Xbox One: The Future or End of Console Gaming?

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The Xbox One is the most aggressive attempt to turn the tide that was moving away from console gaming and towards gaming on mobile devices.   The game platforms, having remained static and out of date for years, were facing an Armageddon of failing titles and gaming companies this year and it is hoped that the refresh of both the Xbox and PlayStation platforms will revitalize this dying market.   This cycle, the primary competition won’t be other game consoles but instead, the tablets, smartphones, and the very unique mobile-focused NVIDIA Shield Games system – which are attacking the game foundation that supports console games.  It appears the Xbox One is the strongest of the coming game consoles, but will it be strong enough?

Mobile vs. Console?

The problem for the console class of gaming is that the player wants the ability to both play their games away from the living room or bedroom and instead play them on mobile devices.   Now, granted, this generally means limits to screen size and a less than immersive experience - the NVIDIA Shield product showcased a way around this by allowing the games to scale up to a bigger screen when available - while console games really can’t scale down.  

Microsoft intends to blend gaming experiences across PCs, Tablets, and Smartphones creating a very different and potentially more interesting experience that would morph depending on what device is used.    For instance, imagine very different roles in a game for people who were using Smartphones, Tablets, PCs, and Consoles.   It could result in a vastly richer experience but developing such a game would be very expensive and the risk that the result would be unplayable would be incredibly high until someone actually shipped a successful title. 

With the NVIDIA Shield, a similar experience could be vastly simpler because all of the devices could use the same Android OS and experiences would be role, rather than device, based allowing the users to make the changes necessary for this anticipated title to work.   In other words NVIDIA’s Shield could come close to the same experience with potentially less cost and risk. I expect, in both cases it will take a while for a developer to get this unique game format right.  

Multimedia

Where a game console like the Xbox One will likely shine is with video, music content, and perhaps home automation.   A lot of homes are pulling the plug on their cable services, particularly households where the median age is under 25, and the set top box could be the ideal bridge to a future without cable TV.   The product replaces the Smart DVD player with a smarter solution that will take voice commands and gestures, depending on the available content. What should be a far more compelling are the multimedia experiences.   Though I do think they should try to integrate a media distribution system and a 5.1 or 7.1 amplifier into the solution more tightly. 

That may come, but until then, this is the console’s strongest play and one that the Xbox One plays exceedingly well both from a design and UI perspective.   This is really the first game console that truly looks like it belongs in a stereo cabinet.   

Wrapping Up: In the End It Will Be About Content

The success or failure of these latest efforts will be about unique content. Whoever has the most compelling games, unique and exciting TV shows, and impressive blends, will likely win this battle.   People have always chased content into a new game console/solution and it will be no different here.   Microsoft starts with a compelling set of powerful new games and TV show game blends which should pull people to check the console out. If these offerings can achieve anything close to their potential, this game system will be a huge success.   However it will still have to face off against the NVIDIA Shield offering and the need to update the product much more quickly than Microsoft will likely want to - so it will be some time before we can say if this latest Xbox is a rebirth or a prelude to the death of the segment definitively. Until then, enjoy the ride!




Edited by Stefania Viscusi

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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