Why The Xbox One Is Hard To “Sell”
Before I proceed, I would like to make one thing quite clear. When I use the word “sell”, I am not talking about selling actual units. The Xbox One is doing pretty good there and it has sold its fair share of millions. I am rather speaking from a marketing perspective. Perhaps your next question is “why not just say market?” Well, have you ever heard someone say “marketed!” after you’ve made a great pitch to them? On a more serious note, I’m talking about really selling the Xbox One to someone.
In today’s high pressure industry populated by audiences with exceptionally low attention spans, you have an extremely short time and as few words to get your point across to potential buyers. The low attention spans is in no way the fault of the audiences themselves, but rather because there’s too much out there competing for attention and too little time to devote to it all.
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Furthermore, as we know the digital age has resulted in a vast audience of casuals who don’t do well with complexity. And with the wealth of information and options readily available at any time, it’s safe to say that it’s harder to obtain loyal customers and harder for customers to make the effort to get to know every product out there, even established ones.
This is part of what has resulted in an increased desire – actually, the need – to specialise and focus on your target audience. You’ll find many popular brands (like Twitter, Goodreads and so on) or companies opting to do a tiny range of things but being really great at them, rather than doing a bunch of things and excelling at none. This is fast becoming unfeasible and unattractive.
I bring this up because we’re recently seen some big companies doing major restructuring. Sony has done that over the last few years, heavily trimming down on excess and pushing select few products like its mobile phones and PlayStation. Square Enix, to name a pure gaming company, is currently going through a big refocus. Nintendo is facing that possibility as well with the way the Wii U has gone and their financials, and Microsoft is currently engaged in big changes.
There’s a lot of maturing still to do in the gaming industry obviously because it’s still fairly new compared to others and it’s still evolving. There are technological limitations and cost barriers too, but that’s not part of this discussion. The point is that things are going to be changing – a lot. Specifically with the way companies market themselves and their products, and what all they offer.
With all of the above in mind, I’d like to turn my attention towards the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and open up with a simple experiment. If I asked you who the PS4 is for, and what it’s about, you could very easily tell me “it’s all about gaming, and if that’s all you care about, then it’s great.” Once you say that, the features and software currently available don’t really factor as major selling points, because they can always be added with updates and the like. But if I asked you to sell the Xbox One to me, that is slightly difficult. You might start off by saying it can play games, but then you’d say it’s your home entertainment system. Problem is, if I ask what do you mean by that – well, entertainment is such a broad topic and there are so many features that require explanation about the Xbox One, that it’s quite tricky to pitch it. You’ve got to talk about Skype, television, the complex Kinect and more.
That’s the problem Microsoft has on their hands right now. Please don’t get me wrong. I really like the idea of the Xbox One being the home entertainment system. Why? Because I love the fact, as I’ve said before, that the PS4 and Xbox One are now quite different in their direction. It can create two markets and satisfy two audiences. I’d much rather have this than two identical consoles. So I’m happy with what both consoles are offering. I feel it’s a healthy thing for the industry.
But the thing is, with Microsoft going the “All in One” route, what I established above becomes more of a problem. The Xbox One simply can’t be the best place to play games, the best place to watch movies, the best place to Skype, the best place to entertain your household, the best place to feed the hungry, the best place to relax, the best place for hardcore gamers, the best place for casuals and so on. That’s an exaggeration, but what I mean is that by virtue of the Xbox One being the all in one home entertainment system, it can’t be great at everything. There’s too much.
What we know, however, is that Microsoft is great at software, and Sony is great at hardware. The PS4 is filled with raw power, encased in a smaller and more compact design than its main competitor. It’s evident that the engineers at Sony worked hard to bring their goals of a sleek and compact design to the market, without hindering performance. On the other hand, the Xbox One has really awesome software ideas with Kinect, navigation, Skype and television. There are strong possibilities there to make the living room a more exciting place.
I’m simplifying it, but the heart of the matter is there. Call me a cynic, but the Xbox One can’t be the best gaming console and the best home entertainment console. Entertainment is too broad, and requires too much focus and energy to allow for a deep focus on gaming. This is what I felt the Xbox 360 experienced in the last few years of its lifespan. Again, don’t get me wrong. The Xbox One will have amazing games and it will be awesome to game on. But one can’t rule out the possibility that there will be conflict between its desire to pursue gaming and entertainment simultaneously and with equal vigour long-term. This is what caused problems on the Xbox 360’s gaming side.
Microsoft currently has to market their console as the home entertainment system, and they have little choice about that. Where they need to focus is on their software and features. They need to pitch that. It needs to be simpler to sell the Xbox One to someone. I don’t believe you can do it in 20 seconds, because the moment someone asks you to elaborate or to define “all in one”, there will be hurdles.
When I say that they need to market their console as the home entertainment system, I don’t necessarily mean gaming is the core focus. Do you feel it is on Xbox One? I don’t. Strange, it’s a gaming console, but it doesn’t feel like the gaming console to me. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be like the PS4. It can be its own thing and be an alternative option. That’s fine.
What I mean is that Microsoft needs to define “entertainment” very well in the coming months and years on the Xbox One. I don’t feel trying to the best at everything including gaming is going to work. In today’s industry, it’s just not doable.
If I have to get anecdotal, in the last two years I moved away from simply focusing on opinions and reviews to go into indie, indie interviews, YouTube and even Let’s Playing. I wanted to do everything – I was over excited and without a long-term plan in mind. I had no focus or specialisation. What happened? As you would expect, I just got swamped. I got overrun. There was too much. I learned a lot, sure, and I loved what I did and gained a lot from it – but I stopped feeling like I was good at something, and I no longer could figure out what I was focused on at EGMR. I lost sight of my place.
The experience forced me to refocus this year and cut down a lot of the excess I used to do. Now, not only am I finding that I have far more energy and time to focus on what I really enjoy and feel I’m good at, but I also can clearly explain and make a pitch about what I do for EGMR. Like so: Hi, I’m Azhar (AKA Tody). I do opinion pieces and reviews. Done. I could add that I do research-based articles as well or still dabble in indie, but it’s not necessary. They’re not my main focus anymore.
And to bring this to a close, I believe that’s essential in today’s world. Not just specialisation, but simplicity. You need to be able to pitch your ideas to people quickly and to the point. For me, it needs to get to a place where you can say the PS4 is the gaming console, and the Xbox One is the entertainment system. But when that time comes, “entertainment” should be defined to mean something other than everything.