Could it be game over for XBox One?

A young man plays Grand Theft Auto IV on the Sony Playstation 3. Picture: Getty
A young man plays Grand Theft Auto IV on the Sony Playstation 3. Picture: Getty
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Launch of new console bombs as many claim that it features too many elements they aren’t interested in, reports Rhiannon Williams

THEY were once confined to the bedrooms of shy, geeky boys as a gateway to harmless escapism. Now video games consoles have become part of consumers’ every­day lives, and boomed into a multi-billion pound industry.

The UK boasts an estimated 33,600,000 active gamers, who spent around £3,800,000,000 on games, consoles and devices last year. Last month alone, consumers spent £137 million on Xbox hardware, software and accessories, trumping rival consoles from Nintendo and Sony. So it was amid great excitement that Microsoft announced the launch of its latest console Xbox One last week, 12 years after its first foray into gaming by releasing the original Xbox.

Yet the reaction from the gaming community was far from the rapturous reception expected. Critics descended on Twitter and the blogosphere to lampoon the hour-long launch. So where did it all go wrong, and how is Microsoft failing to cater for its market?

The primary issue critics picked up on was the console’s desire to market itself as a jack of all trades. Xbox One uses three operating systems to combine live TV, games, films and fellow Microsoft product Skype in a one-stop all-included entertainment system package, all controlled via voice and facial recognition.

The release from Xbox rather creepily intones “the more you interact with Xbox One, the more it gets to know you and learns what you like”. In order to start the console up, all users need to utter is the immortal words “Xbox on” and watch it spring to life. The future has 
indeed arrived.

Jaclyn Wilkins, gaming expert at Charles Russell LLP, maintains the console’s launch was a “significant step” for the next generation of consoles in the games market. “Gone are the days where the games console is purely for die-hard gamers,” she says. “The consoles of the future will be a key living-room device for everyone.”

James McQuivey of Forrester Research suggests it may even be time to retire the “game console” moniker, arguing that Microsoft should downplay the gaming
element to target users previously unacquainted with Xbox.

Yet the die-hard gamers themselves vocally disagreed. Games and entertainment site IGN UK conducted a poll of 76,000 of its visitors to gauge their reaction to the launch. The results were far from positive: 36,004 users, a whopping 47 per cent, voiced their dissatisfaction at the console boasting too many elements they weren’t 
interested in, whilst 21,946 people (29 per cent) said the launch was “nothing short of a disaster”.

George Charles, of VoucherCodesPro.co.uk, explains that Microsoft could be failing to fully grasp the wants and needs of its customers.

“Microsoft’s president of interactive entertainment told the conference that it’s not just a games console but the ‘ultimate all-in-one home entertainment system’,” he says. “That’s all very well and good, but is that really what consumers want? According to our poll, it would suggest not.”

Similarly, consumer website www.VoucherCodesPro.co.uk, asked 1,112 UK gamers for their opinion – 47 per cent of correspondents said they felt a “games console should stick to gaming”. A further 39 per cent said that they “didn’t care” about the new television capabilities.

This, adds Charles, could be a key weakness when it comes to establishing what the Xbox One is trying to achieve in terms of pleasing consumers.

“In my opinion, the primary concern of a games console should be its games and it seems that a good few respondents echo that sentiment,” he says. “Is Microsoft trying to do too much? It might possibly be the case that they are trying to appeal to too broad a market and neglecting the desires of the gaming community who are their primary consumer base. We’ll have to wait and see.”

While Microsoft can hardly be blamed for wanting to increase Xbox’s One’s marketability beyond, somewhere along the way it seems as if the gaming function of the console has
become secondary to the designers’ desires to tick as many boxes as possible.

In a highly competitive, incr­easingly lucrative market 
foc­used on social media, connectivity and instant entertainment, it’s possible Microsoft is trying too hard to please the new 
generation of multimedia consumers and not enough to satisfy the loyal customers who have forked over hard-earned cash for years.

And it’s cash that’s needed to purchase the ultimate multifunctory device with a hefty price tag to match. A set price has yet to be announced, but faithful gamers can tentatively pre-order Xbox One for a whopping £600 on Amazon, though the actual price is likely to be closer to £399. That’s a lot of money for a lot of additional extras that many gamers have indicated they don’t want or need.

In an age when our phones are easily as powerful as some computers, it is clear to see Xbox One isn’t just competing against other consoles any more – it’s every gadget out there.

Which makes it all the stranger that during the launch event Microsoft said that the television is still “the most important screen” in the house, a view many consumers may contest, given the inexorable rise of tablets, laptops and smartphones.

Only time will tell how Xbox One will be received, and how the revolt of the gamer market faithful will affect the way huge tech companies like Microsoft respond to the wants and needs of their market.

Stiff competition in the battle of the consoles

NINTENDO WII U

Significantly smaller than its predecessor the Wii, the Wii U features a touchscreen embedded in the controller, allowing gamers the option to watch their progress on the hand-held device or on the larger television screen. Compatible with many of the games from the original Wii, the console has already sold in excess of 3.45 million units worldwide since its launch in November last year.

Wii U console, £209.99 from amazon.co.uk

XBOX 360

An oldie but a goodie, the Xbox 360 has sold more than 77.2 million units in the eight years it has dominated the games industry.

Call of Duty 2, Gears of War and Halo 3 are among its most popular titles that have helped to cement the Xbox as a gaming force to be reckoned with, following years of Sony’s domination of the gaming marketplace.

An updated version Xbox 360 S was made available in 2011.

Xbox 360 console, £189.99 from amazon.co.uk

Playstation 3 (ps3)

The fiercest competitor for the Xbox’s crown, the PS3 was the first and currently only console to use Blu-ray Discs as its primary storage medium. More than 70 million of the consoles have been sold worldwide, and in the wake of the Xbox One’s launch disappointment, gamers’ hopes are high for the impending release of PS4, touted for release in the autumn.

PlayStation 3 super slim console, £147.99 from amazon.co.uk

Nintendo 3DS XL

Launched with much fanfare due to its dual 3D screens which do not require the user to don awkward 3D glasses, the 3DS XL

succeeded the wildly successful 3DS, the natural evolution of Nintendo’s bestselling hand-held console the GameBoy – 31.09 million people can’t be wrong.

Nintendo 3DS XL console, £139.99 from amazon.co.uk

Apple iPad mini

Not a games console in the conventional sense, but downloadable apps are a growing part of the gaming market. A smaller, more portable and affordable version of the iPad, the mini offers users the chance to play the much-loved Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Plants versus Zombies games on the move. Who knows, you might even get a little work done while you’re at it.

iPad mini 16GB, £258.99 from amazon.co.uk