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Xbox One: Questions Unanswered

It's the day after the big reveal from Microsoft - with the dust clearing from the machine's unveiling, we clear up the outstanding facts left unanswered at the briefing.

  • Text: Mike Holmes
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Yesterday we all sat with baited breath, waiting to see what the last of the big-hitters had in store for us with their next-gen console. We wanted answers, and while we got plenty of details, there was still lots of head-scratching going on after the unveiling of Xbox One at Microsoft's Redmond HQ last night. You can read our summary of what was seen, and there's an insightful interview with Microsoft's Phil Harrison that adds even more clarity to proceedings, but there's still some things we'd like to know.

It's been confirmed that Xbox One doesn't require constant internet access, and that connectivity will only enhance our experience. "Constant" seems to be a pretty vague word though; are we going to have to be online every few minutes, every few hours, once a day? Microsoft's Phil Harrison told Kotaku that the console would need to be connected at least once a day, but this claim was later dismissed (via Polygon) as merely a "potential scenario". If Microsoft don't know what's going on, how the hell are we supposed to know?!

What about those poor peeps who don't have an internet connection at home? And during that annoying period when you move house and the broadband hasn't been set up yet, does that mean we won't be able to play any of our games? And what about accessing TV content? How will that be affected by a poor or non-existant connection? We'll have to buy a new set top box as well as the console itself, if we want the seamless service as advertised in the presentation. This surely will be a deal-breaking factor for many, and it's likely people will want concrete answers on this key issue before they part with any cash.

Whilst we're on the topic of cash... We'd love to know how much the new console is going to cost. Of course, you can't expect Microsoft to divulge every little detail at an unveiling, but it's a key factor that will impact a large amount of decisions when people are choosing which way to go. And what of this long-rumoured subscription model, that is supposed to lessen the impact of the initial outlay: by paying in instalments, how much extra will the console cost over time? And due to the required internet connection, will Microsoft be partnering with broadband providers? Too many questions, not enough time.

Sony's Playstation 4 is going to have more powerful GDDR5 RAM, whereas Microsoft's new console is going to run on DDR3 RAM (this hasn't been confirmed officially, but surely if Xbox One was going to be powered by GDDR5 they'd have made mention of it, rather than offering vague details and sweeping technical details under the carpet). Both will pack 8GB, but in the long-term, is Sony's decision to go with GDDR5 going to future-proof the PS4 more effectively than the Xbox One? It's not an initial concern, but a few years down the line, is Sony going to have the noticeably better console? Time will tell on that one, but it'll no doubt be a concern for tech savvy consumers making their mind up as to which console to purchase.

A big chunk of the presentation last night was dedicated to TV and sports. Microsoft clearly covets that space. This will no doubt polarise the hardcore crowd, many of whom aren't particularly interested in that side of things. With 3GB of the Xbox One's internal RAM dedicated to the Apps and other such functions (leaving 5GB for gaming), is cloud integration really going to offset the dip in performance when compared against that of the PS4? We're promised "more power available to create new gameplay, persistent worlds, and deeper experiences", but with the Xbox One already at seeming disadvantage, will it be enough in the longterm?

And what of the content that we're going to get beamed into our bulky new machines? The presentation was unbelievably US-centric. Will similar deals be wrapped up for European gamers, offering us the chance to watch homegrown content as opposed to American offerings? We suspect that this is more of a formality, and that localised content is in the pipeline, but a little news as to what we can expect would've been appreciated, especially considering how heavily "entertainment" functionality was pushed during the unveiling.

The specs speak for themselves when it comes to Kinect. It's going to be much more accurate this time around, and will work in different lighting conditions. However, there are people out there who are quite rightly concerned about privacy issues, with a camera pointing directly into their living rooms at all times. Whilst we're pretty sure that Microsoft isn't going to be peeking into our homes without our permission, there's certainly an Orwellian feel to the tech. Big Brother isn't watching you, unless of course you let him.

It's also worth considering how much extra the price of the new console has been bumped up by the inclusion of the Kinect with every console. There's some people who really aren't interested in the device, and no doubt they'll be wondering just how much it'll be integrated into the experience, forcing them to interact with something they have no desire to use. Microsoft's Mark Whitten also intimated to Gameinformer that the Kinect will replace the microphone, potentially meaning one won't be included in the basic package that many of us will pick up at the end of the year (although we'll no doubt be able to buy them separately if this is the case).

Xbox One will support used games, easing fears from some gamers (and retailers the world over) that Microsoft was aiming to close down that avenue. What we don't know is how this move will impact our digital collections. Will we have to hold onto our 360s in order to play all our old games? Many people will likely want to trade in their old console to take the sting out of buying the new one, but without assurances regarding our gaming libraries, it looks like we'll have to keep our 360s, cluttering up the living room space with more tech and cables. They've confirmed they'll be supporting their current generation well into the future, but are we really going to be able to play Limbo in 2020 if we do hang on to our ageing machines? Or will we be able to download new versions of previously purchased titles? Perhaps we'll have to pay a small fee for the transfer, or even buy them again at full price?!

Perhaps more pertinent is the question of how they'll handle second-hand transactions with their retail partners. Ownership of content is to be tied to individual accounts - games can only be played when logged into the owner's profile (or to linked accounts within the same household), so how will people trade-in their old games? Presumably there'll be a license transfer of some kind, but how this will work remains a mystery. Will there be additional fees to pay if you pick up a second-hand game from a retailer? If so, how much are we talking about? Because if the difference between a second-hand game and a new one is negligible because we have to pay once at retail, and again when we get the disc home, really, what is the point?

Moving onto the subject of Arcade and Indie games, Microsoft's decision to do away with these tabs on the dashboard and replace them with a simple "Games" option is an interesting one, but is this choice set to further marginalise the presence of smaller games? If pushed away from what little limelight they already have, will small and independent developers move away from Xbox and focus more on developing games for PS4, PC, and the new Android-powered consoles that are being announced (Gamestick and Ouya, for example)?

It seems like the platform holder is staying true to AAA games, with Call of Duty: Ghosts, Forza Motorsport 5, and FIFA 14 being mentioned during the presentation (and since we've had confirmation that Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Watch Dogs and Thief are all coming to the console). And what are Rare working on? There was also talk of several new IPs and plenty of new titles in development, 15 in fact, but will these be AAA offerings, or will there be some Arcade-style games in there too? Because if so, that sounds like a much less tempting proposition. I guess we'll just have to wait for E3 before we find out exactly what Microsoft has in store for us in that regard...