It all started with Halo. I wrote a lengthy blog about that before. But long story short, I played Halo a lot at a friend's house. Then I turned 13 (I think). I asked for a paintball gun for my birthday (hey, they were all the rage at the time). But my parents did something utterly surprising and totally wise. They bought me an Xbox (XBox? xBox? xbox? XBOX? Oh, who cares). A day or so later I went to gamestop and picked up a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved.
Thus began my life as a hardcore gamer. I loved Halo and Halo 2. Eventually I got Xbox Live and played Halo 2 online (and I wasn't half bad at it). I even joined bungie.net and spent hours on the forums. At my peak nerdiness, I even wrote Halo fanfiction!
Unfortunately, I was a kid with limited funds. I couldn't afford many games. So I didn't obtain all that many for the first generation of Xbox. Besides Halo, I did play some awesome games on the system. Full Spectrum Warrior, KOTOR I and II, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, and the only edition of Madden I've ever owned.
But then something amazing happened:
The Xbox 360 was announced. I was unable to buy it at launch. But I hopped in about 6 months later (which turned out to be fine, as the launch lineup was less than stellar).
I loved this system. From a hardware perspective, it was a sexy device. Definitely the best-looking console ever made from my point of view. So much thought and effort was put into it (as opposed to XBone and PS4 which just look like bricks).
First was the controller. This controller is wonderful. So ergonomic. It is the perfect controller for first-person shooters, specifically. The only flaw is the d-pad. But I don't play fighting games, so that didn't bother me one bit. The triggers and bumpers are so good (and still haven't been topped, I feel). I do think the Dualshock 4 is even more comfortable, but it's unforgivable battery life prevents it from being the best controller ever.
The 360 did many other things well, and they were all centered around the system's OS.
I love the blades. Unabashedly and unironically. It was a really elegant, simple UI. It was highly functional. It was so easy to get where you needed and find the things you were looking for! One of the most underrated features of the xbox was the music system. I could plug in my iPod classic (which I later replaced with the superior Zune, fight me) and play music. But the system was smart enough to know what audio in my games came from music, and what came from other sources. I played Doom while listening to Def Leppard. I listened to podcasts or the soundtrack to The Man from Snowy River while wandering through Cyrodiil. So great.
I could spend much more time waxing eloquent of my love for the xbox 360. In spite of the red rings, it was just a great system. It's probably my favorite console ever (with the N64 a close second). It had a robust library of games. I have dozens of games on the system. I spent hundreds of dollars on games (and bought MANY on Xbox Live Arcade, which was a genius program).
But things started to erode. Eventually, the kinect was released. It was an awesome idea, even though it never had its potential fully realized. But the big problem here was that microsoft changed the UI of the system to be usable with kinect and is more in-line with their touch interface (see Windows phones and Windows 8). There's no way to sugarcoat it. This UI is trash. And it was built with a heavy emphasis on displaying ads on the dashboard. I found this insulting. I'm already spending hundreds of dollars on your system (and 60 bucks a year on xbox live). Why cover my dashboard in ads? You've already reeled me in! Spend your advertising efforts on people that haven't bought into your ecosystem yet. The profile and security restrictions were insulting. Every time I turned on my xbox, it wanted something new from me for security reasons.
Then, the worst thing happened. We all know what that is. Microsoft spat in my face with the announcement of the Xbox One. They butchered it in almost every conceivable way. I don't need to elaborate. You know what happened. Ultimately, they communicated to me that they don't understand me as a gamer on even a basic level. In spite of not touching my PS3 in ages, I bought a PS4.
I still don't own an Xbox One. Santa may bring me one for Christmas this year, but I'm not sure. If I receive one, I'll be very happy. The biggest reason is that I will use it as a device to play my old xbox and xbox 360 games. I will take a nostalgia tour.
I've written before about how I don't have high hopes for the next generation of games. My PS4 is severely underutilized. The system has some great games, but most of them don't appeal to me, personally. I also feel that Sony has shoved its head up its own butt. They have lost touch with me as a consumer. I fear that the PS5 will be a terrible system (though I hope I'm completely wrong about that).
I've gone full bore into the Switch. I buy about 1 $60 game per month and I pepper in downloadable games whenever I can. It's just a brilliant system and it already has multiple must-own games.
But I miss my xbox. I miss Halo. I miss Gears of War. I want Microsoft to woo me. I want them to pull me back in! I want to want to buy an Xbox Infinity (I'm telling you, that's what the next one will be called). Let's talk briefly about what they can do to win me over again.
A simple, user friendly ecosystem
It doesn't have to be blades, but I want a UI that is easy to use. I want to be able to boot the system in a second or two. I want to find the content I'm looking for in seconds. I want to hop into my game in a flash. I want it to be so easy to use that anyone can understand it. I want quick access to my games, DLC, music, and movies. I don't want the dashboard to be plastered with advertisements. I don't want it to be based on windows! I don't want to wrestle with making multiple accounts with usernames and passwords. I want to be able to log in once and then not be bothered again. I want my friends that visit to be able to grab a controller and hop into a game with me without creating a profile or a log-in.
Viva Pinata is a true gem of a game. And it is weird. It's so weird. And I love it. I want to see bold experimentation from Microsoft. They need to take chances. It's fine to crank out another Forza every year. But that isn't going to grow your audience. If you want to reach more people, broaden your horizons. Expand your view of what is possible in games. Take risks. Make things that are truly surprising. And I mean this from a software perspective, not hardware.
Ditch the peripherals
Microsoft has (wisely) realized that kinect is not the future of gaming. But Microsoft, don't get any funny ideas about VR, Hololens, second-screen techology, other wearables, or illumiroom. Just make the next Xbox a console. Don't split your audience with peripherals. Let me buy your basic console and have that be all I need to play your games.
Return to the roots of Halo
My interest is piqued for Halo Infinite. The teaser trailer we saw last E3 was great. It certainly looks like a step in the right direction. Art direction is closer to Halo 3 than Halo 5. There is an actual Halo ring, seemingly. There isn't much to go off of. But it has my attention. Now you've got to close on this. Reel the gameplay back in. Drop any kind of microtransactions or loot boxes. Get rid of enhanced movement. Don't chase trends. Just let Halo be Halo. Halo is good enough. It doesn't need to conform to what the rest of the industry is doing.
Respect the studios
Microsoft has been gobbling up studios left and right this year. That's a great sign. It shows that they are willing to invest in developing first-party software. But they wouldn't have to do this (at least not to this degree) if they hadn't ruined their studios. FASA, Ensemble, and Lionhead are all defunct. Black Tusk was (for practical purposes) shut down and re-opened as a Gears factory. Rare is a shell of its former self. Bungie ran for the hills. I don't want to see this happen to these new studios. You bought them because they have real talent and they make great games. Just facilitate that. Give them the tools and resources to do what they do best. Don't squander them. Don't force them to make what your focus groups and/or board members think the gamers want. These developers are not endentured servants on an assembly line. They are artists. They make art. I know that games are products and exist to make money. But they are art. Let the artists make the art.
Bring back old IPs
I want Conker. I want Viva Pinata. I want Perfect Dark. I want Crimson Skies (not sure who owns the rights to that at the moment, admittedly). Don't hesitate to revisit these properties! Developing new IP is absolutely crucial to your success. But don't think you can't do things with the treasure trove of properties you're sitting on. You can make things besides Halo, Gears, and Forza. We love these games. And you can do awesome things with them! At E3 I watched an awesome interview with Phil Spencer (I don't know where Microsoft found this guy, but whatever they're paying him, it isn't enough). Phil is really down-to-earth. But he did say one thing that bothered me. When Viva Pinata came up in conversation, he said that it was "ahead of its time." Well, it's been a decade, Phil. Is it time now? And that's just one of your many awesome properties!
Although Sony has the RPG market cornered for the time being, it doesn't have to be this way. KOTOR, Mass Effect, and Oblivion were all games I played on Xbox systems. And you know what? Other than Final Fantasy (which is now multiplatform), they're the best RPGs I've ever played! Give us more RPGs. We need more diversity. Shooters and racing games are wonderful, but we need more. Variety is the spice of life. Let me enter a new world and get lost in it as somone else. Let me become a different person and make my way how I see fit.
You've shown us that you value this. And I couldn't be happier about it. The lack of backwards compatibility on the PS4 is its biggest failing. If you had announced backwards compatibility for the XBone at launch, I would not have a PS4 right now. I don't know what Sony has planned next. But if the PS5 can't play my PS4 games, I will not buy it. Period. Microsoft, lean into this. Let the Xbox Infinity (see, it's catchy) play all 4 generations of XBox games. Do whatever you must to make this happen. It will grant me access to an unprecedented library on a single system and I will be so glad for it.
I've gone on long enough. These are the things I want most. This is how Microsoft can win me back. And honestly, it won't be hard. I want to come back. I want to be an xbox gamer again.
What about you? What would it take for Microsoft to win you over? Is it even possible at this point? Share with us down below!