Game Buzz is a new weekly opinion column designed to take an irreverent look at one of the biggest news stories to break in the past week. Every Friday evening we’ll be bringing you another slice of reaction to topical gaming news, and inviting you to agree, disagree, shout assent, vent rage, scream and complain to you heart’s delight. This week we burst the bubble on Microsoft's 2010.
I'm going to be honest, a small smile of smug satisfaction flickered upon my face for a split-second upon learning that all over the world the chunkier sons of Sony's PS3 family were lying comatose, stricken down by a clock error the likes of which had not been seen since the turn of the millennium. You have to understand that as an Xbox 360 owner, my gaming life is one of nervous anticipation. I'm on my third model, having already lost two brave comrades to that most odious of illuminated symbols: The Red Ring of Death.
I cannot count the number of times I've stood, with tears streaming down my face, cradling the smouldering corpse of my machine, wrapped snugly in a towel, desperately hoping that by some miracle an excess of heat will ironically fix the damage that the very same thing cause in the first place. I recently watched Dealspwn's very own Jon Lester beating the hell out of his disc drive for five minutes just to get a game to run...and the scary thing was that it worked.
But this has so often been the case: the Xbox 360 is a far more old-school piece of equipment than many realise. It passively advocates that most Victorian of ideals - corporal punishment, tending to respond more to the rod than to reason, much like old CRT televisions, the lovers of Dickensian villains and schoolchildren. It is something that I have long put down to Microsoft's stubbornness, or rather lazy ineptitude. I almost admire Microsoft's daring, after all you've got to have balls of steel to sell a product with a 60% fail rate and steadfastly refuse to sort it out properly.
But there have been two things in the news this week that have made me fear greatly for the longevity of the Xbox 360, and both of them have come from Sony. The first, of course, was the aforementioned little clock bug that had PS3 fanboys white-knuckled and hysterical for 24 hours. There was never any need for that kind of apoplectic madness, and I tears of mirth ran down my face when I saw forum posters comparing this minor software glitch to the Red Ring of Death. This is the one thing that Xbox owners can always be proud of...our console's so much more f*cked than yours.
The second was the acquisition of Media Molecule. I am not worried too much about the hardware issue, Microsoft have repeatedly stated that they see the Xbox 360 as a long term console, and a potent argument was put forth in January of this year that this could feasibly be the case as, for the first time in gaming history, the firmware for consoles can be updated remotely, placing software far further forward in terms of generational longevity than hardware. And let's be honest, it would not cost Microsoft anywhere near as much to simply iron out the faults in this console than it would to develop an entirely new hardware flagship. New consoles always run at a loss, which is then offset by continuing sales, software sales and third party licensing.
However, that statement concerning hardware is, of course, something of a misnomer considering the large steps being taken towards motion control gaming, but even these are simply diversions and add-ons to prolong the lives of already existing machines. I disagree with Molyneux's extravagant hype suggesting that Natal will change the face of gaming: I'd rather see Gears of War 3 if I'm honest, but you can bet that Natal and the PMC will alter the faces of gaming. Expect more family fun with plenty of shovelware pitched towards your little sister's affection for My Little Pony. Back on topic, though, Microsoft didn't seem to be particularly perturbed by Capcom's complaints regarding the sequel to the painfully average Lost Planet, and they probably shouldn't be because for better or for worse it is clear that Microsoft see their future as strongly digital, hence the new 250 GB hard drive. True, Blu-ray would mean you'd be able to fit more onto a disc, but that would be a supreme admission of defeat from Microsoft. It is worth saying, though, that if Microsoft had fully backed HD-DVD from the start, this whole picture might have looked very different indeed.
But the relative lack of importance of the hardware means that in order to remain competitive, one thing is for certain: Microsoft desperately need to pull in the exclusives. Despite this being a battlefield that Microsoft have been fairly ruthless in over the last few years, I can't help but feel that unless they start pulling their fingers out and investing in developer talent, they're going to have a serious problem on their hands. Let's have a look at some of Sony's stable, for example: Polyphonic Digital, Team Ico, Naughty Dog, Quantic Dream, Insomniac, Zipper Interactive, Sucker Punch, Level 5, Kojima Productions, Santa Monica Studios, Guerrilla Games, Incognito and now, of course, Media Molecule. To borrow a metaphor from Red Dwarf, I would smear my genitals in fish paste and dunk them into a school of hungry piranhas for a Team Ico game on the Xbox 360 (I'll probably just go out and buy a PS3, but you get the idea), but there's not really anyone, Bungie aside, who fills me with that sense of awe and expectation under Microsoft's umbrella.
In fact, let's take a look at Microsoft's list and compare the results: 343 Industries, Big Park, Firebird Studios, Spawnpoint Studios, Lionhead Studios, Rare Ltd., Turn-10, Wingnut are the entirety of Microsoft's first-party studios. We can talk about Ruffian and Mistwalker and Remedy too, but that is still a woefully small pool of dedicated talent, at least third of whom haven't made a single complete thing yet! Sony has Microsoft firmly pipped when it comes to critical acclaimed, big-name franchises too. We we're psyched for Halo: Chronicles, but it never happened. Firebird and Spawnpoint are busy working away on an accessory that no-one has stopped to ask one particular question of just yet: what if Natal fails? And 343 Industries have basically just shown us that they can make cool anime featurettes. Yay. Imagines Heavy Rain on Natal, with you as a character. Sounds good? Who the hell would make it?!
Sony fanboys have long been uttering the words 'This is the year of the PS3', I should know, my housemate last year used to recite it in his sleep; but this time, they might have a point. Both consoles are capable of longevity, but only Sony seems to be doing the leg-work to ensure it. It seems to me that Microsoft are taking a lot for granted and pinning a whole heap of hopes on their motion control gimmick as Sony quietly amass some of the greatest developer talent of the last decade. Short-term contractual agreements are all well and good, but they don't provide long-term security. If I was a leading exec at Microsoft, I'd be trying to cajole Infinity Ward into running come October, and snapping them up immediately.
We've seen the phrase 'the ApocalPS3' crop up a lot this week, but it shouldn't have been directed at Sony. From the looks of things, Microsoft have far bigger issues to worry about. If all else fails, I can always turn my Xbox into one of these.