Microsoft's Xbox One is coming to 13 countries on November 22, 2013. The console's release date gives its rival, the Sony PlayStation 4, a one week head start on the market, but when its comes to consoles that will be on the market for years, one week is almost nothing. It seems like Microsoft is placing a lot of importance on having the Xbox One out on store shelves this year and before Black Friday, the official beginning of the holiday shopping season. What's been lost in the rush to get the Xbox One out this year?
In its original reveal of the Xbox One, Microsoft outlined a voice-controlled media box to stand as the centerpiece of your home. The system would connect with your television, overlaying show data and recommending new content for you to watch. The all-new Kinect would always be waiting for your voice commands, allowing you to switch seamlessly between watching a movie and playing a game. Xbox Live GameDVR would allow you to share your gaming experiences with friends on Xbox Live, YouTube, and Facebook. The best games, the best movies, the best television experience, all in one place. Sure, it was spin, but that was the vision laid out before us.
Now, things have changed since that first reveal. Microsoft touted an always-online future and consumers called foul; the company changed course. Sony came in with a strong indie focus, and Microsoft jumped in with its own ID@Xbox program. The Kinect, which was originally stated as necessary for the system to even operate, has been made optional. Despite all these changes, Microsoft corporate vice president of interactive entertainment Phil Harrison insists that the company's vision hasn't changed.
"Our long term vision hasn't changed at all. We haven't diluted our long term vision, which is all of the benefits of a connected ecosystem and what that means for all of the stakeholders - us, developer, publisher and crucially, the player," Harrison told GamesIndustry International. "We had to adapt some of our policies and it was best that we did those before we launched, which we've done."
If Microsoft's vision remains the same, why are so many features missing launch? It's been an ongoing refrain for the past two months. That's not coming, you can expect it in early 2014. Nope, early 2014.
If you were looking forward to the new Kinect's smooth voice commands, you better hope you're buying the Xbox One in one of ten out of the thirteen launch territories. Microsoft senior director of product management and planning Albert Penello told IGN that these ten languages will be understood: US English, Great Britain English, Canadian English, French Canadian, French French, German, Australian English, Spain Spanish, Mexico Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. Sorry, New Zealand. This is all after you notice that the Xbox One was meant to launch in twenty-one countries when it was first announced, not thirteen.
Want to use those great TV overlay features that Microsoft showed off in the first reveal? Unfortunately, if you're in the UK or Europe, you'll be waiting for those features. The TV features require HDMI input from your television set-top box; anything else is a non-starter.
"We talk a lot about TV and that's only going to work basically in Japan and the U.S. at launch where you have HDMI-in scenarios, so you'll say 'hey, what if I have a terrestrial over the air?' We won't have a solution for that right away, but we still sell it as part of the vision," Penello told IGN. "So it's honest criticism and you'd love to have the new launch be everything that you had before and more, but unfortunately it's an untenable [proposition]."
The GameDVR will make launch, but it will only allow uploading to Xbox Live. YouTube and Facebook sharing has been pushed back until next year in all territories, Penello told Destructoid. Bright side? Sony has never confirmed PlayStation 4 video sharing to YouTube.
The Xbox One will ship with a 500 GB hard drive, but if you want a larger one, that's too bad. The console's hard drive is non-removable, leaving external hard drives as the only option. But external storage won't be supported at launch. Xbox Live director of programming Larry Hyrb confirmed that in a live recording of his podcast at PAX Prime 2013. There's no confirmed date for adding that support.
Looking forward to Microsoft's indie program matching the great set of indies that Sony has in store for the PlayStation 4? Also not expected at launch, because Microsoft just took the wraps off the program.
"I don't think we're going to see things at launch," Harrison told GI.biz. "I don't think it's realistic to see a developer get the program and build a game and get it into the market on November 22. It's reasonable to expect in early 2014 we'll start seeing the first games come through."
Sony is missing some things as well, but they are features the company said wouldn't be available at launch from the beginning, like the Gaikai streaming service. I understand console launches are difficult - platform holders are getting closer to a true worldwide launch though - but one company seems prepared for their console launch while the other is not.
"I mean, I totally understand people's frustrations, and it's hard to give an answer beyond the fact that, from my seat, it's a console transition and this is part and parcel," Penello said to IGN. "There's a lot of things that we'll talk about in our vision for the product that aren't going to be there at launch."
Would Microsoft have been more prepared if it had launched the Xbox One in early 2014? I don't know, I'm not a giant multi-national conglomerate. But it does seem like Microsoft's new console has a number of features, bells, and whistles, that aren't coming until next year. I doubt those will be the features that will make-or-break someone's decision between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but Microsoft isn't operating from a position of strength. The $100 price different is killer, and Titanfall, one of the Xbox One's best-looking titles, isn't coming out... until early 2014.
Is Microsoft making the right decision? Is it better to release a system without promised features just to get in on the holiday rush, or could the move backfire and hand the PS4 an early lead?