Sony and Nintendo may have a lot more on their respective plates in 2012, pushing new hardware out the door, but that doesn't mean Microsoft can sit back and relax. If anything, they have the hardest job of all because of it. The PS Vita and the Wii U will likely steal a good chunk of gaming news headlines, so Microsoft should answer in kind and bring us something noteworthy. Something like an official announcement of their next generation platform, a feisty plan for their Kinect peripheral, and some big ticket exclusive games. And when I say "big," I mean "games that will make the masses forget who Mario and Nathan Drake even are."
Microsoft's competition has certainly unveiled a prime lineup of titles playable only on their systems, so we need bigger quantity and better quality from the Xbox 360 sole developers. Of course we all know Halo 4 is coming, slated for a holiday release, and many trailers were seen for other exclusive titles at the conventions in 2011, but Microsoft has to do better than that. An updated The Witcher 2 game is coming soon, but that's still only an enhanced version of a previous release. The next game in the Fable series is also on the way, but probably doesn't have many salivating after the regurgitated gameplay of Fable 3. Is this the grand showcase Microsoft? I certainly hope not, or you're in big trouble.
But there's a potential glimmer in the forecast. Trying to woo Japanese gamers (which Microsoft has historically failed at) as well has catering to a portion of the Western audience, we're seeing potential hits like Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor and Project Draco on the horizon. Also, Microsoft has the seeds of a strongest lineup of downloadable exclusives like Hybrid and Fez for the Xbox LIVE Arcade. It's a start, but like I said earlier, Microsoft needs to give us more, and we need to hear about it sooner rather than later, before the competition can really pick up steam.
The next big issue Microsoft must tackle is the Kinect, and specifically the direction they want to take it. The controllerless motion device is certainly becoming a divisive point of contention for the Xbox audience, ruffling some to the point of abandoning the system. It's still unclear what Microsoft's goal was when the Kinect was first unveiled. Was it to tap into the audience that Nintendo had successfully brought into the gaming world? Was it to cater to the moderate gamer? Was it to bring deep motion gaming to the hardcore audience? Or did Microsoft expect to win in all three areas? Whatever their expectations, what we have now is a plethora of dance games, workout games, party games, and rudimentary sports games. So they've successfully stolen some of Nintendo's audience, but also created a taint with their core fan base. Granted, there are other genres utilizing the Kinect, but it's either not incorporated enough, or not responsive enough to be considered the better alternative to traditional controls.
So what Microsoft should do with Kinect is think long and hard about which audience they want to target, because the hopes of appealing to both sides are slim. It has been rumored that the Kinect will be a built-in feature of the next Xbox system, so it's not a matter of whether the Kinect will remain in the market, but rather what Microsoft's intentions are concerning it.
And thus we move on to the rumored Xbox 720 (or whatever its moniker will be). Microsoft is in a precarious position with regards to its next generation system, and stuck in the middle, it would seem, between Nintendo and Sony. Confirmations are surfacing about a 2012 Wii U holiday launch, and also that Sony is in no rush to reveal the PS4, so timing is critical for Microsoft. Obviously not in competition with the Wii U, the next Xbox does not need to try and steal the retail floor this holiday season, so a 2012 launch is unlikely. But Microsoft should also not push the release all the way to the 2013 holiday season either. No, they need it out by the beginning or middle of next year, meaning they really need to pump as many features of the system into the mainstream, and even go so far as give us playable demos at this year's E3. They may not feel ready to do this much in 2012, but they should not tarry either. But if by chance they divulge little about the next Xbox, they should have a failsafe with the current system, with some grandiose firmware enhancements, a better dashboard setup, and a serious rethinking of their Xbox LIVE service and the steep price we're still paying for it (well, steep when considering the PSN is free).
Microsoft has maintained a strong fan base for many years, but many gamers are becoming disheartened with the brand and jumping over to the Sony pool. I don't have a grand solution as to how Microsoft can woo back the support, but if they don't find one, they may find themselves losing their footing.
Date: February 6, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*