How will Microsoft’s DRM strategy affect the future of on-demand digital content?

While the means by which console gamers access digital content has come leaps and bounds in the last seven years, it’s still leagues behind the ease of access PC users have to digital downloads. And so it begs the question: how will the coming generation of consoles approach the tentative issue of on-demand digital content.

Steam has, since its inception, become one of the go-to places for buying ‘on-demand’ PC software. The handful of Steam Sales a year have become the virtual equivalent of survivors scrabbling for tins of beans at a petrol station, baskets filling with full-games at the price of a smartphone app. It’s not pretty – and some maybe argue such stark price cuts devalue a games long term worth – but it’s commercial and financial success is hard to fault.

And while services like Steam and Good Old Games exist as third-party platforms, they’re still giving PC users a day one access to a stream of content that grows on a daily basis. But with the next generation of consoles both sporting off-the-shelf PC components, will these ‘closed box PCs’ start to offer a similar digital service?

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Steam has become a staple for the modern PC gamer.

A shift in tactics

In recent months we’ve seen the first, and most significant, drive from Microsoft to sell the immediacy and convenience of their digital content. Xbox Live’ Arcade division has become as synonymous with the platform as the multiplayer features that drive it, but the presence of its ‘on-demand’ content has gone largely unnoticed.

And it’s not like we never knew it was there – but there’s something about paying full-price for a game that’s over two or three years old that somehow gets stuck in the craw. Do you want to pay £40 for a copy of Disney’s Bolt? When you can just go out and buy it in person for a fiver? Thankfully, this lopsided take on pricing has started to creep down of late, and Microsoft’s Xbox Live Sale has shown that ‘flash sales’ – and a more competitive approach to game sales – is clearly the way ahead.

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Can digital platforms really flourish, while a physical one still exists?

If Microsoft can learn a thing or two from Steam, then they’d be just as wise to pick up a few tips from the direction Sony has taken with its PlayStation Plus service. Beginning life as nothing more than a few discounts and some forgettable PS Mini’s, Sony has turned their premium service into a treasure trove of content. Admittedly, the free games you can download only remain for the life of your subscription, but if you’re a Vita owner (come on, one of you has got to be?) then you’ll practically never have to buy a game for it again. If PS Plus makes a successful transition onto the PS4, it could be the perfect platform for Sony to present its digital content in the right manner.

It’s also prudent to see these price changes on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live in context. Both platforms may well be approaching the end of their reigns at the top of the console hardware food-chain, but both sport hundreds of titles across a myriad of genres. With such a significant library of media, Microsoft and Sony can afford to significantly discount such titles without fear of undercutting their own regular price structure.

Digital vs physical

The bigger question, however, is how will Microsoft and Sony approach the digital release of new titles. Microsoft’s new approach to DRM, and its registration system for players using used titles, seems to be at odds with a possible ease-of-access mantra for digital downloads for new titles. A digital download is a one-time sale, while a physical copy can, potentially, be resold ad infinitum, which in turn would generate supplementary income for Microsoft via said registration fees. Microsoft has essentially turned the pre-owned sale of its Xbox One titles into another potential cash cow.

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The issue of DRM could drastically affect the way Microsoft presents its digital content.

Say, for example, BioShock Infinite was available for a direct-to-console download on the day of release (such as was the case for PC users). What percentage of users would’ve chosen to download a digital copy, rather than purchase a physical one? Having a physical copy appeals to some, but being able to cut out midnight waits in the cold or issues with delivery services could be a real game changer for how console users consume their content in the future.

A Steam-powered future?

Valve’s much rumoured, and much hyped, Steam Box remains the perpetually chaos factor in this regard. For a platform the world knows next to nothing about, Valve has created a potential generation-breaker. Yes, a ‘closed box’ console would remove the ever-evolving power of an upgradeable rig, but Valve could create a system that could match the PS4 and Microsoft’s console in terms of raw processing power.

Mix this with a download-only delivery platform that’s easy and affordable, and Sony and Microsoft has real reason to sweat. Removing the overheads of producing and shipping physical media – and the cast-iron reputation Steam has built as a delivery service – and you have a beast that could turn the console market on its head. Of course, all these elements are only speculation, but the potential access to content offered by the Steam Box is an exciting one.

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Beware the Steam Box.

The success of software like Steam, or EA’s Origin service, has had an undeniable effect on the on-demand services of the big three console manufacturers, with much of their respective on-demand titles becoming less expensive and much easier to find. And while Steam remains the realm of the overclockers, its success and its reputation speak for itself.

While Sony has been rather quiet on the issue of DRM and the PS4, the future of ‘on-demand’ content on next-gen consoles remains a starkly unclear one. While offering a digital version would allow Microsoft and Sony to directly control the pricing of their content, the dual presence of physical discs means there will always be a competitive element that undermines the whole process. The rise of digital mediums and the lingering presence of a physical one has led some manufactures to devise alternative means to generate income in medium that is ultimately there to make money.

For the now, the possibility of an all-digital future isn’t quite the assured reality we were all expecting.

Furian Fridays | A spoonful of reality helps the Xbox One go down

This week’s Furian Fridays sees ever-cynical Content Editor Dom Reseigh-Lincoln take a surprisingly optimistic approach to Microsoft’s recent Xbox One reveal.

Ah, there’s nothing like the vitriolic response to something new. We humans are creatures of perpetual habit, plodding about our lives in fear of the devil named ‘change’. But change, be he red and be-horned or not, is upon us. Behold, the eighth generation of consoles cometh. Lock up your daughters.

[quote] The days of this insular cabin console fever are about to be swept away [/quote]

Perhaps we’ve simply had our PlayStation 3’s and Xbox 360’s for far too long. We’ve become over-acclimatised to the green swish of the Xbox 360 logo and the overture of the PlayStation intro. But the days of this insular cabin fever are about to be swept away, as consoles with eight-times the power of what we’re using now fast approach.

A tale of two reveals

The reactions to the separate reveals of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One could not have been any different. Sony’s official ‘reveal’ of the PlayStation 4 seemed to show a manufacturer determined to show they’d learned from the complacent cluster fuck that was the PlayStation 3, providing a powerful yet malleable platform that would appeal to both developers and consumers alike.

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“Look at the box. Don’t look for any games. LOOK AT THE BOX!”

But there was an air of seething cynicism in the run up to Microsoft’s announcement on Tuesday. And with an hour’s presentation that focused almost entirely on the Kinect 2-driven user experience of the Xbox One, many left the reveal with something of a bitter taste on their tongues. “Where were the games?” they cried. “Where was the actual in-game footage?” they mewed. “Kinect 2? NFL? Live TV switching? Nice one Microsoft!”

My dear gaming public, have you learned nothing from the last 25 years of gaming history? As much as we hate to admit it, the gaming landscape isn’t the insular medium it once was. As soon as Sony popped a DVD drive in the PlayStation 2, it brought the games consoles out of the dark depths of its own dimension and into the blinding light of multimedia possibilities.

[quote] Yes, Steven Speilberg is going to shoot a Halo TV series in black and white, while a single red Spartan runs about symbolising something. [/quote]

The rise of online services like Xbox Live and the PlayStation network feed us constant access to new games and experiences, while streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and LoveFilm have become the new boxset; revolutionising how we consume our media. Games consoles are no longer defined by a single function, and to survive in a world of touchscreen tablets, multi-functionality and Smart TVs; manufacturers have had to ensure their consoles can offer you more than just a games platform.

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“There’s no place like games. There’s no place like games. There’s no place…”

It still plays games, you know

Yes, Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal was EXACTLY what we expected: lots of pretty words, lots of Kinect 2 demonstrations and a couple of middle-aged men from EA and Activision gushing about their respective cash cows. But it was simply the confirmation of the inevitable. Yes, your Xbox One console will allow you to snap between your TV signal and your game with a single command (if it works); yes, you may be able to enjoy sports broadcasts with enhanced settings; yes, Steven Speilberg is going to shoot a Halo TV series in black and white, while a single red Spartan runs about symbolising something.

But it will play your games. Just like your Xbox 360 did; just like your Xbox did. The past eight years have given rise to TV-based channels and other live-streaming services, but it’s also seen Grand Theft Auto IV, Halo 3, Batman: Arkham City, BioShock Infinite and Skyrim. Microsoft may have attempted to penetrate your cerebellum with advertising, but you’ve also experienced some of gamings most beautiful moments.

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Remember when GTA IV took your breath away, while you played it on your MULTIMEDIA HUB!

The Xbox One will be a direct descendant of the Xbox One, with a great deal more power under the hood and the potential to amazing things. Creating a pure gaming machine is a noble idea, but it’s a foolish one. We just need to look at the once great house of Nintendo to see how clinging to once powerful principles can soon poison your legacy, relegating you to a corner that’s rarely paid much attention. Having a multimedia machine will save you a great deal of hassle in the future. You’ll be able to watch TV, Blu-ray movies and whichever other media you want to consume, while having truly magnificent games a mere command away.

For those who can only see a console by its games, simply return to the basement cave you still live in at your mother’s house (that poor woman) and set your alarm clock for June 11. Then you’ll have your games. Will you be happy then? Somehow, I doubt it.

Dom Reseigh-Lincoln is the Content Editor for @infiniterobots. He is that red Spartan. You can find him on Twitter @furianreseigh.

Xbox One | Infinite Robots reacts…

Microsoft’s new console, the Xbox One, has been revealed to the gaming world, but was it a revelation or more of misfire for them? We’ve collected together the thoughts of our writers to bring you what the IR hive-mind thinks of Xbox part three.

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Chris (Staff writer) says

chrisI’m the sort of person who needs to have the most up-to-date technology, and having had an Xbox 360 since launch, I am so, so ready for the next generation of video-game consoles. To sum up my feelings pre-announcement, one needs to look at the ‘take all my money memes’ that litter the Internet.

How do I feel post-announcement? I will still buy the console on launch day, though that excitement seems to have faded. Pre-announcement, limitless possibilities existed for the console; now we have the facts. I was initially wowed by the Kinect demonstrations and liked the idea of the Xbox as the entertainment hub of your living room. As a big NFL fan, Microsoft’s partnership with NFL made me weak at the knees.

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The Windows 8-style interface returns, but will it suit the needs of the Xbox gamer in the coming generation?

Given a day of reflection though, and my excitement was solely based around the ‘entertainment’ announcements. Then, when I really thought about the NFL partnership in particular, my cynicism began to take control of my thoughts: “Will this deal be available outside the US?” for example; or, “Will my console need to be connected to my Sky box to take advantage of the recording of live TV?”

While the games looked impressive, they didn’t really demonstrate anything new. Having EA unveil their latest iteration of FIFA scares me because it implies that the new generation will be iterative of the current generation. The massive 8GB of RAM opens up so many possibilities for developers, and EA seem to have harnessed the extra power into generating even greater realism.

Twitter: @mrfoofield

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Alex (Staff writer) says

alexThe newly revealed Xbox One looks to be a very capable multimedia hub. The seamless interchange between TV, games and HD Skype video calls looks very slick. The revamped Kinect is intriguing, offering a new range of possibilities for developers to play with. The console itself looks pretty swish, a brooding black slab of a machine. It’s just that none of these features are particularly thrilling.

I must admit, I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of Kinect’s microphone always being on. Yes, it’s useful for turning the console on with minimal effort, but the paranoiac in me is a little creeped out. Frankly, all these capabilities are great for the console to have, but I don’t really care about them. The overriding factor in console purchase for me will always be the quality of games available, and we’ve barely heard anything about them as yet.

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The Kinect 2 looks to be the linchpin of the Xbox One experience, but can it still function fully without it?

Sony have put rather more focus on showing off software thus far for their PlayStation 4, and it’s far easier to get excited over new iterations of Killzone and InFamous than it is the potential implications of cloud connectivity. The games we did see at Microsoft’s event weren’t exactly full of imagination and novelty. Of course, we’ll be interested in EA’s next-gen sports titles, but new IPs like Quantum Break capture the imagination so much more.

I don’t doubt that Microsoft will show us all manner of spectacular titles in the coming months, most probably at E3. They need to. With many people having concerns about the clampdown on pre-owned games, it really wouldn’t hurt to see more of Xbox One: the game console.

Twitter: @captainbeverage

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Shaun (Tech editor) says

shaunNow the dust has settled and the internet has had its vocal minority scream murder for not showing any game footage, I’m taking a very optimistic approach with the Xbox one. Looking at it from a business perspective; the Microsoft reveal was a solid presentation that far surpassed Sony’s inverted commas ‘reveal’. Microsoft gave us the console and we saw its vision for the future.

The console itself looks very non-descript and further enforces the notion that you’re not just buying a gaming console, you’re buying a multimedia entertainment hub and, if I’m honest, I’m okay with that. Of course, we’ll get a slim version a year or two down the line but this goes hand-in-hand with modern technology.

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The architecture inside the Xbox One – image courtesy of Wired.

If there was one negative to take away from the reveal, it was the excessive use of the word ‘TV’. We understand you want to dominate the living room Microsoft, but please, the majority of people watching your reveal aren’t the middle aged, North Americans you’re obviously targeting.

Now my internet rant is over, it’s time for some quiet reflection. Am I going to buy one? Of course. Will I love and adore the Xbox One as much as my 360? Of course. Do I care about the second hand game market? No, I’m old enough to afford the things I like which is probably why I’m part of a small minority actually excited for the launch. I use my Xbox 360 for all my entertainment needs, I am Microsoft’s ideal bitch customer: I spend lots of money on FIFA’s Ultimate Team, I subscribe to the various movie and TV streaming options available, I don’t shout at female’s on Xbox Live and I don’t send them abusive tweets.

Perhaps I’m just getting soft in my old age.

Twitter: @shaunielang

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Dave (Staff writer) says

daveHard not to feel disappointed by the Xbox reveal, if I’m honest. It’s been clear for a while that Microsoft is trying to move away from the gaming only console and is desperate to get a full multimedia system that does everything into the living room.

There were some cool announcements, predominantly the Halo TV show, but where are the games? It was jarring how little time was spent on showing software, when this is supposed to be a gaming console. Microsoft know how to make money, so maybe it’s right, and we core gamers are wrong. Maybe the console is what the masses want and will sell millions – but I’m a gamer and want lots of games, something Sony seem to understand better.

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The popular Xbox 360 controller design has been tweaked, rather than overhauled.

Blocking used games is also a hilariously misguided decision. A fee to play used games is going to affect the game industry in so many ways – most of which will be negative. Never mind the financial issues for many companies, what about the personal ones for the gamer. I can no longer borrow a game and take it round my friends to play, without having to pay more money? We have the Kinect 2; maybe for some that’s something to get excited about, but I personally thought they would have scrapped it – and it’s hardly been the ambassador for top quality games, either.

With a while until the Xbox One’s release, so a number of things can change and be added, but first impressions are far from good. I may seem extremely negative, but it’s hard not to feel let down after we’ve had a Microsoft console focus solely on games and the gamer, for the best part of a decade.

Twitter: @gamevana

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Dom (Content editor) says

domI can’t quite decide where I stand on the Xbox One, because we really haven’t seen much about it so far. The console box, a few staged tech demos and some pre-rendered trailers didn’t really show us anything, and it’s caught the ire of gamers and the gaming press alike.

The reveal, and the lack of certain details in the hours that followed, have raised some serious criticisms of upcoming hardware: how will the pricing structure of the new disc registration process work? How will it affect the pre-owned market retail has been so dependant on? And how integral is the Kinect 2 to the overall Xbox One experience? Members of the Microsoft fold have attempted to give greater clarity to these matters, but they’re likely to cast a shadow over the Xbox One until it’s well into circulation.

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E3 2013 could be one of the biggest in years if Microsoft and Sony bring out the big guns.

While it’s clear the Microsoft want to create an entertainment hub out of the Xbox One, they seem to be making a fuss out of nothing. We all own HD or Smart TVs – a single press of a button to select the HDMI signal is no real faff for anyone. But the last two Xbox consoles have been home to some of the best games of the last decade, so there’s no doubt that E3 will see some big guns blazing next month as Sony and Microsoft go head to head for your cash.

Twitter: @furianreseigh

So that’s our take on Microsoft’s new hardware reveal. Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @infiniterobots to get the debate going. For more Xbox One content, check out our Facts & Figures article and our opinion piece on Microsoft’s pre-owned plans.

Xbox One | Will Microsoft’s pre-owned strategy be the undoing of the Xbox One?

The dust is still settling on the unveiling of Microsoft’s new home console, the Xbox One, but an ever vigilant gaming public and media has turned their eyes to the issue that’s continued to dog speculations on the new generation – the future of pre-owned gaming.

While Sony made it clear (to an extent) in February that the PlayStation 4 will support the use of pre-owned PS4 titles much in the same way the PS3 does now, Microsoft have taken a far different tact, and it’s one that could drastically affect both how we play games and the retail markets we all use.

Microsoft’s unveiling of the Xbox One was the usual affair of green lights, pretty trailers and questionable tech demos, but many details were still left unanswered as journalists departed Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Would the new console support the use of pre-owned content? If so, would this support reflect the relatively liberal approach used for the Xbox 360?

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The Xbox One controller – one of the many interactive elements Microsoft are building around it’s Kinect-focused console.

The new pre-owned model for the Xbox One will be based around a registration process between your Xbox One console and the disc you’ve bought. When a brand-new copy of an Xbox One game is purchased, you’ll download the game direct to your hard drive and essentially ‘twin’ your copy of the disc to your profile. If you purchase said game second-hand, you’ll need to pay an activation fee to be able to register the disc and it’s content to this separate console and profile.

Microsoft were keen to stress that the registration process was there to link the disc to your profile, so that, by definition, you could still use the disc on another Xbox One console, so as long it’s accessed via YOUR profile. In a recent interview with CVG, Microsoft’s corporate VP Phil Harrison went into further detail on how the process will work for second-hand users: “The moment I go home and notionally take that disc with me, you no longer have the ability to play that game. But the ‘bits’ are on your hard drive, so if you want to play that game you can buy it – you can go to the online store, buy it and it’s instantly unlocked and playable on your machine. All of the privileges I just described in my house would now apply in yours as well.”

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Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, showcasing some of the Xbox One navigation features.

Baffled? Well, one of Microsoft’s key mantras for it’s new hardware is an experience that’s tailored to you. Your Kinect sensor will automatically recognise you by your voice and/or image, launching a dashboard that’s built around your tastes and use of its services. But Microsoft does not want to lose the huge potential income that pre-owned games generate, so it’s shooting for a ‘pay for the privilege’ system.

And, while it was inevitable that one or more of the console manufacturers was going to react to the significant financial pool generated by pre-owned sales (a pool that these manufacturers have had no access to previously), Microsoft’s new approach looks to penalise owners of it’s console in attempt to create a true sense of ownership.

[quote] Will the retail price of a second-hand game reflect this additional fee – a fee that’s charged outside of its own business model? [/quote]

Based on the increased size and breadth of content eighth-generation titles will offer – and their migration to the Blu-ray disc format for physical media – the first two or three years of the consoles life cycle may not see a huge depreciation in the pre-owned value of a game. So will an Xbox One owner have to pay an over the counter price not far removed from the price of a brand new copy? And how much will this new ‘registration’ fee cost? Will it remain the same for ALL titles, or shift depending on the type of content or game it relates to? Will the retail price of a second-hand game reflect this additional fee – a fee that’s charged outside of its own business model?

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A pre-owned section in US-retailer Gamestop – is this soon to be a thing of the past?

The seventh generation of consoles has seen a boom in pre-owned games, and retailers such as US-based retailer Gamestop has shown that sales of pre-owned media has served as a significant proportion of their business. Some companies, such as EA, have even attempted to stem the tide of pre-owned copies by enforcing an online pass to their more multiplayer focused titles, but even this strategy has been abandoned for any future titles.

[quote] Will this prove a deciding factor in the coming console battlefield with Sony? [/quote]

Mircosoft have reaffirmed that this approach is “consistent with the way the world works”, but while it will prove another viable source of revenue for Microsoft, it feels like a strategy that uses a greater sense of personalisation to mask a further blow to your bank balance.

Will this prove a deciding factor in the coming console battlefield with Sony? At this stage, it’s impossible to tell, but with plenty of time left for Sony to reveal it’s own clandestine anti-pre-owned strategy, the age of economic gaming may well be put to the sword in due course.

For more information, including the facts and figures from Microsoft’s reveal yesterday, check our our factual guide to Xbox One.

Xbox One | All the facts and figures

We bring you a round-up of all the facts and figures from Microsoft’s reveal of their eight-generation console, the Xbox One.

At Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washingon, Don Mattrick, the president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, revealed its third console, the Xbox One. He described it as “the ultimate, all in one home entertainment system” and revealed it will launch worldwide “later this year”.

Brand new features and architecture

Microsoft confirmed the console will not require a constant internet connection to function, but will require a mandatory download of all content direct to the hard drive. Any further uses of the disc on other registered consoles will require a small fee to activate.

 

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The new console, Kinect sensor and controller, as showcased at the reveal today.

 

Xbox One will also not be backwards-compatible with Xbox or Xbox 360 titles, with Microsoft citing fundamental differences with the architecture of the new hardware.

Kinect has been improved to match the speed of the new hardware, with voice commands and gestures allowing for “live switching” between games, music, live TV and more. Alongside the almost instantaneous switching showcased at the event, users will also be able to quick-snap games and video content with Skype, Internet Explorer and other apps (much like Microsoft have been doing since the launch of the Windows 7 OS).

[quote] The new specifications, which you can check out below, include a Blu-ray drive, a 500GB HDD, 8GB system memory, USB 3.0 and an 8 Core CPU. [/quote]

Alongside a Kinect sensor which recognises your voice and brings you straight to a personalised dashboard, the hardware under the hood is also a significant step forward from the Xbox 360. The new specifications, which you can check out below, include a Blu-ray drive, a 500GB HDD, 8GB system memory, USB 3.0 and an 8 Core CPU.

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Xbox Live reborn

Marc Witten, Microsoft’s corporate president of Xbox Live, commented that the Xbox Live service will be “more powerful, more personal and more intelligent”. When the Xbox 360 launched in 2006, Xbox Live was powered by a total of 3,000 servers. And while that number has steadily increased to around 15,000, Xbox One will be supported by 300,000 servers at launch.

The new and improved service will offer enhanced cloud functionality, an innovative matchmaking system and an improved achievements system that tracks your progress with more than just milestone-style medals. The ability to capture and share gameplay content will also be available, as well as an increased friend limit of 1,000.

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Don Mattrick, the president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, pictured with the new hardware.

New titles and exclusives

Microsoft also confirmed that the Xbox One will host 15 exclusive IPs over the first 12 months of its release, with eight of them being brand new titles. One of these exclusive titles was revealed to be the newest addition to Turn 10 Studios’ racing simulator franchise, Forza Motorsport 5.

[quote] EA’s new next-gen sports titles will use their new in-house engine, EA Sports Ignite. [/quote]

A new title, Quantum Break, from Alan Wake and original Max Payne developer Remedy was also showcased with a trailer, while EA showed off footage from four of their key sports titles: FIFA 14, Madden NFL, NBA Live 14 and a new UFC instalment. These new titles were showcased using EA’s new in-house engine, EA Sports Ignite.

Exclusive TV content and a new Call of Duty

Nancy Tellem, president of entertainment and digital media at Microsoft, and 343 Industries general manager Bonnie Ross introduced a video message from filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who confirmed he’s executive producing a new live-action series based within the ever-expanding Halo universe.

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A brief glimpse of the new Call of Duty, including the AI dog companion.

Microsoft also announced an exclusive content partnership with the NFL, which promises live updates in-game, including live fantasy football features.

The live event was brought to a close with an exclusive look at the new Activision and Infinity Ward-developed Call of Duty: Ghosts. As well confirming a continuation of the timed-exclusive partnership for its Call of Duty DLC, they also showcased a trailer, a behind the scenes video and a graphical comparison between 2011’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and the new game engine used for Call of Duty: Ghosts.

While an exact date and price structure has yet to be announced, some retailers have estimated the Xbox One will retail around £400 on release. For more Xbox One-related news, features and discussion, keep it infinite.

Check out the trailer and preview footage of Call of Duty: Ghosts from the Xbox One Live Reveal, courtesy of the team at Outside Xbox.

Retrovania | Voodoo Vince

In this week’s Retrovania, we travel back to the early days of Microsoft’s first console and the cutesy platformer that went largely unnoticed: Voodoo Vince.

voodoo vince 2Back in 2001, when Microsoft was first dipping its toes into the games industry, things were a-changing. Electronics giant Sony has made it’s own debut into the industry six years prior and had won the fifth generation outright – and their follow-up, the PlayStation 2, was fast becoming another runaway success.

New kids on the block

Microsoft might have been the purveyors of Windows, but in the world of home consoles Bill Gates and co were as green as they came. The first Halo, Combat Evolved, was pretty much carrying the console on it’s augmented super-back, but Microsoft were still hoping for another mascot to appeal to the younger market – like Crash Bandicoot of old.

The problem was that Microsoft was still playing catch up in terms of establishing their key audiences. The once bankable presence of cute mascots like Sonic the Hedgehog was long dead. Blood-drenched death dealers were the icons of gaming now: Solid Snake, Kratos and Dante were just some of the ‘mature’ characters that followed in the footsteps of a certain buxom raider of tombs.

A voodoo-powered punt

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Stop looking, you perve.

But Microsoft was still willing take a punt with the idea, and in 2003 Voodoo Vince was birthed unto the world. Developed by Washington-based studio Beep Industries, Voodoo Vince was a cutesy platformer with a sadistic twist. Playing as Vince, a voodoo doll imbued with life, you could do your usual mixture of jump and spin attack moves, but it was the twisted self-harming mechanics that really set it apart.

And stop giving us those eyes, Vince is a voodoo doll, getting hurt is only his real weapon! Let us explain: by collecting the voodoo beads dropped by the many enemies in the game, Vince could fill his Voodoo Metre and perform a special move that destroyed all the enemies in vicinity. One move would see Vince impaling himself, while all his enemies suffered the same fate; other variants saw Vince happily setting himself alight as his enemies were engulfed in hungry flames. Kirby’s Epic Yarn this was not.

Dark, but self-aware

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“Wow, that is one big pile of…”

And while these mechanics were hardly breaking new ground, it was great to see a game that could be as striking as Spyro the Dragon without losing itself to overtly-adult content like Conker’s Bad Fur Day. And, for a game developed by a studio that had never created a console game before (ironically, it would also be their last) Voodoo Vince is as tight mechanically as anything else in the genre. The camera could be less dynamic and more “Hello, I’m in a wall now! Good luck judging that jump!” at times, but it was far from a game-breaker.

There was also one other thing that made Voodoo Vince so unique: it’s style. Infused with all the cultural magic of Louisiana, Voodoo Vince took its beats from the architectural stylings of New Orleans and the black magic inspired atmosphere of carnivale. Oh and the music! The soundtrack to Voodoo Vince remains as one of the most unique OST for a game out there, perfectly nailing the tone with it’s charming jazziness. If you’ve played it before (or you’re just looking for some great VGM) you pick the soundtrack up here from Amazon.

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The swamp levels were rock solid.

Voodoo Vince might not have the level depth of Double Fine’s Psychonauts, but it’s a forgotten gem that’s been lost a genre now dominated by forgettable Disney-licensed tie-ins. Sadly, you can’t pick it up on XBLA, but you can find it in most second-hand game retailers for a measly few pounds/dollars. It works on the Xbox 360 too, so there’s never been a better time to travel back to a time before achievements and experience a black-humoured slice of fun.

For more adventures into the world Retrovania, check out our thoughts on Tekken 2, Beyond Good & Evil and Batman Begins.

Microsoft Surface for $199?

Microsoft Surface for $199?

The internet is currently awash with speculation about Microsoft’s new foray into the tablet market.

It’s being reported that the Surface, Microsoft’s impressively polished tablet will be released on the 26th October at a rock bottom price of $199. This puts the Surface in the same price bracket as the Nexus 7 and even the Kindle Fire. A pretty, 10inch tablet with much of the same functionally as a PC and similar tech you’d find inside an iPad, which if you needed reminding, retails in the region of $399.

Windows RT

  • OS: Windows RT (aka, Windows on ARM)
  • Display: 10.6-inch HD Display.
  • Chip: Nvidia Tegra.
  • Weight: 676 g (iPad 652 g)
  • Thickness: 9.3mm (iPad 9.4mm)
  • Ports: microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video
  • Software: Office 15, among other apps
  • Battery: 31.5 watt-hour (iPad: 42.5 W-h)
  • Configs: 32GB, 64GB

How are Microsoft able to do this? The same way you get a brand new iPhone for free every year and if you remember, Microsoft recently launched a deal in the US where you could buy a 4GB Xbox 360 with Kinect and a 2 year Xbox live subscription for $99, but you’d have to sign up to a 2 year contract paying $14.99 a month. This was originally seen as Microsoft testing the subscription model for its upcoming console, but it now appears to be for the Surface.

As the Surface won’t have 3G or an Xbox live subscription, how are they going to make any money? What is widely rumored is a subscription for office 365 which has an on the shelf price tag of $200. Microsoft could also tie you into there soon to be announced streaming media service to replace the failure of  Zune.

In conclusion, this is a smart move by Microsoft, the iPad is the dominant force currently and nothing will stop the iZombies from paying the ridiculous price’s set by Apple. As reported by the Guardian, the business customers will be just as important,

“The low initial cost and ongoing cost are easier for cash-stretched companies and individuals to justify. In the lingo, it shifts a big capex (capital expenditure) into a smaller capex, plus some opex (operational expenditure, ie the subscription).”

The low initial cost will get more Surface tablet’s into the hands of a lot more people who are unwilling to pay Apple’s fee, not comfortable with Google’s offering.  Most importantly of all, it get’s user’s tied to its services, which in the long run is where the real value lies.

 


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