January 12, 1987. A Monday. I remember the day clearly. It was the day that I took the money I’d saved up from my paper round and bought my first game console.
While the Commodore 64 was marketed as a “micro computer”, they weren’t kidding anybody. This was, to me, a game console and over the next 5 or 6 years, I spent hours enjoying the high resolution gaming experience delivered by that 8-bit powerhouse.
I have a very clear memory of getting home, plugging in the cables, entering the magical string that made the tape drive whirl into action and playing my first game.
In 1996, I bought a Sony PlayStation. No more entering geek codes in order to play games. Just pop the CD in, shut the lid, and play. A great leap forward in graphics, speed, power, and (arguably) game-play. Game consoles were great and clearly getting better.
Adulthood largely saw the end of my gaming days and with the exception of a short stint with a Wii, I went consoleless for a number of years.
So, when I came home with an Xbox One Halo 5 bundle for my sons (10 and 12) just after Christmas, I was excited. Excited for them. Well, if I’m being honest, not just excited for them.
Plugging in the cords while they sat on the couch, controllers-in-hand, I had flashbacks to the excitement and anticipation I had felt 29 years ago. I felt again what they were surely feeling for the first time and was happy for them. Happy that in a few short minutes they would be enjoying their new console.
But that’s not what happened.
The Xbox One needed to download and install a 1.2GB system update before it could be used. Over the course of the hour or so that the download took, I was able to explain the difference between a Megabyte and a Gigabyte and how long 1.2GB would take to download on our 8Mbps connection. Every cloud has a silver lining. And the silver lining here was that they got a little schooling.
Not long now. Sit tight boys.
Sign in to Xbox Live
I’d pre-empted this. Before purchasing the console, I’d gone online to create a Microsoft Live account for each boy. And one for me, while I was at it. Signing in to the accounts with the controller and on screen keyboard was cumbersome and frustrating, particularly as I had used a password generator to create strong passwords. Fu(#1ngH377!
Where’s the game?
As I’ve mentioned, I purchased a console + game bundle. So once we were signed in, I went to grab the game so that we could, finally, start playing. Only, there was no game. Just a card with a code that I needed to enter in order to download the game. A wave of despair washed over me as it dawned on me that this couldn’t be a good thing. On entering the code and subsequently watching the download status sit on 0% for 5 minutes, I Googled “halo 5 download size”.
The look on my boy’s faces affirmed that had absorbed my lesson about Gigabytes, Megabytes, Mbps, and download speed. They knew before I told them. There’d be no gaming tonight. Not. Happy. Jan.
We went to bed that night with the game download sitting at 17% and the expectation that we’d be enjoying our first game at around lunch time the next day.
We were wrong.
Little did we know, but the Xbox One’s default setting is to shut down after an hour of inactivity. So that’s what it did. 8 hours of downloading. Lost.
The game continued to download through the day and by bedtime, it still hadn’t completed.
Victory of sorts
Finally, the next morning, 36 hours after we first plugged it in, my boys played their first game on the Xbox One.
While they were clearly delighted and enjoying their new toy, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad for them. Sad that they wouldn’t look back on their first game console experience with the same sense of nostalgia that I look back on my Commodore 64 with. While the hardware, the games, and multi-player capability is clearly orders of magnitude better than it was in the old days, that feeling I had on that day in 1987 would be quite different to the feeling that my boys remember. Their experience was spoiled and it could so easily have been different.
Two simple things would have made this a much better experience:
- Pre installing the bundled game, or including the Blu-ray disk is a no-brainer.
- Simple sign in: Using the controller and on screen keyboard was painful. Allowing sign in on a computer and then displaying a code (as Plex do) or even better, a sequence of strokes that can be performed on the controller would create a moment of delight.
Despite these issues, Microsoft have sold—and will continue to sell — a load of Xboxes and I have no reason to believe that Sony have done any better with the PlayStation 4. But, I believe that they’re missing an opportunity. By making a couple of small changes to the delivery of the service, they would create positive memories in impressionable young minds. Minds that will go on to make a lot of purchasing decisions over the years to come. The kind of minds that you want to be thinking of your brand in a positive light.
If only Commodore was still in business.