The Xbox 360 seems to be hopping on the user-friendly bandwagon lately. My problem with Microsoft’s recent moves is not that adding Wii-like features makes the system less "hardcore," but that it makes it less "Xbox-y," for lack of a better (or any) term.
The Xbox 360 seems to be hopping on the user-friendly bandwagon lately.
Microsoft announced at this year’s E3 that the fall Dashboard update (much anticipated since the spring update failed to materialize) would include a total overhaul of the system’s interface.
The changes – rumored to be optional – include a simpler, more visually appealing menu system, along with customizable user avatars that can be made to look like the player and some less-fundamental technical upgrades.
Wait ... Go back a second.
Yes, the 360 is getting its own Miis, albeit of a less cute-and-cuddly variety.
This comes on top of the still-unconfirmed but generally accepted news that new 360 consoles shipping in the fall will be bundled with Wiimote-like motion controllers.
I have nothing against the Wii. In fact, I own one.
Despite my attempts, both in my personal life and in this column, to establish street cred as a "hardcore" gamer (and you can judge for yourself just how pathetic that endeavor is), I still have a place in my gaming lifestyle for Wii Sports bowling, the new catalog of WiiWare titles, and anything with the word "Zelda" in it.
My problem with Microsoft’s recent moves is not that adding Wii-like features makes the system less "hardcore," but that it makes it less "Xbox-y," for lack of a better (or any) term.
Let’s back up a step: I’ve been saying for years – and I’m certainly not the only one – that the biggest losers in the console wars have always been gamers.
We’re put in a position – because most of us don’t have unlimited money – where we have to choose a horse once every five years and be stuck with it, win or lose. (As someone who purchased a Sega Dreamcast the day it hit store shelves, I know that better than anyone).
If the game you’ve been waiting for your whole life is exclusive to the system you decided to leave on the shelf a few years ago, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be in a position to buy the other system for that one game.
Manufacturers and publishers often talk about these high-profile exclusives “moving hardware” – I’m not sure who they’re referring to. Unless I get a second job, I’m stuck with the system I already have.
The only arguable advantage of having 3 competing consoles to choose from is just that: choice.
In this generation, if you want a lower-cost system and games you can play with Grandma, you buy a Wii. If you’re a more traditional gamer, you make a choice between the 360 and PS3 based on a combination of factors like brand loyalty, technical features or the library of available games.
But once you make this choice, it doesn’t seem quite right for the manufacturer to have second thoughts and decide to change the character of their console’s "experience" just because a competitor has better sales numbers.
Because all three systems were designed with the ability to change the built-in software at any time, this is perfectly possible. Microsoft could go all-out with its current direction and Wii-design the 360 interface in all primary colors and smiley-faced characters. Nintendo could, theoretically, ditch that approach and go "hardcore," with a less friendly interface – they could just boot to a text command line if they wanted to.
But in either case, they’d be betraying their customers by changing, after the fact, the very nature of the product that you or I decided to purchase in the first place.
James Post is copy desk chief in addition to writing a regular column on gaming for The Leader in Corning, N.Y. He can be contacted at email@example.com.