Thursday, 20 June 2013

Microsoft's Xbox 180: A win for consumers?


In the world of business we all know it is our money that does the talking 9 times out of 10. We can complain as vociferously as we like about product and company policies, but if we hand over our cash companies have no need to listen to us. Why? Because we tacitly support the things they are doing with the one thing they are interested in. Money! There is no way around it, big corporations like Microsoft only listen to the ringing of tills, so for those of you who think Microsoft were actually listening to us, rather than our money, you need a reality check.

It has been clear that around the world, post E3 Sony and their PS4 have been killing it with pre-orders pretty much everywhere. The scariest prospect for Microsoft though is that both fortress USA and their outpost in the UK were also falling to the enemy if Amazon's top 10 game purchases list was anything to go by... and not narrowly either. Sure the tills were ringing, just not for Xbox One and make no mistake, despite Larry Hryb claiming that Sony's reveal wouldn't have an effect on Microsoft's polices, this u-turn was becoming inevitable. It was more a case of 'when', not 'if'.

It is also important to point out that Microsoft have been receiving some very negative press of late, not just in the games media from sites like Polygon, Eurogamer and IGN etc. but from mainstream press. Here in the UK national newspapers have lambasted their polices, and I'm told similar stories had appeared in the US media as well. And an independent US Naval magazine tore into them over Xbox One too. However, I can't help but feel that it was Jimmy Fallon on the Late Show that finally tipped them over the edge:

Here we have a mainstream presenter, on a big American show, watched by millions basically ragging on Microsoft and the Xbox One in a very direct and public way. Yes it was subtle, but Microsoft will have felt that. There was no way Microsoft even with their advertising billions could weather this sort of storm.

So what we have isn't a company listening to consumers directly, and even if they were, the press release tells me they aren't happy about doing so. The almost petulant and childish way in which it says we're taking our 'awesome' game sharing feature away shows they're not happy about this u-turn. They're spitting their dummy out and taking their ball home with them. I have to question though whether we'd have EVER seen the 10 family member share plan.

Personally I doubt it very much. Firstly how do we think publishers would have taken the news that gamers all over the world could now share games purchases between 10 people? Have our memories become so befuddled we don't remember the pressure third party publishers put on Sony over the PSN's 5 activations to allow game sharing for 'families'? Sony had to reduce that down to only two activated PS3's. And that was just for digital content, and we're to believe that they'd have been happy with Microsoft's plan to allow 10 and not just for digital content, but all content? Oh come on, please.

I personally believe that post E3 that Don Mattrick has had some very, very difficult conversations with the heads of Ubisoft, Activision, EA and Take Two. Their plan for game sharing was a far bigger threat to the than piracy, secondhand sales and game borrowing combined. If we as consumers could figure that out inside 10 seconds, don't think the bean counters at these publishers hadn't done likewise within a second. So why did Microsoft propose this in the first place? Because they weren't expecting the backlash to their May reveal of the Xbox One.

Right from the get go the reveal of the Xbox One has been one PR disaster after another. The comments post the reveal from the likes of Phil Harrison about always-on connections and DRM just enraged most people. I genuinely think most level headed gamers, like myself, while irked by the focus on TV would have forgive them that transgression if the policies weren't so anti-consumer. So the hastily drawn up original policy release two weeks after the reveal weren't thought through. They were a knee jerk reaction that I believe put Microsoft in a worse position than they were in originally.

Because not only were consumers now annoyed with them, but their business partners at third partner publishers will have been gritting their collective teeth about having the finger of blame put at them. Watch the interviews on Game Trailers with EA's Peter Moore and Activision Eric Hirshberg and you'll see their barely contained annoyance. They both distanced themselves from Microsoft's polices and said they had no prior knowledge of them. More telling was both of their comments about secondhand games being 'important' to the market.

So in conclusion, what we have had with the Xbox One, is a gaff filled launch. With Adam Orth, Yusef Medhi, Phil Harrison, Phil Spencer and the big cheese himself Don Mattrick constantly putting their respective feet in it. Some jumping in with both feet first... buy a 360 instead, what was he thinking? That executive team will have seen the Xbox One being slaughtered in pre-orders by the PS4. THey'll have seen the media coverage, as would investors, who no doubt will have put pressure on them to change their tune; and I personally think publisher will have also been telling them in private that their plans were not to their liking.

So is this a victory for the consumer? No. I don't think it is. I think it's a victory for competitive markets and open competition. I think it's a victory for the media. I think it's a victory for third party publishers too... God, just thinking about the lost revenue Microsoft's game sharing plans would have led to for them... and of course it's a victory for Microsoft's investors. It just so happens in this instance that consumers also benefit. Who'd have thought it hey? What's good for the consumer is good for the shareholder. Thing is how many consumers will forget the arrogance and hubris that has surrounded Microsoft since the Xbox One reveal? Only time will tell. Peace out!


  1. Well, first up i am happy that microsoft have caved. It means i have 2 choices for the next gen consoles.

    Will it mean i will buy one. Probably not, with the ps4 100€ cheaper.

    Bit i think microsofts cockups will be forgotten by the time the console is released.

    1. I'm not so sure Microsoft's cock ups will be forgotten by launch. True some will have forgotten, but I know a lot of diehard Xbots and they're all feeling massively betrayed right now. The trust in the xbox brand has been blown to pieces for them. The irony is that despite me over the last generation becoming more of a PS gamer I'm actually more open minded about the X1 now than many of my Xbox only buddies. They've done some serious damage I think to their core fanbase. That's going to take time to repair.

  2. In my days of console gaming I was a Sony fanboy (ps & ps2). But even so, in the time after the first reveal for the xbox one but before the ps4 reveal, I was convinced that the ps4 would go the same route. I really didn't think Microsoft would try to implement something that anti-consumer without agreements with Sony.

    That said, I'm hearing people say that Sony has 'stood up for the consumer'. They didn't. They saw a business opportunity and they took it. It just so happens that the consumer benefits from it as well.

    I'm still glad they did though :)

    As to who will forget, I'm thinking plenty will. But they'll still have lost quite some marketshare, both before and after their 180. You don't just shrug off a PR disaster like this.

  3. Back when I was working for Xbox customer support I was part of a panel that was put together to "investigate" why we were getting so much negative feedback on certain things. Obviously, we all knew what these problems were. Constant map packs for FPS games, FIFA player packs and all the bullshit that came with it, online passes etc. Basically, stuff the company didn't want to acknowledge as being a problem.

    We ended up pushing these same issues and nothing else so much that they got us on a conference call with a dude from HQ, and what we told were reps from EA and Activision. Their response? That shit makes us money, and if MS makes us change it we just stop making games for MS's platform. People switch to play our games on other platforms. Dance monkey, dance!

    Now this all relies on these people actually being with EA and Activision. I wouldn't have put it past the shitty outsourced CS company handing support to have had someone over in a different office just flat out lie to us in an effort to avoid fixing the problem just so they could say to MS that "it's all fine, the consumer is just stupid".

  4. I've been watching Sony and Microsoft's attempts to get ahead of the competition with some interest. You're right, the backlash from the reveal could not have been ignored, so Microsoft were always going to have to change their policies.

    I've never bought a new iteration of a console in its first year anyway, and in the case of the Xbox 360 I waited 6 years before I eventually bought it! This is mainly to see which one is doing well, which one has the right games for me. Until then, there is no decision to make for me. Until then I've got about 40 360 games that need playing...