History is littered with people in power (from politicians to CEOs) recanting, dismissing or straight-up backpedaling like a Dutch biker trying to brake on a downhill slope. Within the corporate world, one of the most famous retractions of a product or feature is the 1985 debacle of ‘New Coke’ by beverage giant Coca Cola Inc. If you were still just a thought in your parents’ minds at that time, let me just say: it was a massive failure.
There are many other instances of companies excitedly announcing or just launching a product, and then having to eat their words and take it all back once the collective “WTF?” from their target demographic grew too loud to ignore. However, the entire XBox One Campaign, from the leaks to the reveal to the extended introduction at E3 last week, is going to stand out from the crowd, and for all the wrong reasons. This is the first time even non-gamers aired their concerns over a gaming console, mainly because the XBox One’s slightly creepy Kinect usage and connectivity requirements were introduced at a time when Edward Snowden was being equally creepy in his description of NSA surveillance of ordinary citizens around the globe. Aside from the fact that I was both impressed and wary of the Kinect integration and the always-online (at least every 24 hours) features, the message itself of what XBox One can and can’t do has never been clear and that has been Microsoft’s biggest problem since April.
I discussed this in my review post of the Microsoft E3 press conference so I won’t delve too much into it again, but before I continue, let me just reiterate the following:
1. I am not a fan-girl…I just love gaming. Whether it’s on a PC, an XBox, PlayStation, handheld, Nintendo console or coconut shell has no bearing on my love for this industry.
2. I also love Microsoft, as a company and for their products. I also believe that if you love someone/something, you should be able to criticize or support it without fear of being pimp-slapped…on the Internet. Whether you appreciate them or not, the gaming industry needs Microsoft, just as we need Nintendo, Steam, and Sony, and whoever else wants to toss their hat into the ring. Competition is what drives innovation forward; it’s not all tech guys in hoodies and flip-flops. If there is no competition, then the product can stagnate and nobody can complain because there would be no other options available.
Although I had a feeling they would eventually remove these offending features, I wish they had done it before E3. Earlier today Don Mattrick, President of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, posted a memo to XBox Wire in which he announced that XBox One would no longer:
1. Require an internet connection to play offline XBox One games and the 24-hour connection check-in is now gone as well.
2. Stop gamers from trading, lending, reselling, gifting and renting disc-based games, as would have been the case with the initial policy.
3. Be region locked, which, let me tell you, is a MASSIVE relief to everyone, everywhere.
The entire memo reeked of “kicking rocks now” and “aw shucks”-ness (<— not a word), and this is why I wish they had done this before E3. It was so obvious that they HAD to pull these features back, because the uproar had started even before the reveal event in April. It would have been monumentally more potent to have Mattrick walk onto that E3 stage and say “Guys, you’ve been talking, we’ve been listening. As of right now, XBox One will no longer require” and then proceed with the laundry list of anti-gamer features that were now being retracted. The emotional impact would have been a lot greater with that more personal ‘mea culpa,’ though I think that they had to see the pre-order numbers to really get it through their heads that this memo was practically written for them in April.
Disastrous communications strategy aside, I am happy that Microsoft saw the light and shifted gears on their policy, if only because it would have been a shame to see the console that redefined gaming sink like the Titanic; slowly. There are still those who will nitpick over the Kinect integration, which I honestly don’t mind but maybe that’s because I enjoy sitting on my couch and commanding my console to do stuff.
You have to hand it to the gamers that power this industry, though. Despite the fact that some commentary was downright disrespectful in its vulgarity, for the most part you saw serious, thought-out posts and queries from concerned gamers the world over. I believe that had the backlash been primarily of the “OMG ur mom suxx” variety (and had those dismal pre-order numbers not been readily available), Microsoft may have actually tried to push ahead with this policy strategy, thus inevitably leading to a PlayStation monopoly. This, contrary to popular belief, would be bad for the gaming industry.
So what are your thoughts on this latest installment of Real Executives of Next-Gen Gaming? Has this about-face by Microsoft made you reconsider your pre-order decisions with regards to next-gen consoles? Or are you still put off by the price (which, to be fair, is not that bad considering the Kinect is included)? Do you think Microsoft’s Marketing & Communications Division is currently crying in a corner somewhere? Sound off.