Microsoft’s Xbox reveal even is still a fresh memory for most of us. The company revealed not only the controller, but the console chassis itself, and detailed some of the hardware specifications intimately for the tech-heads. They introduced a wave of new features and services that most people outside of America and Canada won’t be able to use – including the Fantasy Football application, the voice-navigated TV guide and the multi-tasking that the console offers through the use of a Hypervisor. The whole “TV, TV, TV, sports, sports, TV, TV, dog” show was somewhat forgotten once the E3 presser was underway, barraging gamers with some good-looking exclusives as well as a short demonstration of what it’s like to be a deaf gamer (no sound on the Battlefield 4 demo, if you were wondering).
However, the recent u-turn the company made, dropping many of its new policies including the 24-hour check-in and second-sale restrictions is a little strange. No doubt it’s good news to fans who stayed away from pre-ordering the console, but it’s an indication of some of the issues plaguing Microsoft as a whole. Does this company really listen to the consumer’s needs? Did they not consider that the the way in which they would introduce and sell the concept of the console would be crucial to it’s adoption among consumers?
The reason why I say this is because of a very well-publicised remark made by Larry Hyrb (aka Major Nelson) in a statement released to the press following the initial reveal in May:
“Reports about our policies for trade in and resale are inaccurate and incomplete.”
This is, in reality, not a fault of the media nor the consumer. Microsoft’s Xbox team shot itself in the foot by not being blunt about the entire issue right from the beginning. It shows a lack of foresight by complaining about reports written by people trying to fill in the gaps; gaps which were left there by Microsoft itself. I’ve said before on the forums and in other avenues on the internet that Microsoft isn’t selling their latest baby very well. Instead of doing the right thing and workong on their PR, their remark about all this confusion and disinformation is that it’s “innaccurate and incomplete” and almost insinuating that it’s not their fault at all.
But let’s not get into that too much. People and companies can and do attempt to sell devices in the most idiotic, nonsensical way possible. Sony itself said back in 2006 that the $599 price for the PS3 was justified and that people would work two jobs to afford it.
Back to Microsoft, though, I wondered what was wrong with the whole picture when Wired did a short, exclusive look at the UI of the One and how the snap and live TV features worked. Ashley Speicher, Principal Development Manager, says at the 2:00 mark; “we’ve come a super-long way in seven months…”
A lot of people didn’t pick that up. Seven months? Had the console’s UI only been in development for that long? Were all the features they had on show indicative of the experience they were still working towards, or was it still subject to change? I waited along with everyone else for more information and Microsoft just kept on saying, “All the games will be shown at E3.” Cue the E3 reveal and it was, as promised, all about the games, but nothing more.
Not even a after-show press event with a nice, healthy Q&A session to clear up all the “inaccurate and incomplete” misconceptions about the console’s vision and what they were offering.
There was no elaboration on their features, or how the game sharing feature really worked, or how they could work around the fact that you may have a faster internet connection than your friend and you can’t go play at his house because he needs to download the game first. Microsoft was offering a Steam-like service but just wasn’t marketing it in the way I expected.
Last night’s bomb drop told me that my initial thoughts were right – that most of the features they were touting, including the game trade service, the 24-hour internet check-ins, the family associations, the disk-less system, the money kick-backs to developers and publishers and the idea that your game library could travel with you, stored, as it were, in the cloud, was all just a pile of good ideas taken out of the hat that hadn’t been cemented in.
That makes perfect sense now, come to think of it. If no-one had any concrete idea on how things were going to work, no-one would be able to properly answer questions about how or why people should buy the console, even if they wanted those features in the first place.
The family sharing feature sounded like a nice idea but no-one ever talked about how it was going to work or if everyone involved needed their own Xbox Live Gold account or needed to be in the same country. If half the stuff they were promising hadn’t been worked out yet, it would explain why they couldn’t do a world-wide rollout because they weren’t certain if their own ideas would work in all the countries they previously targeted with the Xbox 360.
Now that Microsoft and Don Mattrick himself have pulled off an enormous backpedal manoeuvre, there’s still a lot left to be determined. If region locks are off the table, will we see a launch in South Africa at the same time as the PS4? We have local Live services, they just need better support and more content. Will we be able to choose to load the game fully on to our hard drive in order to not use the disk again?
Will we even be able to make use of a game-sharing feature in the future? Presumably this would have worked in Microsoft’s favour because everyone would be online and presumably also a Gold subscriber, but dropping the DRM policies and second-sale restrictions doesn’t mean they have to throw all their toys out the cot. I know some people who were genuinely looking forward to the console as is and now it’s those customers that feel like Microsoft dropped them. You can’t please everyone but tossing out the good ideas because they didn’t like the outcome of their plans is not what I expected.
The lesson for Microsoft to learn here is that they can’t over-promise on things that may or may not be set in stone. The fact that they’ve changed their mind about everything so quickly likely means that they weren’t yet at the point of no return, although they’ll never admit it publicly. They flip-flopped everywhere for over a month on the things that should have been determined long ago and that lack of communication and confidence in their own plans is part of what cost them the consumer’s vote at E3. It wasn’t Sony’s announcements that did them in, nor was it the #NoDRM campaign held on Twitter by NeoGAF. They played a part, but it was Microsoft’s fault for not being clear about what this new fandangled thing could do and why you should want one.
Its a stark contrast from the company that introduced the Xbox 360 to the world in 2005. That Microsoft was confident in its abilities, communicated its intention properly and knew that what it was delivering to gamers would be a financial and commercial success. They took everything good about the original Xbox and made it better which is ironically what the PS4 looks like now – a revamped, better PS3. I don’t know many people who own a PS3 now who wont upgrade to the PS4 in future. They’re happy with the way things work now and if it keeps on working that way, they’ll buy the new console and support it by buying games for it.
Welcome back to the console race, Xbox One. Its better late than never, but you have a lot of catching up to do. I do hope that Microsoft stays clearer from now on about the direction they’re taking for the Xbox brand.
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