This morning, in a tent built atop a soccer field in Redmond, Wash., Microsoft unveiled its newest game console. Unlike rumors suggested, it's called Xbox One. It's Microsoft's latest step in turning its consoles into entertainment hubs, coming at an unspecified price and date later this year.
Like Sony with PlayStation 4 and Nintendo with Wii U, Microsoft is preparing to enter a market much different than the one it did last generation — and for Microsoft, that was eight years ago. This time around, there's new competition from companies like Apple, Valve, Facebook, Samsung, Ouya and many others. It's no longer a question of whether Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo will come out on top, but if traditional game consoles themselves will in the face of a more spread-out market.
Microsoft's plan, as revealed this morning, is to make its next console an everything box that will run games, on-demand content, apps, social features, internet, live and interactive TV, in-game Skype calls, Kinect projects and almost anything someone would want to funnel through their television.
Today, Xbox Chief of Staff Aaron Greenberg said, was about the hardware. In three weeks at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, it will be about the games.
Here's what to expect.
The Xbox One Event in Under 3 Minutes
If you missed the Xbox One reveal event, check out our sub-three-minute summary below.
Xbox one Hardware
As Microsoft Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer Yusuf Mehdi revealed on stage, the Xbox One hardware is built around allowing players instant access to most of its features. So if you want to pause a game and check something online, or you want to receive Skype calls in the middle of playing a game, or you want to jump between live television and a game, you can do that without having to shut down one program and start something else. It's something old for those playing games on their phones and something new for those playing games on consoles, or those who like using voice commands to control all their entertainment options.
Xbox One will also allow users to switch channels on their TV, call up a channel guide using Kinect voice commands and switch channels just by saying so. The One will use HDMI pass-through and IR blasters, and will require a compatible cable box or DVR to enable this functionality. The only available video output is HDMI; no component or composite video-out is supported.
Microsoft announced the specifications for the system as follows:
"Always on" and used games
Clearing the air on the system's most controversial pre-announcement rumor, Microsoft's Don Mattrick, president of the company's Interactive Entertainment Business, said on Spike TV that the system doesn't have to always be online for players to use it. Some games will require that, but it will be up to each publisher whether it wants to implement those online features or piracy protection.
"Gamers can calm down," said Mattrick. "We got you covered." A Microsoft Q&A specified that the Xbox One is designed "so you can play games and watch Blu-ray movies and live TV if you lose your connection."
According to a report on Wired, Xbox One will require all games to be installed to the system's hard drive. And while a Microsoft representative told Polygon that the Xbox One will support used games, the nature of that support remains unclear at this point; a spokesperson said the console's used game support may differ from what it was in previous console generations.
Microsoft tells Polygon that it has "designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail," and says that any specifics are only "potential scenarios" and no details have been confirmed.
Shying away from the touchscreens, share buttons and near-field communication features of the competition, Microsoft's latest gamepad is a refinement of the Xbox 360 controller. That means small improvements like a slimmer battery pack allowing a player's hands more room in the back, and slimmer handles to rest in players' hands.
Other changes include a plus-shaped D-pad rather than a disc, a gray-and-black color scheme to match the new console and motors in each trigger to allow more options for rumble.
At first glance, it seems clear that Microsoft decided to leave its broader innovative interface ideas to Kinect, while keeping its control pad traditional with tweaks to modernize it.
While this may seem very familiar to the existing Xbox 360 controller, the Xbox One will be unable to use the older gamepads, Microsoft's corporate vice president Phil Spencer told Polygon at the company's unveiling event in Redmond.
The new Kinect
The new Kinect is always listening
Continuing Kinect's success on Xbox 360, Microsoft announced today that it will include the second-generation version of Kinect with every Xbox One. In fact, the console won't run without Kinect plugged in.
That may make some worry about the system's overall cost — the current Kinect retails for around $100 on its own — but it allows developers and publishers the benefit of knowing that everyone who owns the system will be able to use Kinect features, rather than Kinect games only appealing to a subset of the Xbox market. That means it's likely we will see more games that are not all-or-nothing with Kinect features, but use the camera hardware in interesting ways in the background.
Microsoft also made official the improved quality of the new Kinect, saying a new 1080p HD camera and wider field of view means it will track more detail, work well in smaller rooms and provide better voice communication. Kinect will always be listening — the One will sleep in a low-power state and you'll be able to boot it up just by saying, "Xbox, on." And Kinect-powered voice and gesture control is at the heart of the Xbox One, whether you're navigating through menus or jumping between apps, games and live TV.
A benefit of every console including Kinect is that Microsoft is also able to rely on it for much of the system's interface. Walk in front of the turned-on system, for instance, and it will automatically recognize you and sign you in. From there you can talk your way through the menus without ever picking up a controller unless you want to play a game, if you wish, or you can tell the system to switch to another profile if you're sitting next to someone else who has an account on the system.
This all ties into Microsoft's idea of personalizing each console to the player, or their account. Similar in theory to what Sony mentioned in its PlayStation 4 reveal event, the idea is that the player will see customized recommendations, trending lists and messages across games, social features and entertainment programming. To what extent players can control this themselves, and to what extent Microsoft will use these fields to market to players, is currently unclear.
Xbox Live and the cloud
Much like Sony with PlayStation 4, Microsoft is touting cloud power as a way it will support Xbox One and enable it to become more powerful over time. Up front, that means games will use it for things like Achievements, player profiles and matchmaking, so companies can change Achievements on the fly, players can store video clips there and players can search for games there while doing other things on their console.
According to Wired, the system will also allow developers to use Microsoft's Azure cloud computing service to support computations for games when players are connected online.
Microsoft didn't mention anything about serving games over a cloud service like Sony has discussed with Gaikai for PlayStation 4. But the console may, in the future, offload calculations to the cloud in order to free up computational power.
Xbox Live on Xbox One will allow users to have 1,000 people on their friends list — 10 times the limit on the Xbox 360 — and the service will be able to find your friends on social networks such as Facebook. You'll also be able to choose a subset of friends who can see your real name in addition to your Gamertag, if you like. Your existing Xbox 360 Gamerscore will transfer to Xbox One, as will your Xbox Live Gold account, and Achievements will stretch across games.
What about Xbox 360?
While Microsoft didn't announce any new Xbox 360 games or services at today's event, Don Mattrick said that Microsoft would reveal more about what's next for 360 at E3, suggesting that the reveal of One does not mean the end of 360 (which more or less was the case in the original Xbox transition).
The company did confirm the lack of backward compatibility for One, however. In an interview with The Verge, Microsoft revealed that One won't have any backward compatibility with original Xbox or Xbox 360 games because the new console's hardware architecture is too different.
For Your Entertainment
With the Xbox One, Microsoft is angling for the center of your living room, and accordingly, the company focused much of today's reveal event on entertainment and other non-gaming apps for the system. Thanks to HDMI pass-through, you'll be able to hook up a cable box to the Xbox One and use Kinect voice commands to switch between live TV channels.
Snap mode will let you manage multiple apps at once
The Xbox One interface allows for multitasking through Snap mode, a feature cribbed from Windows 8 that lets users display multiple apps at once. Potential applications for Snap include watching a live basketball game while docking Internet Explorer in a sidebar to track your fantasy team's stats. Microsoft also announced an exclusive partnership with the NFL that will redefine interactive TV, according to the company and the league. The NFL on Xbox will integrate functionality that's built into the One, such as the mobile and tablet app SmartGlass and video chat via Skype.
Call of Duty: Ghosts
The latest in Activision's juggernaut shooter franchise debuted at Microsoft's press conference with the first in-game footage, showing a new storyline, a dog partner and a new graphics engine. Call of Duty: Ghosts will be shipping for many consoles this holiday, with the Xbox One and Xbox 360 versions having exclusive first dibs on the game's downloadable content.
Electronic Arts' Andrew Wilson took the stage to announce Xbox One versions of four games: FIFA 14, NBA Live 14, Madden NFL 25 and EA Sports UFC. As part of this, he also revealed Ignite, its new engine to power these games, with a video showing pre-rendered footage for the four games. Capping off his presentation, Wilson announced that Xbox One will receive unspecified exclusive content for FIFA 14's Ultimate Team mode.
Forza Motorsport 5
When Playground Games popped up its head as the developer of last year's Forza Horizon, many took that as a sign that mainline Forza developer Turn 10 needed extra time between games to work on a next-generation entry in the franchise. So it's no surprise that at today's event, Microsoft announced Forza Motorsport 5 as a launch game for One with Turn 10 at the helm.
The next game from Rememdy Entertainment, the studio behind Max Payne and Alan Wake, merges television-style programming with what players have come to expect from games, said Microsoft's Phil Spencer. We don't know exactly what that means at this point for Quantum Break.
While not at Microsoft's press conference, publisher Ubisoft announced today that it has Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, Watch Dogs and four other unspecified titles in the works for the new hardware.
After the Xbox One reveal event concluded, Electronic Arts announced that DICE's Battlefield 4 will be available on Xbox One as well as PS4, PS3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC. The PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 versions will be released Oct. 29, but EA has yet to announce release dates for the Xbox One or PS4 versions. Either way, anyone who pre-orders the first-person shooter will receive the game's first expansion pack, China Rising.
Microsoft's Phil Spencer announced on stage that it will publish 15 games in Xbox One's first year, with eight being new franchises.
That list of 15 includes a "historic IP" from developer Rare, whose Perfect Dark Zero was a launch title for the Xbox 360.
That list of eight will include Crytek's Ryse, first announced at E3 2011. Thanks to the inclusion of Kinect with every Xbox One, the previously Kinect-only game is now a "controller-based experience enhanced by Kinect."Developer Crytek already has its CryEngine 3 running on the new Xbox One.
Halo: The television series
343 Industries' Bonnie Ross took the stage to announce a deal with Steven Spielberg for a live-action Halo television show. This follows Microsoft's similar attempt at live-action Halo programming with the Halo 4 promotional web series Forward Unto Dawn, yet apart from Spielberg's involvement as a producer, we don't know much about what makes the new one different thus far.
Microsoft's Phil Spencer told Polygon, "I think much like Halo begat the Xbox, I think the Halo TV series can have a pretty dramatic impact on how people think about television." That impact may be a ways off, however. Spencer added, "I'll be honest, we're early in terms of what the creative will be and we'll share more as it goes forward."
The Xbox One Event
If you missed the Xbox One reveal event, here's the entire thing.