The more things change: Microsoft, Xbox One, and the pitfalls of the status quo

Xbox 360 reveal

There is no bigger trap in the world of consumer technology than clinging to the belief that market dominance means you’re “doing it right.” This is an industry in which evolutionary changes are often measured in months, sometimes even weeks. What’s true in February might not be true in March. Look at Apple: In October of 2010, Apple held 27.9-percent of the smartphone market share, ahead of both RIM and Android. Today, Android accounts for nearly 70-percent of smartphone sales in 2012 while iOS hovers at around 20-percent.

It’s a lesson that Microsoft’s Xbox brand execs would do well to keep at the forefront of their thoughts as they plot out the years ahead for the Xbox One. The company’s console reveal on May 21, 2013 showed off a capable piece of hardware that delivers a significant performance upgrade on what current-gen consoles are capable of, but next to nothing was said about how long-standing practices may be changing. The few on-the-record comments that did surface spoke in non-specific terms.

Xbox One UnveilingMicrosoft needs to shake up the status quo. The Xbox 360’s year-long head start on Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii, put the company in the powerful position of setting the stage for the years to come. All three consoles evolved and adapted to rapidly changing technologies in the years that followed, but Sony in particular stepped forward and challenged the Xbox 360’s early supremacy. As we move into the next hardware generation, Microsoft finds itself stuck in a status quo that needs to change.

Take Xbox Live Indie Games; the section supports games built on Microsoft’s XNA framework, a low-cost entry point for smaller developers looking to bring their creations to Microsoft platforms. Unfortunately, Windows 8 does not support XNA, and active development on the projects ceased in January 2013, shortly after the latest OS update launched.

Where does this leave the indies in the era of Xbox One? In the difficult position of having to continue with the current process of securing publishing deals with bigger third-parties or with Microsoft Game Studios, according to Redmond Studio Games and Platforms general manager Matt Booty.

“We intend to continue to court developers in the ways that we have,” he told ShackNews. Booty immediately qualified his statement, admitting that “I would also expect that for this new generation, that we’re going to continue to explore new business models and new ways of surfacing content.”


Then there’s Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison speaking to Eurogamer on the changing makeup of Xbox Live Marketplace. “In the past we had retail games which came on disc, we had Xbox Live Arcade and we had Indie Games, and they had their own discrete channels or discrete silos,” he said. “With Xbox One and the new marketplace, they’re games. We don’t make a distinction.”

Much has been said around the Internet of the unfriendly scenario Booty’s words seem to paint for indies on the Xbox One, but there’s really nothing definitive at this point. The revised Marketplace that Harrison describes could even serve to help indie releases by making them easier to discover than they were in the XBLIG days. It’s all a matter of Microsoft embracing a welcoming attitude to better compete with the allure of the indie-friendly Sony Pub Fund. There’s no reason why an indie smash on the level of Journey, a Sony exclusive, can’t enjoy huge success on an Xbox machine.

Xbox Live is another largely unchanging relic of the early current-gen in many ways, especially where Gold subscriptions are concerned. Early on during the first days of the Xbox 360, a then-$50 annual fee bought you access to online play and features that were the best around for consoles by virtue of the fact that a steady cash flow supported their constant upkeep. Later additions that the PlayStation 3 couldn’t match – such as Party Chat and game demos – only strengthened Microsoft’s case.

Xbox One

Then Sony caught up. The online play and general network functionality improved over time with regular updates. For-pay streaming services like Netflix (which Microsoft requires a Gold subscription to take advantage of) folded into Sony’s free PlayStation Network offering. PlayStation Plus eventually brought a subscription model to PSN, with enhanced online features like cloud storage and store discounts, while still offering the same online play that Microsoft charged for but at no cost. The “Instant Game Collection” was the clincher: subscribe to PSN, and get free AAA games from a list that changes on a monthly basis.

All of a sudden, Xbox Live Gold wasn’t so shiny anymore. Especially when the annual fee jumped up to $60 without really offering anything in the realm of new features. The subscribers stick around even now because they’re a captive audience, but that dynamic changes when new consoles enter the mix. It’s easier to jump ship. Xbox 360 users may be hesitant to abandon the Achievements they’ve amassed, but they sure don’t love spending $60 per year for the ability to access Netflix – a service they already pay for separately – through their console.

Here again, it is on Microsoft to demolish the current-gen status quo and try on some new, more competitive tactics. For all that we learned from the Xbox One announcement, there’s still plenty more to come, and still plenty of opportunity for the tune we’ve all been humming along with for the past eight years to change.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


Has it really been 17 years? The past, present, and future of the Xbox

From DirectX Box to 720, it's been a long, strange trip for Microsoft's Xbox gaming console. Here is what happened, from its odd beginnings to the rumored Scarlett console with streaming.

Xbox One X vs. PlayStation 4 Pro: Which console is more powerful?

Far from cooling down, the console wars are only getting more intense. We compare Microsoft's Xbox One X to Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro to help you decide which premium console is right for you.

How do Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X compare to each other? We find out

The Nintendo Switch is innovative enough to stand apart from traditional consoles, but could it become your primary gaming system? How does the Switch stack up against the Xbox One?

Sony reveals the PS5, a massive upgrade to PlayStation 4’s hardware

Sony offers the first details on the hardware for the yet-unnamed PS5 console. The system will not be releasing in 2019, but it will be backward compatible with PlayStation 4 games.

Transform into the ultimate leader with our tips and tricks for Civilization 6

Civilization VI offers both series veterans and total newcomers a lot to chew on from the get-go. Here are some essential starting tips to help you master the game's many intricacies.

Here's where Xur is and what he has for wares this week in Destiny 2: Forsaken

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.

Amazon sale knocks 20% off Nintendo Switch, Pro Controller, and games

A new wave of savings on gaming content is crashing down in celebration of Earth Day. Amazon is slashing prices up to 20% off for used Nintendo Switch consoles, games, and accessories like the Switch Pro Controller.

World of Warcraft's allied races will make you want to start a new character

The Horde and Alliance are seeking new allies in their struggle for control of Azeroth. Whether you pledge your allegiance to the Horde or Alliance, we have a guide to help you unlock every allied race in Battle for Azeroth.

Wired headphones are so 2018. Here's how to pair a Bluetooth device to your PS4

One of the best aspects of modern consoles is how easily you can pair them with other devices. Here's our quick primer on how to connect a Bluetooth headset (or really any Bluetooth device) to your PlayStation 4.

Here are the best games to play with your friends on the Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch's hybrid design adds convenience to your gaming time, allowing you to play Switch games both at home and on the go. The design also benefits multiplayer experiences, from co-op to competitive and online to offline.

Get Nindie with it and check out these awesome indie games for the Switch

The Nintendo Switch's portability makes indies feel at home on the platform. Luckily, there are plenty of great titles to choose from. Here are our picks for the best Nintendo Switch indie games.

Epic Games bans more than 1,000 cheaters in 1st week of Fortnite World Cup

Epic Games has already banned more than 1,000 cheaters in the Fortnite World Cup. The developer is taking cheating seriously, especially as players are competing for a $1 million prize pool in every week of the qualifiers.

Mortal Kombat 11 DLC characters reportedly leaked: Who’s next after Shang Tsung?

A datamine on Mortal Kombat 11 reportedly revealed all the DLC characters that will be added to the game's expansive roster. The leak corroborates the hint that the anti-hero Spawn is on his way to joining the fighting game.

You're not a true fan without these Nintendo Switch exclusives

Who doesn't love a good Nintendo game? If you're looking for great first-party titles for your Nintendo Switch, take a look at our list of the very best exclusives available right now.