Retroactive Reaction (PT. 2)

Retroactive Reaction pictureNow that the fun is out of the way, I wish to be direct. Microsoft designed the Xbox One to be a powerful, relevant machine, and while it probably fails to meet my demands for the New Console, it looks to be a neat doohicky that doesn’t deserve its mediocre reputation.

The days since the Xbox One’s unveiling have seen various convulsions of game journalist panic. From backward compatibility to always-on requirements to used game viability to the darned name itself, seemingly every detail described in the press conference has emerged as a sore spot in the view of those paid to express concern about such things. Ponder these issues with a fair mind over a cup of tea and you’ll realize on your own (or with Ben Kuchera’s help) how unthreatening most of these fears are. After all, what does an always-on requirement matter when many of us already keep our computers and phones always on, anyway? Who has enough money to buy an extensive Xbox 360 library but not enough money to forsake the trade-in savings on the new machine and so actually needs backward compatibility? Who genuinely believes that the name “One” is an embarrassment when the best-selling console in the world is named “Wii”?

These do not meet the standards of real concerns. They only get attention because there are precious few upcoming Xbox One games to redirect our speculation. “Exactly!” exclaims my imaginary game journalist reader who frowned on the lack of a launch lineup at the press conference. Dear imaginary game journalist, do you really think the lack of discussion of games indicates a lack of interest in games by Microsoft? I don’t. In fact, I’d venture to claim that video games are a prominent focus of this soon-to-be-released game console. Give it time, and we’ll have E3 to get excited about the first flight of games, then the actual launch to bemoan the (predictably) lame launch roster.

It feels almost as though the popular discourse regarding the Xbox One does not recognize the conventional dynamics of the video game industry. Platforms released multiple years apart tend to be significantly different. Launch games tend to be bad. Early adoption is an opportunity to spend too much money on a machine at its riskiest moment as a platform. Big companies with proven hardware track records generally release sensibly designed products that gently nudge existing trends. If all these maxims hold true with the Xbox One, as we can expect they will, what is the fuss all about?

As video game culture moves into a more mature phase, it is hard to maintain the naiveté of the young buck, bowled over by the new technology released by corporate giants. By now, many of us should know how these companies, these design processes and these product cycles work. The question is not “Which platform will I boycott over my ideology?” but rather “Do I have enough money to buy everything when it comes out or wait for the price to go down and public reaction to coalesce?” Let’s give ourselves some credit and retire the console war narrative.

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