The Xbox One reveal and why the industry sucks at marketing

The Xbox One reveal was kind of a disaster. Most people who watched the livestream or just read the salient points in the news afterwards were left feeling confused, underwhelmed and essentially disappointed.

One of the most highly anticipated gaming consoles of the last five years shoehorned games into their reveal like some kind of afterthought. Spectators were treated to boring, long-winded discussions about streaming video and voice-controlled browsing, and I think most of the audience was simply wondering, “This is cool and all, but where the hell are the games?”

It got me thinking though on marketing in this industry in general, and just how awful it generally is. These companies just seem so out of touch with their target market, and some of the decisions made are baffling. Stupid mistakes are made consistently, such as:

Know your audience

I can see Microsoft’s logic. They assumed that since they performed so well in the previous console generation that Xbox fans will simply pick up their next console anyway – brand recognition will carry them through. So why not then try reach a bigger market, why not reach out to tech-savvy people who like things that open and shut but aren’t so much into video games. It almost makes sense, until you consider that those people just don’t care very much about the Xbox reveal.

If you’re not into video games, then you’re not going to tune in to a small press conference live stream to see the reveal of what is essentially a video game console. You just don’t care. It’s not even on your radar. The people who are, however, tuning in to watch, are that group of core gamers that you stupidly decided to not cater for.

These people are not watching your reveal, they're watching Come Dine With Me or Toddlers in Tiaras or something.
These people are not watching your reveal, they’re watching Come Dine With Me or Toddlers in Tiaras or something.

The next day when the highlights of the reveal are all over the internet? The websites carrying those stories are mostly gaming-focused, and once again your core audience is getting the breakdown on how the Xbox One reveal had very little to do with gaming.

The result was predictable – everyone immediately dismissed Microsoft’s console in a way only the internet rage-mob can, and suddenly the PS4 appears to be the frontrunner for this generation of consoles. Sure, there’s still plenty of time to make up for it and the internet are a fickle bunch, but as far as first impressions go, Microsoft blew it.

There would have been plenty of time to reach that larger market as well. Once you’ve secured the faith of your core gaming audience with the less mainstream publicity platforms such as the official reveal press conference and exhibitions like E3, then you can focus more on the streaming capabilities when you move to television and magazine advertising. Instead, you alienated your core audience and your intended audience didn’t even see the damn thing.

Be clear about (and know) your product

The wake of the Xbox One reveal was ridiculously confusing, particularly around issues such as always-online requirements and second-hand games.

I don’t want to run through all the rumour, speculation and BS statements given to the press because quite frankly it’s exhausting. We have official Microsoft people saying that we’ll have to pay for second-hand games, a statement which is then quickly denied by the Xbox Twitter account.


We have people like Phil Harrison, the freakin’ corporate Vice President at Microsoft, saying that we’ll have to pay the same price for a second-hand game as the original. Except then we have a “source close to the console” saying we won’t have to pay anything at all.

It’s the same deal with the always-online nonsense. We heard it was permanent, and then we heard it wasn’t, and then we heard it was exactly once per day checks, and the latest now that its “regular” checks, whatever the hell that means.

All this speculation is really bad for business – none of these things are positive. These are deal-breaking issues for a lot of people, and the more we get confused, unclear information from Microsoft the more people are going to just decide “screw it” and set their sights on a Sony system.

I understand that perhaps these things aren’t finalised yet – but that’s not an acceptable excuse. These have been bones of contention for a long time leading up to the reveal, and you have to be ready to address these issues. People watched the stream because they wanted answers to these questions, not because they want to see your stupid voice recognition software. If you’re not prepared to provide clarity, you’re not ready to reveal your product, simple as that.

We saw the exact same thing with the Wii U – people didn’t even know that it was a new console, they thought (and still do) that it’s some kind of upgrade. Be clear about what it is you’re selling, and why exactly I should want to buy it.

Because a bundled Kinect is convincing no one.
Because a bundled Kinect is convincing no one.

Give your customers what they want

This is probably stepping out of the realm of marketing, but it’s such a hilariously persistent problem that I’m starting to wonder who the hell is signing these people’s cheques.

Time and time again we see companies in this industry make decisions for us, like some kind of overbearing parent who blames their teenager’s complaints on adolescent hormones. The average age of a gamer in the United States is 30 – these aren’t angry children stamping their feet because you got the wrong colour Lego, these are your customers, your adult customers, and they know exactly what they want.

If we tell you that we do not want a console that requires an internet connection, why the hell can you not give it to us. The pattern is predictable and consistent: announcement/rumour comes out that a certain x has the quality y. Gamers objects vehemently to y, saying it’s terrible and we don’t want it. Product x is released with quality y; everyone hates it.

If we say we don’t want something, we don’t want it. If you have a ton of cool online features that’s great, we like that, but give us the option to play our games without them.

Would you really want to make whoever did THIS angry?
Would you really want to make whoever did THIS angry?


Microsoft isn’t the only one to blame here. This is a problem endemic to the entire industry; from terrible launches, to laughably bad design choices to really stupid things said in interviews or social media.

I’m often left with the impression that these billion-dollar corporations just don’t have a clue who we are and what’s important to us. The problem, of course, is that we’re always going to buy the next AAA title or flashy console, because we love games. To a fault, we love games. It would be nice if the people making them could at least pretend they did too.