How are things? It has been quite a while since we have had any direct correspondence. You have not been as approachable in recent times as when you were the new kid on the block and wanted to show all of us this new device you referred to as the Xbox. Of course, it was a different time back then…we didn’t know what “HD” was, our controllers were all still wired, and you had some real ambition.
Lately, though…how should I put this? I’ve been hearing things. Seeing things, while we’re on the subject, that are beginning to make me wonder if your heart is still in this. I don’t want to dislike you, Microsoft, and I am one of the most open-minded and accepting gaming writers you will ever meet.
We do, however, need to have a talk.
Microsoft, we didn’t have a whole lot in common when we first became friends. My biggest interaction with you, really, had been using your Windows operating system to do things like browse the internet, write research papers and occasionally use a calculator. You had your PC world, with constant upgrades of hardware year in and year out, and I had mine where developers figured out ways to improve on existing technology with a given system. Everything was fine the way it was.
Naturally, though, the temptation to dive into this multi-billion dollar business would prove far too tempting for a technological powerhouse like you. Not only had you borne witness to the successes of Nintendo along with the failures of Sega, you got to watch as Sony, having never before tried their hand at a video game console, launched the PlayStation and became an overnight sensation. How could you not want to do the same thing?
Look at that. Starry-eyed and full of wonder and hope for the still mostly innocent video game industry. Where do we even begin? Sega, still sore after suffering total and utter defeat with the Dreamcast, pledged their immediate support for the new system, launching Jet Set Radio Future along with the fledgling Xbox in Japan. Tomonobu Itagaki loved the system so much that he made the Xbox the exclusive home of Dead or Alive 3. Project Gotham Racing, OddWorld: Munch’s Oddysee and even Fuzion Frenzy kept me entertained in ways that were not available anywhere else.
Of course, I didn’t forget a certain sci-fi shooter that was responsible for legitimizing the Xbox’s existence. Halo put a spell on me, a fighting, platforming and RPG fan whose only experience with first person shooters had been Perfect Dark and Medal of Honor. Oh, sure, I played with a mouse and keyboard on the Dreamcast with Quake III: Arena and Unreal Tournament, but we all know that wasn’t the same as using an actual PC. Regardless, the universe that Bungie created seduced me with its science fiction setting and classic tale of aliens vs. humans with a few twists thrown in for good measure. Not only was I sold, it looked like all the big developers were on board.
Let’s not forget multiplayer. If nothing else, don’t ever let anybody else tell you that you didn’t blow the roof open when it came to online multiplayer for consoles with Xbox Live. Sega tried it out, but they didn’t have a damn thing on what you pulled off. Sony had no clue what they were missing by not including online capabilities immediately with the PlayStation 2, and it would take them another generation to catch up. Nintendo wrote off the concept completely, and they suffer for it to this day. The Xbox, however, gave me the chance to do something I had dreamed about as a child.
I will always remember bringing home my copy of Capcom vs. SNK 2 for the Xbox. This was a particularly grand event for me, especially considering I already owned the same title previously on the PS2. Why would I pay for the same game twice? Because you let me play against other people from around the world. Arcades were disappearing, and interest in my favorite genre was plummeting along with them. Suddenly, with this game, no longer did I have to convince a friend to play with me and do my best to go easy on them, sometimes even letting them win a match. I got my ass handed to me by anonymous people from every country, and I loved every day of it.
I was in the minority for what gamers preferred to do online. Halo 2 made sure that multiplayer was as much a focus of the biggest sequel to be released on the Xbox, and you could say that shooters were never the same again after this. PC veterans would mock you and all of console gamers for suddenly catching on to what they had been doing for years, but Sony and Nintendo would have killed to be the ones who had originally taken in Bungie as an exclusive developer.
By the time talks of new systems came around, the landscape of gaming had changed. Grand Theft Auto was a household name, Square and Enix had merged, and Nintendo had slipped up big time with the GameCube. Sony was raking in money with the PS2, but you were doing fine in second place and wanted to be the first in line to show off what you had in store for us, just like that first reveal for the Xbox.
Looking at the launch title comparison, it’s easy to tell your priorities had shifted. Madden, two NBA games, Tiger Woods, NHL and Call of Duty 2…yeah, there wasn’t a lot for me there. In fact, aside from Condemned: Criminal Origins, I was perfectly fine waiting to get my hands on an Xbox 360. I did, however, love your implementing of achievements in every single game to be made available; even if I got tired of a certain game, I would now have another reason to give it a whirl.
To do that, however, I would require a working 360.
We all know what happened there, don’t we?
Now, to your credit, you tried to make amends. The Xbox 360 was designed poorly, and you dropped a billion dollars and extended everyone’s warranty, offering to repair or replace systems that received the “Red Ring of Death” as it has become known. The next hardware configuration, known as the Xbox 360 Elite, was supposed to make sure this didn’t happen again.
And just in case people were wondering about the new slim model…
What you’ve done here, Microsoft, is simply lose the trust of your customers. You have not once come out and stated that the Xbox 360 was hastily brought to the marketplace and rushed to release so that it could get the jump on this generation of systems. While Sony managed to bungle their launch of the PlayStation 3 with a lack of games to play, one thing they have never done is lie to our faces about mistakes that they made. When the PlayStation Network was hacked and subsequently shut down for weeks (a free service, but more on that later), Sony made up for it with free stuff: games, PlayStation Plus memberships, and most importantly, answers. What happened, how did it happen, and what were they doing to make sure it never happened again?
Since then, not only have you made it clear that customer loyalty does not matter, you have also alienated aspiring developers. After watching Indie Game: The Movie as well as reading interviews and listening to podcasts with the people covered in the film, it has become increasingly clear that the Xbox Live Arcade is more of a headache than a place to publish content. I am certain you could have done something to rectify this, but since you discontinued support for XNA Game Studio, I guess you really don’t care. I hope you paid attention to Sony’s PS4 conference where they made it clear that independent developers will have all the tools they need to self-publish.
I can see my Xbox 360 from here as I type this. It looks lonely, like a child whose parents recently moved and does not know anybody at school. The sad truth is that I still do not choose shooting things with guns as my number one favorite thing to do in a game, and the Xbox 360 does not have that many reasons outside of that realm for me to turn it on. Sure, I have the entirety of the Halo series to discover (I still have to play 3, ODST and Reach) and there is a new Gears of War out yesterday, and…erm…wow.
That’s really it, isn’t it?
The reality right now is that almost any major game will see release on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Some of them I will be able to play for free as a result of being a PlayStation Plus member. I pay for these exclusive extras while enjoying free online multiplayer. On your side, Microsoft, you’re simply embarrassing yourself. You honestly believe that I still need to pay an extra $50 a year for such luxuries as browsing the internet and streaming movies through Netflix? You want me to believe the future lies in Kinect and selling me with E3 performances by Usher?
I want you to do something for me, Microsoft. It’s not too daunting of a task, because you have done it before. I want you to impress me. I want you to lift the curtain on whatever it is you are hiding from us, whether it is called the Xbox 720, Durango or KinectVibeOrgasmatron 3000. Do not attempt to sell me with social media integration, streaming services or bullshit accessories. Show me games. Show me games I play and reasons to get excited about your next system. The Wii U is having trouble finding its place, and Sony’s big guns are already loaded. You have a chance to regain a lot of lost ground. Do not fuck it up.
As a great man once said, that will be all. You may return to your labors.