Here’s an interesting thing to think about: smartphones as we know them today have only existed since after the PS3 was released. In just 6 short years, we have gone from not having smartphones at all to having one in almost every person’s pocket. In 2005, the connected world we live in today was simply a fantasy, a fleeting dream on the horizon. Now, in 2013, we look back at 2005 as a time of archaic technology, a slight blip on the technological evolutionary timeline.
My point is: technology moves quickly. Its evolution is exponential, and the technological landscape changes on a daily basis. How any technology manages to stay relevant for more than a couple of years is an absolute marvel – a testament to the design moguls of the industry today.
The Xbox 360 is one of the best examples of a piece of technology lasting well beyond its expected lifespan. When the Xbox 360 was announced, Microsoft boldly referred to it as a “10 year console.” The gaming world was skeptical, even disbelieving. How could a console last 10 years? This was an extremely relevant question at a time where Microsoft’s original Xbox console had only lasted about 4 years.
Yet, Microsoft stayed true to its word. Without radically changing its internal hardware in nearly 9 years, the Xbox 360, to this day, remains relevant, current and sustainable. Microsoft has attained this with just a few simple design philosophies:
1. They were willing to admit they weren’t perfect.
Many companies are unapologetic when their products don’t meet expectations. Microsoft took a different approach with the Xbox 360. In its lifespan, the Xbox 360 has had multiple system updates that have radically changed how the console works, and improved upon its shortcomings. It’s hard to remember the days before we could install games or stream music, but there was such a time, and it wasn’t too long ago.
2. They were true to what made the Xbox 360 great.
Even with the updates that Microsoft has introduced, they have stayed true to the core Xbox 360 experience that they originally set out to create. There’s a lot of stubborn gamers online that type violently on internet forums: “WE WANT THE BLADES BACK!” referring to the original Xbox 360 dashboard. Many people don’t realize that the blades never disappeared. If you don’t believe me, turn on your 360 and press the glowing X in the center of your controller. Voila, you have your blades again.
3. They used the Internet to their advantage.
The Internet has always been the nervous system of the Xbox 360. Unlike the original Xbox, Xbox Live was baked right in to the Xbox 360. They’ve used this connectivity to deliver many different features that have been added in since release. This includes, but isn’t limited to: apps, cloud storage, game installation, title updates for individual games, multiple codec support, games on demand, etc.
Even with all this design prowess, is the Xbox 360 perfect? No, of course not.
Will the Xbox One be perfect? Most certainly not. But it will be a longer lasting console than the Xbox 360, thanks to the power of gaming in the cloud.
What is gaming in the cloud? To put it simply, it is the utilization of external servers to provide supplemental processing power to your game console. In layman’s terms, the Internet makes the Xbox One smarter.
Today, the Xbox 360 relies solely on its internal components to render your games, and it’s limited by its outdated technology inside. The Xbox 360 can only render graphics as high as 720p, not even the industry standard for full high-definition images. The only reason that games have improved visually over time is that developers have learned how to better utilize the resources of the console, not because the Xbox 360 itself has gotten better. Even now, new titles like Halo 4 push the Xbox 360 to its limit. (Just try playing split-screen and tell me I’m wrong.)
On the Xbox One, developers will have the option of taking the load off your console by letting external servers do some of the work. Low-priority objects or images in your game can now be rendered externally, giving your Xbox more processor time to animate the bad guys shooting back at you in the middle of a virtual firefight, or the opposing cars in your racing sim.
Microsoft tells us that they have 300,000 servers at their disposal just for handling Xbox Live – more than the entire global computing power of 1999. This means that every Xbox One will have up to 3 virtual Xbox One systems processing games in the cloud. The potential is nearly limitless.
Nothing breaks a game more than an actual break in the game, the best example being load times. How many times have you been playing a game, and been in the middle of a firefight, only to have your game slow down or even stop to load the next assets? With gaming in the cloud, load times could be completely eliminated, leaving the player to enjoy their game to its fullest potential. Imagine a Bethesda title like Fallout 3 or Skyrim having instantaneous fast travel.
Another quite obvious benefit of gaming in the cloud is the gargantuan leap forward visually. While the Xbox One on its own is about as much of a jump from the Xbox 360 as the Xbox 360 was from the original Xbox, gaming in the cloud will make it a much bigger jump over time. Even on its own, without any external connection, the Xbox One could make even the biggest AAA titles of today look like yesterday’s news. That’s just what updated hardware does – it allows content to look much more current. Over time though, as the Xbox One’s hardware becomes outdated – and it will, more quickly than we’d like – its external cloud potential will allow it to keep pace with tomorrow’s technology. This will likely give the Xbox One a competitive edge unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the market before. The Xbox One will be like a car that gets newer the more you drive it. That’s the future we’re talking about, and it’s mere months away.
Simply put, gaming in the cloud will enable Microsoft to externally future-proof their latest flagship product, the Xbox One. After a great learning experience with the Xbox 360, Microsoft is ready to throw their weight around and deliver a product that will stand the test of time. If they’re able to maintain the design philosophies that have made them an industry leader in the past, while embracing the technology of tomorrow, they will certainly be the company to beat in the upcoming console wars.