Top five things I want in the next Xbox

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May 21, 2013 — all will be revealed.

The next generation of gaming is about to begin.

Well, actually, it began November 18 of last year with the release of Nintendo’s Wii U system, but it barely surpasses the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in terms of processing power and graphical capabilities. So, in the end, the next generation truly begins this year with the release of the PlayStation 4.

Microsoft hasn’t said much yet, but it looks like the secrecy will soon be put to an end: the tech giant is hosting an unveiling event May 21 about the next generation of Xbox, and many believe this is pertaining to a new console. If the reveal is indeed the long-overdue successor to the Xbox 360, there are a few features and ideas that need to be a part of it.

Without further ado, here are the top five things I want in the next Xbox.

1. Built-in Kinect

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This is the future of navigating menus: breathtaking, riveting, and far too exciting for this writer to handle.

Kinect wasn’t all that exciting. Few games supported it and even fewer benefited from its inclusion. For the most part, nothing was “better with Kinect.” It was fun for a few party games on the rare occasion, but that was it.

One thing it did excel at, however, was menu navigation. Now players could feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report as they waved their hands to move from menu to menu. Voice control was also possible, meaning even limbless gamers could play — or at least navigate menus. But that’s fun too, right?

This was only possible for people with an extra $149.99 (or the equivalent in Timbits for Canadians) in their pockets, though, making it an especially tough sell. If this technology came with the console by default, it’s quite possible more people would embrace it. Maybe Kinect games would actually get better.

But Kinect games won’t get better. When it comes to games, this technology is a gimmick. At the very least, those using the new Xbox can enjoy easier menu navigation and feeling (but certainly not looking) cool.

2. More perks for non-Live subscribers

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This costs just as much as a game. And what does it get you? Racist and sexist hate mail that’s obviously “better with Kinect.”

People shouldn’t get everything for free, and this desire doesn’t condone freebies. But right now, those who don’t buy in to Xbox Live are left with just about nothing. Want to watch Netflix? You can’t, despite paying a monthly subscription to it already. Want to check out YouTube? Don’t even think about it. Want to play a game online? Actually, this one makes sense.

The list of what free users can do is extremely small. Too small, in fact. The next Xbox needs to continue with providing great services to those who do pay, but it must also offer a few more things to those who don’t. There’s no reason non-subscribers shouldn’t be able to watch YouTube or Netflix. Game demos are also available to everyone, but certain ones had a timed exclusivity deal: those who pay for Live can download the trial earlier than those who don’t pay. This practice may not exist anymore, but if it does, it needs to be scrapped.

Currently, Microsoft severely limits what free users can do in order to make a paid subscription look more appealing. It may be standard practice in the business, but that doesn’t stop it from being a poor practice. Instead, the company should offer more services for both models: for every service a free user can take advantage of, a new service or application should be available for paying users.

3. More applications!

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Where’s the fart noise app? The Snookify Me app? iStrip?!

While every mobile phone app store has its fair share of useless and ridiculous apps, there are many gems. Microsoft, if it’s hoping to turn the Xbox into less of a pure gaming machine and more of a media hub, needs to add more apps. Many of the current ones are excellent: there are staples like Netflix and YouTube, logical ones like IGN and GameTrailers, and others like Hockey Night in Canada and CNET.

This isn’t enough. Perhaps this is something Microsoft is already aware of, working with other companies to develop more apps. Either way, there’s a strong need for more multimedia apps on the next Xbox to keep people glued to their televisions and away from their tablets or phones.

Why not allow news organizations in on this? CBC could easily put out a video app that shares top stories and streaming of broadcasts. It doesn’t even need to be that different from what they currently offer on their site. Just make an Xbox-optimized app and many Canadians may jump on that.

Hey, if the CRTC turns down Sun News Network for mandatory cable carriage, they could look to the next Xbox. It could even be one of those apps that works for both paying and non-paying Live users. Sun News, are you guys reading this?

4. Less advertisements for paying Live subscribers

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Seven tiles. Five ads. One tired consumer.

When Microsoft integrated Windows 8’s Metro user interface with the Xbox 360 later last year, it gave the console its best UI yet. It also gave it the most advertisements it has ever seen. Many of the tiles on each screen don’t feature your games or your media; they feature commercials for upcoming games, movies, and music. Alright, cool, you can watch neat trailers for things you wouldn’t be aware of had these ads not existed.

But then you remember you pay $60+ each year to play games with your friends. Why should you have to see ads plastered all over your screen? Why can’t you just pin more apps onto their own tile instead of in a single so-called “quick-access” menu? These commercials and images are a waste of space in a menu interface that has so much potential.

The next Xbox should keep the same number of ads for non-paying members but either decrease the number of ads or eliminate them entirely for paying members. This idea is exactly like many mobile apps where users can play for free but deal with ads, or pay for the app to experience it ad-free.

Microsoft, however, has different plans, meaning this is merely a dream.

5. GAMES! Not gimmicks

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This is actually what Hell looks like. Things could be worse, but this is still pretty bad.

Microsoft doesn’t have many exclusive titles. There’s Halo. Oh, and Gears of War. And… is Forza only available for Xbox systems? Let’s be honest, that isn’t enough to sell a console. Microsoft needs to up the ante and either develop better games on its own or buy more studios. Or make sure the studios it does have can put out good games (here’s the obligatory “Rare, what happened to you?” comment).

Nintendo’s Wii U is currently riding on its nifty controller. Sure, the heavy-hitters will release some day, but right now there aren’t many exclusive games that make it a must-buy system. The PlayStation 4 has a nice mix of upcoming exclusive titles in addition to its “me too!” touchscreen controller, which gives it the edge.

Microsoft needs to focus on what Xbox is about: it’s meant to dominate your living room. It can play movies, stream videos, connect to the Internet, but most importantly, it can play games. Leave the controller’s design relatively untouched. Include Kinect by default but don’t make the same kind of cash-grab games like players see now. Do not add a touchscreen or any other unusual input method in order to get people interested.

Just promise great games in addition to the other entertainment features.

Don’t just make another Halo or another Project Gotham Racing and call it a day. Look towards new franchises or even — gasp! — standalone titles. Look at the competition, see what they’re doing right, and one-up them. Sony wants to make it easier for indie developers to get their games on consoles? Make it even easier. Nintendo doesn’t want to do anything right with the Wii U? Don’t adopt their strategy.

Final thoughts

All of this is easier said than done. It’s entirely possible these demands are simply too much for Microsoft. Or maybe Microsoft is already on top of all this, fulfilling the dreams of at least one gamer. All will be revealed May 21. Hopefully what’s revealed is actually good.

Honourable mentions

  • Bring back the tailor-made Facebook and Twitter apps with upgraded interfaces and features. Don’t force people to use them through the terrible Internet Explorer app
  • More cloud storage for game saves
  • Get rid of Microsoft points or at least make logical increments. People are always left with useless amounts of points that don’t do anything. Again, good business isn’t always nice business.
  • Upgrade the Xbox Smartglass mobile app. Give it the same features across all platforms (iOS, Android, Windows, etc.) instead of making one version the best. Especially when it isn’t Microsoft’s own platform. iOS, really?
  • Banjo-Threeie. For real this time. Rare, what happened to you?
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