Monday, July 01, 2013

The dust has settled, please let's not get religious

About a month ago, Microsoft unveiled their new console, the Xbox One which is due to be released in November. Yes, I'm already saving up some money to get me One. This was months after Sony had unveiled its PS4, although they never really unveiled their new console until this month's E3. For me the Nintendo has never been an option as they're always too much focused on, well games for kids. And yes, I know, I'm the conscious parent and think the Xbox 360 is superior over the PS3 because of Microsoft's view on how to safeguard the kids from playing those games that I as a parent deem not suitable for my kids. It's kind of counter intuitive that I don't have a Wii in my home. I was actually planning to buy one, but Nintendo only had the white console at the time and my wife just agreed to get brand new AV components in our house, lest they were black. Sorry Nintendo. And when they released the black Wii and after I had come up with a good excuse to get one, Microsoft announced the Kinect, and out the door went my excuse to get the Wii. I'm still considering myself luck for that. The Kinect beats the Wii.
I do have a PS3, but only because the 360 doesn't have a Blu-Ray player.

So, back to the new line up. PS4 versus the Xbox One (X1 for short in this post).

It's interesting to see that the X1 will have a Blu-Ray drive, ditching the DVD drive and the necessity of putting games on multiple discs. Something Sony had already done with the P3. Does this mean that Microsoft is going to cannibalize it's own Xbox Video service by allowing consumers to buy movies on BD and play them on the X1? Probably, but this is, I think, a strategic move to get the X1 to be the entertainment hub in our living room. It'll most certainly push the PS3 I own out of the livingroom, probably move it to our entertainment room, it's on the top floor of our home with a beamer (1080i, 720p) and a pretty decent 7.1 sound system hooked up to it. I got the PS3 back in the day solely for the BluRay drive in it. The kids play every now and again Little Big Planet on it. But hardly to be honest.
From what I've seen so far, Sony is still banking on the game playing crowd. Although music and movie streaming is still there and seams to be more prominently than on the PS3, they seem to be focusing on the games. To be honest, I think the PS4 looks better than the X1, from the outside. From the inside I don't care too much. For me it's all about the games, up to a point of course. The Wii has never been up to par with the rest of the previous next-gen consoles. The thing is that with great power comes great, well opportunities. And where I have seen the 360 and the PS3 shine is not only in enhanced graphics, but more importantly in great AI.This seems to be the area where the new next gen consoles will venture. They'll have to. And from that perspective the X1's cloud capabilities seem to be the ones that will make a difference.

Back to the new consoles. Just a little side step. Since I have no clue as to create an inset, here's the text I wanted to put there. The X1 is about €100 more expensive at release time over the PS4. But it does mean that you'll have the Kinect with it and online multi-player. Both you'll have to buy with the PS4 in addition to the console. So I guess from a price perspective, it's not that different. Although I wouldn't mind getting the X1 without the Kinect. I have 4 360's in my home and one with an RRoD, but that doesn't count. The 360's are for playing games (living room and my entertainment room) and one for the bedroom where it is used as a Media Center Extender. Like I stated earlier, my entertainment eco system is based around Microsoft products.
In case you were counting, yes, I have one spare Xbox. It's just there being a spare 360. I bought it because I was living elsewhere and wanted a 360 there as well. With a Kinect, so now I have two Kinects as well. One is spare and I don't use it. And this is exactly my point, I don't need a Kinect with every Xbox I have. More over because it's not really usable beyond games in the Netherlands. Yup Halo Waypoint supports the voice commands, but it only understands the English voice commands, so it's virtually unusable by my two kids (age 6 and 8) as their English is not good enough to control the 360 by voice.
So dropping the X1's price by €100 and not getting the Kinect would be a perfect option.

Based on what I've seen so far from both the PS4 and the X1, I think the X1 is more for me. I really like the additional capabilities of the X1 in terms of being my living room media hub. But I'm fully aware that these are most likely never going to find their way to the Netherlands. If Microsoft would strike a deal with Ziggo and UPC, Holland's two main cable companies, this would be a really cool step forward in their service. Having an X1 instead of the UPC Horizon set-top box would be a game changer. But I am fully aware that Holland is a very small market compared to Germany, UK, France when talking about Europe. Still I hope Microsoft is reading this blog and taking it to heart.
Then there's Sony with the new PS4 and what it can do. When it boils down to games, they've already shown some pretty sweet stuff. Killzone looks darn dandy on the new console and games like Destiny are not exclusive titles either. My question would be what games will be available when I want to buy the new console... and what about my friends, will they stay with their 360 and move to the X1, or move from PS3 to X1 or from 360 to PS4?

And one really, really important aspect is about how I can control my kids concerning their gaming habits. I'm very impressed by Microsoft in this regard and would like to see more. I devoted my previous blog post to this aspect. Sony is still not handling this very well. On the PS3 there's nothing existing like that, or at least nothing comparable to what Microsoft is offering.

This is the end of this post, but definitely not the end of this topic, not for me.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

10 things I would like to see in the new Xbox, as a parent


Today, May 21st, Microsoft will announce their new game console. It goes by numerous names on the interweb, but I stick with Xbox NG for now. NG obviously stands for Next Gen.
Of course there's been a lot of speculation already about what it will be able to do and how it will be revolutionary and all, but there are some things missing in the current Xbox that I would like to see in the new one.

In this blog post I'm focusing on those features that I think are the competitive edge of the Xbox 360 over the PS3 and the Wii. Based on what I know, so I might be wrong here and there. And those features I'm singling out are related to me being a parent.

Just for context, I'm a dad of two sons, 6 and 8, and both love the Xbox. They love 'screens' in general and playing games in particular. Since my wife and I are of the opinion that not all games are suitable for kids their age, we've been very conscious about what games they play. This has been the case ever since the oldest turned 4, this is when we started allowing him play games. Nature helped us until then as the controller was too big for his hands, so he couldn't play even if he wanted.
One of the main feats of the Xbox over the competition is the notion of Microsoft that the Xbox will most likely be used in the living room where it will be accessible by all members of the family, including the (young) kids. This means that the Xbox has a set of very comprehensive controls accessible for parents if they want to do so. This ranges from limiting the amount of time the Xbox can be used (on daily or weekly basis) as well as limiting what games can be played. This is based on the age rating of the game. In addition, you can lock the online experience, meaning that you can close down those features of the Xbox that are related to the online functionality, like creating Xbox Live accounts. Related to accounts, you can also nominate an account to be a child account, this is related to the date of birth of the gamer as set in her Microsoft Live account. You're not 18 yet? You're a child and that means you can't just play the games you want... that is if your parents are like that. And both my wife and I are like that.

So what have we set up?
Well the boys can only play for 2 hours a day. We stick with the weekends only, which starts on Friday. And they can play those games that are rated 12 or below. That is, there might be games rated for an older audience that we think suitable for them as well, like Monday Night Combat, which is rated 16. After playing it myself, I added it to the list of games that don't need a code to be entered prior to playing it. Our sons know that if a game requires a code, daddy needs to play it first before they're allowed to play it.
I've also locked down with whom they can friend, meaning that when they're accepting a friend-request, either my wife or myself need to log into our own account and allow the request. The limitation is as far as that they are only allowed to play games online with friends. And they can only accept content from friends. Their profiles are only accessible to friends as well. Are we paranoid? I don't think so. My wife and I feel that kids their age are not fully appreciating the risks of the internet and online communities so some guidance of mom and dad is needed.

Now what would I like to see in the Xbox NG?

1) The single one thing I would like to see is the ability to differentiate between games and media. Currently the time limits are for using the Xbox, so when set to 2 hours as we have, I'm facing this limit even when listening to Xbox Music, watching a DVD, watching a movie on Xbox Video. And it is also imposed when using the Xbox as a Media Center Extender. I want to limit the Xbox' use to games only.

2) Have the parental controls be completely account based, again, especially for the time limits this is important. Like I stated, the limit is for using the Xbox, it doesn't discriminate between accounts. So when I do a workout in the morning playing Nike+ which takes an hour, the time available on the Xbox for the rest of the family (my sons) is only one hour for that day. Same goes for when only one of my sons is playing, he consumes the 'play time' for both of them.
I know you can extend the time once you run out, but that then means that everybody can play more on the Xbox.
Having this ability would also allow my wife and myself to award good (school) performance with Xbox time.

3) Be notified when an account is logged in and keep track of which games the account is playing. We have 3 Xbox's in our home, my sons accounts are stored in the Cloud, so they can play on any of the three consoles and if wanted, they can play at a friend's home with their own account. But I would like to be able to know that they're playing, when they're playing and what they're playing. An email notification would be nice to receive when they log in and an once they log out, an overview of the games they played.

4) Include age ratings to what you can buy on Xbox Marketplace. Currently you can buy anything on the marketplace once you have access and points or access to a credit card. I blocked purchases because of this. I would like to be able to give my sons some MS points that they can spend in the market place on content that is based on the age rating suitable for them. Or in case that I put a game on the list of games not needing the passcode, on content related to that game.

5) Well, see 4. That implies that limitations to game ratings shouldn't be limited to the Xbox but to the account in general. And the white list of games of a older age rating should also be with an account.

6) Add the option to never store an account's password unless a parent approves. This would allow my kids to download their profile on a friend's Xbox and play. But as soon as they log out, the account is no longer usable unless they log in again. In addition, it would be nice if the log in could be handled by the parent remotely. Send an email to the parent with a link, you open the link and the account is unlocked on a remote system. On our own consoles I would be setting it up that the password is stored.

7) Remove the passcode when logging in using Kinect. Okay, this is an odd one. I've set up a passcode for my own account as well as my wife's account after one of my son's friends logged in using my account and later on they ordered Rango and watched it, partially. Although it's a fun movie, this wasn't my idea of having friends over to play games. But now when I log into the Xbox using Kinect's abilty to recognize me, I'm still asked to put in my passcode (note Kinect was already positive that it's me). And using the Kinect to enter the passcode makes the code very obvious. My opinion is that when Kinect recognizes me, it should be good enough.

8) Add age rating limitations to movies played on the Xbox. When I put in a DVD into the console to watch it, it would be nice if the Xbox would go to an online service to retrieve the age rating and if set to something beyond the level of the limit defined on one of the signed in accounts a passcode is needed. This would prevent our kids from "by accident watching The Exorcist". Or at least make it harder for them to watch it.

9) Be able to share my Xbox Music pass with the rest of my family. I don't think it makes any sense to have a full-blown Music pass paid for to just allow my sons to listen to music through the Xbox. But if it would be just my account that has the pass, I need to log on and that means that my account becomes active and therefore accessible to the kids and they can do whatever they want... more or less. The Xbox NG should allow for a more explicit parent-child relationship that makes it easier to share between the services the parent is entitled to towards their kids without compromising the parental controls in place.

10) Actually I couldn't think of a 10th change I hope will be implemented when the Xbox NG is released.

So these are my 10, uhhh 9, things I would like to see with the new Xbox NG. Basically it's all about the way child accounts are managed. Less console centric, more on account level.

Tonight's the revelation of the new Xbox, then we know what we'll be calling the new console and how it fits in the rest of our eco system. I for one look forward to it.