Wherefore Art Thou Xbone?
On Friday, Microsoft released the Xbox One gaming console. In less than a week, shoppers will line up on Black Friday to purchase it and its main competitor, the Sony PlayStation 4. Millions of gamers will be among them, and though they know the new console's name, many will refer to it as Xbone (eks bone).
Gamers share much with other technology-enabled cultures in that they prefer to shorten. Whether words or concepts, shortening compresses ideas, and this efficiency is valued in an information-rich, attention-shifting environment. The Playstation is easy: it joins its ancestral sequence as the PS4. You might imagine that the Xbox One would simply be referred to as XB1.
Ask any gamer the name she prefers for one of Microsoft's consoles, and she will say, "Xbox." (Some people refer to the second console as the "three-sixty," but nobody [I'm a gamer; I know these things] calls it "XB," or even worse, "the XB.") I don't know why, exactly, but "Xbox" resists shortening. It's already short, and if you're going to use two syllables anyway, you might as well use a name that's precise, instead of a two-letter moniker that sounds like an experimental aircraft.
Why has "Xbone" so quickly become a nom d'usage among gamers? It's familiar. It's still two syllables, and it's perfectly clear which Xbox is meant. It's especially useful for differentiating between the "Xbox One" and "the first Xbox." This distinction may be lost on the multitudes of parents, siblings, and well-meaning holiday shoppers, but they'll just ask for "the new Xbox" and be provided with the latest electromagical gaming system. Woe be unto those whose thrifty fathers "got a great deal on an Xbox one," and unwittingly bring home a vintage console from 2001.
"Xbone" then, is useful shorthand for the sake of precision, but it's helpful in another way: as tongue-in-cheek commentary. Xbox One's original policies for used games, persistent internet connection, and Kinect requirements were widely panned. Microsoft did walk this back, but gamers will long remember the boneheadedness of that event, the "Xbox 180."
Some prefer Xone (pronounced either "zone" or "eks one"), while others favor "eks bee one." People will always call the thing an "Xbox," of course. But whether juvenile joke or semi-serious nickname, the "X Bone" lingers on.