Cue the record scratch. In what might be one of the most surprising moments in gaming’s history, Microsoft has announced that it plans to completely reverse many of the controversial policies they had initially announced for the Xbox One. Everything from used game restrictions to a 24-hour online verification have been completely done away with to make the system a bit more similar to the likes of the PlayStation 4.
But is it too little, too late? Have they already damaged their reputation to the point that the Xbox One is doomed to failure?
Sure, there’s been a massive amount of noise coming from the gaming community that was quick to jump to conclusions and declare the Microsoft console dead in the wake of E3. But you have to remember; the core gaming community only makes up a percentage of the consumers who will eventually purchase an Xbox One and is not necessarily indicative of the average gamer. Joe or Jane Smith who own a 360 and only purchases the year’s blockbuster triple-A titles won’t have any idea that there was even a massive hullabaloo about the console in the first place. They won’t be aware of the 1985 Kinect memes, won’t know about the uproar that was started over used game restrictions, and most likely have no idea what DRM even is. All they know is a new Xbox is coming out and will offer even more features and functionality than the 360. Once their friends move on to the new platform, they’ll be all over it.
Now, this isn’t meant to be an insult to the more average and casual of game enthusiasts. Instead, I’m saying that many who will make up a large portion of the Xbox One’s sales numbers will have never known that the system would have been a different thing entirely had it stuck to its original plan. The average consumer will hear the message of the Xbox One as being an all-in-one entertainment box that will stream Netflix, watch TV, and allow you to play awesome games. They won’t know about its troubled history or the slips and gaffes of executives that have come before. Whether or not this is a bad thing is a different discussion entirely, but it has to be remembered that the name Xbox has a lot of cache with the average consumer thanks to a successful history for the 360 in this generation.
And let’s be honest; yes, there is a strong sense of distaste for Microsoft in our community right now, but there will still be a large contingency of people currently complaining about the system that will end up purchasing one anyway. This is seen time and time again with the games of Electronic Arts. Sure, they’ve been declared the “worst company in America,” but they still exist and make money thanks to people buying their products regardless of their past misdeeds.
Furthermore, this will really all come down to marketing. Yes, Sony has manged to drive its message home with consumers in the core gaming audience pretty well at both the PlayStation 4 reveal event and E3, but if Microsoft launches a successful marketing campaign that manages to capture the interest of many for its all-in-one capabilities, then they could still manage to dominate this generation. They’ve barely started their marketing campaign for the Xbox One, and once it does kick into full gear, much of this will have been swept under the rug and will slip past the average consumer in the holiday season and beyond. They’ve made this U turn early enough that it might just give them the right amount of time to make up for their odd about face.
On the flip side, while I don’t believe it will hurt their overall sales, it may very well hurt their appeal and overall image within our community. When the Xbox One was first announced, it was clear that Microsoft thought they were on to something big. Always online is the future, and they would be the first company to embrace this idea, much like they were the first to introduce things such as achievements and the infrastructure of Xbox Live.
But for them to turn around completely and bend to the outcries looks a bit of weak on their part. While it’s important to listen to the consumer and take feedback into consideration when launching a new product, it’s another thing entirely to make bold and arrogant statements and pitch radical ideas, only to turn around a few weeks later and completely backtrack on everything that’s been said. It’s a scramble that suggests you have no clear vision or faith in your product and ideas as a whole. This is a problem, because the company is once again trying to be everything for everyone. This rarely works out favorably for anyone in the end, and I fear it could make them appear a bit less reliable and damage their image over time. Whether or not they care at all remains to be seen, but it’s still something to consider.
Of course, only a soothsayer with a crystal ball could ultimately tell if they’ll be affected or not. That said, I’m doubtful you and I will forget about this move anytime soon.