The Next Xbox: How Microsoft Can Stay Ahead
When Microsoft released the original Xbox gaming console it was an uphill battle from day one against Sony’s prolific PlayStation brand. The console was releasing later than the PS2, and though it had more horsepower, third party developers were firmly in bed with Sony and their seemingly unbeatable black box. However, when the newest generation of gaming consoles were introduced, Microsoft hit stores earlier than everyone and released the Xbox 360 as the follow up to their original massive machine. Though the 360 wasn’t the highest selling game console of this generation (that honor goes specifically to Nintendo’s Wii), it is certainly many gamer’s favorite, and early in the generation sold like gangbusters. It was the newest and hottest machine out and it seemed everyone wanted one and all the third party developers wanted to have their games on it.
Life was good for Microsoft, and even when the PlayStation 3 did hit it was without much fanfare; mostly due to a high asking price and an overall lack of games. As time has gone on though, the Xbox 360 has begun to slow innovation in seeming arrogance as Sony’s gaming console picked up steam with a seemingly endless flow of fantastic exclusives. Now the little white box that surprised everyone by beating Sony, in a gaming generation that most hardcore gamers had predicted would solely belong to the electronics manufacturing giant, finds itself in an awkward position. With the PlayStation 3 right on the heels of the Xbox 360, and Sony surely learning their lessons from the lumps they took, the next generation of gaming consoles is certainly anyone’s to win. If Microsoft wants to see itself sitting pretty again as the go to gaming machine, it has to get in gear and nail the one thing Sony trumps them on at every turn: high quality exclusives.
The Xbox 360 has a bevy of online features that trump the PlayStation’s hands down in most gamers opinion, even though there is a yearly price for it. With persistent friend lists across games, achievements from day one, cross game voice chat, trials for every Xbox Live Arcade game released and a wide array of other features, the Xbox is the brand to beat when it comes to online strategy. Where they seem to be failing right now is the ever important area of exclusive IPs. True, exclusive games are becoming more rare these days, with most developers and publishers preferring to expand their customer base to include every system they can, but they’re still very important when it comes to winning over gamers. The easiest way to ensure someone will buy your gaming console is to have all the features the other guy has, at a competitive price point, with games on your system that simply aren’t available on his. Usually this means quality first party titles, and for a while now Microsoft has seemed content with letting the third party developers supply their games, and rest atop their online superiority. After all, it worked at the beginning of this gaming generation when they had no competition and exclusives were plentiful to their system, because honestly, where else would they have gone? Now every E3 the same series are paraded in front of us in some form or the other: Fable, Forza, Halo and Gears of War. With an increasing focus on Kinect and a lessening focus on quality original IPs, Microsoft just might find themselves losing the next generation of gaming. How can they right the ship? So glad you asked.
The Xbox brand has a wide variety of untapped IP’s from last generation as well as plenty of resources to purchase development studios (like Sony has done) or even the rights to other existing IPs. Here are just a few games that I believe could help Microsoft win the next generation of gaming if they could leverage them correctly.
This is probably the most asked after, and most disappointing no show of this console generation. For those unaware, the game was set in a fictional alternate history of our world in the 1930’s, one filled with aircraft as a main means of transportation and the biggest form of combat. Amidst scenic backgrounds and under the backdrop of a well written story, players would fly fantastical planes with various special attacks. When you were done with the single player campaign you could jump online and dogfight with other players in a unique death match that we still haven’t seen the equal of on gaming consoles today.
Not only was Crimson Skies a smash hit and multiplayer power house for the original Xbox, Microsoft was confident enough in the IP to bundle it with their big bread winner: Xbox Live. In addition the series has a massive untapped fan base and has not only had a game under its name, but was popular enough to warrant a board game, a Wiz Kids miniatures game, and numerous tie-in short stories and novels. Why Microsoft has chosen to ignore the cries of the game’s fans is a mystery, but it should come out day and date with the next generation Xbox if the they want their newest console to take off (no pun intended. Ok maybe a little).
Ok, so maybe Brute Force didn’t have the greatest background story with it’s generic sci-fi approach, but the gameplay itself was significantly fun and ahead of its time. Within the game you would control four separate squad members, each with a specialized skill set. You have a synthetic cyborg who was an expert sniper, a femme fatale with a focus on stealth and a mean energy blade, a rampaging warrior alien that could go on a frenzied killing spree whilst healing himself and a good old commando type with a focus on heavy weapons whose special let him dual wield. You would issue orders and play tactically through a variety of levels, whilst switching between the different characters to make good use of their abilities.
With the advances in gaming consoles today I could easily see how the game could be a huge hit for Microsoft. Four player online and offline co-op could be implemented, a full on death match with a focus on tactical objectives, along with a strengthening of the story and refinement of the character classes would make a clear winner for the Xbox brand.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day may have originally released on the Nintendo 64, but it shined as Conker: Live and Reloaded on the Xbox. Conkers had a campaign filled with side splitting potty humor and a full online multiplayer component featuring squirrels in army gear and homicidal teddy bears fighting it out. It met and surmounted the goal of being a legitimately funny experience, which is notoriously hard for a video game to accomplish. Most of all it was something different on the gaming console, a platform and shooter combo with enough filth to firmly give Mario the middle finger. Microsoft owns the studio that made Conker’s Bad Fur Day now and pretty much has put them on the back burner with games like Kinect Sports. Bill Gates, here is some free advice; take Rare off the kiddy stuff and throw piles of money at them so they can bring a new hilarious Conkers experience solely to the Xbox gaming console.
No, you read that right; Microsoft Game Studios owns the rights to the Battletoad franchise. At any time they could leverage that license to create an awesome follow up to one of the most difficult games I have ever played, which just so happens to rule my childhood memories. Not only would legions of fans jump on board for the nostalgia factor alone, but by leveraging a classic beloved franchise they could create a new set of mascots, who just so happen to be their favorite color to feature on their consoles.
Ok so Microsoft doesn’t own the rights to this yet, but as it originally released only on the original Xbox gaming console. Advent Rising, though buggy as all get out, had a phenomenal story with a cliffhanger ending that left me, and lots of gamers like me, begging for more. The gaming rights are just sitting out there begging to be bought and Microsoft needs to just back dump trucks full of money up to whoever’s door until they own the rights and it can see a splendid rebirth on Microsoft’s next generation of console gaming.
This one might be slightly more selfish, but I certainly could see a market for it in today’s generation of gaming. The game featured a anime influenced art style and the ability to play as four different characters with distinct abilities through a single player action adventure RPG. Though the plot could certainly have used some work, I personally fell in love with the game and as far as I’m aware Microsoft still owns the rights to produce a sequel. I’m sure with some tweaks to the overall story that many gamers would be keen on adventuring again with Tal, Ailish, Buki and Elco.
I might just have saved the best for last. One of my fondest memories on the original Xbox was playing hour upon hour of the fantastic MechAssault games, both the first one and its sequel Lone Wolf. As far as I can tell Microsoft Game Studios still owns the rights to not only the Battletech license, but MechAssault as well, and the unbridled mech combat goodness I feel would still be a smash hit on the next generation of gaming consoles (or this generation for that matter). With an updated multiplayer to include more players, a well done story campaign mode, and a leverage of the existing brand this could be a megahit for Xbox.
There is a vast number of other games I could go through from Phantom Dust to Lost Odyssey that Microsoft could leverage to become the leaders in the next generation of gaming consoles, but I feel I’ve sufficiently made my point. Microsoft has a bevy of quality IPs that they could revive on their next generation console that would give them the edge they need to compete, and maybe even beat, Sony again. Without a shadow of a doubt, the Xbox Live Arcade is home to some of the best exclusives on the console and I know that Microsoft could bring that quality and variety to bear with their triple AAA console exclusives. Whether they do so or not, I truly believe could mean the difference between remaining the hardcore gamer’s console of choice .and falling to Sony’s PS4 system and its strong number of high quality exclusives.