The Xbox One reveal may have been over a week ago but the dust shows no sign of settling as we prepare for E3's promised bloodbath. For every answer gamers were given at the May 21 event, several more questions were raised. Indeed, the fate of Microsoft's console may very well hang in the next two weeks.
Few people know the legacy of Xbox better than David Reid, who served as Microsoft's director of platform marketing for several years and led the launch of the Xbox 360 back in 2005. The 360 was very much his baby, and as he tells TechRadar, "It's something to be really proud of."
When Reid joined Microsoft in 2002 he was immediately rolled into the "Xenon" team, as it was known at the time. "Xenon was Durango for Xbox 360, the internal codename before we had a real name," says Reid. And if Durango sounds familiar, that's because it recently surfaced as a potential name for what we now know as the Xbox One.
But while the Durango moniker might never have its day, other ventures considered during Reid's time with Xbox have finally surfaced with the launch of the One.
"There were things we were exploring that I now see more firmly entrenched in the Xbox One," he tells us. "A lot of the cable box stuff was stuff we were looking at with peripherals and partnerships."
The announcement of a Halo TV series, produced by Steven Spielberg, was also of no shock to Reid. "There had always been an intrigue in working with the Hollywood guys in a bigger way," he says.
"There was certainly a lot of interest in doing something bigger on the linear entertainment side as opposed to the interactive entertainment side, so none of that really surprises me."
The crown starts to slip
But this was all at a time when the home console was king, safely walled up in living rooms with no idea that smartphones and tablets and were about to make their siege.
"It was such a blast to launch a console," laughs Reid. "We had a giant launch event. Three thousand six hundred gamers came to the Mojave desert and it was just awesome."
It was also the point that Microsoft's fortune in the console space was about to be turned on its head. "It's hard to sometimes remember just how badly PlayStation was destroying Xbox," says Reid.
"For every three PlayStation 2s that would sell, you'd sell one GameCube and one Xbox. That's what the market share was there. And to be able to come out and be in a pretty good place...that's not what people expected"
Sign o' the times
Since leaving Xbox, Reid has taken a similar position at CCP games, the team behind MMO title Eve Online. But Reid was still following the Xbox One reveal with fanboy enthusiasm, and yet, like so many others, came away with a slight sense of disappointment.
"I'm just not feeling that same level of fanboy excitement this time around that I did last time. I just remember a lot of gamers fired up and excited about things [for the 360]. I guess I'm hearing more disappointment this time around," he says. "It definitely felt like last time people were more excited."
He's not alone. Since the Xbox One reveal, rumours have been flying about backwards compatibility, DRM, internet connection demands - and even the possibility of TV achievements. Whether there's truth in any of this will likely be revealed at E3, but was Microsoft biggest slip-up its failure to just talk about games? Perhaps, but Reid reckons the problem is much larger.
"I do feel that [the console's] relevance as the centre of the videogame business is waning very fast," he says. "It does feel like it's becoming much more about the PC, about the tablet, about mobile, about digital delivery, about microtransactions.
"You kind of feel the old model that has really been running for twenty five plus years of: you make a game and it's on a cartridge or a piece of optical media and it sits on a shelf at retail for fifty, sixty bucks of more, and it plays on a box that I bought at retail for two, three, four thousand bucks.
"You just kind of feel that whole thing crumbling a little bit, and it will be really interesting to see how that trend continues in the early years of the new consoles."
Kinect takes centre stage
With the One, Xbox now runs off Kinect as its lifesource, which could also prove a turn-off for gamers who are less inclined to break away from the controller.
"I am not a big fan of forcing that functionality," says Reid on making the Xbox reliant on Kinect. "If it makes sense, that's great, but why did I need to have Kinect stuff for voice commands in Mass Effect 3? It feels forced at that stage. You've got this interesting technology, but what is the real killer application of it, or do you just have interesting technology?"
Of course, it's impossible to bring up Kinect without mentioning its inspiration - the Wii. Nintendo's console launched one year after the Xbox 360, and rocketed to the top despite its lack over graphical horsepower.
"We were all like 'holy cow, this Nintendo Wii thing," says Reid, recalling the early days of the console. "At first, it was like 'this looks like a joke' and then it was like 'Jesus, this thing is on fire'"
As time went on and the Wii grew into more of a threat, Microsoft became more and more aware that it needed to take action. "So Sony did their thing and Xbox did Kinect."
The prisoner's dilemma
But without its killer app - motion gaming - it's highly unlikely that the Wii would have survived alongside the 360 and PS3. Reid even stops to consider a potential fate of the PS3, which launched with its own risky weapon.
"Sony must have got themselves in a bit of a prisoner's dilemma about Blu-ray because the cost of that was so high at the time when they were launching, but the strategic importance to Sony as an electronics company was so huge, there really wasn't any other way to do it," he says.
"What if Sony had a console that didn't have a Blu-ray drive? What would have happened? Maybe they would have sold more units, but maybe Blu-ray would have totally failed."
PS4 will support 4K (as will the Xbox One) but Reid believes that Sony is now "on a much clearer footing", not taking any Blu-ray-level gambles this time around.
And let's not forget Microsoft's decision to board the ill-fated HD DVD train with its own peripheral support for the 360. "That was enough to put a speed bump into Blu-ray's adoption for a bit," says Reid smirking, "but that didn't last."
The PC advantage
But perhaps the biggest challenge to the console right now is the PC. In the eight years between the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, PC gaming has grown, evolved, adapted, while the smartphone/tablet gaming onslaught has attacked from the other side. All of which has changed gamers expectations for the new generation.
"It won't be long before there are huge AAA games on the tablets, that will make it tough in the console space," says Reid, drawing on one classic example - the iOS game Infinity Blade.
The ability of the PC to refresh itself year on year means the console becomes too quickly vulnerable to being outpaced - and smartphones are beginning to nip at the home console's heels.
"The most expensive parts when you start [building a console] are the silicon parts, and the silicon cost reduces very quickly with volume but the mechanical parts do not," says Reid.
"The price of a Blu-ray drive is not going to drop by 80 per cent over the life of the Xbox One and PS4 generation, while the cost of the silicon in there will. And there's something about the consoles that's always tethered to some of that base cost. I don't see it going away but I don't see it being the juggernaut of the industry in ten years that it was five years ago."
The limitations are starting to show
That's not to say that the specs of the Xbox One and PS4 aren't impressive. "8GB of RAM is a big step up from the 512 we had on the 360," states Reid, laughing. "But we used to joke 'can the helmets in your sports game get any shinier?' and at what point does it matter?
"Aren't we already providing more colours than a human eye can easily resolve? Yeah the consoles have a lot of power, but you already see where that's going. It's more about 'Let's make a better Call of Duty, let's make a better Grand Theft Auto, let's make a better Madden and FIFA, and a lot of the excitement in the industry is really not there right now."
For Reid, the PC is filling that gap. "The reliable monsters of the industry are these cross-platform things that are annualised sequels, and they're important, but they've become a lot less exciting for gamers than what's happened on the PC lately."
"It's easy to do all these experimental things on the PC," he says. "It's almost like this Kickstarter effect of 'I don't have to go super big and hope that ten million people show up to buy my game' as I kind of do on the console, which is becoming a very unforgiving market for the not-quite-successfuls."
"Minecraft would have never launched on a console but it's doing terrific on the PC. It's a huge success story," Reid reminds us. "I would much rather be on the PC side of things than on the console side of things as an independent developer right now."