it doesnt prioritize the network connection of what you are actively doing but the background download so your stuck with a pretty poorly functioning console.

    On the PS4 it doesnt matter if I have no internet connection, it still signs into my account, just no PSN. I can still access my games, I can browse my settings, and if I am downloading something on the console, I can still go look in the store or load up trophies or any other network based feature because it prioritizes that information over the background download.

    Not a huge issue but it does annoy me on occasion.

    I got mine in the recent Target sales and I'm pretty happy with it despite owning a PS4, WiiU and a gaming PC. Coming into it later in its life has been helpful too, getting Rare Replay and Halo Master Chief Collection has just buried me in games for not much money at all.

    I think I prefer the interface to the PS4 too but they're both great consoles.

    both ps4 and xone jumped the gun. they each tried to beat each other to market and as a result xbox tried to be different and hobbled itself with Kinect thereby limiting its specs to be incapable of 1080p\60fps across all games, and ps4 just scraped in with ddr3 at the 11th hour. games fell into the background. I bought xbox one first day, have never used Kinect even though I was forced to buy it - and a miserable games collection to this date of; forza5 (with many launch bugs), call of duty advanced warfare ('that' call of duty, which despite having a good movie-like story, you're jet-packing everywhere like a complete loser), and forza 6. that's it. one game per year on average, and if it weren't for free games with gold I would have felt completely ripped off as opposed to a little ripped off. next time, no excuses; gpu and ram to easily handle 1080p\60fps for everything (which is actually now a spec of 4k\60fps or don't come out of the dev lab), Kinect optional, OS ssd, large removable hdd (cause they're cheap enough to swapout and allows ssd upgrade), integrated power unit, no energy using background mode (I use full power-off). slim and faster than anything available (you can do that right, as you're Sony\MS, you can actually hardware spec up a unit faster than pc due to economies of scale?). Finally full backwards compat and an architecture where games devs don't have to learn it for months and then code for months and then a year later games dribble out; an architecture where, well really it's just like pc - they know what they're coding for into the future, as the next hardware is really just a pure speed upgrade, so they can develop it now.

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