But not necessarily that new
Regardless of whether or not the sales figures for the last financial quarter are of consoles sold or shipped, regardless of the extent to which the PlayStation and Xbox numbers were muddied by last-gen console statistics, one thing is clear: Microsoft are lagging behind. By an alarming factor of three-to-one.
It's early days, of course, in terms of Phil Spencer's tenure at the top. For much of 2014, he's been dealing in damage control, and trying to turn the omnishambles that Mattrick left behind into something identifiable, something relatable, something to do with games rather than every other facet of entertainment.
It's clear that communication has hurt the Xbox One significantly. I posited in my recent article about Destiny that Sony have done a fantastic job in selling the idea "better on PS4". We've said since the two consoles launched that Microsoft have had the better exclusives thus far. We've suggested that they have the better exclusive lineup this Christmas, what with the Master Chief Collection, Sunset Overdrive, and Forza Horizon 2 edging LittleBigPlanet 3, Driveclub, and (if it's even still on track for this year) PlanetSide 2. But as Nintendo have found out to their cost, you can have some of the finest first-party exclusives around, but third-party games matter. A lot.
Last year we also stressed the importance of communication. Sony's message has been clear from day on: the PS4 is #fortheplayers. It's a games console designed to play games, be easy to develop for,squeeze out as much power as possible for as low a price as can be had, while maintaining the standard of quality that we've come to expect from PlayStation devices. By contrast, the Xbox One was first unveiled as being all about entertainment, TV, and sports. Then it was an all-in-one console -- "Xbox One. Input One". Now it's had Kinect chopped off, and Microsoft's in-house entertainment production unit is closing its doors.
E3, however, was emblematic of Phil Spencer hitting the reset button. But it wasn't enough. The Xbox One is still a confusing mess of a console, seemingly less powerful than its cheaper rival, having made optional a device that was pretty integral to the console's UI but was only ever going to be as successful as the games tailored towards its unique capabilities. It's focus as an HTPC is rapidly becoming more redundant as smart TVs improve in performance and come down in price, and the HDMI passthrough is a quirky, but ultimately pointless feature for the majority of the gaming audience.
Put simply, if Spencer is to perform a proper reset of the Xbox One brand and realign the console's focus on gaming, he's going to need a new console to do it. Not a generational console, but an Xbox One trimmed of all the fat. One that gets rid of everything apart from the core system hardware and a big fat hard-drive.
The gimmicks clearly aren't shifting Xbox One units, but the games could, given the right environment. Slim consoles are always something of a slap in the face to early adopters, but for the sake of prospective buyers -- and here I'm being selfish and thinking about myself too as a would-be Xbox One buyer -- Microsoft shouldn't let that stop them in producing a console geared entirely towards gaming and little else. By getting rid of the superfluous elements, Microsoft would surely be able to produce a console that, okay, might still cede something by way of pure grunt to the PS4, but could reasonably be expected to undercut the competition in terms of price.
Jon and I had a lengthy discussion about this in recording this week's Game Buzz (you can catch it in its entirety on Saturday) and he said something that was really rather damning about the amount of hardware bloat on the Xbox One: has there ever been another point in gaming history where the technically weaker console in terms of power and performance has proven more expensive? It's simply not right, and although Microsoft have made concessions to this fact by making Kinect optional, they haven't gone far enough. They need to create a proper Xbox One Slim (Xbox Prime? Xbox Basic? Xbox Solus?) that removes everything but the essentials, giving consumers the opportunity to really choose, and making clear to their confused public that if all they want are games, they don't have to pay for other extraneous features.
E3 was the dawn of a new chapter for Xbox, but Spencer and co. need to stop saying things like "we still really believe in Kinect" having just doomed the already ailing device to a life of being an afterthought by making it optional. Microsoft have started out on the road to slimming down their focus when it comes to the Xbox mission statement. Now they have to put the console itself on a diet.