The Xbox One Has Made All The Right Moves, But I Regret What Could Have Been
If you suffer from “too long, didn’t read” syndrome, the video up above covers the content, courtesy of me! Below is if you’re unable to watch or would rather read.
In all honesty, I’ve long gotten over the next-gen console rage war, and that’s quite something considering the machines aren’t even out yet and I’ve had plenty of say in the matter so far. The reason is because it doesn’t matter what you try to say, the situation dissolves into a whole “with us or against us” kinda thing and genuinely good discussion doesn’t often happen. Sure, there’s plenty of bullshit out there where websites are trying to milk the whole thing and write click-bait bullshit kinda things like “reasons why console X has won next-gen”, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have a good talk about all of it. I guess in fairness it is difficult to remain objective, but let’s try shall we?
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That’s what I’m here for today. I’ve set my mind on getting a PS4, but since gaming and writing are my passions, and I like vomiting out my opinion about everything related, I want to talk about something that has been on my mind about the Xbox One and Microsoft for a long time now. However this is received, well, it’s up to you but as for me this my attempt at trying to spark up some thought.
I’d like to start off by saying that however sudden and unexpected (so soon), I’ve been extremely happy with Microsoft’s turn around, and everything they’ve done since all the complaints. While simply reversing the policies was enough to surprise but not impress me, what really made me happy was Microsoft finally revising its indie policies and going on to show some ambition with Xbox Independent at Gamescom this year. One by one the things we all hated about the Xbox One fell away, and we were left with a machine that fans actually wanted to own. Many debate why Microsoft did the whole thing and that it could have been a grand marketing scheme since they couldn’t have technically lost as it turns out, but that’s not the point here and I talked about all of that in my last next-gen discussion.
Here’s the real truth though, and what I want to talk about today. Microsoft actually did have a huge vision for the Xbox One, and wanted to shake up the entire industry rather than just put out their next console, and if we have to detach ourselves emotionally from the situation and just think about the vision, then it really was something admirable. Of course, consoles are a long away from becoming fully digital, as PC took years to actually get there, the transition was slow and PC has the benefit of not being a monopoly, as in there are multiple game distribution options (like Steam, GOG, Origin and so on) rather than just Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. But Microsoft really could have kick started this process. They could have been seen as great innovators, rather than pure villains.
And why did they fail? The answer is pretty simple. And that’s why I regret it so much. They failed because they neglected the consumer, and neglected to care for their fans. Maybe you could have hours of debate on this, but for me it boils down to that one fundamental fact. Microsoft treated its consumers like robots, cash cows and frankly inferiors and invalids, or better put just expected them to roll with anything the company says out of pure arrogance that they’re a bunch of “yes” men.
Just think about it for a moment. I know that we want gaming consoles to focus primarily on games, and I do too of course, but the reality is that our consoles do more than that to make us fall in love with them. Whether its the services we get from Sony and Microsoft, the experience of gaming on that console or the extra entertainment purposes they serve, consoles have moved to become entertainment systems rather than pure gaming systems, even if that is their primary purpose. Now, rather than have the consoles differ mostly on the quality of their gaming experiences, we could have had a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One that differed in almost everything.
You have to stop for a moment and consider that I am talking about a rather idealised world, because multiplatform games would be a bitch if the differences between the consoles were that massive and there are many other factors that form part of the whole equation, but the simple truth is that we could have seen big innovations for console gaming and the industry. Microsoft were certainly visionaries, despite all the bad they also were, and their idea was something good for gaming. Note I said their idea.
But fucking Microsoft. If they had just communicated better, as though we’re humans and not lapdogs or cretins willing to take anything in and around the mouth, then we could have something much like the Nintendo Wii brought to the market. A totally unique console with its own market and mission statement and vision. Essentially, we could have had three markets between Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. If Microsoft had not filled the whole goddamn thing with unnecessary DRM and restrictions in a blatant attempt to control as much as they could, fans may have been more accepting of their vision. If Microsoft had not engaged in the worst PR I’ve seen for years and been derogatory and insulting towards gamers (remember “buy an Xbox 360 if you want an offline device” by Don Mattrick anyone?), but rather reassuring and patient and focused on their policies and presenting them to us, things could have been different.
Look, I really get how frustrating it must have been for Microsoft because all they ever got drilled on was gamer concerns. But here’s the reality. You don’t threaten to take away what people have, restrict them or change what they’ve been used to for years without expecting resistance and an uproar and fear. Then you’re just fucking stupid, blind or you’ve genuinely forgotten what it’s like to be the common man. There’s plenty also that the machine never even had to do, and it was purely Microsoft’s fault that it did do. The Xbox One didn’t have to completely block offline gaming. It didn’t need a 24-hour check-in to see if you’re connected and a built-in automatic shutdown if you’re not. It didn’t need a fucking instruction manual released online to destroy the very essence of console gaming, which is simplicity and accessibility. It didn’t need to make Kinect something that couldn’t be turned off – clearly.
What did it need? Openness, honesty and connection with consumers. If Microsoft had stressed on the good that the console could bring, like the Shared Library and the positives of digital gaming, they may have gotten somewhere. If they had listened to consumers, and spoken to them with understanding, compromising where they clearly could have with the DRM and Kinect and so forth, they could have got a bunch of gamers on their side. If Microsoft had sat down and tried to talk to consumers about the benefits of having a game trading system built in Xbox Live to share games and allow for resale value and the existence of a secondhand market, rather than allow the removal of game ownership to become the focus of consumer fear, they could have created industry understanding rather than hatred. And eventually, most of us could have been excited for the console.
There were genuinely great ideas there. The cloud, the shared library, the digital movement, access to your games wherever you are, the trading system built into Xbox Live, disposing of game discs and the cumbersome nature of carrying them all around.
This was a massive lesson to the big men in charge, the console manufacturers and publishers. You do not ever just expect from your consumers. You don’t expect they’ll just go with whatever you want, however you want. It’s a relationship. What they say, where their money and loyalty goes, it all matters.
So many ifs and what ifs. I know that. And we can’t change it. The current Xbox One is exciting, and it’s awesome that next-gen will be a big battle of software, as in gaming. But it is sad and something to regret, because rather than view it as one of the greatest fuck ups and embarrassments in the gaming industry, with moments like “The Red E3” being the most iconic in next-gen, we could have seen it as one of the most bold and innovative steps in console gaming.
Look, I’m not seeing rainbows in the clouds. Pun intended – I can’t not laugh at “the powa of da cloud” every time. Anyway. I am realistic about the fact that the old Xbox One would have taken a long time to hit off with fans, work properly, and unify gamers and eventually exist comfortably. Nothing great is ever easy. If it was we’d all be doing great things. But it’s something that could have been notable rather than horrible. And that’s all. Life is boring if no one is bold enough to shake up the world. I guess either way you look at it, Microsoft did do that.
But digital is likely to be the future. And console gaming needs to gradually prepare for that. It can’t happen overnight which Microsoft somehow thought it could. But it can happen over years. I think an important part of the process of innovating home consoles is not to create this barrier to entry, and exclusion. Microsoft tried to exclude anyone who couldn’t embrace their vision, even if they wanted to. They created these barriers, like the always online, that prevented people from jumping ship. So I think if they want to innovate consoles like this it needs to be a gradual process. You need to build people towards that. You still need to be make it accessible to everyone, because that is the nature of console gaming. It still needs to be accessible and open and simple. But at the same time you still need to be opening your markets to those who can jump onto the new vision.
Before concluding, let me say that this is not me complaining about Microsoft and I hope you don’t take away from this that “Microsoft can’t win”. That’s not it here. I’ve said more than once that I’m happy with the way things are and how Microsoft changed. But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what went down earlier this year, and of course with hindsight it becomes much easier to see things that you didn’t think about before. Which is, what things could have been if the Xbox One’s vision had worked out for Microsoft.