A new generation of consoles is almost among us. Now is a perfect time to look back at the events leading up towards this generation’s release. Years from now people will probably only remember Microsoft disastrous marketing campaign. Regardless of which platform you prefer, there’s simply no denying Microsoft’s failure in providing a clear and compelling portrayal of the system. After an enormous amount of criticism, the company has been revising previously announced features and changed basically everything besides the machine’s dimensions. Hence, it’s mocked online as the Xbox 180 instead of the Xbox One.
It’s a console Jim, but not as we know it:
By now, at least for most people, the entire marketing campaign is deemed a failure. But if you look back, Microsoft initially accomplished what it set out to do. The last generation is won by Nintendo because they positioned their console for casual and family gaming while both Microsoft and Sony focused more on the so called core gamers. The Wii’s enormous success didn't go unnoticed and both companies tried to play catch-up with the Kinect and the Move. When the Xbox One was revealed for the first time it became immediately clear that they went after the casual market in full force. The Xbox One is supposed to be an all-in-one entertainment center, hence the name. Lots of focus on entertainment, almost nothing about games. They were successful in bringing their message across while at the same time making a hard marketing shift from core gamers to casual ones. But it backfired. Console launches appeal to core gamers and not the masses. Microsoft was barking up the wrong tree. They used a gaming console to push their entertainment device to a core gamer audience without reaching the targeted mainstream consumer. In the future, this campaign might very well be used as a lesson in marketing courses.
Houston, we have a communication problem:
After the unveiling the core gamer felt alienated but Microsoft still had the E3 to set things right. The company confirmed that the E3 would be all about the games. In the mean time a lot of confusing statements we’re made regarding the console’s digital rights management, always-online requirement and used game fees. The biggest controversy however, especially in light of the NSA spying revelations, was the forced use of Kinect. Which was all-seeing, all-hearing and always online. It didn’t take long before the Internet adopted the name “The eye of Sauron”. Outrage grew and Microsoft’s contradicting statements didn't help. The always online requirement was clearly an attempt to stop piracy, something the Xbox 360 has a lot of problems with. This could have worked if they had been honest and more clear about it. For years developers and publisher suffer from second hand market sales. Big companies like Gamestop push second hand games so that they earn the profits while the developers/publishers are still required to support the game. The music and movie industry have more ways to profit from the same product (theater release, on demand services, DVD/BR sales, concerts, merchandising, etc). The game industry however has to make do on the initial sale. If Microsoft did it right, this could have been a platform similar to Steam. Cheaper games, more money the developers/publishers and lot easier to sell to all audiences. Hell, we might have even accepted Kinect if it wasn't for its unlucky timing.
Well, that escalated quickly:
Just before the E3 Microsoft finally made an attempt to at least extinguish the rumors but instead it set the internet ablaze with its answers. Most rumors were confirmed and every feature came with a catch. You can lend a game to a friend for free, but only if they've been on your friends list for at least 30 days. It doesn't require a persistent internet connect but it does have to be online at least once every 24 hours. This list goes on and again, Microsoft failed to explain why it implemented these features. At the E3 Microsoft presented an impressive lineup of games. Even though the new free to play, one character, Killer Instinct was a smack in the face for a lot of fans of the franchise. The bomb however, fell when they told the audience the 500 dollar price tag. An uncomfortable silence ensued followed by meager applause. The Playstation 4 is 100 dollar cheaper and doesn't have a lot of these controversial features. All Sony had to do was ride the wave and it did so splendidly. Especially the ads and commercials aimed at Xbox One criticism. The internet chose the Playstation 4 as the winner and the Xbox One fell victim to a amount of mockery the Internet hasn't seen in a while.
As a result of this criticism Microsoft abandoned their ‘anti consumer’ policies in hope to win back customers. Except they went too far by backtracking on features they used to justify the machine’s original functionality. For example, the claim that the Xbox One and Kinect are the same thing. Turns out it wasn’t. How’s that for a policy of honesty? We’ve seen nothing but contradicting statements, so what’s the truth now? The Xbox One is probably more expensive due to Kinect. It’s a clever way of forcing it on people. But since you don’t really need it, why should we have to buy it? Too late to backtrack on that though. Instead Microsoft should put in an effort to convince us of Kinect. Show us good games and innovate features that justify its major cost factor. It’s also a peripheral that would set it apart from the Playstation 4. Especially since the Xbox One is going to be the only console without an on-controller touch pad/screen. Sony has clearly learned from the Playstation 3. Not only is the Playstation 4 cheaper, it’s more like an PC (easier to program or port), it features a heavily updated PSN with more social features and the smartest move, it’s going after the indies. Independent developers strived on Xbox Live but Microsoft’s strict conditions and ridiculous update policies turned a lot of Indies of. Sony will handle this differently and again Microsoft changed its policies. If this whole ordeal has taught us that Microsoft is clearly out of touch with its customers and market.
Innovation, where is it?
Don’t get me wrong. There’s definitively progress in this new generation. Better hardware is a given and both systems are more PC oriented in architecture which means porting games will be easier and development will be more (cost) efficient. The fight for independent developers isn't over so we can expect more innovative and cheaper games. Both systems will feature a range of social options to bring us closer together. But overall, exclusives aside, both systems are rather similar. I for one, I’m not convinced by Kinect but I was hoping Microsoft would use it explore new territories. I’m disappointed the shift from disc to digital didn’t happen yet due to the poor communication by Microsoft. I would have loved to see a Steam like system on the consoles. Cliff Bleszinski said it best: “Here’s the thing about Steam. It doesn't FORCE you to be online. The ecosystem of Steam is so brilliant, from the community, to the summer sales, to the indie games, that you WANT to get online”. But most of all, I would have loved to see that the developers and publishers actually got some revenue back. Needless to say, I’ll still get both. But the Playstation 4 will be there at launch. I’ll wait for a price drop before getting the Xbox One. I guess we have to wait for Valve to see if they are going to innovate the market with their Steam box. The unveiling of the controller and SteamOS are promising starts.