Before you plug in your Xbox One power chord, pick up your controller, or play your very first game, you’ve already made the single biggest decision of your console’s lengthy life span. Regardless of the action on-screen, or your new promotional theme, the one aesthetic that rarely, if ever changes, is the orientation of your chosen console. Do you go horizontal or vertical?
That’s the question the engineers at Microsoft asked themselves while designing the upcoming Xbox One. This November’s followup to the ‘sit & stand’ Xbox 360, the 8th-gen juggernaut will only be able to play (reliably) as a grounded, horizontal console. The reason, according to senior director of Xbox product management Albert Panello isn’t so much to do with economics, as it is with simple design decisions, or rather omissions.
Speaking at this years Tokyo Games Show, Panello told Gamespot:
“it wouldn’t be a cooling problem, we just didn’t design the drive for vertical. Because it’s a slot loading drive, we just didn’t design it for both. […]”We don’t support vertical orientation; do it at your own risk.”
Microsoft’s major home console competitor Sony also make use of slot loading designs – which feed discs directly into a machine, rather than through a motorized tray— and have done so ever since the launch of the PlayStation 3 back in 2006 (the machine’s final flip-lid variant notwithstanding). Since Sony approves its consoles for upright use, there may be more to the Xbox One’s lack of height than Panello is comfortable revealing.
The designer later added, “we found, interestingly enough, that 80 percent of people, believe it or not, have their Xbox  horizontally,” suggesting that economics may have indeed played a larger role in proceedings than Panello initially suggested. Having suffered through the Xbox 360’s infamous failure rate, it wouldn’t be all that surprising for Microsoft to be playing it as safe as possible where the ‘One’ is concerned. If their research is correct, the company only risks offending a small cross-section of its community, who will likely be able to see past the small exclusion anyway.
Given the high production costs of the Xbox One console, cutting ‘unnecessary’ features like vertical play may have been high on the hardware giant’s agenda. While it may seem like an inalienable right to stand your console topwise, few machines actually offer the option, at least in a historical sense. The PS2 popularized the trend for right-angled revolutions — though never when the console was actually in play — a move that eventually led Microsoft & Nintendo to follow suit.
The ability to twist and turn your home console has been a part of the gaming landscape for almost 14 years now — and is likely to become more important than ever before as gamers play table-top Tetris to accommodate 2 generations of relevant consoles. Will you be picking up the Xbox One on release? How will a horizontal-only console affect your home theatre display? Can verticality be considered a selling point? Have your say in the comments below, and be sure to check out all the latest Xbox One news.
The Xbox One launches on November 22nd 2013.
Follow Sam on Twitter @GamingGoo.