So let me start out by saying I currently have both consoles preordered from Amazon and I am a current owner of all last gen consoles. I absolutely have no horses in this race. This is really a discussion about a feature and not a brand so lets not turn this into brand wars. I would write this same post if this was a lead feature for the PS4.
Also, this is not a post about the possible technical implications of running true multitasking on a gaming system. We all know the rumors about the possible roadblocks to getting the OS to run seamlessly. I’m going to assume that every thing goes as planned and in the not so far distant future the snap feature works perfect on the xbox one.
Let’s start the show
One of the most impressive things about gaming is the ability to immerse you in a world or a system. Commonly this immersion occurs through story driven beats that keep the player engaged. Other times it may be a gameplay mechanic that is challenging and nuanced. In either case, the player becomes fully engaged in the experience because the developer was able to pull them in. For example I know people who have put countless hours into skyrim, mass effect, final fantasy and even mobile titles such as tiny wings. No matter what the game, there is something that keeps the player engaged for extended periods of time.
One of the major reasons gaming is able to keep players immersed in the world is the concept of a single screen experience. Lets move a few generations back. At some point in gaming there was no concept of a friend request or an external achievement notification. Games took up the whole screen and they were the main focus. The only graphical content on the screen was related to the current game being played. I used to sit for hours in front of the TV and play sonic. Nothing else was on my mind.
Then that all changed. We got systems with notifications and friend requests. Now the consoles themselves were able to provide users with notifications of external events. For me personally, things got a little more complicated. I distinctly remember missing something in gears of war because i was too busy glancing down at an achievement popup or losing my train of thought in an FPS because i went to check out a message I was sent. Part of the immersion gets lost because of the push for multitasking and feeding players external information.
Now lets look at what is about to happen specifically on the xbox one with snap. With snap you actually resize the gaming screen to make the secondary content the same priority as your game. You can put content such as youtube, a web browser, Skype, twitter feed all on the side of the game while you play. Basically you no longer have any semblance of the single screen experience. In real time your attention can be shifted to something else without needing to pause the game.
I highly suspect this may have lasting impacts on the gaming world. The modern home is already full of other devices to distract from the gaming experience. People commonly game with a phone, tablet or computer on their lap. Now rather than pausing and moving their focus to a new device the system serving the game will be distracting them from the experience.
Currently this feature is optional. However, it will be interesting to see if this becomes the norm for gaming devices going forward. Is single tasking in the gaming world dead? Will gaming just become another window in a sea of content that we are shoveling into our brains. Only time will tell.