The Best Things Xbox One Has Done This Generation

This console generation, sales for the Xbox One are estimated to be around 47 million units behind sales for the PlayStation 4. That’s a huge gap that Microsoft isn’t likely to close before we learn more about the next generation of consoles next year, but it isn’t because the Xbox One failed to innovate, or come up with a series of great, pro-consumer programs. It seems like Sony has focused on big, blockbuster first-party games like God of War, Spider-Man, and Uncharted 4, while Microsoft has focused on accessibility and value-related initiatives. PlayStation’s exclusives have been pretty incredible and I’m glad we have them, but I think they’ve lead a lot of gamers to undervalue the competition. So, here are some of the most underrated moves Microsoft made this console generation.

(Note: You can watch the video version of this essay below.)

Backwards Compatibility

You probably already know that since 2015, we’ve been able to play Xbox 360 games we already own on the Xbox One, and in 2017, Microsoft added a handful of games from the original Xbox library to the Backwards Compatibility program. In both cases, the Xbox One manages to emulate the software of the hardware needed, and download a relicensed version of whatever game you’ve inserted the disc for. The only reason that’s really worth mentioning is to point out that the reason you can’t play every single Xbox 360 or original Xbox game is because of whichever publisher holds the licenses to those games, not because of any engineering problem on Microsoft’s behalf, or because they don’t want you to. There’s no plan for them to charge you for some of the games you want as part of the backwards compatibility program at a later date because Microsoft knows they’re popular like we’re used to in modern gaming — it’s actually just the law.

According to IGN, Backwards Compatibility program started back in 2007, before the Xbox One even had a name, with a completely confidential, 25-person team within Microsoft. Part of the team intentionally being so isolated meant that all the complications had to be revolved by that small group of people who knew about it — and, of course, there were a lot of complications. For example, because save files were incompatible on new hardware, the team had to play all of the games they were testing for the program manually, by themselves, just to get data. There was one game that, for some reason, only played at one frame-per-second initially, but their tester finished it anyway. This is virtually unheard of.

Basically, every time the team at Microsoft describes working on the program, it sounds a lot like a labour of love for a really passionate group of people, rather than a huge, profit-driven, corporate move. Because it’s not — where are the profits?

Yeah, it’s completely free to play an Xbox or Xbox 360 game on your Xbox one if you own the disk. Basically: we get to play games we bought for a longer period of time, which sounds simple, but in the digital age, it almost seems like a selfless win for all of us. There’s no downside for gamers, and honestly, not that much of a benefit for Microsoft, who has had to employ people full-time just to work on making sure our old games run.

Game Pass

In a year where subscription services are ever-prevalent, Game Pass is a stand out. It’s hard to talk about Game Pass without just reciting marketing points, but that’s because their marketing points are very good, and also completely accurate. Right now, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate includes Xbox Live Gold, Xbox Game Pass, and Xbox Game Pass for PC for $US1 ($1) a month. That’s a limited time deal—it’d usually be $US15 ($22) a month—but WOW, is that a good deal. For those who don’t know, with Ultimate, you have access to over 100 games on Xbox, over 100 games on PC (with both platforms including early access to Xbox exclusives), plus, you get even more free games with Xbox’s Games With Gold. There’s not much else that needs to be said, except that, when compared to the competition, Microsoft is charging the least. If we’re wading into a streaming-only, subscription-based future for gaming, this one is the friendliest for gamers with low incomes, and works out to a hundreds of games for less than the price of one.

One factor I think is especially underrated is Game Pass’s support for PC gamers, which leads right into the next thing...

Play Anywhere

Play Anywhere is probably so criminally underrated because of the general sentiment that Xbox doesn’t have enough high-selling exclusives to draw people to it, but that doesn’t make it any less pro-consumer. With Play Anywhere, if you buy a game on the Xbox One or Windows 10 digital store, you’ll get the same game on the other platform, including cloud saves, cross-play, and achievements. Basically, Play Anywhere lets you repeatedly, without any extra subscription, get two games for the price of one. Aside from the obvious value in that, letting people who own both Xboxess and gaming PCs jump between the two so seamlessly is a blessing, and, for the first time in Xbox’s history, it also lets people who don’t own a console play Microsoft exclusives with their friends who do.

So, not only are people who own both types of hardware always getting one free game, but it has also completely stopped people from needing to buy an Xbox just to play first-party titles. I’ve seen Microsoft criticised for this as though bringing PC players into their ecosystem devalues the Xbox and may have contributed to its lesser sales (when compared to the PlayStation 4), but I feel like that’s misguided criticism. If it’s bad for Microsoft as a company, that isn’t the problem of the consumers, and it shouldn’t be.

Fact is, PC gamers now get access to games that would normally be locked behind a $US500ish box, at least for the Xbox One X, and that’s a step in the right direction. Despite how well marketing in the games industry has lead a lot of people to have brand loyalty so strong it’s tied to their identities, platform-exclusive games are only good for the people selling them, not for anyone who’s playing them.

Accessibility

Microsoft’s Accessibility program is leading the industry right now. First up: the Xbox adaptive controller, which is designed to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility. Microsoft describes it as a “unified hub for devices that help make gaming more accessible,” and it allows you to connect external devices like switches, buttons, mounts, and joysticks to create a custom controller.

There’s also fully customisable button mapping for regular Xbox controllers, more detailed and customisable controllers with more options like the Elite 2, closed-captioning and narration options for the entire dashboard, speech to text, game transcription, American Sign Language support via video calls, and more stuff you probably haven’t heard of if you aren’t one of the thousands and thousands of people who need those features. Put simply: Xbox is giving people the ability to play games, where otherwise, they may never have been able to at all.

A website called caniplaythat.com also recently gave Gears 5 a full 6/6 score for playability for deaf gamers, with their cons listing “not a single thing”. Their opening paragraph says “What follows isn’t so much a review as it’s a series of “Look at all the things they got so very right.” Because what they got right is everything. There’s not a single thing I can say needs improving in terms of Gears 5’s Deaf/hoh accessibility.” It’s a glowing review that adds to an ongoing chorus of praise towards Microsoft for their efforts in allowing more people to play games.

So, there you have it. Letting you play games you bought well over a decade ago on brand new hardware for free, a subscription service that actually feels like incredible value for money, free games for people playing on two sets of hardware, a step away from the money-hungry attitude that you need to buy expensive consoles to experience games that could run just fine if you already own a PC, and a whole lot of effort being put into making sure more, different kinds of gamers can… play games.

While it may feel like Microsoft has been lagging behind Sony this generation because of their lack of big, exclusive games, we shouldn’t ignore all the good they are doing just because of that. The more we praise all of this good, the more likely it is that Sony and Nintendo will take note and hopefully follow suit.

Of course, thanks for watching and reading Kotaku, and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Alanah Pearce has been writing and making videos about video games for almost a decade, which is very financially at odds with her life goal; to go to space. Please tweet her words of encouragement here: https://www.twitter.com/Charalanahzard 


Comments

    Really? Just four things, one of which is backwards compatibility that Nintendo did for both the Wii and Wii U already? Admittedly they didn't do it for Switch but I'm not sure how they could have worked that. Having said that, I don't think backwards compatibility is a particularly big deal. If you want to play your old games, hook up an old console.

    Accessibility is no doubt important but both Nintendo and Sony are doing work in that area too. The compatibility stuff between Xbox and PC is admittedly kinda cool, but it does devalue the Xbox, and yes it does affect consumers. Why would I buy an Xbox if I can play the same game on my PC? I mostly buy consoles for the exclusive games or if I think I'll get a better experience on them and the Xbox One hasn't offered me either of those things.

      The Wii and Wii U BC is somewhat because of the direct genesis both the Wii & Wii U had from the original Gamecube. Whilst excellent, it wasn't a particularly impressive effort, especially with the beyond and above Microsoft acheived in its BC program.

      And IMO, BC is a huge deal, otherwise we look into the face of losing these titles forever. The 360\PS3 onwards were very well much digital consoles, and without support for these ecosystems from the platform owners, these games will become unplayable.

      And sorry, Ninty & Sony's work in accessibility pales into nothingness compared to Microsoft. Adaptive controls are one thing, but the polish in Gears 5 for example for deaf gamers is outstanding and an industry highlight.

        Backwards compatibility with digital-only releases is a bit of a different kettle of fish to physical releases. The physical releases are always going to be there. With digital, it depends.

        Also how do you "lose a title forever" if it can't be played on a modern console? If you have those old games, you should still have your old console that plays them. I can understand wanting to reduce clutter around the TV and what not, but realistically how often are you going to be playing them? Is it that much of a hassle to take it out of the wardrobe and temporarily connect it up? You don't even need to keep an old CRT TV around when you can get converters that are relatively cheap.

        I actually know a few mates that are into retro collecting and they almost never hook up their consoles to play any of the games they own.

          I think your arguments 'have a sense', if not a practicality with retro consoles, but again, I disagree on PS3\X360 and up. Even with the physical title, plenty of games had patches and other content updates that added plenty of new features.

          And I'm a retrocollector myself. Personally, accessibility to play is important, otherwise you won't use it. But it took a lot of effort to get there with my collection.

          Surely you can see a benefit in your current 64-bit PC being able to run all (or most) of your old 32-bit PC games? If it wasn't there, you could certainly keep an old 32-bit PC around with an old version of Windows to run those games (and maybe a 286 to run the 16-bit games), but it would be nowhere near as convenient. You'd be less likely to revisit the games that require you to switch systems.

          The same is true for console systems. Tying up one fewer HDMI port and having one fewer sets of controllers lying around isn't nothing.

      While Sony has made improvements such as adding button remapping support in one of the firmware updates, there is nothing like Microsoft's adaptive controller for the PS4.

      Being able to build up a controller out of whatever inputs are most comfortable to the user is a pretty big deal for those who need it. I suspect it isn't much of a money spinner for them either, given the low volumes.

      one of which is backwards compatibility that Nintendo did for both the Wii and Wii U already?

      Microsofts method is far superior to Nintendo.

      Nintendo requires you to rebuy your games again. Whereas on the Xbox one you can just insert the 360 or Xbox disc and play without another purchase.

      You personally might not find it a big deal. But the majority do. It's one of the most appealing features on modern-day consoles. Not everyone can just "Hook up" their old console and play. You also seemingly forget that playing backwards compatible games on Xbox one also comes with the benefit of better performance and increased resolution.

        Nintendo requires you to rebuy your games again.

        What are you talking about? With the Wii, you just inserted a GameCube disc in and it worked. With the Wii U, you put a Wii disc in and it worked. You could even use the original controllers in both cases.

        I'm not talking about digital purchases on the Virtual Console, I'm talking about being able to play the games you already physically own on a new console. And the Wii and Wii U did that.

    Agree with pretty much everything listed above. The thing that makes me prefer PS4 over XBOX1 is the interface. I find the Xbox interface a complete mess. Not intuitive at all. Simple things like taking a screenshot & then finding it seem to be overly complicated. Also I feel trophies are handled better than achievements. For some reason there seems to be more satisfying to collect trophies than achievements. Again it may just be the interface. Hopefully Scarlett fixes these issues but I see no reason why an update couldn't improve the XB1 UX.

      Yeah the Xbox UI's have been utterly white for years and years.
      It is so unintuitive.
      I am not a fan..
      The "blades" UI was sort of ok but that was a LONG time ago now.

        Dammit. Meant to write "shite" not "white"
        Sorry about posting again, but i am not sending my previous comment to moderation purgatory.

    It seems like Sony has focused on big, blockbuster first-party games like God of War, Spider-Man, and Uncharted 4, while Microsoft has focused on filling their exclusive games with microtransactions

    I fixed this one for you, microsoft really showed what they wanted their exclusives to be right out of the gate this generation.

    Just like how PlayStation Plus seemed out of this world for including full games in the subscription service last generation, it will always be up to the market trailer to innovate to play catch up.

    I have to say that, with the exception of backwards compatibility (something I've always been behind since buying a Master System converter for my Megadrive) none of these innovations are huge selling points for me.

    I love that they have taken the initiative on accessible controls, but since I don't have the need for them, they won't be a system seller for me.

    The play Anywhere feature is neat, but it just means makes the Xbox less essential to me, as I can just play these games on my PC.

    I'll be in the minority when it comes to Gamepass, but I really don't think it's great long term deal for me. Based on the recommended deal of $15 a month, the full cost of 10 years, roughly a console's lifespan is $1800. That's a lot to shell out to not be able to keep any games. Plus, I don't love how it will drift the market to prioritise games that sign up to the program (why spend more on games if you already have access to games that look good), and in process hurt titles that don't sign up to the program. These are small gripes, and I think in the larger discussion Gamepass will help a lot of people play games they wouldn't usually be able to afford, but I can't shake these criticisms.

      Wait, what. Microsoft gave out full free games last gen too though? Didn't they actually do it first, because they've always had a paid sub? Which is funny because that was something Sony fanboys always laughed at us boxers about, yet they immediately shut up about it and began paying up

        Nah, Xbox's Games with Gold kicked in mid 2013, and was a response to Playstation's Instant Games Collection started mid 2010 Before that Gold membership was required to play online, (plus use streaming apps like Netflix until 2014). PS3's subscription service was never required for online play, only to access things like online saves, store discounts and other small perks (On top of the game collection).

          Ok yup, that does sound about right, thanks for clearing that up

          Haha "Boxers"
          I've never heard that before.
          What are we calling Sony fanboys nowadays then?
          Players? Lol

    While I do have to congratulate Sony on their success, I don’t think their first party titles were all that amazing. GoW was pretty good but had a dragging story and a pretty boring fighting mechanic. Spiderman had the worst fighting system and a boring and overplayed story. I hope they do reinvent themselves when the sequels arrive but honestly, they felt overhyped and were not all that amazing. But I did really love Detroit.

    I feel like by the end of this console generation Xbox has literally done everything better the Sony, better console (speed & specs) , better online, better controller, backwards compatibility. etc. The only thing it hasn't done is make good games LOL. Its probably the most important thing, Sony smashed hat one out of the park.

      100% agreed. It also didn't help that the OG and S Xbox specs were weaker than the PS4's. I think that helped establish Sony's ecosystem pretty well, the games just flowed from that.

        For sure. Sony started ahead in the console specs, usability and games library. Microsoft was chasing tale from the beginning.

    These are all good things that Microsoft are doing.

    It's just a shame they won't do anything about the XBone's garbage user interface.

      IMO, its better than the PS4 (and the UI lag has finally been fixed!), but I agree its still awful.

      I actually liked the previous to current interface, it was ugly, but the most practical by a longshot.

        Honestly I think every interface overhaul since the original XBox 360 'blades' interface has been a colossal mistake.

          ^^ THIS ^^
          So much this.
          I agree 100% with this comment.

    The One X is a magnificent console - far beyond the PS4 pro. I haven't bought a non-exclusive title on PS4 (apart from PSVR) since its release.

    And the controllers - particularly the elite controllers (apart from the bumpers) - feeling those wheels slip via the triggers on Forza Horizon is amazing.

    Going from Destiny 2 on PS4 Pro to Xbox One X was like night and day in terms of graphics and controller force feedback.

    I'll still take MS's quarterly profit over Sony's yearly earnings any day.

    Totally agree with all of this, Game Pass is a godsend and As someone who has both an X1 and a PC Play anywhere has done nothing but enrich my experience, I’ve got no ideas why people think it’s a negative thing??! I will quite often play a game on X1 and then move into my Room and continue to play it on my PC when someone else claims the TV etc.

    You forgot the Xbone Controller.

    Like, that's it, that's all they needed to do, every generation of Xbox has had the best, masterpiece, of a controller. I feel filthy even touching a peasant Playstation controller seemingly designed for non-human players. I had to make do and suffer with the PS3, but when I get a PS4 thankfully I can buy a custom Xbox style controller for it and it'll be worth every damn dollar.

    I'd just like to preface this by saying I enjoy and value all the game companies, if I had enough cash I'd get them all, but I don't. I have an xbox and a switch. I may go Sony next gen tbh, I'm not sure yet.

    But man, the Sony fanboys and Microsoft haters just really rile me up. Well, I'm a bit lacking in passion these days to be riled, it's more of a resigned sigh tbh. It's like my mate at work, he just talks down on the xbox and worships Sony like they are the messiah. But then at least he really enjoys their far superior exclusives, like Spiderman and God of War, so unlike people who only play multi platform games, at least he has a tiny sliver of justification.

    Look, Sony won this generation. It was all sewn up a couple of years in, at best. We get it. But, just like Microsoft themselves, they run a company, they do this...to make a profit.Sure they are passionate about it, you would have to be. But they're not your cool uncle who are just there to supply you with cool games, and rub you on the head and say run along little scallywag, enjoy yourself! For that matter , nor do Microsoft. But, also remember, that this loss in profit is absolutely nothing to them. I'm unsure, but is it true that Sony depends on their Ps division for rather a lot of their profit these days? Any way, Microsoft can eat these losses up ten gens in a row.

    Now, for the people above who are all like " oh wow that's like 4 things durrrr " ...and I'm not demonising Sony nor advocating for MS here...what have Sony done to get games into your hands this gen? And for that matter, are you really going to act like helping disabled people get back into gaming isn't just a huge god damn slice of warm wholesome pie? And sure, the PR would have factored into it, but the end results are absolutely wonderful.

    Anyway, have Sony supplied us here with PS Now yet, to play some older games, which you can do very easily on xbox nowadays? Have they announced a very nicely priced and consumer friendly gaming sub, let alone had it available to us here for months? They haven't, no. ( I see there's the usual article up for best prices on a new game, the Outer Worlds , which rather excellently is completely irrelevant to me, as come Friday it will be installed asap on my xbox, all for the extra amount of $3 to my monthly sub, an amount I don't even notice )

    [ A small aside at this point : I'm currently playing shadow of the tomb raider, bloodstained, slay the spire, world war z through game pass, and was lucky enough to test out games for free that I didn't get into and so didn't waste money on like Monster Hunter, Gears 5, the metro games, I could go on for a while. I'll say, while it's nice to enjoy the benefits of having the best exclusives and a bigger player base ( not to mention a slightly more powerful base machine ) it really shocks me that Sony customers aren't a little mad at Sony for not bringing something of this manner to the table for them yet. Indeed, when I tell Sony owners about it, it's as if they don't really understand the concept of gamepass at all, it really baffles me if I'm honest ]

    What they have done, is provide a really great supply of exclusive games for their customers by making very smart partnerships with very talented developers. MS...hasn't done this. Besides Forza Horizon 3 and 4 ( which I will for once objectively say are the best driving games this gen by a considerable margin, if your tastes lean towards arcade and not sim of course ), they have really done poorly, even Halo was a bit meh - in the campaign department anyway, the multi was extremely fun and balanced, indeed it still is. Also, by dint of Microsofts poor vision of the kinect being essential to their gaming plans this gen, this meant that , as stated above, they released a less powerful console because that stupid camera ate up costs.

    Note that Sony didn't trump them greatly with the specs, they just didn't have a shitty peripheral built into their console and so all the money went towards the power ( I'm not 100% sure on this point I'll admit, but it's what I read years ago ). Now you can say that MS should be applauded for trying new things, but I believe one of Sony's considered strong points this gen was one of being all about the games and not going the whole media device angle, so there has been little applause, and I believe rightly so. The original kinect was decidedly average and as the successor was not a huge leap, it was just poor judgement.

    I'll stop to make a point here that I only just considered; that being the VR headset which Sony made available for their console, which sadly has no equal on the xbox. Even tho expensive, and I hear a little undercooked ,on ps4 ( indeed, the PC headsets suffer the same faults still )I would still have liked the option to check this out on my console as I only own an old laptop.

    Now, I made a comment in the thread above about how Sony players used to roast xboxers about having to pay for a sub to play games ,even though the MS network was faster and more stable, and yet when ps4 dropped and they started charging, suddenly
    everyone opened up to this idea strangely! (On this subject, how shit was it when I couldn't game online for a month and the possibility of having stolen data loomed over my head....oh wait, yeh that wasn't me, that was many of my friends, who laughingly said it was ok, Sony gave me free vouchers and games anyway, as if you can put a price on time. That's what a free network got ps3 owners anyway. Oh and yes before you counter with the red ring fiasco, I literally got my console back within a week, completely free, but yes that was a week too many, I'll admit that. Ironically, given the subject of this massive rant,
    - which look, I'm sorry for, but feel is fine considering the frequent and often lengthy comments I've read over the years by other people who dominate these forums...you know the ones ..they seemingly believe their word is gospel , that they are the gaming law etc. -
    in lieu of enjoying the newly released Bioshock, I had almost as good a time enjoying God of War 2 on my old ps2 until it returned.

    Ok so people might say, well the xbox is just irrelevant with play anywhere and the fact it has very little good exclusives, and that may almost be true this gen. Next gen could very well be different. But I think it's rather excellent that the down and out competitor, went on and did some great things for their customers and indeed consumers even after knowing they got trounced. I mean much, much different scenario obviously, but look at Sega, got whomped outta the whole damn game. And you need competition people, don't think Sony or MS wouldn't try less if they had it all to themselves.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is...stop being such pathetic fanboys of any one company. No that's not it. I can't say that, as I am the biggest Nintendo fanboy out and look past their stupid decisions purely because of their quality exclusives. So, instead don't just blindly bash on the company you didn't back in the race like hur hur Microsoft did so shit this gen they're soooooo "gay" and shit. Maybe instead, stop to consider what they are doing right, what your preferred company is doing wrong, and vice versa.

    And obv, don't act like a ten year old during the snes/genesis wars of the nineties. NO company deserves that much faith and worship and respect...it should be the other way round damn it. Phew. Rant over

    I find it interesting in these articles with simplistic comparisons of Playstation V's Xbox sales and how Microsoft has to sell so many more units to be number 1 that the writers don't realise that Microsoft isn't even playing that game. You need to read up on "The Infinite Game" by Simon Sinek (plenty of youtube videos on the subject by him) to understand what "the game" is. When you understand the Infinite Game you will see that Microsoft is a master of it and has been for decades outlasting every form of major competition, constantly re-inventing itself. Sure they would prefer to be number one in this specific comparison (and every category) but it is essential in the Infinite Game to have a worthy competitor as this drives innovation and that benefits Microsoft and Sony and the consumer.

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