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COMMENT | Are Microsoft Being Criticised Too Much?

Matt Gardner
Comment, Gamescom 2013, Inside Xbox, Microsoft, Next-gen, Playstation Access, PS4, Sony, Xbox One

COMMENT | Are Microsoft Being Criticised Too Much?

The recent spate of hurried u-turns from Microsoft have been positive things, albeit moves that come with caveats or some slight reservations. In the case of the capitulation over online connectivity requirements, Microsoft were accused of aborting their (highly flawed, it must be said, but ambitious) roadmap for a digital future by exchanging one extreme for another. In the recent revelation regarding self-publishing, the common consensus was "good move, but...", stating that Microsoft have more to do to win over an indie sector that they've blithely ignored in many ways in the last couple of years.

Communication, as we predicted, is the word of the moment. Sony have presented a unified front for the most part, carefully channelling the party message on the PS4, and generally responding to questions firmly and in a timely fashion. Moreover, Sony have succeeded with a very simple tactic, for good or ill, telling gamers what they want to hear.

Jon recently wrote that pricing something at £349 is not a reason to buy something, but actually for many it really is. Early adopters want a new console, so the question of "are you going to buy?" is irrelevant. It's all about "which one?" Sony have clearly understood that this generational console war, much more so than the last, is finally a fair race. Two manufacturers, two consoles, one holiday season release window. And, as many of our readers in particular will surely appreciate, value for money is crucial.

Moreover, many will see that as this current generation has gone on, there's been little to choose from between the PS3 and the Xbox 360 when it comes to the biggest games -- those large multiplatform titles that interest. The old complaint about poor PS3 ports for multiplatform titles has fallen away, the big hitters of COD and FIFA are enjoyed as much by Sony fans these days as they are by Microsoft's.

It's worth considering too that although Microsoft arguably made the best pitch at E3 in terms of titles unique to their system, Sony have been doing a better job at present, with the likes of Ni No Kuni and The Last of Us this year exhibiting a range of tethered talent, and there's still GT6 and Beyond: Two Souls to come as well. By contrast, the Xbox 360 seems have become something of an afterthought post-Halo 4.

But there have been a few who've noted the continued outpouring of scorn, though lessened to some degree it must be said, towards Microsoft, questioning the negativity and the cynicism and asking why the same treatment hasn't been applied to Sony. The answer again comes back to communication. Playstation Access has been a massive boon to Sony, the Playstation Blog delivers timely news and, more importantly, direct communication with many of Sony's development partners. Sony have been successful in breaking down barriers between gamers and creators, and really cultivating a sense of community. Microsoft's 2013, by contrast, appears to have been one PR disaster after another. If only there was a show that looked Inside Xbox, giving fans insight into upcoming titles, new releases, and making that leviathan of a company appear a little more personal and connected to its audience. Oh, wait.

But there's plenty of time to go, and much of the criticism of Microsoft has to do with a desire to see them do better. The best thing that could happen would be to have two consoles with smashing features and a great range of unique experiences each competing hard from the very start of the next-generation. Some have declared the battle for supremacy for next-gen over already, but that's pure rubbish. We won't even have an indication of that come the January sales. This is a marathon, not a sprint, as Sony's Fergal Gara said of the Vita, but it applies to the home console scene as well.

Microsoft need to turn things around, but the recent action is a promising start. This industry is filled with hyperbole and grand protestations of discontent, gamers bluster and feud  and make concrete proclamations that we often change in a heartbeat because ooh new shiny thing. The same goes for us in the press: so much of what we're all writing at this stage is speculative, pre-generational hoping, dealing with what's in front of us.

One of the criticisms of Microsoft's approach has been that the large steps they've made of late have been reactionary. That Sony is dictating the pace, and Microsoft are merely trying to catch up and keep afloat. But this generation has seen Microsoft often trendsetting: online subscriptions to deliver a better service, pioneering work with indies (at least in the beginning), Achievements, streaming services. But we can't know how long some of these policies have been kicking around, not really. Back at E3, Microsoft's chief marketing & strategy officer for the Xbox, Yusuf Mehdi told GamesIndustry that, "as we get a chance to tell more of our story, more of the details will come out and things will start to self regulate. We're going to be incredibly attentive to the ecosystem in the marketplace." It seems that Microsoft, like Nintendo, have had a certain amount of tunnel vision, and Sony tore up the schedule by walking  in and laying what people wanted to hear out on the table.

But that could work in Microsoft's favour come release date. If the Redmond company, as we said recently, can capitalise on the first positive steps that it's made and bring some serious firepower to Gamescom and beyond, the pacing of their reveals could result in a timely upswing. After all, it's not so important to peak right now, what you want is momentum going into autumn and winter, and Microsoft certainly seem to have planned for that, even if they've been a little leaky. They'll happily take the fallen fortunes of June if it means a peak in September and October.

That said, I can't stress the importance of public relations enough. I point to the hilarious gifs of Kaz Hirai that litter hashtag-strewn Tweets every time there's a Sony event, or the memes of Nice Guy Jack following Mr. Tretton's appearance at E3 this year. Sony have an enormous amount of community goodwill in their favour, and though we can't call anything yet -- this is all just pre-season training -- that could make a difference when the crunch comes, in the months that follow the release dates for these consoles. Nintendo do it with Nintendo Direct, though less successfully, but I kind of love the fact that I have Iwata in my 3DS friend garden. As for Microsoft, the new Xbox Wire helps, a little, but it's a site with a corporate sheen, another impersonal barrier, and Major Nelson is but one, rather inconsistent man.

The next few months leading up to launch are important, for Microsoft in particular who need to figure out who they are, what the Xbox One is, and convey that to a sceptical crowd. On the one hand, this is all just shield-bashing, horn-tooting, pre-battle noise really. But on the other, these months can provide much need momentum for 2014. A marathon is run so much more easily, after all, if the preparation is done right.

Add a comment7 comments
Breadster  Aug. 6, 2013 at 17:30

I miss Inside Xbox, I used to watch it all the time before it got hidden away behind the metro dashboard somewhere.

Quietus  Aug. 6, 2013 at 18:54

I don't believe that they are quite the villains they are currently being painted as, nor do I believe that there machine will be a complete disaster. However, I do believe that they are simply reaping the rewards of their PR train wreck. You make your bed, you lie in it.

socialjeebus  Aug. 7, 2013 at 04:17

I don't believe that they are quite the villains they are currently being painted as, nor do I believe that there machine will be a complete disaster. However, I do believe that they are simply reaping the rewards of their PR train wreck. You make your bed, you lie in it.

I don't believe that Microsoft are as bad as some people have made them out to be, BUT (a big but too) I think that certain people within MS have got carried away with their own success (which when you factor in the head start and the price advantage the 360 had, it wasn't all that remarkable actually).

I think this arrogance led them to grossly misjudge public sentiment and their approach to PR will probably become a case study in how not to launch a new product.

Tsung  Aug. 7, 2013 at 08:32

The real problem is the arrogance coupled with a lack of detail caused the PR disaster. It started with the launch details where they were more interested in showing the public a Tivo like box than a games console. Although impressive the tivo features wouldn't work outside the US. At launch people wanted to see a next gen games console not a next gen tivo box..

Then they failed to explain clearly how game sharing would work, how the 2nd hand market would work, how a lot of the features would work. Lots of announcements no detail to back it up. People speculated, feared the worse meanwhile Microsoft keep quiet which just fueled the speculation. (aka. They haven't denied it, so it must be true).

All the time this was going on, the competitor (Sony) were clear about what they were doing. Pre-orders went up, people voted with their wallets. Microsoft panicked, then called unfair and we didn't understand them?

I do still wonder today if it's all part of a bigger PR campaign. Sony showed their hand; forcing Microsoft to show theirs so they decided they will show a bad hand. Then over the following months they will keep themselves in the news with Backtracks and apologies. This keeps the Xbox one & Microsoft in the headlines whilst Sony has nothing to say or announce.

The final trick will be release the Xbox one a couple of weeks before Sony, ensure there are plenty of stories of "Next Gen Console Shortages for Xmas" to get the parents to "panic" buy the Xbox one.

DivideByZero  Aug. 7, 2013 at 13:56

Microsoft's extremely poor handling of their launch information and planning has lead me to pre-order the PS4 over the Xbox.

I agree with Quietus, MS screwed this up and they are reaping their rewards.

Going forward, who knows. They have started to admit their mistakes and push things in the right direction. They could easily sort this out, but they could have done so soon - so will they actually do anything else positive or just keep digging deeper.

Rudero  Aug. 7, 2013 at 18:14

No, they are not. Not enoug actually. A bunch of fans in the comment sections to equall the word that needs to be spread.
Microsft came with their plan etched in stone and came out with their chest out high and said, welcome to tv interaction?
I understand they think they bought the next idea in kinect, but when you, as a company, pull your own exclusives off of kinect and onto the controller as a one release ip... No.
I would, as a consumer, feel stupid for have purchasing the first kinect at its way overpriced voice command. Everything else it could do, the ds3 could do.
They are in the trouble onky because of their action. For dropping support on, now, two consoles while they promised games.
The majority of consumers in the gaming field is/has spoke and now, by the threat of losing their investment in both the console and kinect they are scrambling.
Microsoft is a farce and their only goals is to create advertising space and advertising study for its partners that could potentially advertise. Why? Who doesn't like free money?

HalfBlackCanadian  Aug. 7, 2013 at 18:47

I'd like to think Microsoft needs to get back on track as a company as a whole. The restructuring will no doubt help that.
My issue from all of this comes from the Sony faithful/fence-jumpers who all-of-a-sudden find zero fault in Sony and become a PR machine for them. Don't get me wrong, I WILL play on both machines, and soon, but both comapnies are money loving corporations. Both have had their issues (RROD-YLOD, Paid XBL-Security Breach and Outtage, etc.) Sony isn't a saint and Jack Trenton doesn't love gamers any more than Ken Lobb.
Sony is playing the cash gamble (lower price, drive sales early, hok them in) and Microsoft is taking a chance on longevity through premium services (you may not like the NFL thing now, but when/if we sign with the Premier League...)
First few years, PS4 wins, Xbox will start to play catch-up, global sales will be indistinguishable by 2020.

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