It has finally happened; the last major next-generation console has been revealed. On Tuesday, May 21, 2013, Microsoft announced their third iteration of their popular video game console brand officially named Xbox One. With a bold design exhibiting a conflation of old-fashioned and modern aesthetics, the Xbox One is a fusion of impressively powerful high-end technology, all contained in a behemoth sized shiny, black box. Each unit will come packaged with a vastly improved Kinect sensor which promises an expanded litany of interface applications designed to enhance and ameliorate the user’s connection to the technology. The Xbox One appears poised to challenge the main competition’s offering, Sony’s PlayStation 4, in both raw horsepower and for space in the consumer’s living room as an entertainment hub. Communicating an “All-In-One” approach to marketing, Microsoft did a great job of keeping focused on the theme that their new device is an all-around entertainment machine, but did they do enough to convince us that they are ready to challenge Sony when it comes to games?
Although the conference was primarily about the hardware, a few games did manage to find themselves at the forefront of our attention. Microsoft officially announced the already sussed out Forza Motorsport 5 will be available at launch later this year; EA Sports announced new FIFA, Madden, and UFC games; and Activision announced Call of Duty: Ghosts will be on Xbox One with timed-exclusive DLC. I would like to formally announce, here on gametangents.com, that Call of Duty: Ghosts and its DLC will be released on the PLAYSTATION 4 and PC. I would also like to announce that all EA Sports titles are probably coming to PlayStation 4, as well. My point here is that Microsoft is using the same marketing methodology year after year despite receiving the same criticisms year after year. They appear more intent on honoring their valued third-party partners (who will just as aggressively promote their brands on the competition’s machine) by giving them roughly 1/3 of their hour long conference to advertise their products rather than honor their valued consumer base who want to be given a good reason to spend their valued currency on Microsoft’s machine instead of Sony’s. Gamers don’t watch highly touted, highly anticipated reveal events to see stuff we already know about. Major announcements made by Microsoft at press conferences and E3 for the past 3 or 4 years have all played out like Christmases where everybody knows what gifts they are getting before they even open them. Microsoft press events lack the element of surprise that helps to season the experience, and they always seem to come served with a side dish of disappointment. They may do well to learn a little from their competitor Sony, who knows how to generate anticipation and seize our imaginations by bold usage of a technique that is as risky as it is potentially rewarding – subterfuge.
On February 20, 2013, Sony officially announced the PS4 along with a list of features and games unique and exclusive to their platform. They gave context and purpose to their presentation of the system’s technical specifications by showing a multitude of games designed to exploit its power. Many of these games were continuations of recognizable and popular Sony owned franchises while others were brand new first-party IPs. Even third-party developers such as Blizzard and Bungie made major announcements at the event. If Sony’s CEO Kaz Harai were to have been believed, the PS4 reveal event should have never happened. Just a few weeks prior to the February 20th conference, Mr. Harai made a public statement that Sony had no plans to reveal their next-generation console before Microsoft revealed theirs. He lied. Because of this purposeful attempt at misdirection, Mr. Harai’s mercurial switch caused a furor of internet discourse which has resulted in Sony gaining much needed exposure which culminated with their subsequent PS4 announcement. Although the press conference was not perfect, Sony showed enough of the goods to dominate the mindshare of gaming enthusiasts around the globe ever since, helped in large part by Microsoft’s protracted delay in making a counter announcement.
Prior to the revelation of the Xbox One, Microsoft explained that their May 21st event was about “laying the foundation” by showing off the hardware and that E3 was going to be about the games. Unfortunately for the fans, they were being honest, at least about the first half of the statement since E3 has yet to transpire. Here is where the art of subterfuge may have worked to their advantage. Imagine the result if Microsoft had revealed about 1/4th of the 15 exclusive games they claim are coming to Xbox One within the first year after launch. These new and exclusive titles would be dominating the gaming news site conversation, and Microsoft would be enjoying the spotlight during these few remaining weeks before E3, riding a wave built on speculation and contemplation about the remaining unannounced games. Instead what we got was an event that seemed to portray the new console as something closer to a television set-top box, with the ancillary function of being able to play video games.
The games that were announced were hardly unexpected, and it is now apparent that the Xbox One has failed to ignite excitement amongst the majority of gaming enthusiasts. Call of Duty: Ghosts running on Xbox One hardware failed to impress when compared to the recently revealed Battlefield 4’s graphical prowess, unless you consider Infinity Ward’s focus on the advancement of canine graphics technology. Although the games that were shown on stage demonstrated in engine graphics, none of them showed game play. What we were left with was Microsoft tacitly requesting that we be excited for E3, relegating this reveal event to being a primer or advertisement for the big June extravaganza.
The end result is Microsoft has once again predictably continued their tradition of putting priority on short term success over slowly building longevity by demonstrating willingness to support, and pay for, “exclusive” supplemental content for multi-platform games instead of cultivating and maintaining a fanbase by offering unique, novel game experiences that can only be found on their console. This old tactic only works when there is a robust, established install base, as with the Xbox 360; it doesn’t work when you are to trying convince people to buy your unreleased product, especially when the cost may be at a premium, while serious competition looms overhead offering the same or similar experiences. Thankfully, with E3 just around the corner, all is not lost…not yet.
Although Microsoft may have forfeited an opportunity to shock and amaze the gaming fanbase, there still exists room for a little optimism. Their press event on May 21st effectively got the boring aspects of previous E3 conferences out the way, leaving room for a blitz of game specific announcements at this year’s E3. Microsoft did say that E3 would be “all about the games” and “world premiers”, after all. In order to salvage their already damaged reputation, they now need to demonstrate unflinching honesty about their E3 plans. Their press conference needs to be about games, and more games, with a little effort to dispel some of the negative rumors currently pervading the internet. There is still time to redirect the flow of the profoundly important momentum leading forward into the crucial holiday retail season beginning in the Fall. Microsoft needs to be more forthright and open about their gaming agenda while demonstrating due deference to the foundation of their success both past and future – the core gamers.
Microsoft seems to be losing touch with their core consumer base. In an effort to appeal to a broader demographic of potential customers, the “All-In-One” Xbox One appears to be a system suffering from an identity crises. In the console’s nascent months following its launch, consumers buying units for T.V. functionality or Skype are not going to be the ones to determine its initial success; the core gamers are. Microsoft seems to be counting on otherwise. Core gamers tend to be a fickle and implacable bunch; they go where they can find the novel, unique, and accessible gaming experiences. Everything else is a nice bonus. Microsoft needs to show that they understand this, and they need to do it soon. They need to realize that we are like children sitting around a Christmas tree waiting to be delightfully shocked and surprised, even if it means by being playfully misled. Hopefully, on June 10, 2013, the Xbox One will find its identity on stage at E3 and emerge as a video game system worth investing in; a video game system whose character is defined by its compelling and exciting software; and the video game system that we, the core gamers, want it to be.