Ok, so if you’ve been paying attention to the gaming space today, you’ll know that Microsoft unveiled its new gaming console, the Xbox One. This next generation console is going to play video games, control your TV (sort of), and act as a DVD/Blue-Ray player. It’s got a Kinect motion sensor box on top, which can not be disconnected, and the console won’t play Xbox 360 discs.
This is all well and good, and represents a step forward in Microsoft’s quest to own the living room, even though a lot of us don’t have the time, space, or extra cash to spend on a huge entertainment hub these days, anyway. That’s really not what bothers me, though.
The Xbox One is just uglier than anything I could have imagined.
Heck, my ten year-old son, not a maven of design in any way, saw pictures of the new Xbox, and chuckled. “Why is it bigger than the Xbox 360?” he asked. “It looks the same, just more square.”
Which really made it all hit home for me: design matters. The case design of the Xbox One is firmly rooted in the past. Which makes a lot of sense if you consider the reveal today, full of the same games and the same brands with better graphics.
Take a look at this beast. It looks like a relic of the early 1990s, with the squared corners, tall, thick profile, and those odd cross hatching lines that must be for cooling purposes but just end up looking like a 1980s science fiction author’s idea of a cyber-deck.
I suppose I could live with such a big fat presence in the living room if it didn’t completely remind me that the days of the monolithic gaming console/entertainment hub are coming to an end. Microsoft showed its hand today–echoed in the flat, unimaginative design of the Xbox One. The looks of this monstrosity are shouting loud and clear, “We’ve run out of ideas, so we’re going to do more of the same.”
What Microsoft, and to a lesser degree, Sony and Nintendo, really needed to do for this new generation of consoles was take a quick look around them at what’s already happening. These mega-gaming corporations have missed something essential.
The gaming population is no longer congruent with the console population. We connect Apple TVs and Roku boxes to our huge HDTVs to watch on-demand shows while we multitask on our iPads. We fund innovative startups like Ouya because we want something different, dammit, and the Xbox One just isn’t it.
The design of an electronic entertainment hub says a lot about its purpose. Microsoft wants to dominate the space in our hypothetical living rooms, and the Xbox One says so loud and clear, with the immensity of its casing and the huge Xbox logo front and center on each component piece. Do we even have stereos like that anymore? Maybe audiophiles do, but not the rest of us.
If the console makers want to expand their business, this is not the way to do it. Hire someone like Jonathan Ive, or—better yet—someone brand new and fresh, who knows that the way a product looks will define what that product feels like to the consumer.
Design a console that reflects our current and near-future gaming and entertainment reality, full of mobility, openness, and choice. Bring a console to life that gets what Ouya is trying to do, that understands the as-yet-unfulfilled promise of Apple TV and iOS gaming, that can breathe new life into the Steam ecosystem and play well with others.
Sadly, I don’t hold any hope for this to happen within the big three gaming companies of the last few generations of console hardware. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are treading water, paddling for dear life to stay afloat in a rapidly changing world.
Will Microsoft sell a lot of these fugly Xbox One consoles? Probably. Will the current conservative model of gaming and design inspire the next generation of gamers and developers to reach new heights and explore innovative ideas? Probably not.