As the mobile guy, I've been pretty insulated from modern consoles. But it was "Take Your Kids to Work Day" in the US this week, and I promised the kid some serious Zoo Tycoon time.
The Xbox One started out without many family-friendly games, but I've noticed some more have been cropping up recently. There's Fantasia, some LEGO games, a Max game, and of course Minecraft is supposed to be coming soon. With all of the Xbox's home entertainment features, it could make a cool family entertainment console.
Except it sucks.
The first thing I saw as I booted up the Xbox was that the device refused to boot without a 465MB update. Refused to boot. Now, you and I know that there's no reason it shouldn't be able to boot and, say, download the update in the background. If the update had gone smoothly, that would have been okay, except that the update stalled a half-dozen times, requiring multiple reboots and reconnects mid-update.
With a steadily less patient 8-year-old on my hands, I popped in the £40 Zoo Tycoon disc, only to discover that game wouldn't run without a 2.5GB update. Thank goodness I wasn't in one of the millions of US homes with 3Mbps or slower DSL Internet, or a rural home with satellite. At 3Mbps, that would have been a two hour wait for the game to begin. It actually turned out to be about that, because that update, too, also crashed several times and needed to be attended to.
I understand software updates. But there's a good way to do 'em and a bad way to do 'em. This is the worst possible way: Throwing them up as roadblocks to any experience at all.
Wait, I bought this disc...
The online-first approach is even sillier because all of the Xbox games here at our office come on physical media. Unplayable physical media.
I'm not sure what the Zoo Tycoon DVD is for. Is it some sort of token? Is it a badge of honour? It certainly doesn't seem to include playable code, as the Xbox insists I need 2.5GB of updates to execute it at all.
Consoles' plug-and-play nature used to be a big part of their glory. On PCs, you had to set up IRQs, check your sound card, keep an eye on your disk space. Every game had a different interface, with dozens of buttons and controls. It was (and still is) a rich but complex way to play. With consoles, you could pop in a cartridge or a disc and – boom! – five minutes to gaming, with clear, consistent interfaces.
That just isn't the case anymore.
Mobile > Console
This all resulted in my daughter sitting in front of a disabled 60in TV playing Shelterra the Skyworld on my 4.7in phone for an hour.
Mobile games work when you're offline. If you want a new one, you can probably download it within a few minutes. They're generally £5 or less, not £40. (Yes, I pay for games). And while my tech-dad ego was hurt by not being able to provide the cinematic Zoo Tycoon experience, my mobile-born kid didn't see what the problem was.
This is a big part of the slow death of Nintendo, of course. Mobile is becoming the default gaming platform for everyone except a shrinking population of hardcore gamers.
Consoles have so many potential advantages. They're always a party. For a gorgeous, multiplayer, cinematic experience, they can't be beat. Family-friendly games can bring families together; for friends in a world of solitary, online gaming, having four players in the same room is a blast.
But if they charge top dollar to choke and sputter, requiring the worst of both the physical and online media experiences, their advantages simply won't be visible. They'll become the workstations of the gaming world: A niche product for a cadre of enthusiasts. They're on their way...