This has always been a very contentious issue for the new console with rumours about an Xbox that needs to be always connected to the internet surfacing earlier this year. After the crowds online reacted badly to this news the former Creative Director at Microsoft, Adam Orth, spoke out on twitter, saying: “Sorry, I don’t get the drama over having an ‘always on’ console,” adding a hashtag #dealwithit. The fall-out was such that Orth later resigned over the comment.
However, earlier this month Ars Technica got their hands on an internal Microsoft email that stated that “Durango [the codename for the new console] is designed to deliver the future of entertainment while engineered to be tolerant of today’s Internet […] There are a number of scenarios that our users expect to work without an Internet connection, and those should 'just work' regardless of their current connection status. Those include, but are not limited to: playing a Blu-ray disc, watching live TV, and yes playing a single player game." Hopefully Microsoft will confirm this tonight at the launch, and gamers can breathe a collective sigh of relief.
2. Re-using second hand games
One of the reasons that the always-on rumour is so disliked is the fear that such a connection would allow Microsoft to block players using pre-owned games, with a post on Kotaku citing a “reliable industry source” suggesting just that. The move would find support from publishers looking for a way to stop what they see as the erosion of their profits via the selling of used games but would be massively unpopular with gamers.
Others suggest that such a feature would be redundant anyway, as the rise of the online game store means the death of the used games market in the long run. And gamers who expect to find older titles cheaper at second hand tend to be rewarded by the massively popular seasonal sales organised by companies like Steam.
3. Free to play
Another rumour suggests that even Steam’s sales might be edged out of the price wars by free to play games. Earlier this month Joystiq reported from the Game Horizon conference in Gateshead, where Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games , told the audience that Microsoft and Sony are “going heavily” into free-to-play with the new generation. Rein said that “The next-gen consoles are going to be fully embracing free-to-play business models,” and when questioned on these comments replied that he was only telling the audience “what they’re telling developers”.
Such a move would seem to be inspired by the success of free-to-play games for mobile devices. Although mobiles and consoles appeal to different markets, many free games make millions from in-app purchases. An article by Forbes on mobile games-developer Supercell reported that the company made $2.4 million every day from in-app purchases on its flagship title Clash of Titans.
Tech-blogger and Windows-expert Paul Thurrott has mentioned that Microsoft’s IllumiRoom will definitely feature in this evening’s presentation, but we’re still not sure whether the technology will be a commercial possibility.
The system has been developed by Microsoft Labs and was first shown to the public early this year. Using a project and an updated Kinect (the Kinect 2.0 is one thing we know will be included with the new console), the IllumiRoom expands the gaming area out from the TV onto the walls of the gamer’s front room.
For first person shooters this might mean seeing more of your surroundings or using light effects to emphasise the feeling of recoil when firing a weapon, or the impact of bullets. A video released by Microsoft also shows the project throwing up a 3D grid that moves with player to give the impression of movement, as well as weather graphics accompanying a racing game that filled the room with snow. IllumiRoom certainly has the wow-factor, but hopefully it’ll be used for more than just flash during this evening’s presentation.
5. Games and backwards compatibility
It’s no surprise that the issue of games comes so far down this article. Although still nominally a console, the new Xbox will really be pitched more as a hub for all forms of entertainment. Writing for the BBC Peter Molyneux has referred to Microsoft’s desire to be “input one” for the living room, whilst he himself just wants a “great gaming machine” for developers.
Molyneux’s certainly got a point – the only confirmed game for the new console is the latest instalment in the fantastically popular Call of Duty series whilst the rumours for other titles include a lot of franchises and a couple of reboots. Possible games include Forza Motorsport 5, Halo 5, Dragon Age 3, Doom 4, Assassin’s Creed 4, and reboots of Sonic, Thief and Wolfenstein. Some of these will hopefully be a blast to play, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of faith in new endeavours.
Backwards compatibility is a related-issue. Gamers are always vocally in favour but manufacturers often dismiss it – they have to spend extra to make old games work with new systems, and many of the most popular titles end up being emulated via online-services anyway. It seems unlikely that the new console will be any different from the 360, but it would certainly be a nice gesture to the fans if it's not.
6. The name
Despite all this talk about hardware and features we’re still no closer to knowing the new console's name! The Xbox 720 has been the much trafficked stand-in, but other possibilities include the Xbox Now! and the Xbox Infinity.
International Business Times claim to have confirmed that the latter is the correct title - even supplying their own mocked up logo with the strapline “Infinite entertainment. Infinite possibilities.” – but Microsoft responded only to say that they do not “comment on rumour or speculation”. This seems unfair given the amount of rumour and speculation they’ve created in the run-up to the big release, and we look forward to having them set the record straight.