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There's a battle going on for the all-in-one entertainment sphere: Microsoft wants to control the living room and gaming entertainment space, Sony just wants to avoid going bankrupt, Nintendo is Nintendo, and Amazon wants a little piece of every bit of the pie.
During the presentation of the Fire TV set top and gaming box earlier today, Amazon used a direct slide to inform the casual masses that they don't have to pay to access apps they're already paying for via the Fire TV. In other words, apps aren't put behind a secondary paywall on the Fire TV like they are on the Xbox One.
Gamepur pulled a very poignant slide from Endgaget's live-blog where the company used a quote from an Xbox One customer who wrote in an Amazon review...
“You cannot access your Netflix account without paying $60 a year Xbox Live subscription fee. Not really sure who is going to pay $60 a year for a service they are already paying for".
This, this and this times a thousand. I still don't understand why people pay for Xbox Live to access paid-for subscriptions they're already paying for. It's asinine.
It's not just Amazon who brings out the ridiculousness of paying twice to watch TV on your TV. Last year, Sony made it a key selling point for the PS4 that users wouldn't have to pay a subscription fee just to gain access to apps they already pay subscriptions for, announcing that the PS4 would be region-free and all app access would be free.
Amazon is taking the same approach, trying to convince the casual entertainment audience that the Fire TV is a good enough alternative to handle both watching TV on your TV and playing some small Android-style games on the side.
While Amazon may find some moderate leverage in the home entertainment space at a moderate price point, Microsoft is the one who is in a tough spot now: The set top box plan is looking far too expensive and cumbersome for the average entertainment aficionado, and as a gaming machine it lacks the gusto to compete with the PS4's hardware as well as suffers from having a smaller library of games. It's literally stationed between all these other tech devices in terms of functionality, yet it excels in no particular area, all while being more expensive than the competition.
Microsoft is put into a precarious situation, because come E3 they will have to convince the gaming world that the Xbox One serves a purpose in this eighth gen race. It'll need a consistent identity and it might benefit Microsoft to at least drop the Xbox Live paywall for the standard app functionality, because if you're not in playing dude-bro multiplayer games it seems silly to have to pay $60 a year just to use Twitch or access Skype.
With the Fire TV now on the market at a very competitive price point, it'll be a fascinating thing to see how well Amazon eats into the casual console market – the very same market Microsoft has been aiming to capture with their TV on the TV campaign.
Basically, Microsoft will have to lose the Xbox One's identity crisis and find a niche where it can excel, because it can't compete on the graphics front with 792p releases and it's not cheap enough to compare to the Wii U or Fire TV as an economic alternative. As much as some gamers may hate to read it, I'm going to write it: Microsoft needs to leverage the Kinect to do some stuff that literally isn't possible on the other systems, otherwise they'll only have the fading luster of their top three brands to fall back on... and that's not going to be enough to stay competitive for the next half decade.