Does the Xbox One even stand a chance in India?

Sameer Desai
Does the Xbox One even stand a chance in India?

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the reactions following Microsoft’s 21st May reveal of the Xbox One have been largely negative from both the media and from core gamers. From all that has been revealed so far – and only a part of the story has been told, so let’s not jump to too many conclusions – the new Xbox is clearly positioning itself as an all-encompassing entertainment device, with gaming just one of its functions.

That’s a little worrying, particularly from an Indian perspective.

Microsoft’s over-emphasis on the Xbox One’s Live TV capabilities and Kinect voice recognition are only part of the reason why the new device will most likely alienate audiences in countries like India. Even some of the ways in which Microsoft is approaching gaming on the new device are rubbing gamers the wrong way.

Based on what’s been revealed so far, both by Microsoft at the event, and from reports following it, here are a few aspects of the Xbox One that will make it a hard sell in India.

Live TV

Log in to Xbox Live on your Xbox 360 and you’ll find zero video content on it aside from maybe game trailers. Films and TV shows on Xbox Live, as well as apps like Netflix that deliver them to users, are limited to select countries, and licensing limitations prevent this content from being made available freely all over the world.

What this means is that the Live TV functionality, which Microsoft spent a large chunk of its Xbox One presentation on, is totally irrelevant for the Indian user, unless of course, Microsoft manages to acquire all the licenses and make all that video content available in India or inks deals with local video content providers. Unlikely.

Kinect voice recognition

Yusuf Mehdi presented quite an impressive stage demo on the voice recognition functions of the new Kinect, which will be bundled with every Xbox One console. Voice commands are now varied and more conversational. The only problem is that the moment you log in to your console with an Indian account, Kinect voice recognition support is disabled.

India, like many other countries, does not support Kinect voice, probably because of the accent. So essentially, the two segments that dominated the Xbox One presentation – Live TV and Kinect voice commands - are of now use to the Indian consumers.

Restrictions on used games

The one thing that separated console games from other forms of gaming, be it PC or mobile, was the portability factor. You could take your PS3 Blu-ray or Xbox 360 DVD to a friend’s house and your game would just work.

The new restriction on used games supposedly being implemented by Microsoft sees the entire game installed on to the Xbox One’s 500 GB hard drive and locks it to the user ID or Gamertag from which it was installed. The game will then be unplayable by any other user ID on that Xbox One console, let alone on a friend’s console.

There is talk of Microsoft charging a fee, which could be anything from nominal to sizeable, to authorise the activation of that game copy on a different ID; a service that would be provided through retailers hand-picked by Microsoft.

One could argue that Steam enforces a similar DRM on its games. The main difference is that Steam is predominantly used on PCs or ‘personal’ computers, and so there is very often only one user per device. This is not the case for the Xbox One, a living room device that is designed to entertain the entire family.

Console games are expensive by Indian standards and borrowing games from friends or buying used games for less have been great ways for Indian gamers to experience more games. That avenue may no longer be available.

Pricing

Microsoft has been tight-lipped on the price of the Xbox One, but things are looking quite ominous, especially for the Indian consumer.

Each Xbox One will ship with the Kinect controller, which can’t be cheap. To put things into perspective - the 250 GB Xbox 360 bundled with Kinect is currently priced at Rs 34,890 in India, and that’s eight years into the Xbox 360’s life cycle.

So while we all play the guessing game as to what Microsoft will price the new console at, any hopes of a sub-Rs 30,000 range were effectively dashed the moment the company decided to make Kinect mandatory.

It’s been tough going for the Xbox 360 in India over the last few years and a new console generation represents a great new opportunity for Xbox to start from scratch with a level playing field. However, what’s been announced, reported and speculated about the Xbox One over the past week doesn’t bode too well for the console’s prospects, especially in India.

However, Microsoft has been saying long before it even revealed the Xbox One that E3 would be the place where it will wow us with the games, so you’d do well to reserve judgment until you’ve seen what the Xbox One has in store for gamers.

That is, after all, what a game console is for, right?

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Tags: Hardware , Xbox One , Next Xbox , MCV India

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