Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 27 May 2013

Four Xbox Ones for the Price of One

Microsoft have been making a lot of noise over the Xbox One this week, rolling out the specs and bigging up the promises.  They've told us pretty much everything we need to know about the new console apart from one critical piece of information - the price.  There is a rumour floating around, started by a German sales outlet that suggests that the new box could retail at around $800 but to be fair, it's a guess, not based on fact.  My guess is that Microsoft are letting the market - that's you, by the way - suggest the launch price before going public.   This is a bit like the ploy I suspect Google are using to gauge public interest in Google Glass - start the rumours floating, see who bites, set a price.  The German retailer is probably off the mark - well they have been for years, it's Euros now - but it's a starting point.

One way of working out the starting price is to compare the competition, see what they're charging for comparable devices and assume that the new gear will be somewhere near that.  The difficulties start in deciding what is comparable, given the media slant the new Xbox is taking and then working out whether Microsoft are likely to undercut the competition to get market share or set a premium to show their product, in their opinion, is better and therefore commands a higher price.

But here's an additional factor to consider.  Microsoft claim that anyone who buys a Xbox One will get four Xboxes in the trade.  To be fair, three of them are virtual and floating around in the Cloud, but what it means is that when you boot up your machine it will have four times as much processing power available than it has under the hood.  You might think that it would be easier and more transparent of Microsoft to just beef up the spec of the console itself, already touted as ten times  more powerful than the Xbox 360.

However that would increase the manufacturing costs by a significant factor and would make the console much less attractive.  Bang goes the market share.  But unless you don't sleep, work, eat or, well live away from your console, you won't be sat at it twenty four hours of the day.  In fact I'm fairly certain Microsoft knows how long the average gamer sits in front of his or her console and although you're a long way from being average I'm sure they know the upper and lower boundaries, the Standard Deviation and every other statistical tool in the book.  So they have built a raft of virtual machines that effectively quadruple the processing power of your Xbox One when it needs it. 

I doubt we will need this benefit when we are streaming films or porting data between Microsoft Office applications, but when we're walking through a mist laden swamp, rifles held aloft as we watch clouds of mosquitos home in on us just before we take incoming fire, well, we might be glad of the enhanced rendering that the extra processing power provides.   When we don't need that power those three Xboxes will be available for someone else, somewhere else so Microsoft don't need to install three sets for every box they sell. 

I think we may see a lot more of this approach - it's not strictly a new idea as graphics rendering software has used the power of networks during the quiet hours for some years - your organisation might have used it themselves if they have a graphics department - but farming the work out to the Cloud for parallel processing in real time, that's an interesting idea and one that may have taken the competitors by surprise.  The only real question is whether the games developers can take advantage of the development.


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