10 ways the Xbox 720 can win the next gen
14th Apr 2013 | 13:00
TechRadar's ten-point plan
Considering the number of rumours about the new Xbox circling around right now, we're considering changing April to Xbox-ril here at TechRadar. And as the stories have come flooding in, the gaming community has been unsurprisingly vocal in letting us know how it feels.
Until now, word has been that the new Xbox will have a feature that would make it only playable online, while saying goodbye to backwards compatibility and - though this third one's the least likely – blocking the use of old games.
Now a new batch of rumours point to Microsoft releasing not one but two consoles. While the devices will be connected to the net all the time, the main unit won't need to be online to play local games. Good news, if it's true.
As Xbox 720 is the subject of such heated speculation right now, we thought we'd put forward our own ten-point manifesto - with added opinion from some fellow tech journos - to suggest how Microsoft could unveil a winner when it finally unveils its new console on - allegedly - May 21.
1. By beating Apple to the punch
Apple might not be gunning for the gaming market directly - though the smartphone has itself risen to gaming glory - but Cupertino is showing signs that it wants to dominate our living room space with the much-rumoured Apple iTV.
Microsoft knows this, and if the latest bunch of rumours about its XTV media service are to go by, it considers Apple just as much a contender right now as Sony.
But the idea of having to buy a second device - aka the Xbox Mini - to get full Xbox functionality isn't hugely compelling.
According to sources speaking to the Verge this week, the Mini is a box that passes a cable box signal through the Xbox via HDMI, with the Xbox UI overlaying the TV.
If Microsoft wants to to be our one-stop media shop, it's going to need to offer the full media experience at a reasonable price and without any of the faff.
And if XTV is good enough Microsoft could already be in charge of the living room space by the time Apple rolls in. We'd certainly rather use Kinect than that rumoured iRing to control our media viewing.
2. With less waiting, more playing
"Good news - loading screens are a thing of the past! But you will have to sit through a ten-minute update almost every time you want to play online."
Thanks, but no thanks. One big thing we like about what we've heard about the PS4 so far is the promise of less hanging around, allowing gamers to start playing titles before they've even finished downloading.
The big frustration right now, as found on services like Steam, is how often if feels like "updating" is our most-played game.
If the new Xbox is going online then updates need to be kept to an absolute minimum, and always in the background.
3. By keeping the controller
It was particularly interesting that Sony chose to show off the PS4's controller at its PS4 unveiling in March while keeping the actual unit a secret.
It just went to show how important the gamepad is to users. But whichever way you swing it, there's no denying that the current Xbox 360 controller is perfectly crafted.
So it's safe to assume we'll get the same again, right? Well, not necessarily. The goliath handset of the console's predecessor showed us that Microsoft is happy to take a few risks that don't always pay off.
We ask that this time round it doesn't. It's found a winner in its current controller - let's keep it that way.
4. Streaming, streaming, streaming
Supposed leaked specs claim the console will be powered by an AMD system-on-chip. The architectural leap - though beneficial for game developers - means that backwards compatibility is unlikely.
And as the new rumours have pointed out, the console will need the Xbox Mini to be attached in order to offer retrospective play.
This is one solution, but we'd also like to be able to stream old games if and when backwards compatibility isn't an option.
Now, the PS4 isn't backwards compatible, but it will offer a streaming service of PlayStation 1, 2 and 3 games. We'd like to see the same thing implemented on the new Xbox and we can't see any reason why it wouldn't be able to.
An online marketplace with every Xbox and Xbox 360 game ever released, available for insteand download? Yeah, we could learn to like that.
5. No more unnecessary Live charges
Xbox Live has somehow lasted this long with Microsoft charging gamers to use the service (well, for a proper Gold membership at least). The PlayStation 3, on the other hand, has had online services free from day one.
This begins to feel very unfair when it means shelling out extra money to use services like Netflix that we're already paying for separately.
Sure, the premium stuff will still be there on the new console, but if Microsoft is going for the big media approach then non-gamers shouldn't be punished for wanting to access current service subscriptions through their console.
Oh, and ditch Microsoft Points while you're at it. They just don't make sense anymore.
6. Kinect evolved
This could be what makes or breaks the new Xbox. Right now, Kinect can be summed up in one word: limited. Yet there's little doubt that the new console will be baking the feature into its UI.
As such, we want a nice fluid interface that's functional but, more importantly, reliable. One thing we've heard is that the new Kinect will be able to detect up to six people at once.
It will also allegedly detect eye movement, pausing media when a user looks away. This feature appears on the Samsung Galaxy S4, so it's not out of the question that it might pop up on Microsoft's new console. However, while potentially useful, we're not yet sold on it.
Really, Kinect is going to be most useful for the non-gaming side of the new Xbox, and we're happy for it to be that way. After all, we're still fans of old-school controller play.
7. By keeping an eye on privacy
"I don't really care if you have to always have an internet connection for it to work properly," says games journalist Adam Hartley. "So long as no one else knows what I'm playing or looking at in the privacy of my own lounge, I'm buying it."
We agree. The risk of the next Xbox sharing more data than we'd like is a big turn off. We want the option to control all our share settings from the start, with a guarantee that none of our data will be passed on unwittingly.
8. Taking some lessons from Nintendo
Say what you want about the Wii U's hardware, its social functionality is an undeniable leap forward.
The Miiverse enables gamers to see what others around the world are playing, post hints and tips to public messageboard, and generally just engage. We want this - and more of it - in the Xbox 720.
The foundations are already in place; the Xbox 360 has prided itself on its online community. But it would be good to see that opened out a little more.
Sony is paying attention to social activity too, but so far it still looks relatively closed off. Microsoft has a real chance to crack the gaming social market.
9. Combining it with Steam
We've put this towards the end because it's the least likely scenario here - more of a pipe dream actually - but just think how powerful a weapon Steam could be for Microsoft's new console to wield.
Unfortunately (for Microsoft) we know all too well that Valve is bringing out its very own living room console - the Steam Box - and having a platform on the Xbox console could be shooting itself in the foot somewhat. Then again, is there a benefit in doing both?
The more likely alternative is for the new Xbox to inflate its marketplace exponentially and offer its own Steam-like platform.
A more comprehensive app/game marketplace would be a big pull for indie developers, and increasingly as the indie market continues to boom.
10. If it's always-on, make it good
So it looks like the always-online aspect of the next Xbox might be kept to just the TV side of the console. Good news for many, but it's still not a sure thing.
And if it turns out that we're wrong and always-on does apply to the games themselves, Microsoft is really going to have to sell it. Hard.
"If this played out, you would potentially spend hundreds on a console, £50 on a game, and still not be able to use it if your internet dropped out," says Matt Hill, Deputy Editor of T3. "It feeds into the whole 'leasing' culture that is rising around us, how we don't seem to truly own anything any more, we just pay increasing amounts of money to have it temporarily and on someone else's terms."
This is what Microsoft will need to address if such a console does end up being revealed. When smartphone owners can get increasingly better games for increasingly better value on their handheld devices (with offline playability) why would they invest a lot more money in something that's never really theirs?
In many ways it's a shame that SimCity was almost totally marred by launch issues involving its servers. While there are plenty of fair criticisms to be made about the game's online model, it has brought a few decent features with it that many people have overlooked.
For example, SimCity exists has an always-running global trade market, allowing players to buy, sell and exploit as the market fluctuates. If tonnes of players around the world are selling oil, the price of that resource will drop. And so on.
Andy Robinson, editor of CVG, thinks that these are the sorts of things that could make future games compelling. "Sometimes you have to be bold to be brilliant," he says "And this could well result in some fascinating connected games with persistent, MMO-like features."
If our gaming experience is going to exist solely online, we want to see these bold ideas put into action to help outweigh the negatives. This is down more to the game developers than Microsoft, but an always-online system would no doubt alienate a huge segment of gamers unless it really brings something unique to the table.
Just imagine an online Grand Theft Auto world that never sleeps, populated entirely by other players. You picturing that? Yeah, we wanna go there.