It is fair to say that the existing console generation has not been a massive success for Microsoft and its Xbox One. The eighth generation console has failed to compete favorably with Sony’s PlayStation 4, and there have even been rumors circulating that Microsoft would step out of the games industry completely.
This would be a massive occurrence were it to happen, as there is no obvious console rival to the PlayStation 4 apart from the Xbox One. Although Nintendo is still participating in the video games market with its Wii U console, this is a a very much a niche machine, and not one that has seriously rivalled the PlayStation 4 in this generation.
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Thus, it is interesting to note that the rumor mill suggests that Microsoft may launch a smaller version of the Xbox One in 2016. This is nothing new in and of itself, as it is common for console manufacturers to launch sleeker and more diminutive versions of consoles as each generation develops, and technology becomes more affordable.
Download-only Xbox One mooted
But there is something more significant about this rumored Xbox One than merely the fact that it is a smaller variant of the console. Reports suggest that this forthcoming machine will be compatible with downloadable games only. This would be a massive step for Microsoft, and perhaps indicative of the direction of the industry in general.
It has been frequently asserted in the past that Microsoft would consider releasing such a mini-console, yet murmurings on the subject have always failed to come to fruition. But Microsoft could be testing the water for something that the corporation has wished to carry out for sometime.
Both gaming creators and console manufacturers would benefit from phasing out disc-based gaming, even though it is not something that the gaming fraternity would generally welcome. Although the PC community has enthusiastically embraced the Steam software which enables games to be downloaded from an Internet-based digital distribution platform, console gamers have always valued the physical disc.
Yet it was clear when Microsoft originally released the Xbox One that it was already toying with the idea of removing discs from its consoles. Video game manufacturers have always complained about the fact that disc-based games can be sold on to other people via auction sites such as eBay. This greatly reduces the number of brand-new games that are purchased, and ultimately feeds into the profits of developers.
Gamers often argue that the physical disc is the only way that consumers can retain any form of rights in the industry. Although there are many arguments about the preference of a disc-based gaming structure, one of the most commonly asserted is that as long as you possess a physical disc, you can have access to a game indefinitely. Server-based gaming may be promoted as being convenient by gaming corporations, but as soon as they cease to support a particular title your previous purchase of it is meaningless.
So by releasing a smaller version of its Xbox One console, Microsoft is essentially testing the water of exclusively downloadable gaming. Certainly the indication is thus far that console gamers are not likely to get on board with this concept in large numbers, but if Microsoft can market this new Xbox One console at an attractive price point, many gamers make indeed be tempted.
This new console is apparently intended to be compatible with Windows Store games, and is envisaged as being a direct competitor to Apple TV. Apple has ensured that its latest Apple TV device is considerably more games-oriented than previous releases in this series, and it is suggested that this will be a growing trend in the future.
Games consoles now compete an increasingly complicated marketplace, in which devices such as mobile phones and Valve’s Steam Box are challenging the traditional business model. The increasing feasibility of streaming games over Internet connections also means that the sort of outstanding and expensive hardware that is associated with consoles is possibly becoming obsolete. And PC gamers will assert that their preferred platform is simply more powerful, flexible and ultimately superior to any console.
So when considering this new Xbox One console, we must understand that Microsoft is thinking many years into the future, into a gaming climate that is emerging, but yet to fully develop. This download-based console is intended to pave the way for an entirely new gaming model for the Xbox series going forward.
It should be emphasized at this point that Microsoft has yet to respond to the rumors regarding a new Xbox One machine. And indeed, this is not the first time that we have heard of such a console apparently being in development. But reports indicate that this Xbox One may hit the stores in the second half of 2016, and keen Xbox One consumers should expect it to be priced at a significantly lower level than the existing Microsoft console.
Sony to follow suit
What will be interesting to see if Microsoft does indeed release this console is whether Sony will respond in any way. While the Japanese corporation did a considerably better job than Microsoft of marketing the PlayStation 4, it is ultimately driven by the same desires and market forces as its rival, and will have to consider the same issues that Microsoft is mulling over.
While Sony achieved a great deal of good will among gamers by seemingly genuinely listening to their concerns ahead of the release of the PlayStation 5, it should not be seen as a whiter-than-white keeper of the gaming faith. Sony will have to move with the times, and must also maintain good relationships with game creators. This could easily mean that we also see a download-based PlayStation 4 in the future as well.
By releasing an Xbox One that is only compatible with downloadable games, Microsoft would be sending a strong message out about the future direction of the industry. There will no doubt be many further rumors about this smaller yet significant version of the Xbox One console in the coming months.