Microsoft is often seen as a corporation out of touch with reality and having no clear vision. Worse yet, when they do formulate one it’s usually something no one has asked for. Windows 8 was clearly designed to work on tablets and computers and phones and toasters and whatever else you can put an OS on. The problem is that it’s a worse tablet/phone OS than iOS and Android and is a worse PC OS than Windows 7 (or heck… possibly even Vista). Microsoft decided to enter the tablet market too late and too expensive and are now paying the nine hundred million dollar price with the Surface. Coming up with a competitor to Google a decade after the entire world has adopted the word “google” to now be a verb has not had any substantial success.
But in the realm of videogames Microsoft has mostly been a positive force. While the original Xbox saw only modest sales it did innovate in the online space and was more powerful than the PS2. The Xbox 360 introduced achievements to the world which changed the entire landscape of gaming (including phones but does not include Nintendo because, well, Nintendo). Cross game parties and party chat were beloved features. XBLA gets as much if not more credit than Steam for bringing indie games to a larger audience and making stars out of Team Meat, Behemoth and Jonathan Blow among others.
So what in the fuck has gone wrong at Microsoft to get us where we are now with the Xbox One.
“If you have to invent a problem to solve to justify your product; your product shouldn’t exist.” That is a quote from my wife who has a degree in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute even though she now works in makeup and special effects in film. But this is Design 101. Your product needs to have clear reasons to exist or no one will care. This, I think, is where Microsoft went horribly wrong. They started trying to solve problems that didn’t exist and now are pulling 180 after 180 because the market has spoken that they don’t want this product. I have talked to two different sources inside Sony who project that the PS4 is outpacing the Xbox One in preorders to the tune of four to one in North America. FOUR TO ONE! Let that sink in for a second. Microsoft has owned North America for over half a decade and now are on pace to sell maybe 15 million units there lifetime while the PS4 sells 60 million. When I asked about Europe I was told “it’s even higher there.”
This, folks, is why Microsoft is reversing all of their decisions. From a business point of view this makes perfect sense. The market has spoken, the customers don’t want what Microsoft is offering so Microsoft is changing their policies to try to woo that market back. This will create better fortune for them. They should be commended to a certain extent for, at the very least, not sticking their head in the sand and steaming full speed ahead with a failed strategy. At the same time, however, I refuse to look at them as heroes for changing unpopular policies because they believe that changing those policies will make them more money. That’s what companies do. They make decisions to make money.
Incidentally, that’s what Sony did as well. Sony has much more friendly and affable people at the top these days. A lot of gamers really enjoy listening to Mark Cerny speak to us like we are knowledgeable. They like the passion that Shuhei Yoshida brings to the table and how he will interact with customers – possibly one of the highest ranking people in any business to do it as much as he does. The bottom line is they want to make money. They aren’t doing this because they love you. They aren’t doing this because they are “cooler” than Microsoft. They are doing what they are doing because they have a vision in which they think will make them a lot of money. It just so happens that this vision is extremely consumer friendly and Microsoft’s vision was not. Sony believe that being kind to developers, big and small, will foster a better relationship between them and the consumer. They believe that focusing their console design on an easy to develop for box that is powerful will be a benefit to gamers and developers alike. Their entire philosophy seems to be around making these two groups of people happy and trying to solve the problems that have plagued both. In general this seems to be working.
Microsoft on the other hand decided to reinvent the wheel. A noble pursuit, to be sure, but to be noble or bold does not automatically mean that you are correct. Microsoft created a convoluted system which stripped away consumer rights basically so we wouldn’t have to switch discs anymore. Switching discs is not a problem that requires that level of solving. If given the option to not switch discs I would take it, as it’s obviously better, but not at the expense of stripping away my ability to sell or lend an item I bought. They took a very small issue and turned it into a problem that needed to be solved but they misread the market. Those of us who don’t want to switch discs buy games digitally. The solution already exists.
The Kinect thus far falls into this same trap. In Whitten’s answer to IGN in which it came out that the Kinect no longer is required to be plugged in he started the answer with a rather long and PR-sounding statement about all of the benefits of the Kinect. He said the following :
Xbox One is designed to work with Kinect plugged in. It makes gaming better in many ways – from the ability to say “Xbox On” and get right to your personalized homescreen, to the ability to control your TV through voice, Smartglass and more. Kinect allows you to search for your content, instantly move between games and your personalized dash and more with just your voice. Kinect helps you pick up and play by automatically knowing which controller you have in your hands. No more need to interrupt your friends game or navigate through multiple UI screens to sign in and tell the system which controller you are holding. It will even bind the controller to the console if its currently unbound – no searching for special buttons! Of course – these are just a few of the system wide benefits of having Kinect. Games use Kinect in a variety of amazing ways from adding voice to control your squad mates to adding lean and other simple controls beyond the controller to full immersive gameplay. That said, like online, the console will still function if Kinect isn’t plugged in, although you won’t be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor.
-Mark Whitten Source = IGN
He does not list one feature in there that actually fixes a problem. All of the functions merely make easy things even easier. ”The ability to say ‘Xbox on’ and get right to your personalized homescreen” is the Kinect’s answer to picking up your controller and hitting a single button. “Kinect allows you to search for your content, instantly move between games and your personalized with your dash with just your voice” replaces having to use a controller for maybe 5 seconds to do the same thing. ”No more need to interrupt your friends game or navigate through multiple UI screens to sign in” saves you maybe 10 seconds and happens to us older gamers maybe 3 times a generation. It also will bind a controller with the system, which will actually save you from having to get up and hit a button – possibly the biggest “solution” they’ve presented yet.
So this is his PR for why the Kinect is essential before he says that it doesn’t need to be plugged in. These features, which are all solutions to problems that don’t exist and no one ever asked for answers to, justify why this device is in every box and if you believe the leaker on Reddit costs around 50% of the entire system. These features and this device is why a less powerful gaming machine costs $100 more. $100 more so you can turn it on with your voice because the millions of people who were so, so, so put out by hitting a button in the middle of their controller.
Microsoft is doing 180s on most of their major decisions because they created a multimedia system which was going to fail and once data came in that proved that they decided to do something about it. These changes will help. People nervous about the Kinect may buy it now. People who love indie games will be more open to the platform because Microsoft is going to offer some form of self publishing. People who like to sell or trade the games they buy will be more open to it because those inane policies were reversed. This will obviously help. The problem is, and it’s a GIGANTIC problem, the system was designed around these ideas and a lot of money was spent implementing them. It was built from the ground up to install games, to use the Kinect, to focus on TV… and general gaming was an afterthought. So now that they are 180ing themselves into being a gaming machine what we are left with is an underpowered and overpriced machine that is in this shape because Microsoft tried to fix things that weren’t broken. They can 180 all they want to create as much feature parity with the PS4 as possible, but when it really mattered was when the machine was being built. Cerny and company got it right during design and even if Microsoft does a full 720 it won’t change the fact that they fucked up in design and it’s far too late to do anything about that. Policy changes will only take them so far. The underpowered and overpriced hardware won’t be able to finish the job.