Consumers bail the impasse
There is little debate over who "won" E3 this year: In our internal poll following the conference most of our readers chose the PlayStation 4 as the superior contender.
Sony put on a quite a strong show, came $100 under Microsoft's next-gen offering, and reassured gamers that no online or DRM restrictions or used game policies would impede them from enjoying their console. Still, to say that Microsoft has lost the battle would be underestimating one of the most capable companies around. The Xbox One launch is still several months away and there is time for the Microsoft PR machine to get their act together.
Now, imagine if you were in that hot seat tonight in Redmond. You've got a gazillion dollars to patch that hole in the wall. How would you "fix" this?
The next-gen console wars, as one PSN brand manager put it, is a "game within a game", a real-world chess battle between two longtime adversaries. Coming to E3 to watch this drama play out is one of my favorite things to witness as a games critic, and tonight's climactic turn of events was great theater. What sort of defensive strategy might comfort the core gamer to think more favorably of the Microsoft machine?
Code Yellow: Microsoft needs to add more context and value to that $499
It would be unlikely for the Xbone to magically drop a hundred dollars to match the PS4 toe-to-toe on price. What might be more realistic is to bundle in digital content that makes the system seem more robust out of the box. For example, what if the Xbox One came with a year of Xbox Gold and a handful of digital download titles of your choice? That's a hundred dollars in your pocket you get back the moment you plug it in. It's already on their mind.
Yes, the Xbox One has great exclusive franchises, but so do Nintendo and Sony. Back in the 16-bit era Sega went to the mat to justify their more expensive machine. Pick that fight and make it good. Give that loyal Xbox fan a legendary vernacular to make your case.
Code Orange: Always on DRM should be the default. Force studios to switch it on
People hate this with a burning passion. We want game ownership. Period.
Microsoft could side-skirt the whole DRM thing more gracefully by turning it off by default. Just as with our PCs, the capability is there -- we just assume most games don't go there.
A move like this puts the onus on companies to pick that fight with gamers on a case-by-case basis, like SimCity chose to do, and we'll pick that fight with the game maker when they flip that switch. Instead of a global 24-hour ping, make it on a per-game basis and be good about putting an ugly sticker on boxes of games that do that so we, the informed, can avoid them.
Code Red: Add a new SKU and just unbundle Kinect, geniuses
Humor me with a sweeping generalization: Unless they're nuts about dancing, most core gamers aren't exactly wild about Kinect. I'm sure there is a bar graph somewhere that says the opposite, but its increasingly clear that merchants of doubt will produce anything for a buck. You know, the same people that told & sold you that Wii Fit is the way to living well.
Kinect, like Sony's Move controllers, are a running joke among critics. Kinects is no different than a steering wheel controller: a niche small-cap products. It's an unpopular analogy to Microsoft's people. We tell public relations this at every press event that we just want to drop our #girlwood on the sofa instead of willing our arms around, and they spoon-feed motion waggle back to us like nutritious carrots. Save it for that certain folk who may genuinely be curious about this thing.
Price aside, following Microsoft's PRISM connection people are going nuts over privacy, and with good reason. There are enough people with mixed feelings about having this device in their home, and forcing them to buy one makes the console less attractive. Instead, it is simply going to encourage the modders to hack circles around it (and you know that they will).
Just as it wouldn't make sense to add another $400 to include a Smart Glass tablet with the Xbox One, an optional Kinect is a pawn they must sacrifice in this generation if they don't have a true killer app for it (will we see one this week?).
Or they could just ride it out
Maybe I'm wrong, and they don't need to do anything at all. Maybe mainstream consumers are so poorly informed of the shortcomings of the system that pre-orders for the Xbox One are selling like gangbusters, and a vague press release sent to investors next week is all the reassurance they'll need. I'm sure its forthcoming and we'll be quick to jump on sweeping adjectives and tricky numbers when this statement hits, which again, the mainstream will gloss over until they take Timmy's Xbox to the grandma's house in the woods for the weekend.
Microsoft failed to serve up any humble pie during its press conference, perhaps hopeful that Sony would make the same draconian policies and give consumers little option in the way next-gen just is. That didn't happen, and Jack Tretton could have beat them over the head with it today in a far more brutal delivery. I thought he was pretty classy about it, and I'm sure Sony will remain humble this holiday as they prepare for Microsoft's response.
I'm sure someone at Microsoft will pound a conference room table tonight and encourage their staff to stay the course...and that will be as popular as the absence of the Windows button in Windows 8. It seems to me that Microsoft is increasingly confident that it can train consumers to adopt products and habits they're not entirely demanding, and that's the sort of hubris that will cost even the most formidable opponent its game.
What about you, what might you do if this was your console?
Photo Credit: KnowYourMeme
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