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Robbie Bach: "The next console generation will be a whole new game"

Xbox founder expects physical media to disappear with next consoles, criticises MS for "predictable and preventable" Xbox One woes

Former Xbox exec Robbie Bach has called out Microsoft for its lack of foresight around the design and launch of the Xbox One.

Speaking to Geekwire ahead of the launch of a new book, Bach acknowledged that the Xbox One is now well positioned in terms of both sales and games. However, he also described the tumult of the last 18 months as simple to avoid.

"I think some of that was predictable and preventable. If I'm just honest I would say that," Bach said, explaining that his five years away from Microsoft has made him comfortable with being critical of the company's decisions.

"You would have liked to have seen them done more with the momentum we had. On the other hand, look at what's going on on Xbox Live. Incredible momentum on Xbox Live. I think it's a balance thing... I could also say that the team did what they needed to do. They persevered through a rocky patch, and they're now on the path to making this a very competitive market.

"The amazing thing is the console market is bigger now than it's ever been before. Both companies are selling more units."

Bach resigned his position as president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division in 2010, when development of the Xbox One was already underway. The key issues that the console eventually faced were down to Microsoft's desire to make big strides away from physical media, and while Bach may have been referring to those decisions in his comments, he also said that the next generation of consoles is likely to abandon physical media altogether.

"I think there will be another generation," he continued. "Does it have physical media? Probably not. What the console looks like is a very interesting question.

"Is it just a game box or is it more? What's the balance between what an Apple TV is and what an Xbox or a PlayStation 4 is? These are really interesting questions, and the teams going to have to wrestle with those. That next generation will be a whole new game."

The expectation around Apple TV hit an all-time high last week, after the launch of an official, gaming-focused Twitter account sparked rumours that the company was poised to unveil a completely overhauled version of the device. Our very own Rob Fahey explored the possible impact of a new Apple TV built around gaming in his column last week. You can find his thoughts here.

Latest comments (15)

Jordan Lund Columnist 2 years ago
Discless consoles won't happen so long as the ISPs have data caps. Particularly when you consider that the next generation will have to be 4K.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 2 years ago
"I think some of that was predictable and preventable. If I'm just honest I would say that,"
Well hindsight is 20/20 but I completely agree with him. People like to bring up the constant internet connection, used game issues and kinect but they also should have re-evaluated the price point(there should have never been a $500 console, especially if you are only carrying one sku) and the small hard drive size in comparison to much larger game installs. But overall this horse has been beaten to death an innumerable amount of times.

As for discless consoles, I'm sure one of the big three will attempt it. But with slow download times and subpar hard drive sizes at launch there will be more than a few people who take a pass due to lack of convenience.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 2 years ago
Didnt we hear hear the exact same thing a few years back?
And didnt microsoft kind of try to go the discless route this time around and look what a complete mess that was....

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Aleksi Ranta on 8th September 2015 9:15am

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Show all comments (15)
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
People buying games on the Internet is a reality and publishing is taking that fact into account. But another reality is people living in cities, visiting shopping malls and consuming goods outside of the Internet. That is not something the next video game consoles can ignore. Whether it will be plastic discs or not is up in the air. For all we know flash memory might get so cheap that cartridges make a comeback.
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Mats Holm Technical Writer, Electronic Arts2 years ago
Based on how much digital downloads have exploded on console, he might be on to something.

We are thinking 5 years away before the next generation, correct?

By 2020, we are looking at 5G for mobile if you are stuck without a landline, giving you current broadband speeds over the air.
If we pick the lowest average speed in the US (3.72mb/s - https://www.akamai.com/us/en/our-thinking/state-of-the-internet-report/index.jsp) we still see an average internet speed increase of 24% (same article) year over year, giving us 11mb/s for 2020 as the lowest speeds. This should allow most people to live in a digital download only world.

As for the few who fall into the cracks and are not part of this world:
In 2020, disk drives might start to look a bit dated. Consoles will however have a USB ports and with NAND price going below 1$ per GB already, it might be a far better idea to sell USB drives with game installs on them.
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Andy Samson QA Supervisor, Digital Media Exchange2 years ago
Physical media won't disappear anytime soon, it's just going to change in format. It's going to be a disc-less future for consoles because cartridges/cards are going to be the thing.

Think of Nintendo 3DS game cards' 1-8 GB capacity doubling for the NX handheld (8-32GB!). That's more than sufficient to accommodate most games. The same format can be used on the NX home console if Nintendo decides to abandon Optical media. This format is more convenient since it takes up less space and is more portable. By doing this, the same game can be used on both platforms and will run and display the game according to the hardware specs (full on home console, down-scaled on portable)
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 2 years ago
What WOULD be nice is to see something similar to what Nintendo did in Japan with those blank Super Famicom carts you could download games on. Replace those carts with a removable drive of some sort that can be loaded up using a wi-fi or other wireless connection without lugging around a console to a friend's or wherever. Or allow a handheld to be used as a temporary portable drive for games and updates for those who don't have decent access to higher speed connection. Sony should have done this with the Vita from day one, but that's another story for another post.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 2 years ago
@greg

Xbox one already has this feature. You can use a flash or portable hard drive. They already have, PC software only for the moment, prototype kiosks in some Microsoft stores (since no one enters these, no one has noticed).

I've downloaded games on my friend's way faster connection, brought them home and they sometimes take a minute or two to re-authorize, but once they do, good to go.

I guarNtee you download kiosks are coming to every gamestop there is. its very simple to execute, at least for Xbox as things stand right Now.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
By 2020, we are looking at 5G for mobile if you are stuck without a landline, giving you current broadband speeds over the air.
Just a note on this, I'm really optimistic about OTA broadband playing a bigger role in the future. My provider today is a completely 4G operator and I get 32 to 50 Meg speeds with unlimited usage.

I'm currently an all digital customer (haven't purchased a disc for some time) and it would be wonderful to see these type of services expand significantly, especially in nations where fast fixed line broadband isn't as easy to come by.

I agree with Andy in that physical media will definitely stick around but is more likely to become expandable storage for your existing device, if the hard drive isn't enough. That being said, there's no harm in having both solutions until perhaps discs are naturally phased out should that be what the consumer decides.
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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 2 years ago
I think what keeps getting overlooked is the infrastructure. Everybody's so busy drooling over the promise of 5G and 4K that they are completely overlooking some serious deficiencies in Internet infrastructure, or rather the lack of it. If you work or live near major tech companies, you are likely to have a pretty robust amount of bandwidth, mainly as a spillover from the fat pipes that companies like Microsoft or Google have to have in order to operate. However, that happy coincidence does not extend universally to all locations. Redmond has great Internet infrastructure. Places like Afghanistan or Congo, not so much.

Telecom companies (at least here in the States) have a strong aversion to building more infrastructure to start, compounded by right-of-way contracts which have to be negotiated, and are hobbled by data caps for all but the most highly priced plans. If Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo think that they can effectively hold a gun to their customers' collective head and force them to spend extravagantly for the fattest pipes on top of the console purchase itself, they are dreaming. You'll see a steep drop in the console market by customers who will walk away rather than bankrupt themselves trying to maintain the sort of connections found in Redmond. In short, it won't play well in Peoria.

If they want to stay not only competitive, but accessible, console manufacturers have to stop using their very highly developed locales as the baseline for what the hardware should support. Adam Orth learned the hard way that just because you're in a highly developed area doesn't mean your customers occupy that same type of space.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
I think what keeps getting overlooked is the infrastructure. Everybody's so busy drooling over the promise of 5G and 4K that they are completely overlooking some serious deficiencies in Internet infrastructure, or rather the lack of it.
I don't think the majority people who know a thing or two about networks really ignore the infrastructure issue simply because they're seeing amazing speeds. Its not too difficult to assess who actually has access those services and who doesn't. Even in the relative small, rich UK there are gaps in services.

However, if next generation networks can add another 10 million here, another 50 million there or another 200 million over there, that's a good thing overall. Bearing in mind, some countries may never have great fixed line broadband and rural areas in developed nations still fall behind.

Personally, I don't expect there to be a digital only future until customers themselves decide and this might require a significant drop in boxed game sales. For those who want to be on board, hopefully broadband solutions (in many forms) will help facilitate that. I don't think its something for console companies to really make the decision.
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Mats Holm Technical Writer, Electronic Arts2 years ago
I think what keeps getting overlooked is the infrastructure. Everybody's so busy drooling over the promise of 5G and 4K that they are completely overlooking some serious deficiencies in Internet infrastructure
There will always be someone who does not have the ability to join in. But in 5 years time, the large majority of the intended audience will be on adequate lines to support this model.
We don't see Youtube have a disk delivery system for the 3% of the population still on dialup, the people on dialup are not part of the intended audience for this product.

For people in Afghanistan or Congo, since only 43% and 16% of their population have access to any form of electricity (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS), I can with some certainty say that these people are not part of the console audience.
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James Coote Independent Game Developer 2 years ago
I didn't get how people can claim digital / diskless is not the future in the face of the success of Steam.

Then I bought a Wii U. The digital offering is expensive, region locked, the HDD is tiny (even if you can add your own external USB hdd). Worse, my account is locked to a single device. Add in the shovelware mess people see on mobile app stores, an audience with a love of nostalgia, and some flakey internet connection and it's no wonder "console gamers" are resistant to diskless.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 2 years ago
James, you overlook that the only reason why Steam is so cheap is massive piracy. The vast majority of money is made from console releases on AAA games.

Those issues don't really exist on Sony and Microsoft. It's just Nintendo being backwards.

I want to be able to sell my games I'm finished with. Can't do that with digital

The vast majority of the American public doesn't see value in digital items. The second you pass $10-15, people drop out. Ebook publishers are seeing that now, as they're trying to force the prices to the same as hardcover. Ebook sales are down 30% as a result. When the hard copy is a dime more, people go for that. PC gamers are a poor demographic to study for the big picture.
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James Coote Independent Game Developer 2 years ago
It is to do with perceived value for sure. Since getting Steam, I've carried my games library across 3 PC's and 10 years. I've heard many people complain that digital doesn't feel like they really own it, whilst a disk is a physical thing they can hold in their hand. For me, it's the opposite. A disk gets lost or scratched, but I can always redownload my games from Steam.

My point is, it's the way digital has been done on consoles, in contrast to Steam, means I can understand why consumers have that perception.

So what's the problem? It's that I resent having to pay the same or more for digital copies of a game on console. Digital products should be cheaper as there's no disk to press, boxes to distribute etc. I know why companies do it, but it's a false economy.

As for trade-in value, I bought a 3DS a while back, and bought a new game to go with it. It was 35. When I still bought retail PC games, they were still 29.99, so this was the most expensive game I'd ever bought. I'd read about the whole trading in thing, so figured in real terms, it was cheaper. What I soon discovered was that the game being a new release, its value drops off quite sharply after just a couple of weeks. Suddenly I felt under pressure to finish it asap so I could trade it in and still get back maximum value. The game I'd got was a 30 hour+ jrpg and I don't have enough time with work to grind through it at any sort of pace.

So the whole thing had the opposite effect on me. I felt I was just renting out the game and that I had to choose between paying a lot more than I was used to to "own" the game and finish it in my own time or play against the clock, each extra day meaning I would have less money to pay for the next game I might want.

Steam sales have spoiled me somewhat, but I'd still have payed 15 to own the game forever, which is about what I lost after trade in price, having given up and not completed it...

So yes, it's all perception, but I believe we as an industry and.consumers in the long term will benefit from changing that perception and going all digital.
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