XBox Done!? Is Microsoft Losing Focus or Over-Reaching?


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It’s slightly chilly and gray here in Seattle today. And I’m sure the mood over in Redmond isn’t any prettier.

The interwebs is still talking about the relentless, PR slaughter Sony unleashed on Microsoft’s XBox One.  Just systematic and brutal.  Microsoft, as a whole, has been facing a continual wave of bad press.  From the confusion between Windows RT & Windows 8, dismal Surface sales, the less than warm reception of the Xbox One.  And yesterday was just…..yikes!  Not a banner year for them thus far.

I found this E3 phenomenal and major win for everyone since we’re getting some great new games across the board. That said, I plan on buying both consoles. But the fact is, most gamers can’t afford multiple consoles. And If someone were to ask for my recommendation on which one to purchase; I can not see one sound reason to purchase an Xbox One. Given everything we’ve learned thus far,  Sony undercuts and outperforms Microsoft at every angle.

Even though console prices are ultimately negligible to game makers, it makes a world of difference to many consumers. And a console that’s $100 cheaper (the PS4) looks that much more enticing.  Now, the unconfirmed rumor floating around is that the Kinect is the reason Xbox One is $100 more expensive.  Assuming this is true, Microsoft could save some face by stripping out the ‘mandatory’ Kinect to make a stronger stance. It may not look pretty backtracking like that, but it’s better than losing long standing customers.  Furthermore, no one really utilizes the Kinect much anyway.  I know people at Microsoft (gamers and non-gamers alike) who rarely ever use it, why would they expect other people would? In short, this video sums everything up perfectly.

This is, and has always, been a war about games. Microsoft seemed to have forgone that point. To be fair, Microsoft did roll out a cavalcade of impressive titles compensating nicely for their lack of game content at the Xbox One Reveal.  But Sony even one-upped theme here shine to Whoever figures out how to capitalize on this segment of gaming will be the winner.  Considering how well Xbox Indie Games have performed, it’s strange to see them suddenly backpedaling. Maybe the market potential just isn’t the low hanging fruit they envisioned. Who knows.  What is for certain, is that indie game development is growing fast. Cutting out of that market is not an option whether they like it or not.  As for original IPs, Microsoft IP’s have been lacking (with the exception of Halo & Gears of War).  Sony on the other hand has continued to knock out stellar exclusives galore.  If E3 is any indication both camps appear to be evenly matched despite Microsoft’s iffy indie support.

Seriously Putin

Here’s the bottom line: The PS4 appears simple!!!  Xbox One comes off as a confusing mess.  As a consumer, I shouldn’t have to worry about mandatory internet connections, if my game will be accepted by my system, or jump through any other hoops.  All I want to do is play games.  It should just simply work, period.  And in regard to DRM, Sony has been explicitly clear that they’ll leave that choice to the third parties, but until then, it’s business as usual. While Microsoft still dances around too many topics: like renting, which is a huge factor for many gamers I know that game exclusive off rentals.

I completely understand Microsoft’s issue on used games. It makes total sense. Companies like Ubisoft and EA aren’t affected by second hand sales but smaller companies are feeling the pinch and facing closures.  It’s a legitimate problem.  From a business standpoint, my only question is: how confident is the data to support that this new policy for used games will offset the cost of studio closures?  I’m not privy to how the business / numbers breakdown between publishers and developers. But my initial hunch tells me that dynamic may need examining.  And despite second hand sales, studios do receive some income when players purchase their DLC.  Maybe there is a way for publishers to further incentivize developers when consumers purchase DLC of second hand games. I don’t have any answers here other but something will break soon because business can’t continue as usual.

From the standpoint of the consumer, the Xbox One puts you in  position where you’re essentially just leasing the game and de facto POS (point of sale) for them should you want to trade your game.  And if you want to sell your games, you need to go through ‘certain partners’ which is even more cumbersome.  It’s known fact that gamers generally get more money when selling games via their own channels (via friends or online) as opposed to going to retailers such as Gamestop.  The PS4 will still allow you to do this without the tedious system restrictions.  The downside (in either scenario) being that studios aren’t getting paid.  But I’d rather see gamers get a better return on their investments over retailers such as Gamestop. Just be sure to cop some DLC so they can some reward for their hard work.

Consumer Focus
In some ways, it appears Microsoft’s aim is not just gamers. They’re setting the bar higher. They want to be the turnkey player for mass entertainment in general.  Just look at the Xbox One Reveal.  Much of the time was dedicated to multimedia entertainment pursuits: Smart Glass / Sports & TV engagements / Kinect usage / etc.  All things which did not resonate with its core audience: gamers.  Even the presentation at E3 wasn’t enough to win over some people’s concern about putting games first.

In retrospect, the Xbox One is the antithesis of the PS3 in it’s beginning.  When the PS3 was released, it was more than a gaming system. Yet consumers, and even Sony at the time, just didn’t know what more it was capable of.  As such, marketing the PS3 was a pain which resulted in mediocre sales for many years.  However, these past few years, PS3 sales has gradually improved by them simply committing to a much simpler marketing strategy. It’s a pure game device.  Today’s consumer is more mature technologically.  And it would appear Microsoft is aiming to bank on that.  They realize gamers are their bread and butter, but they also want to spread that out to other demographics. The strategy just seems too diffuse in my opinion. And it’s not connecting with many people….not yet anyway. Whether they can lead people’s wallet down that path is unknown.

Sony apparently has learned from its mistake (or one would hope) and regained focus. They want GAMERS! And they’ve made that abundantly clear. Now it’s just a matter of if they can follow through on their word and deliver.

Not So Fast…
Of course, the PS4 comes with a few caveats as well.  Namely, players must purchase Playstation Plus in order to play multiplayer modes. Some people will balk at this since it was initially free.  But considering Playstation Plus nets gamers a multitude of free games and it’s only $50 while XBL Gold  is still $60 netting you only 2 free games a month (most likely AAA games you’ve already played), it’s a fair trade off. This is especially helpful if you’re gaming on a budget.

The other elephant in the room: Online Security. Sony has been plagued with online hacks which jeopardized many player personal data.  It’s weird how this hasn’t been a topic of concern.  Considering it’s happened more than once in less than a year is a major concern for me and should be for others as well.

Let the Games Begin!
Last generation, the Xbox 360 was my go-to system of choice and my PS3 was mainly for their exclusives. But I can honestly see myself flipping that with this new generation.  Obviously it’s too early to declare a winner, but Sony clearly has a nice head start in their favor. But don’t count Microsoft out just yet. In spite of Sony’s PR blitz, Xbox One pre-orders are reportedly still edging out the PS4.

But here’s the real kicker: You don’t need to upgrade from your current console.  Many of the major games they touted are coming out on current generation systems.  The PS4 and Xbox One haven’t demonstrated any feature or that’s a real game changer or not being done right now! So many gamers would be better served just holding out for a while to see how this picture paints out. One thing is for certain, we’re in for some great games. And that’s all that should matter.  So ditch the fanboyism and enjoy the ride.


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