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A wish list for Xbox 2
Never mind the hardware. To really turn heads, here's what Microsoft needs to do.
March 16, 2005: 2:48 PM EST
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) Dear Bill,

Just a few months to go, Big Guy. You may have come to the party a year late this go 'round, but you'll be kicking off the next generation of game machines before the fall is over.

Lots of folks can't wait to see what you have to offer. I'll admit, I'm one of them.

The Xbox has put out some good games, blazed new paths in online connectivity and will be going out with a bang. But to catch up with the lead Sony has in this industry, you're going to need to pull a few rabbits out of your hat . . . er, excuse me . . . your sweater.

I know you've got a few planned, but if you've got a couple of moments, I'd like to add my own suggestions.

Be backward compatible: Look, I know replicating technological capabilities and performance is tricky when you've switched hardware vendors. Gamers don't care, though. They just want it done.

If the next Xbox launches and people aren't able to play "Halo 2" along with their new titles, you're going to have a riot on your hands. Given how heavily you marketed that title, you'll deserve that riot.

Is it necessary to be able to play every Xbox game on the new system? It'd be nice, but the honest answer is no. It's not like I'm going to pick up an outdated "NFL Fever" or "Fight Club" anytime soon.

Yes, yes, I know you're working on this already. Word is it's not going super smooth, but you're making progress. That's fine. Don't give up.

Got Live? Have a demo!: Video chat's cool, I'll grant you. But I'm not sure how useful it is to the average Xbox owner. It certainly doesn't help gameplay.

You've helped set the standard for what the online console space should do in terms of online gaming and you're promising to expand on that. But you've completely missed the boat on a great opportunity to expand both first- and third-party software sales: Add free game demo distribution to Xbox Live.

The PC gaming industry (ok, just this once, I'll go with the term you prefer -- the Games for Windows industry, happy now?) learned long ago that demos boost sales. The slew of magazine cover discs proves it's possible to make demos. So why aren't you making those freely and readily available to your loyalist customers?

You'll have to rework the Xbox Live dashboard, sure. And it will cost you some bandwidth. But you'll more than make up those expenses with royalty payments. Your publishing partners would certainly appreciate the free marketing.

Use Rare wisely: Buying Rare, the developer who created some of the biggest hits on the Nintendo 64, was a wise move. Unfortunately, the developer's first title, "Grabbed by the Ghoulies," was weak.

Rare's "Perfect Dark Zero" will, in all likelihood, be your flagship launch title.

Do not let this title suck. I beg you.

"Perfect Dark" has a rabid fan base, and it's not likely to be forgiving. The anime style Joanna Dark you hinted at in earlier presentations didn't win many fans. That was a head fake to throw competitors off, right?

Even if "Perfect Dark Zero" is a smash, try to give Rare room to launch new franchises. They're a talented team of developers and they take a long time to make their games. When they do things right, they can make magic.

Lead by example: One of the most interesting things J Allard, your corporate vice president, said at the Game Developer Conference last week was you planned to offer the ability for publishers to offer episodic games.

It's a wonderful idea, but if your own studios don't get out in front of this, no other publisher will either. Allow your AAA teams, like Bungie (makers of "Halo"), FASA ("Crimson Skies") and Rare, to try something different. Encourage partners to do the same. At the same time, recruit young developers, who haven't made a name for themselves, to create something outside the box.

Who knows, you might find your next round of superstars this way.

Follow through: As any company gets close to a launch window, the hyperbole ratchets up to an outlandish degree. No problem. We've all come to accept it. But how about, just for giggles, following up on all the promises Microsoft (Research) makes?

So far, you've spoken of PC and Xbox gamers sharing the same gaming world and publicly envisioned a free marketplace, where players can sell their in-game creations for real-world cash. More promises will surely come in May, when you formally reveal the system.

Yeah, I know the public has a short memory. But once, just once, it'd be nice to see a company think before it speaks.

If you're not 100 percent sure you'll be able to do something with your next console, just keep your mouth shut.

I'd ask you to change your mind on naming this thing "Xbox 360," too. But I hear it's a bit late to do that.

Best,

Chris

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Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.  Top of page

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