“Xbox One, Microsoft, and the Power of (Mis)Communication”
Microsoft officially unveiled their next gen console, the Xbox One, last week during a press event that the gaming world had known of for some time. People waited with baited breath on what direction Microsoft would attempt to take the industry; would they go the route of Sony and try to incorporate social media, follow a mindset similar to Nintendo’s with a focus on a new method of gameplay, or would they go with a unique path forward. It looks like they have gone with the third option and it has thus far been one of the most controversial announcements in recent gaming memory.
We won’t spend a lot of time going into what’s known about the Xbox One; it’s been out there for a whole week now and people are likely familiar with what little information there is. What is interesting, however, is the very lack of information present at this time and Microsoft’s outright refusal to go into any further detail. At most, Microsoft has attempted to block the most destructive rumors, such as the idea that second-hand gamers will have to pay full retail price in order to play, a rumor that was started by someone from Microsoft and then countered by someone else from the company. The average response, however, from Microsoft to journalists and consumers has been to say, “We’ll talk about it more later.” Perhaps Microsoft is waiting for a big reveal at E3. They may announce that the second-hand game fee was just a rumor or that only the Kinect’s voice-recognition software will always be powered on and not the camera or that they care about games other than Call of Duty and Madden, but the interim between the reveal and E3 has so far been a destructive mess because of Microsoft’s blasé responses to legitimate questions.
Microsoft needn’t look far to see how poor communication can seriously dampen the success of a new console. When Nintendo announced the Wii U they were universally panned for only showing the new tablet and not the new console itself. Viewers in attendance, both in person and at home, were confused as to whether the Wii U was in fact a new system or just another peripheral for the Wii. Half a year after its launch, Nintendo is still having trouble actually getting information out to people, especially those that made the Wii such an incredible success in terms of sales. It’s a shame since most people that have purchased the Wii U have been fairly happy with the console and what limited games it supports right now, but the lack of public awareness is Nintendo’s biggest foe and one that they have made few attempts to combat. Microsoft should be learning and adapting from what is happening to Nintendo, but it looks like they have already begun making similar mistakes.
Building anticipation through subtle hints and withholding information can be a good thing. If done well, it lets the fans do all of your advertising for you. However, it can backfire horrendously which has so far been the case for Microsoft. This is mostly because of their weak reveal of the Xbox One, a dearth of features that gamers actually care about, and technology that is easily imagined as intrusive and anti-consumer. Furthermore, Microsoft’s refusal to explain the things that gamers are concerned about only serves to lend credence to the absolute worst case scenarios. After all, if a company refuses to give information you can bet that the information isn’t good.
E3 is only a few days away and Microsoft is going to have to alter its message a great deal in order to calm the ire of the gaming community. First, they need to give definitive answers to all of the questions about the system that could keep potential buyers away. Second, when they do address those concerns, they need to own up to their mistakes; no more of this “Well we said that but what we really meant was this”. A straight forward admittance that there are some bad ideas behind the system that they will look to address in order to make their customers happy would go a long way to rebuilding brand loyalty. Finally, they need to bring the focus back to the games that will be available for the system and away from the multimedia applications that many gamers don’t need. Even Sony, despite their heavy focus on the social media aspects of the PS4, showed off a few games for viewers to drool over. Nintendo, meanwhile has a major Nintendo Direct event planned as well as their deal with Best Buy to make upcoming games playable at select locations. Both companies seem to understand what Microsoft has apparently forgotten; that despite whatever mainstream appeal a gaming company might want, their livelihood still depends on those that identify themselves as devoted gamers. Microsoft needs to understand that the Xbox One needs to be a gaming console first and everything else second, and E3 is going to be their best chance to prove that. Otherwise, we might as well start calling it the Xbox Done.