What we want from the next XBox

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Within the next month and a half, we’re likely to see the announcement of the next XBox. At the latest it’ll appear at E3 on June 10th (Usually the press conferences are the day before the show) but chances are Microsoft will want to follow Sony’s lead and hold their own event where the spotlight is fixed firmly on them. We know a few things about the console, its codename is Durango but it could be called Xbox Infinity, it’ll be broadly similar in specs to the PS4 but slightly less powerful, it’ll come bundled with Kinect 2.0. But what of the unknowns? In this piece we’ll look at what we’re hoping for from Microsoft’s next big thing.

A more open platform

This has always been risky for console developers but with the success of the indie scene showing no sign of stopping and massively multiplayer games needing a different kind of infrastructure, restrictions on what software will work on the console are going to need to go. If Microsoft can somehow create an environment where Indie publishers can get a direct route to their audience (which Microsoft laid to groundwork for with the flawed Indie Marketplace) possibly through a greenlight system as seen in Steam, they could open up a whole new market. There are still many people who can’t easily connect a PC to their living room television, but so many great indie experiences are built for that kind of environment. Similarly, success stories like DayZ would not be possible on home consoles thanks to the impossibility of modding or even free updates from developers. If this was opened up we could see a whole different kind of product appear on Xbox Live.

A subtle media experience

Both Sony and Microsoft have gone all out to force a ‘media experience’ down our necks over the last few years, particularly with Microsoft at last year’s E3. The problem with this is that they’re giving us the same service as we have on our PCs and tablets and phones, but with a much more complicated front-end. I don’t want to have to load up an app to read Facebook and then exit out and load up another app to watch Netflix, I want to select a movie from my library (where all my games are too) and then hit the guide button and have Facebook appear there if that’s how I’ve set it up. If all of these features were treated as the standard rather than something to show off, maybe they’d be useful.

The best bits of Windows 8

Going against the grain a little, I love Windows 8. The new Task manager and the multitude of Windows key shortcuts as well as the ability to run numerous apps on screen at once, sharing real estate intelligently really provides me with things I use. Now I’m confident that Microsoft will attempt to move over some ideas to the Xbox, but they need to be the right ones. Something like the task manager could be useful to show what the system is dealing with if we’re going to be running numerous apps at once. An ability to put more than one app on screen at a time is a must. Xbox Music is almost certainly going to appear, but let’s make sure it works in-game, it’s a fantastic service but it shouldn’t be relegated to its own discreet space.

Copy the Playstation 4

This is a little silly as I’m sure many of the features we’ll see that will be similar will have been in development for a long time before the Playstation 4 was shown off, but Microsoft shouldn’t be avoiding some of the best bits of the PS4 reveal. The media sharing was brilliant and I want to see it on both consoles, in the same way. Maybe using Smartglass integration we could edit replays on our tablets while the game is paused, or someone else could while we’re still playing.

Copy the Wii-U

The Wii-U is a great console with nowhere near enough games and lacking in the horsepower needed to keep up with next-gen. However, the Miiverse is absolutely stunning a large part of what makes the console special. The ability to pause a game at any point (and sometimes be prompted) to post comments on little drawings based on the game really engenders a sense of community. This could be tied into Facebook or any other social media platform, but having the interaction right there with other people playing the same game is a brilliant move and one I hope Microsoft shamelessly steals.

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An Achievement Overhaul

Achievements were a great idea and added to the playtime of countless games for anyone who succumbed to the addictiveness of cheevo-hunting. But they got a little stale and meaningless thanks to a lack of standardisation and ever increasing numbers. At one point I could compare my gamerscore to someone else’s at it would mean something, now I’ve got no idea if I’m better at games or have just played more (usually the latter). A new system where it tracks things like average game completion, time spent playing, and maybe a list of the hardest achievements and how many of those you have would be a lot more fun to compare, and might actually tell us something. Maybe there could be leaderboards with different divisions like Starcraft 2.

Smartglass

I like the idea of Smartglass but it’s woefully under-used so far. If, rather than information about the games/movies, you had community chat and a wealth of statistics about your own playing time and abilities and past record it would be something I’d use. Miiverse combined with Call of Duty Elite and Sony’s media sharing, all on one app that would work on your phone or tablet and update in real time.

Kinect up-close

I loved the idea of Kinect but it never really worked. We had some fun at school events with Kinect Sports, and the exercise games were impressive, but now we’ve moved to London there’s very little space so anything in a purple box is simply ignored. Microsoft needs to concentrate on the kind of Kinect experiences that people will actually use now that it’s coming in the box. Voice commands and swiping should be inherent in the OS, so every title uses the same commands. Head tracking like the wonderful TrackIR system could be used in anything first-person. Facial recognition that works reliably could form the backbone of the log-in system, working on the fly as new people come and sit next to you. I’m sure the grand gesture-based games will still survive, but let’s have more than that.

Mouse and Keyboard support

as great as the S controller is, sometimes I just need to use a keyboard or mouse. Entering codes and using any kind of social media is a nightmare without them, and there’s no real reason why it shouldn’t be supported from the start. Let us plug in a keyboard and mouse and use the Xbox like a PC, let us edit documents and check out webpages. Let us build our own sites based on our gamerscore and statistics, let us do more with the right input devices. How many more people would buy a home console if they found they could use it as an extra PC for their living room on their main TVs? I’m not saying you would be able to install any program you like, but with so many products being web-based nowadays, it could be secure and useful

Conclusion

The main thing I want from Microsoft is something that I will actually use. I’m getting fed up of extra features that I’ve never heard of anyone using, let alone enjoying. Playstation Home, Facebook on Xbox, console web-browsers. Integrate these features in a way that makes sense and we could see a significant improvement for this generation. Oh and some games would be nice too.

 

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