2015 Year In Review: Xbox

2015 was an important year for the Xbox brand. The Xbox One has now been out for two years, and Microsoft realised it had to start to craft an identity for the console. This year we saw the return of core Xbox franchises, a massive presence by Xbox at trade shows such as E3 and Gamescom, and a new system update. Analog Addiction’s Xbox aficionados, Nathan Manning and Eric Pepper will be discussing all of those topics and more in our Xbox 2015 year in review.

First Party Games

So let’s kick things off first with the games. What did you think of the first party games line up for 2015, Eric?

Eric: While many companies tout that their products are the best in any given year or that it happens to be the best year to purchase something from them, 2015 stood out as one of Microsoft’s best years in first party gaming. Halo, Gears of War, and Forza were all present this year, while titles like Ori and the Blind ForestRise of the Tomb RaiderRare Replay, and SMITE all saw releases exclusively on the Xbox One. Yes, SMITE had been available on the PC for roughly a year and Rise of the Tomb Raider will eventually find its way onto the PlayStation 4, but Microsoft has done a great job getting exclusive content onto its console this year.

It may seem like an odd choice, but I feel Rare Replay actually has the largest significance of those titles since it not only proved the interest players have in seeing more quality games from Rare, but offered a package with 30 full games spanning across several decades. To sweeten the deal, the bundle carried a price tag roughly 50% lower than a traditional retail game would run, making it even more accessible to gamers. This was a phenomenal business choice by Microsoft as they have now produced a game which no Xbox One library should be without.

Nathan: Microsoft was advertising 2015 as the best line-up in Xbox history and, while this was aided by third party titles like Fallout 4 and Star Wars Battlefront, Microsoft’s first party offering definitely played a key role. I don’t think any of the first party titles would have convinced fence sitters to buy an Xbox One – Editor in Chief Jamie Briggs’ purchasing decision was, however, influenced by Tomb Raider exclusivity – but it was definitely great as an Xbox fan to see an abundance of first party options in one year. And the holiday releases have all sold over one million units too, which is wonderful news.

Free Games and Old Games

If new games aren’t really your thing, Games With Gold continued this year, offering older games for free, and we finally saw Xbox 360 backwards compatibility added to the Xbox One this holiday.

Let’s first talk about free games monthly, also known as the aforementioned Games With Gold program. What are your thoughts on the program this year and going forward?

Eric: As a whole, the Games With Gold program has steadily improved, particularly as each title will be made backwards compatible as it’s discounted, but it’s far from what many gamers want. Even tossing aside the unrealistic hopes that brand new AAA titles will be put in the Games With Gold program, there have been entire months when the same game has been simultaneously discounted on both consoles, taking up two of the four slots, or five year old titles have been made free. If Microsoft wishes to make the program truly appealing to those who do not have a Gold membership, they need to take a hard look at their offerings. Even providing members with the occasional month in which the free titles are all full retail games would be a phenomenal step up for the program.

There seems to have been an increased variety in offered titles, allowing for more players to find something they enjoy. It also means that gamers may gain more exposure to genres they didn’t necessarily have much experience with prior to downloading a free title. I also feel that keeping the number to four free games a month is a fantastic choice, as any more would be overkill. There’s only so much time in a month, and especially if you still purchase games outside of what’s offered for free, your backlog could get out of hand fairly quickly.

Looking forward to this coming year, I would love to see at least one or two titles released in 2014 make it to the freebie list just to provide something more current, while seeing at least one more ID@Xbox title launch on the console in the program. It’s a fantastic way to draw attention to a new title, particularly an indie one, and with some of the indie games set to release this year, there would be no shortage of options to discount.

Nathan: Games With Gold isn’t really for me. It’s great that Xbox Live Gold members can get free games each month, but you’re right in saying that the games are too old. Most of the games offered each month I have either already bought, or have no interest in playing. It’s especially true with the Xbox 360 games.

Further, now that 360 games are backwards compatible, I’d love the ability to download them from my Xbox One rather than being require to visit xbox.com or turn on my Xbox 360 which is no longer plugged in.

There definitely have to be more indie titles released through games with gold, Sony is very good at supporting them, but Microsoft is lagging behind. Perhaps, much like when it was released on PlayStation 4, Rocket League will be a Games With Gold title when it launches in February. Microsoft should push more of its first party titles through the program to further entice Xbox gamers.

If you’ve got Xbox 360 games that you’d love to play on Xbox One, it’s finally been made a possibility with Backwards Compatibility. What do you like and dislike about Backwards Compatibility in its current form, and have you even used it yet?

Eric: I absolutely love the backwards compatibility feature. I still have a perfectly functioning Xbox 360 in addition to my Xbox One, but it’s nice to not be constantly switching HDMI cords or inputs when I want to play an older title. I do wish there was a faster way than having to boot up an emulator each and every time you want to play a title, but I understand that in order to provide the exact same experience as the 360 offers, there are very limited options.

I’m eager to see more titles added to backwards compatibility, as I think most people are. The library has already grown to an impressive size and will only continue to improve as we move forward. There are still some glaring holes in the list such as the Mass Effect sequels, the Bioshock franchise, Alan Wake, the Arkham series, or the Dragon Age games. I suspect that this year we will see both Crackdown and Crackdown 2 added to the list of backwards compatible titles in preparation for the third instalment later this year. Are there any titles you’re hoping to see come to the emulator?

Nathan: I’d love to see more obscure titles be made backwards compatible, but it’s very unlikely with the way the system works. For example, I’d really love to play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning again through backwards compatibility, but I doubt it has enough popularity for Electronic Arts to even consider it.

Backwards compatibility hasn’t really caught me yet, the game library is too small at the moment and there’s nothing I really want to play. There are just so many new games to play at the moment, and waiting for the backwards compatible games to download takes away from the feeling of quickly jumping back into one of my favourite games just to experience some nostalgia.

I do, however, like that certain games this holiday offered Xbox 360 games for free. I do plan on playing through all of the Gears of War games again before Gears 4, and I can do that because I got them for free from the Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.

It’s also a real shock that Microsoft hasn’t made all of its first party titles backwards compatible. I feel like developers will make strategic decisions on when to release titles to create hype for sequels.

Backwards Compatibility was announced by showing Mass Effect 1 running on Xbox One at E3 in June.

Representing at Trade Shows

Now let’s look at the trade show appearances from Microsoft this year. Tradeshows are where new games are revealed and showcased for the first time. Microsoft was present at both E3 and Gamescom this year, showcasing games released in 2015 and to be released in 2016 or later. Eric, what did you think about Microsoft’s trade show conferences this year, and the 2016 games lineup to come?

Eric: In my opinion, it seems as if Microsoft has finally found their groove when it comes to trade shows. The renewed focus on games, more exclusives and indie titles, and far less time being spent on random song and dance numbers. We no longer find ourselves trying to guess what painful Kinect gimmick is going to be inserted into each new title or app, and instead we get to see trailer after trailer for upcoming games and learn more about them from the development teams.

Showing off titles such as Quantum BreakHalo 5: GuardiansCrackdown 3ScaleboundRise of the Tomb RaiderRainbow Six SiegeForza 6Fable Legends, Gigantic, and sizzle reels containing a plethora of ID@Xbox titles, these are the sorts of things gamers love to see from gaming companies at trade shows. Even at more gamer-centric events such as PAX East, Microsoft was there in full force, allowing players to get their hands on Halo 5Ori and the Blind ForestFable Legends, and several others. I would have loved to learn more about Crackdown 3 and Scalebound, but I suspect we’ll be seeing more of them at E3 this year.

Nathan:  I whole-heartedly agree. Microsoft has finally realised it has to put games at the forefront. Conferences are now filled with trailers, gameplay demonstrations, and exciting reveals. We started to see a change last year when Phil Spencer took over as head of Xbox, and the momentum has continued this year. Microsoft has still managed to talk about non-game related features like the ability to use xbox functions on normal television with the use of an adaptor, but they make up a much smaller percentage of talk time. 

Microsoft advertised 2015 as the greatest line up in Xbox history, but 2016 and onwards is looking pretty stacked on the first party side too. It should carry through to 2017 as well now that Scalebound has been delayed.

New Look Dashboard

To wrap up 2015, a big change to the Xbox One dashboard was implemented this year. With the launch of Windows 10, the Xbox One dashboard received a facelift, being updated with new Windows 10 software. What do you think of the new update, would you like to see changed?

Eric: I greatly prefer the old dashboard to the new layout of the Xbox One user interface. With the old version, everything was relatively close together, making it a matter of one or two motions to reach your desired game, app, or screen. You could have a slew of pinned apps just to the left of the home screen, but now any of the pinned items are found down at the bottom. You may use the right trigger to quickly jump down there, but there’s not nearly as much room.

After the new update, things have become far more spread out, devoting entire screens to the store or your friends. This layout is likely far easier to navigate for new users, which is an understandable justification for a change, but overall it requires more navigation than the previous iteration.

As someone who also doesn’t like snapped items on the screen, things such as the achievement app defaulting to the snapped version, and forcing you to muddle through your profile in order to reach the full screen version is incredibly irritating. A large portion of why I’m less keen on the updated dashboard is simply due to personal preference and how I use the console, so many may not share my opinions or sentiments regarding the update.

I would love to see the full screen versions of snapped apps brought back and given their own shortcuts once again, and I feel as if an entire screen devoted to achievements your friends have unlocked is unnecessary, even from the viewpoint of someone who loves achievements. Having a list of popular games among your friends, and a monthly gamerscore leaderboard was more than ample content for the “Friends” screen on the dashboard.

Nathan: I love the new Xbox One dashboard. Everything runs so much faster and can be accessed so much faster. Signing in works faster, apps like friends and achievements load almost instantaneously, and access to most tabs are quicker. I do agree that putting the “my games and apps” tab at the bottom of the home screen is a bit weird, considering this is the screen most people will use the most. And I also agree that the way to have the achievement app running at full screen takes too long, but I’d take a faster, more responsive system over full screen achievements any day. Let’s not forget the return of the Xbox guide, with a flick to the left on the home screen instantly bringing up your friends list, party chat and other easy to find options.

I think the Xbox One is finally starting to look like the console Microsoft wanted it to be: the software architecture is similar to that of Windows 10, which paves the way for cross-platform play with Fable Legends and Gigantic. I’d like to see more space on the home screen to advertise new games, especially indie titles. Current advertisement is left to small boxes with images on the home screen, not effective enough in my eyes, but Microsoft appears to be acknowledging that the Xbox crowd is very tuned into what’s being released each week.

So that’s our thoughts on all things Xbox in 2015. The conversation doesn’t end here though, we want to here what you thought about the Xbox brand in 2015. Feel free to leave your opinions in the comments section below, or reach out to us on social media.