2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

8 Ways Microsoft Can Improve the Xbox One

Published: January 30, 2014, 7:02 pm, by Terry Terrones


Now that the Xbox One has been out for two months, gamers (myself included) have had a chance to properly kick the tires on their console. The new car smell has worn off and an Xbox One owner can see the system for what it is – a very powerful gaming console, but one with issues.

I like my Xbox One but I don’t love it. Not like I love my Xbox 360, at least not yet. All new console launches have their issues but there are steps Microsoft can take to improve the Xbox One experience for gamers and in turn, increase its popularity. I’m not throwing any wild, unlikely scenarios out there (Have Bill Gates buy Nintendo and merge it with Xbox) and I’m not trying to state the obvious (Give gamers more games to play on it). Like a lot of gamers, I’d just like to see the Xbox One live up to its potential. Here are my eight suggestions for the Redmond, WA, based tech giant.

1. Give the Kinect something to do or get rid of it - The $100 difference is price between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is solely due to the Kinect. Sure, it’s cool to turn on and turn off my One by using voice commands but that’s all I use it for. While I can use motion gestures to move through the Xbox One menu, it’s simpler and quicker to use either voice commands or a controller. “Kinect Sports Rivals” is coming out later this year but Kinect only games shouldn’t be the only reason to require Xbox One owners to have the device. Microsoft needs to finally figure out a way to make the Kinect an innovative tool that can enhance traditional games. Maybe then the “Better with Kinect” slogan on Xbox games will finally mean something. If Microsoft can’t solve this riddle soon, Kinect is something they need to let go of.

2. Retry ideas you gave up on and put them on Xbox One - Microsoft comes up with some great ideas but often lacks follow through. While Faceplates and the Xbox Live Vision Camera won’t be making a comeback, it would be nice if gamers could actually do something useful with their Avatar, or better yet, play through a truly supported Game Room or enjoy a modernized 1 vs 100 on Xbox One. These and other out of the box ideas should be given serious consideration so the Xbox One can stand out.

3. Make the Xbox One SmartGlass app useful - The SmartGlass app for Xbox 360 is pretty handy. I can check my Achievements, see what games my friends are playing and even message them. There are also some cool interactive uses for the app with certain games. With “Forza Horizon,” I use SmartGlass on my iPad to see a map of where I’m heading. The Xbox One SmartGlass app has none of the above mentioned features. The only use I’ve been able to determine it has is to make your phone or tablet act as a controller. And since Xbox One owners already have controllers, there’s no point in that. All of the potential uses we’ve seen for SmartGlass on One haven’t been realized.

4. Clean up the menu and make the system more user friendly - Microsoft has constantly tinkered with its Xbox menu, frequently giving its console different looks (Anyone remember 360 blades?). After years of experimenting, Microsoft finally came up with a solid system on the 360 – sliding tabs gamers can scroll through to find what they’re looking for on the most important headings (Home, Social, Games, TV & Movies, Music, Apps and Settings). Everything is easy to find under each of these categories. Not so on Xbox One. Instead gamers are only given three headings – Pins, Home and Store – and have to search for everything else, leading to lots of questions with unsatisfying answers:

- How do I delete a game? You’ll have to figure that out because the hard to find Settings tab doesn’t give you any info on that.
- What about DLC? Do I find it in the same place I found it on Xbox 360? No, you’ll have to search for that too.
- Where’s my Avatar? He’s not relevant any more so you won’t see him or any of your friends Avatars either.
- How much hard drive space do I have left? After two months I still haven’t been able to figure that out.
- What about the Guide button? The Xbox One doesn’t have that.
- Which voice commands should I use for the Kinect? You’ll have to find a list of those online.
- How much battery life is left in my wireless controller? Your guess is as good as mine. Oops, you’re controller just died in the middle of a “Call of Duty: Ghosts” multiplayer game.

I understand Microsoft wanting to differentiate the Xbox 360 and Xbox One – they don’t want gamers to feel like they’ve bought a 2.0 version of their popular 360 console. However, if you’ve taken years to test new features, it make sense to take the things you’ve learned and use them again instead of reinventing the wheel.

5. Tighten up Xbox Live - One of the most attractive features of the Xbox 360 is its online suite. Playing online is seamless and connecting to friends is quick and easy. The Xbox One is still lacking in this area, sometimes knocking players out of games and occasionally refusing to connect players who want to chat or party together online. In order to keep its rep as the place to play online, Microsoft needs to quickly address its Xbox Live issues on Xbox One.

6. Dig into Xbox and Xbox 360 classics - Microsoft should take a page out of Nintendo’s playbook and embrace its gaming history by taking classic games from its catalog and making them available to play through download. Not only would Xbox exclusives like “Crackdown,” “The Maw” and early “Halo” games increase the Xbox One’s library of titles, it would also introduce gamers unfamiliar with the Xbox’s history to titles they might have missed out on. Take those games and give them the HD treatment (like the recently released “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition”) and suddenly the Xbox One is loaded with a great library.

7. Embrace the indie scene - Fair or not, Microsoft is viewed as a stereotypical corporation, only interested in increasing its bottom line. Its treatment of indie games is sighted as an example of this. Once the home for indie developers on console platforms, Microsoft’s rigid rules and pricing structure forced developers to find friendlier places to display their creativity. Slowly pushing the indie menu to the background (there’s not even an indie tab on Xbox One) compounded indie developers frustration.

If Microsoft embraced indies, letting them be creative, giving them proper tools and allowing them to share their content and make some money, the investment would be returned ten fold. Word of mouth is priceless and the indie scene is full of bright developers who could very well be the next Twisted Pixel. Microsoft has announced that its first wave of Xbox One indie games will be released early this year through its new ID@Xbox self publishing program but if the company continues to restrict indie devs, it’ll only shoot itself in the foot.

8. Create more connectivity between Xbox 360 and Xbox One - Yeah, I know. I keep suggesting Microsoft port ideas on the 360 to the Xbox One but that’s for a good reason – the 360 has done so many things right. Backwards compatibility will never be reversed, but allowing gamers to import their Xbox Live Arcade library to Xbox One would only encourage gamers to upgrade instead of staying with their older system. And what’s the harm in allowing gamers playing on Xbox One to play multiplayer games with or against Xbox 360 gamers? At this point the only difference in games between the two systems is graphical and it would increase the number of competitors online and allow for a transition between the two consoles.

The Xbox One is a system with a ton of potential. If Microsoft makes a few tweaks and follows the path set by the success of the Xbox 360, it will certainly live up to gamers’ lofty expectations.