How Microsoft Can Save Face And Repair A Battered Reputation
Have you ever engaged in conversation with someone who is so pompous and full of themselves that you might as well not be there as they spout off loads of inane drivel while you politely nod in their direction, hoping someone will swing a scythe at you and end your meagre existence? Let’s take it one further and say that they actually allowed you some words on a matter, and by all rights you had the advantage of this debate but it didn’t matter because they were so ignorant of the truth and pumped full of their own juices that what you said bordered on irrelevance in their perfect world.
In short: The Pyro from Team Fortress 2.
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You know, we’ve been hailing Microsoft as marketing masterminds, who could sell sand to a khoi-khoi (too real?) or Halo to a gamer, and yet they go and let us down by being the most arrogant creatures on the face of this Earth. Wait, I should reiterate on that. It’s definitely not every single person at Microsoft, in fact I imagine some employees feel for gamers around the world, but it’s the big voices, the ones that matter, that are really doing themselves no favours. Every single interview thus far with Don Mattrick has had the effect of worsening Microsoft’s currently floundering reputation. Although I suppose it’s entirely possible that only the bad interviews are actually making it to the internet. Further, however, it seems that Microsoft is so ridiculously headstrong and sure of themselves, that they will refuse to accept that maybe… just maybe… the world is not ready for the future just yet.
Now before I go into my thoughts related to how I feel Microsoft can save face a bit, I want to first explain that I am fully aware of the Xbox One’s failings as a modern console, as much as I am aware of its strengths. To emphasise: This is not some attempted fanboy defence of the Xbox One. I already critiqued the Xbox One in an opinion column, so there’s no need for more of that anyway. My purpose here today is to address where Microsoft is going wrong — because they clearly cannot see it for themselves — and then offer some objective advice. Free of charge.
I want the Xbox One to succeed and take all the profit but if Microsoft don’t change their tune, then it is going to crash and burn, and I’m going to be a sad, sad panda.
Before we continue, I want you all to watch the following video. Go ahead, do it. You’ll need it for further discussion.
That’s an interview conducted by Angry Joe (whose videos I adore), who has always been a fan of Xbox but now has come to disagree vehemently with Microsoft and their design decisions, to the point that he has taken some of these disagreements over to Major Nelson, only one of the nicest guys at Microsoft. Watch how the man tries to duck and dive around every question. Now you have to grant that Angry Joe cannot exactly attack this man, he’s been granted an interview and doesn’t want to get kicked out or something, and at the same time it would be marketing suicide for Major Nelson to go, “Yeah, we were wrong about that,” but to display that level of ostensible confidence? Come on, now… Seriously? There is a very fine line between confidence and arrogance, everyone knows that. And when Major Nelson asked, “Do you want to come to the future with me?” I honestly slammed my fist on my table and said, “NO, I DO NOT WANT TO FUCKING COME TO THE FUTURE WITH YOU BECAUSE I CANNOT AFFORD THAT LIFESTYLE, YOU ASSHOLE… cool jacket, though.”
And this from someone who has spent so much of time looking for the positives in the Xbox One, if for nothing else than for the purposes of objectivity and clarity. This from someone who has so much of respect for Major Nelson, who once again, is one of the nicest guys at Microsoft, if not the industry in its entirety.
It speaks volumes of the way the gaming industry treats its consumers right now, when the runaway success of E3 last week, was the fact that Sony did nothing in particular, and was hailed as the last true bastion of gaming freedom. (Cue the PC Master Race to remind you that they’re still around.) How was Microsoft’s marketing so downright abysmal that all Sony had to do was say, “More of the same, but you’re going to have to pay for online now,” and people thanked them for it? I want so badly to like the Xbox One but when its creators seem blind to how ineffectual it is, compared to the PS4, or even the Xbox 360… Believe it or not, Microsoft were set on destroying Sony at E3 this year. Believe it or not, they remain confident that the Xbox One is the superior gaming console.
Just fucking what, Microsoft?
It’s as if you’re speaking to someone who is so utterly embarrassingly deluded that they cannot be helped. Consider if you will a friend who is being led on by someone, who uses that friend for everything, and that friend is confident that they’re in a solid relationship whereas that person has an entirely different idea of things, as does the entire rest of the world, who are not fooled for a second. It is infuriating to even consider that Microsoft think they are in a strong position. To hear them say that they are over-delivering quality for their price tag actually makes me want to destroy the internet. Is it hubris, stubbornness or just the fact that right now, they’ve dug themselves into a hole and they don’t quite know how to counter the irreparable damage that has been done, so they’re just saying whatever they can and hoping that something sticks?
I understand if you’re from Microsoft and you don’t want to look like a fool. Right now, make no mistake, Microsoft is both the laughing stock and the villain of the gaming industry, for releasing its DRM policies — and that is what they are — a few weeks ago and then getting trounced by Sony purely because the latter does not employ those policies. Yet. And sure, your job might be at risk if you come out and say that Microsoft is wrong in all of this, sure you might not be allowed to offer your sympathies and so on, but to blatantly disregard the concerns of gamers right now… Never, ever, underestimate the power of an angry consumer.
Or did you guys learn nothing from LulzSec’s PSN hack?
Microsoft, I want to support you, I want to go around telling people that they’re wrong for criticising you. But when you’ve got your head so far up your ass that you won’t even listen to your supporters then really, I might as well be trying to suck myself off, for all the good it would do me. Because if that isn’t a declaration of intent, then I don’t know what is. If that doesn’t tell me that you simply do not care about consumers, then… Yeah.
There are other sympathisers like me, who also want to provide clarity to gamers so that we can curve some of the bad press that the Xbox One is getting. At times rather unfairly. A post on Reddit does quite well at this, by explaining certain concepts better for everyone to understand. I want to get on board with that too, so allow me to use the following picture to demonstrate one of the best features of the Xbox One:
Read over that properly. And then read it again. Microsoft, why the fuck are you not selling this feature more? Here’s your solution to the used games issue, everyone. You get a group of friends, put them onto your family share and then each of you takes turns to buy games. Then everyone on the share can play them, and everyone wins. It’s such a fantastic and workable system, and yet barely anyone is aware of its existence. Exactly how this solves the used game issue is anyone’s guess, but I’m going to assume that Microsoft is attempting to curb without entirely prohibiting, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here. Let’s actually do this in point form to make it more legible.
- Talk about the Games Library and Family Share functionality more. People will like this once they wrap their heads around it. People will get on board with you if you can convince them that it’s worth it, for them. Right now, they don’t understand a damn thing about it, and a lack of understanding breeds a lack of trust. Ask any xenophobe. You will win if you allow all components of a game, free of charge. And yes, that includes multiplayer.
- Being able to use Xbox LIVE Gold subscriptions across profiles is a great feature of the Xbox One. As is the ability to share downloadable content. One LIVE Gold sub per console and one DLC purchase per console is a huge deal and you should be selling this more. Let gamers know about it, and help them to understand what it means. You will immediately win over any families that share consoles, and should they buy a second console to take advantage of point 1, which you’ve by now sold to them, having taken my advice, you get more money from further LIVE Gold and DLC purchases.
- Either give us good, recent games for free on LIVE Gold, or don’t fucking bother. Assassin’s Creed 2 is not recent. Halo 3 is not recent. That is not generosity or customer service, that is pandering. As is having Fable III as a free download, a first party game which sold poorly. Do not pander to us. We are not idiots. Sure, we get to keep the games forever, but honestly how many people have not played AC2 or Halo 3 yet, that actually want to? Treat us with some fucking dignity, please.
- Get the world’s largest scarf and tie that motherfucker all the way around Don Mattrick’s mouth. He is doing the company massive amounts of damage and you all need to band together to collectively shut him up.
- Development costs do need to be recuperated and selling consoles at a loss does suck, but right now you are pricing most people clean out, and you need to reconsider this. Yes it’s great to have Kinect, but a lot of people don’t see that as convincing enough. Nor is telling them they get things that they already have in their homes right now so stop insisting that this is the future and we’re missing out. You are going to lose out on sales.
- Stop. The. Always-Online. Bullshit.
I’m going to stop there because I need to emphasise something. Microsoft, when you introduced that policy of daily online activation, nobody on this Earth or any other in the multi-verse, could have dug you a bigger hole. You did that. All on your own. And all it took thereafter was for Sony to step in and finish the job.
Let me say this as clearly as I possibly can:
The problem is not connectivity. That’s fine. We have internet. The problem is that we are paying for games that we don’t have your permission to play until we authenticate.
That is licensing.
That is not ownership.
That tells us, as consumers, that you don’t trust us.
No, rather, it tells us that you wish to control us.
What the fuck, Microsoft, you’re not my dad. You don’t get to tell me what to do after I’ve given you my money. So I buy a brand new game, full price, not even traded, because I want to support both you and the developer, and I take it home and start it up and cannot play it because I’ve not connected to the internet just yet? Fuck the fuck off.
In fact, why do you even want to control everything in my media centre? Okay, so I don’t have internet and therefore I can’t play my games, but hey, at least I can watch TV and play Blu-ray. Except I already can do that in the comfort of my living room without dropping mad stacks (sorry, I get a bit ghetto when I rant) on a new console. I get what you’re going for. Standardisation, unity, an all-in-one solution. But patronising me as the consumer is not going to get me to buy your console. What are you, a five year old child who thinks that being mean to their crush will win their heart? Do not presume to think for me. Offer. Provide optionality. Don’t just step in, call me backwards and then ask me if I want to come to the future with you.
I can understand why you’re bundling Kinect with every Xbox. This way, you guarantee an install base for something that you’ve spent loads of money on and wish to see something of a return on investment. This way, as well, you can fuel innovation through developer confidence, because now they’re not just catering to a fractional audience but the entire install base. Fine. That’s acceptable. But that’s not justification enough for me to go out and purchase your console. That’s not making me salivate at the prospect of acquiring an Xbox One.
You know what is? That Games Library idea. Being able to share a Gold subscription and DLC on my console. Getting free games that I actually want, at some point. Sell those points.
Then go back, accept that you are living far too ahead into the future, pull back a bit and think about your policies. Fine-tune them. But this time, keep the consumer’s best interests in mind.
To conclude, I’ll use points again:
- Sell your Games Library more, by providing better understanding to gamers of how it works.
- Make gamers aware of shared LIVE Gold subscriptions and DLC per console.
- Give LIVE Gold subscribers games that they want; do not pander to us, we know the difference.
- Silence Don Mattrick before it’s too late.
- Reconsider your price point, because it is pricing out far too many people with no solid incentive.
- Media is not an incentive, because we already have that; it’s an option, so treat it as such.
- Do not try and force Kinect on us; if we don’t want it, or media functionality, you can’t tell us otherwise.
- Rework your online activation policies, or just remove it completely.
If you can do all of this, then I guarantee you, Microsoft, you will earn the respect and hard-earned money of gamers across the world. Even if it’s just that last one. Please. I implore you, as a supporter of your consoles and someone who really, really wants an Xbox One. Please. Consider us consumers, and try to put us first, just this one time.
I know I’m not a Microsoft developer, but you know what? I have programmed before. So I know full well that disabling that online check is as simple as flicking a metaphorical switch that disables it. It really is that simple, and attempting to say anything otherwise is just making the problem worse. It could be as simple as allowing gamers to play offline if they currently possess the disc for the game they wish to play. That would fix pretty much every issue because then, at least, we have consumer rights. We have ownership. We can say, without a shadow of doubt, that the thing we paid for is ours. Don’t lock us out in this way and attempt to insult us by saying we need to come to the future.
If the world was ready for the future, we’d be there already.
According to the video all the way above, Major Nelson does at least state that Microsoft are working with developers to figure all of it out, and there is still the potential for publishers to create their own forms of DRM, or lack thereof. So maybe when The Witcher 3 releases, CD Projekt might opt to remove all forms of online authentication and allow the game to be played entirely offline. Perhaps if we’re lucky, other publishers might follow suit and start a trend for us, of games that work around Microsoft’s authentication policies. And maybe this might bring the change that everyone is clamouring for. But I’m not so sure about putting faith in publishers, so I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
Still, these issues can be worked out. It’s not too late. Go into a room, lock yourselves in, and don’t come out until you’ve created policies that are not anti-consumer.
And then, Microsoft, I promise you; we will buy your console.