As it has done the last few years, Microsoft kicked off E3 2013 with its press conference that focused mostly on the new Xbox One, but did give us a few tidbits on the good ol’ 360. Here are some of the more relevant highlights.
The 360 is dead. Long live the 360!
Want an Xbox One but don’t want to pay the price to get one? Well, you can get an Xbox 360 that kinda looks like an Xbox One. The Xbox 360 is getting another makeover incorporating design elements of the One, starting today. The existence of a redesigned console isn’t a surprise really, but with a new console out this holiday, I would have liked to have seen a price drop to go with the new look. No dice as you’re getting the standard SKUs of a 4 GB for $200, a 250 GB for $300, and a 4 GB and Kinect bundle for $300.
In other 360 news, Microsoft have answered back against Sony’s PlayStation Plus subscription by rewarding all Xbox Live Gold subscribers with two free games per month starting in July with Halo 3 and Assassin’s Creed 2. Gold subscribers are also getting Fable 3 in June. This will continue up to the launch of the Xbox One. This is nice, though the games are a little bit older than what PS+ typically offers. Hopefully Microsoft will continue with some sort of free game reward for Gold members after the One’s launch to try and keep up with what Sony are offering with their premium online subscription service.
Finally, the 360 is still getting lots of support, including a nice-looking game based on Max and the Magic Marker called Max: The Curse of the Brotherhood that on the surface could appeal to younger gamers. It was one of the few highlights for kid and family gaming from the press conference, though that was about what we expected.
Family gaming highlights
This conference wasn’t going to feature a lot of this. Even with the new Kinect sensor, there was a lot of core gaming content, and some of it was pretty solid looking. Forza 5 has all-ages potential as a racing simulator, and Kinect Sports Rivals, which only warranted pre-show publicity on Spike TV, is similarly a potentially good title for families to play together.
The two biggest highlights were both creative games. Project Spark is an open-world game that lets you build, play, and share anything you can imagine. If that sounds kinda like LittleBigPlanet, you’re not alone as we got the same vibe. It looks to have a little bit more depth and variety to it than LBP, plus you can supplement regular controls with voice commands on the Kinect. Hopefully there will be a solid single-player mode for the creatively-challenged folks. The other highlight was Minecraft: Xbox One Edition, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given the success of the 360 version. My kids are Minecraft nuts, and when they play it on their tablets it gets a lot of attention.
Pricing and other tidbits
We were not going to get more clarification on the whole controversy around used games and once-per-day check-ins over the internet as Microsoft chose to focus almost exclusively on games (with a quick SmartGlass integration demo). We did see integration with TwitchTV, which will let you livestream your gameplay directly to the service if you choose. It was a nice and necessary addition what with Sony integrating game sharing with the PS4.
The most important details revealed of course, were price and availability. The Xbox One will be available in November (no exact day has been set as of this time), and will be available for $499 with a 500 GB hard drive, built-in WiFi, controller, and Kinect sensor. The $500 price point was somewhat disappointing, and came in over most predictions. From a standpoint of included components, the $500 price point makes sense. This is a much more powerful console and has an improved Kinect sensor included. Unfortunately, the price doesn’t seem to reflect the realities of the console business. Gamers are already upset over some of the more restrictive elements of the Xbox One. Tacking on a $500 price point in a point of time where console gaming isn’t exactly at its healthiest will not help. Microsoft needed to eat more of a loss on this console, and a $399 price point was probably a better way to go, maybe even $429. The mandatory Kinect sensor is not helping here either as it’s adding a significant cost to the console akin to what the Wii U GamePad contributes to the cost of that console. The initial price point of the PS4 could be a huge factor in the initial success of the Xbox One. At $500, most gamers will have to make a choice this holiday season, if they can even afford to make a choice at all.
All in all, not a bad showing from Microsoft. Some of the core games like Ryse: Son of Rome and Titanfall from the folks who used to bring you Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will get grown up gamers excited, but the price point, DRM restrictions, and still unanswered questions will hover the Xbox One for quite some time.