xbox one

This weekend was all about Destiny and its expansion, The Dark Below. It’s all I’ve been doing in my free time since its release earlier this week. Yesterday delved into what makes Destiny so good, yet there’s plenty about the game that’s painful.

There are three types of gameplay in Destiny: story, end game and competitive multiplayer. The story is over quickly and there’s little reason to replay them. The story itself is terrible too. I don’t play competitive multiplayer because I’m out-gunned and out-skilled by those who have more time to invest in the game. The end game is where I’ve been spending all my time. That’s when you’re theoretically done with the game, but you keep playing anyway because you want to level up your character and get specific weapons and gear.

This is where Destiny is simultaneously special and frustrating. Special because it does the end game so well for a shooting game; frustrating because you have to play a lot to get the best gear and there’s simply not enough content to keep things fresh.

Have you seen Edge of Tomorrow? Awesome movie. The protagonist is in a war with aliens and he repeats each day over and over again, to the point where he knows exactly where the bad guys are going to be. That’s what Destiny feels like. Grunts coming out here so rocket launcher. Sniper appearing there so get ready.

You repeat each mission so often, you pretty much know what’s going to happen. Despite that, to Destiny’s credit, strike missions are somehow still fun.

Dear Bungie (developers of Destiny), please, more strikes. There should be at least 20 to play from instead of a paltry eight. Focus the $500 million budget there.

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You may have noticed that for this week, my daily posts have come a little late. Work is busy as usual but really it comes down to one distraction: Destiny and The Dark Below expansion. The add-on content arrived earlier this week and I’ve been playing it non-stop ever since.

In my review of the original game (see here), I thought it was fun but fell somewhat short. Imagine my surprise when weeks later, I realized I haven’t put so many hours into a single game since Virtua Fighter and Gears of War. Has there ever been a game as simultaneously frustrating and addictive?

The core shooting mechanic is peerless. I’ve never had so much fun shooting bad guys’ heads off, and I’d include Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty in that comparison. In fact, my copy of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is still relatively untouched.

Playing with people puts the game on another level. When you play with a good team, it feels like poetry. As if somehow, unspoken, three people instinctively know how to move in concert with one another.

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Xbox’s Japan chief resigned recently due to lackluster sales of the Xbox One in Japan. Only 39,000 units were sold to date; 24,000 of which at launch. That’s horrible.

When it comes to console games in Japan, Microsoft needs to realize it is David not Goliath. Microsoft can’t fight Sony head-to-head, sword-to-sword in Japan. It needs to go guerilla warfare and use a slingshot.

Here’s what I would do if I was chief of Xbox Japan:

Scale back operations. Forget the huge office, the army of people, the national distribution networks. Xbox Japan should think like a start-up and go lean. This will allow them to shift resources to initiatives that actually work, instead of pouring money into hopeless battles.

Embrace the outsider identity. Position Xbox as anti-establishment. Make fun of regular Japanese people who only play regular Japanese games. Paint the Playstation 4 as conformist — you probably wear a suit and bow a lot if you have the Playstation 4. The Xbox One, on the other hand, is about being free. About giving the middle finger to the rigidity of society; basically, American values. 🙂

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What? Say it ain’t so. My copy of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is in the mail for my Playstation 4 and I’m excited. I’m getting bored of Destiny (my review here) so it’s time to play a new game.

Unfortunately, according to Digital Foundry, CoD for the Playstation 4 has minor frame rate issues in the single player campaign, even though it’s always 1080P. The Xbox One version on the other hand runs a more consistent 60 frames per second but its resolution is variable.

Don’t tell me that my eyes can’t discern past 24 frames per second. It surely can.

As a one time “serious” fighting game player, I can vouch that a rock solid frame rate is the most important thing to a great game experience.

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Have you heard about Destiny? It’s a videogame created by Bungie, the studio that developed Halo, which is in itself notable, but the real headliner is Activision’s claim that it’s backing Destiny with a $500 million budget. That’s half a billion dollars for an original intellectual property. Wow!

It’s not like the money is all spent; my understanding is that budget includes marketing, future add-on content (for example, a $20 DLC has already been announced for December) and maintenance. Nevertheless, it’s an insane number for a game that may or may not last. Has any brand new property been burdened with so much hype?

Unfortunately, Destiny launched to tepid reviews — it has an aggregate score of 76 on Metacritic. Which is good but not great, especially considering the gargantuan budget. Compare that with two other original IP shooters that debuted this current console generation: 86 for Titanfall and 82 for Sunset Overdrive.

I got Destiny anyway and to my surprise actually kind of like it.

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Microsoft made two important announcements recently. The first is about Office 365 being a game changer, which I covered yesterday. Today I’m talking about the $50 price drop for the Xbox One. Starting from November 2 to January 2, you can get any Xbox One SKU for $50 off, which makes the entry level version $350. That’s cheaper than the Playstation 4 at $400.

Microsoft is marketing this as a temporary promotion for the holidays, but that’s just marketing. I have a hard time believing the Xbox One will go back up to $400.

The price drop is long overdue. The Playstation 4 is outselling the Xbox One by a significant margin — Ars Technica estimated by at least 40% — and the entire gap can be traced to one crucial decision. That’s how thin the line is between success and failure is in the console market. You can have a fantastic brand, recruit third party support, obtain exclusives, introduce innovations, ensure wide distribution, spend a lot of money on marketing…and still fail because of one bad decision.

Can you guess which? It wasn’t bundling the Kinect, though that was quite bad because of the $100 price premium. It wasn’t the DRM policies or the always online requirement. No, Microsoft was able to reverse out of those decisions early enough.

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Speaking of videogames, Electronic Arts announced an interesting offer in EA Access: for $5 a month or $30 a year, Xbox One owners can play all the games in EA’s so-called Vault, which currently consists of FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2 and Battlefield 4; with presumably more in the pipeline.

You can also get 10% off EA titles purchased through the Xbox One game store.  If you’re planning on buying even one EA game, it’s worth getting EA Access for the 10%.  Essentially, EA Access comes free for one month with every >$50 game purchase.

This appears to be a modified approach of in-app purchases on mobile; i.e. lower barriers to adoption, create stickiness once adopted and monetize later via downloadable content.  If successful, it might even create network effects.

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Ben of Stratechery posted an interesting article about how Apple TV can disrupt the game console market.  It’s insightful and I highly recommend you read it; then come back here for my take.

I have two areas of push back:

  1. The high end games market is still largely mainstream and still growing
  2. The low end market already exists and is already well served with mobile phones, tablets and previous generation consoles

Apple has a chance to disrupt Sony and Microsoft, but it won’t be through the Apple TV.  Casual gamers won’t purchase a new device for games they can already play on existing devices.

For Apple to make inroads to gaming on TV, it should be via a Chromecast type device that connects the iPhone or iPad to the TV plus a controller.  Price all that for $60 and Apple can disrupt Sony and Microsoft.

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Oh Microsoft.  The tech giant can’t seem to catch a break.  Last year, Microsoft was criticized for spending too much time on non-gaming things: voice control, TV, original programming, the NFL, etc.  So Microsoft listened to customers (or the press?) and at this year’s E3, the beleaguered company didn’t talk about anything but games, games and games.  And yet, people complained that Microsoft’s presentation was too focused and uninspired.  Forbes‘ take, for example:

[The presentation] wasn’t bad, so much — some of the games looked great, even if many weren’t exclusives — but it was decidedly safe. There wasn’t much that felt exciting coming from Microsoft, and you could sense that in the presentation as well. It was timid. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but you could feel it in the room. For a company that needs to re-invigorate its console, it doesn’t feel great.

It’s a catch-22 situation for Microsoft: damned for talking about non-gaming things, damned for only talking about games.

This is no paradox, however.  Microsoft’s mistake is in taking feedback too literally.  The objective of your business is not to listen to customers, the objective is to impress them enough so that they actually spend time or money on you.  Microsoft focused too much on listening and not enough on the actual wowing.

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The console platform wars are basically down to two: Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 (PS4).  This year, Microsoft and Sony both put on a solid show.  Unlike last year, Microsoft talked games, games and more games.  Ironically, Sony was the one who talked about other media, but it also did a good job showing off games in the pipeline.

Who impressed more?  Let’s take a quick pulse around the web — these are the websites that won the SEO game on a Google search for “Who won E3?”

Forbes

Today was very much a continuation of the narrative — Sony swaggering forward, Microsoft putting itself together. There’s still room for things to change as we move forward to the holiday season, but it’s palpably clear where the momentum is…Sony wins E3, by a nose.

Sony 1, Microsoft 0

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