Citing unnamed sources, The Verge’s Tom Warren reports that Microsoft is working on a smaller, cheaper alternative to its Xbox game console, one that would focus on streaming video and music rather than high-end gaming. The goal would be to compete with $99-and-under devices like Apple TV and Roku, although The Verge’s story doesn’t say how much this device would cost.
We’ve heard something like this before. Last March, Digital Foundry speculated that Microsoft would launch two versions of its next Xbox, one of them being a pared-down machine to compete with video-oriented set-top devices. That would certainly make sense for people who want a device for streaming video, but don’t want to pay for serious gaming capabilities.
Still, I’m left with a few questions about this so-called “Xbox TV”:
What Do You Mean, ‘Casual Games’?
The Verge claims that this pared-down machine would only support “casual gaming titles,” as opposed to high-end games like Halo and Gears of War. The term “casual gaming” generally refers to simple stuff like Angry Birds and Solitaire, but where would these games come from? Would Microsoft open a new marketplace for these types of Xbox games, or siphon titles off from its existing Xbox Live Arcade marketplace? If it’s the latter, what would decide whether an XBLA game was fit to run on the smaller console? (My totally wild guess/hope: Microsoft creates a class of Xbox games that work across platforms, including Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Xbox consoles.)
What Would Become of Xbox Live?
Currently, Microsoft requires a subscription to Xbox Live Gold to use apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus, at a cost of $60 per year plus the subscription price of those individual services. Xbox Live also lets you enjoy online multiplayer, and while Playstation 3 owners like to brag that they get the same service for free, I’ve always felt that Xbox Live works better, and is well-worth the cost of one game per year. Strip away the online gaming component, however, and Xbox Live is just a huge ripoff. Would a slimmed-down device bring about the end of Xbox Live Gold as we know it, or does Microsoft have something else in mind to make the subscription cost worthwhile?
Why Would Someone Want One?
I can think of clear arguments in favor of other set-top boxes. Apple TV has AirPlay, which makes it great for iPhone and iPad users. Roku has the lowest prices, with devices starting at $50. Google TV can sit on the same input as your cable connection, and integrate those channels into its search and TV guide functions. With a slimmed-down Xbox, the allure isn’t as obvious when the ability to play the latest video games is missing. I understand why Microsoft would want in on the low-cost set-top box market, but we don’t yet know what would persuade users not to buy one of the many other products already available.