I’m sure that, by now, everyone on the internet who cares is aware of Microsoft’s landmark U-turns concerning the Xbox One which were revealed just over a week ago. This raises some interesting points. What is the real reason for the reversals? Has Microsoft opened doors to the consumer that it cannot close? With release dates for the Xbox One and Playstation 4 bearing down on us, what is going to happen next?
When Microsoft first revealed its ‘always online’ requirements (even for offline games) and hostility to the used game market, there was uproar. The internet resonated with the anger of every games journalist, keyboard warrior and tweeter, expressing just how they felt about Microsoft’s unbelievable new policies. From my point of view back then, that was the last nail in the coffin for the Xbox as a whole – hammered in right next to the red ring of death. Sony was quick to pick up on the faux pas of its rival; the leading point made by Jack Tretton, Sony Computer Entertainment president and CEO, at the Sony conference at E3 was that the PS4 would support used games. As soon as he mentioned this there were loud cheers of support from the audience, making it absolutely clear which way the wind was blowing.
At that stage comparison was not kind to Microsoft, with Sony’s console already beating it on price and weighing in at equivalent or better in the vital stats department pretty much across the board, as well as offering more exclusive games. Microsoft had seemingly little to offer that the consumer actually cared about. In fact, it looked like Microsoft was courting the lowest level of consumer trust in recent memory. For all of its good ideas, such as SmartGlass, independant game support through Xbox Live Arcade and a new scheme offering two free (albeit old) game downloads per month for Xbox Live gold members (including Halo 3 and Assassin’s Creed 2), it could not shake the negative stigma of 24 hour online requirement and draconian approach to used games. That is part of the reason why they are changing their policy; they are dead meat to Sony if they don’t. While Microsoft claim that they came to this conclusion because they care about the consumer, their spiel on restricting games less than a month before shows that, as ever, the industry bigwigs view us as walking wallets. They listened, but listening and caring aren’t the same thing. We consumers have some power, but not in the way we think we do.
A popular opinion amongst Microsoft fans at the moment is that Microsoft U-turned for the sake of its fans; to appease the hungry clamouring masses , clutching their 360s and reaching towards their pristine Xbox One idyll with dirty hands. They are half right – Microsoft did make this decision to appease their fans, but not because they wanted to. They needed to because they need us. In their buzzword packed official announcement detailing the retraction of the offending policies, Microsoft was careful to describe its thought process as cooperation with its fans, responding to feedback and thanking us gamers for our passion. However, this wasn’t cooperation, but concession. The self-righteous “mature” gamers among us claim that screaming and shouting like children on message boards will not get us respect from the console makers and developers. That might be true, but being reasonable adults doesn’t get us that anyway and nor does it get the results we need. The internet is full of conflicting voices and those who shout the loudest get heard, not those who argue most eloquently. Microsoft’s reaction to the uproar is testament to that. That isn’t to say, though, that you can’t be both loud and articulate.
While some gamers are still eyeing up Microsoft and the new Xbox with some suspicion, it’s beginning to look like the Xbox isn’t dead yet and could offer up some fairly serious competition to Sony’s PS4 – after the u-turns, Xbox pre-orders on Amazon began to exceed those of the Playstation. Was this a happy relief for Microsoft or an extreme marketing ploy gone horribly right? Meanwhile, Nintendo is off doing its own thing, having released their submission for this generation last year (and currently scoffing at its competitors’ comparatively puny number of exclusive games). I’m still not convinced though. To me it looks like Sony was riding too hard on the tsunami of faults, mishaps and PR disasters that followed in the wake of the Xbox in an attempt to disguise the fact that they have the least innovative console of the generation by quite a distance, while Microsoft is not worthy of trust at the moment, despite having some pretty compelling features and exclusives. The Wii-U? Like I said, Nintendo is doing its own thing since it became apparent in the 6th generation that it could not compete with its main rivals in the same way.
For all the innovation this generation, everything just seems lack-lustre. I’m still disillusioned with Microsoft. The Wii-U seems like a small step for Nintendo after the twin giant leaps that were the Wii and DS. Sony is just giving us more of the same but with social networking tacked on (not bad, but not good). As with every new generation, we must all ask ourselves which console we should invest our hard earned (or loaned) cash in. One popular answer this time is “none of them”. That sounds about right to me.