I bought my first games console recently for the first time in nearly ten years.
It has been quite an experience thus far.
If you’re interested, I went for an Xbox Series X. This was for one simple reason – I needed it quickly in order to feature it in a Hisense TV review. I’d have preferred a Playstation 5, but there are still only three for sale in the entire world, and to buy one of them, you have to lodge a request to become a potential customer.
I was rather excited about my new purchase. Beyond the genuine excuse I suddenly had to put a games console through the business as an asset, I found myself looking forward to finally having a bash on some of the latest games.
What is ‘next-gen’ (when does it become ‘current gen’?) gaming like? What have I been missing? Am I still rubbish at FIFA and Call of Duty?
I was in for a shock.
“An update is required”
My first few hours with the Xbox Series X didn’t feature any gaming. Instead, I found myself installing update after update.
I remember having to update and patch games occasionally on my Playstation 4, but it was a fairly rare occurrence; you could generally jump straight into the game you’d just purchased.
Not so today, it seems. Even the brand-new Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 required about eight updates, each of which was at least 30GB in size. There were patches, seasons, series, and god knows what else that apparently needed downloading and installing before I could throw myself into a virtual arena and get consistently shot in the head by a bunch of 13-year-olds.
The console itself required about three OS updates, too. The notifications kept coming – it was relentless. So relentless, in fact, that I ended up leaving my shiny new Xbox Series X completely unplayed and, instead, left it updating itself to death overnight on its first day with me.
I’m afraid it doesn’t get any better when the games have finally finished their mammoth updates. Every single one I tried required me to scroll through endless agreements and notices before reaching anything that could be remotely described as gameplay.
Then there were the user accounts. Every game now requires you to set up a user account with the publisher (often, for no discernible reason) which takes weeks of up-down-left-right character picking on the controller and, yep, you guessed it, yet more agreeing to endless reams of EULA waffle.
When you finally reach the game itself (assuming you haven’t packed the console up and sent it back by this point – or put it through a window) you either have to sit through a lengthy, non-playable, badly acted introduction that appears to have fallen out of Hollywood’s backside, or be forced to undertake a bum-clenchingly dull tutorial that can’t be skipped.
That’s if you’re lucky. If like me, you chose Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as your first experience of next-gen gaming – you’ll have to figure out how to operate the damn thing, too. The menu system for that game is completely impenetrable. I’m not joking – it took me half an hour to work out how to play the single-player campaign game. Which, of course, required me to sign up for Xbox Live Plus Gold Gamer Pass Pro Lite Gamer Edition (or something).
Oh, and that brings me to another irritating facet of the Xbox Series X experience – the services Microsoft wants us to pay for.
They’re just as impenetrable as the Call of Duty menu system. There’s Xbox Live Gold, Xbox Game Pass for Console, PC Game Pass (?!), and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. I’ve read the descriptions, digested several third-party guides, and still have no idea what any of these subscriptions offer or the differences between them.
Put simply, if you’re 42 years old, next-gen gaming is a frustrating, bloated, messy, confusing, horrible experience.
This is a shame because the games themselves are actually pretty awesome.
How can Apple fix this?
There’s a very good chance Apple can’t fix this mess. I’m also probably just an old fart; I’m sure kids don’t have the same issues I’ve experienced since buying the Xbox Series X.
But I’d love to see what Apple could do if they really put some effort into gaming. I know we have a wealth of games on the App Store and the Apple Arcade subscription service, but do you know anyone who speaks as highly of Apple in the gaming space as they do of Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony?
It’s a hobby, for Tim and co. – an obvious addition to the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV ecosystem. I’m sure it brings in plenty of revenue, too, but I still think Apple is missing a trick. With more oomph behind the marketing for gaming on Apple devices and more interesting hardware, Apple could satisfy a presumably sizeable market of gamers who just want to play decent, grown-up video games.
I’m genuinely surprised by how bloated the Xbox Series X experience is. Having spent several years away from console gaming, it’s clear that the technical prowess of the hardware, Hollywood-sized production behind the games, and inevitable legal red tape that attracts have severely dented the user experience. That’s where Apple excels; it makes stuff that just works – everything else is abstracted away. I know that’s a cliche, and I know I’m one of the first to point out when they fail with that strategy, but there are more Apple devices and software experiences out there that delight than frustrate.
The issue appears to be Apple’s desire to work itself more wholesomely into the gaming sector. I understand the reticence, too; it probably feels just as impenetrable as those next-gen games; both Playstation and Xbox have fiercely loyal fanbases (and that’s before you get anywhere close to PC gaming).
Despite this, everything appears to stack in Apple’s favour. They have the hardware chops (big time), they have the user base, and they know how to create brilliant user experiences. Isn’t this a market that’s ripe for disruption?
Or am I really just an old fart?
Answers in the comments section, please.