It wasn't very long ago that Microsoft found themselves in the middle of a PR nightmare, much of which was by their own doing. When Microsoft revealed their next-generation console, the Xbox One, at E3 2013, they announced a new vision for the future of gaming; a future where physical discs were no longer required, used game discs were a thing of the past, and where your Xbox was always in communication with Microsoft's servers to validate user access. What followed was a veritable avalanche of public discord characterized by bad press coverage, bad PR, and a vocal, angry gaming fanbase perpetuated by a farcical sequence of clumsy corporate folly. Microsoft quickly reneged on their vision of an always-online digital future and reestablished a more familiar, consumer-friendly disc-based business model to appease the vitriolic masses. Since this time, Microsoft has worked hard at trying to rehabilitate a horribly damaged image with varying degrees of success, but the Xbox One's $500 price point and a perceived lack of hardware power when compared to the PS4 have really proved to be significant obstacles in regards to sales. However, recent events seem to indicate that Microsoft is becoming aware of their mistakes. Some recent game and console deals, along with a newly announced value-packed Titanfall Xbox One bundle, have shown that Microsoft is indeed willing to fight for your hard-earned dollar leaving us with this unresolved question: Is Microsoft starting to get it? In just the past few weeks, retailers like Target and Walmart have been offering consumers attractive incentives to purchase an Xbox One console. Target has been offering customers a $50 gift card with the purchase of Microsoft's new console, while Walmart has been offering new Xbox One console customers 1 free game from a limited selection of titles. These deals don't seem to be a coincidence, and they have fueled speculation that Microsoft is planning a price cut for the Xbox One, or at least they are testing the waters. Also, running in parallel to these big retailer promotions, Microsoft has begun a new initiative to attract consumers to purchase digital games. Ryse: Son of Rome can be acquired for $39.99 if purchased digitally on Xbox One, and a recent, week-long Ultimate Game Sale on XBLA has offered Gold members deep, daily discounts of 75%-90% off of multitudes of Xbox 360 titles. These types of deals typically happen seasonally or over a major holiday, so it was a novelty to see this type of sale unexpectedly. It also seems that Microsoft has learned a thing or two from competitors like Steam and Amazon who routinely offer familiar titles for $5 or less. Finally, Microsoft's latest and most significant recent announcement is confirmation of the long-rumored Titanfall Xbox One console bundle, which includes a download code for the highly-anticipated mech FPS title at no additional charge along with the console purchase. Come March 11, 2014, the Xbox One will be more difficult to resist for those contemplating a purchase when Titanfall releases, but who haven't been able to reconcile the value to cost ratio up to this point in time.
Although this overture of good will toward their customers seems relatively new, Microsoft did seem to become aware of their perceived hostility toward consumers after E3 2013 when they quickly reversed their Xbox One policies. The robust and clamorous public outcry following E3 was deafening and pervasive in video game focused media. On some level, Microsoft seemingly had no choice but to reverse their Xbox One policies, but at least they acknowledged and capitulated to what the consumers wanted. Also, Microsoft introduced their Games with Gold program in 2013 which gives XBLA Gold members 2 free games a month. This program is a direct response to Sony's PlayStation Plus (PS+) subscription service which also offers members some free games, with the advantage of allowing Gold members to keep their games after their subscriptions expire, unlike PS+. The merits and perks of each of these programs remains a frequent topic of fanboy debate on gaming forums, however the addition of the Games with Gold service has been welcome and successful, nonetheless. The Games with Gold program was set to conclude at the end of 2013, but it has since been extended indefinitely, and Xbox One owners will begin to benefit from this program sometime in 2014.
It seems the most vociferous detractors out there are those who simply want Microsoft to fail, eliminating any competition to their irrationally favored video game manufacturer of choice. For example, there are still fans out there who express their displeasure with Microsoft after reversing the Xbox One used game and always-online policies simply because the company announced their intent to implement these policies. These people tightly cling to begrudging Microsoft because of the expression of a desire to do something they didn't agree with, but they ignore the fact that the company acquiesced to the desires of the fans, giving power to the collective voices of the people who comprise the heart and soul of the video game hobby. These people will stubbornly deny Microsoft any credit for anything they do, while many of these same people were quick to forgive Sony after the PR mistakes, poor marketing, and exorbitant price of the PlayStation 3. The competition that Microsoft presented Sony with during the last generation forced Sony to improve their marketing tactics and the perceived value of their product. Today, Microsoft is in a similar situation that Sony found themselves in 7 to 8 years ago. The PS4 is generally regarded as the cheaper and more powerful next-generation video game console, while Microsoft is regarded as a monolithic, evil corporate empire who hates the consumer. If you don't believe me, just ask any Sony fanboy who seems to patrol gaming forums more frequently than he/she plays games. By offering a better value for their product, Microsoft seems to be positioning itself to better compete for the very difficult to maintain video game market share, and they seem to be hoping for a rehabilitation of a public image that is in desperate need of improvement. So is Microsoft starting to get it? Recent company policies and decisions seem to indicate that they are, but it is always best to approach these questions with a healthy dose of cynicism. Contrary to popular belief, every corporation, including Sony, exists to make a profit for themselves and their share holders; they don't exist to be your friend. They doggedly pursue methods which best enable them to extricate you from your cash. Microsoft has done a commendable job in showing willingness to compete effectively for our business, but whether these efforts have been enough is still open to rational debate. Microsoft has shown in the past an inclination toward regressing back into old, consumer-unfriendly habits spontaneously, and video game fans seems to be less forgiving of these shenanigans than they are of Sony's historical missteps. At least for now, consumers can enjoy better prices, a better value, and hopefully, some better games as a result of Microsoft's apparent, new competitive initiatives. They still have a long road and steep hill to climb if they intend to earn the trust of discerning video game fans on a global level, but Microsoft's recent deals and programs are steps in the right direction. Titanfall Bundle and Game Deals