By Harold Goldberg
For a journalist like me, it was pre-launch chaos. While Microsoft and Edelman, their long-time PR agency, promises nothing like this will happen to consumers, the following is what happened to me when reviewing the Xbox One.
Full of optimism, I picked up the Xbox One last week at a demo in a Chelsea loft with a living room feel. I was so happy to get the console so early prior to its debut. But there would be a price to pay.
The demo was not about games but about how you could watch cable TV and play games at the same time. Multitasking was the watchword I kept hearing. In this new tech nirvana, I would be able to watch cable TV and game or Skype and play or watch Netflix and play. Forza 5 was on the screen, but the game itself not demo-ed very much. No other games were shown
I asked, “Can I stand the Xbox One vertically?”
The Microsoft rep answered, “It will only stand vertically.”
“Vertically?” I asked again to be certain.
It was standing horizontally throughout the demo.
When I set the box up at home, I couldn’t get online for hours and hours. Getting online is a prerequisite because an update had to be downloaded to get Xbox One to play games.
I kept putting in my WiFi password, and the system kept rejecting it. I contacted the Edelman PR person because one odd message said my router couldn’t interface with Microsoft servers. After six hours of waiting, worrying that something was wrong with my networking hardware because that’s what the error messages indicated, I finally downloaded the update.
The Microsoft people did eventually check in, about an hour after I was able to connect for myself. I had asked via email if servers were down and whether this caused the problem. The Microsoft rep didn’t answer that.
Though the download helped, many apps still weren’t working. But this was a work in progress. I was trying to roll with it.
As the days passed, there were more updates, and apps like Netflix began to work. So did SkyDrive, which allows for posting clips of my gaming to social media sites.
An Edelman rep wrote to say Microsoft would check in at 3 p.m. on Wednesday to ask how I was fairing with the new console. I said I was busy writing a story, but that I would talk to the person. Then, he followed up to say Microsoft might be late.
I eventually took to waiting by the phone for the call because Kinect, which was working well with the Xbox One’s interface, was not working with the Kinect Sports Rivals game demo I downloaded. The error message indicated that there was something on the floor that was in the way of Kinect.
There was nothing blocking the ‘sightline’ of the camera — at all.
Microsoft never checked in – at all. I’m still waiting.
That initial feeling of anxiety, of something that’s supposed to be new and glorious and special not working well out of the box, stayed with me. The early adopter elation I often feel when diving into the software wonders of a brand new console was tainted by a feeling of being punched in the stomach.
Sadly, it’s something that I’ll have to note in my reviews. I won’t be reviewing the system until after launch – until I’m certain that consumers elsewhere aren’t or are having the same problems I had with getting Xbox One to work properly.
Again, Microsoft has assured this won’t happen to average users. I’ll be watching Twitter closely to see.
And I’ll link to my first review once it’s up.
Harold Goldberg, a contributor to the New York Times, is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.