Microsoft’s Fractured Relationship with Gamers
On top of the great fights that happened this year at EVO, one thing happened that stuck out a bit: the booing of Killer Instinct. The booing starts going strong around 0:50, and it doesn’t start just because it’s KI; the community seems to be happy that there is a new Killer Instinct on the way. The booing starts shortly after the words “exclusively for the Xbox One” are spoken. Microsoft may take this as residual hate due to the terrible job their PR and marketing departments have been doing for the past few months, but they should also keep in mind that EVO 2013 took place after Microsoft made an about face on some of their most controversial policies.
This should strike a chord with Microsoft. These aren’t some misinformed casual or even semi-casual consumers that didn’t hear about the turnaround in policy. This is the FGC. This is hardcore. And not only is it the FGC — that was EVO! The hardest of that core was there. These are the people that Microsoft NEEDS. A new console coming out at $500 isn’t going to move off store shelves on the carts of the casual base. It will be the hardcore gamers (the ones Microsoft has been turning away from for the past few years) that will help get this console off the ground. Microsoft knows this, or at least I would hope they do.
This is one sign that shows that Microsoft needs to do more to regain the trust of hardcore gamers after the events of the past few months. If you’re listening, Microsoft, here are a few tips that might help you out.
Obviously one huge hurdle is the price. $500 is not an easy price to swallow for the hardest of gamers. Remember when the PS3 launched their “lower” model at $500? That worked out great for them… After they lowered the price and dumped Ken Kutaragi. I thought this was enough to show that the $400 price point was a high premium already for a console, and anything above that should just be bells and whistles (bigger HDD, game bundle, etc.).
Not having a “core” model available at the $400 price point is going to hurt Microsoft since there will be a $400 console available around the same time with similar features. Possibly for the first time we are seeing two game consoles that have features so similar that there is very little distinction between the two from a gaming perspective. Both Xbox One and Playstation 4 support Blu-ray, will have day one digital downloads of major titles, will allow you to play titles while they download, will allow you to log into any console, and have similar specs with similar power. Xbox One may have an ace up their sleeve with their cloud infrastructure, but for it to be used fully the games that support it would need to be always online, and we know how people feel about that. Also, it’s only an ace if Sony doesn’t have something similar in the works.
Keep in mind that in this article we are talking about hardcore gamers picking up a console for gaming purposes, so all that additional singing and dancing the Xbox One does isn’t much of a factor here. The TV features and experience features such as instant switching and multitasking are nice, but are they $100 worth of nice? At the same time, we all know that the real reason for that extra $100 is the mandatory inclusion of the Kinect 2.0.
Let’s put it on the table: the Kinect is not a device used by core gamers. As much as Microsoft (and Nintendo) would like for it to be, motion gaming is a casual gimmick. From a gaming perspective the Kinect is an unnecessary and unwanted accessory for most gamers. Why is Microsoft trying to force it on people? Oh, right, because their original designs for the Xbox One were slated for casual and entertainment purposes, and they expected the hardcore crowd to follow along. It’s pretty clear that they realized this was a bad idea and are trying to show gamers that Xbox is still about them; but if that’s the case, why are they still forcing the Kinect on a group that doesn’t want to use it?
For the experience? Without a Kinect 2.0 gamers still have at least three options to use to interface with the Xbox One: gamepad, remote control, Smart Glass. Even if a gamepad or a remote control are too primitive for your tastes, I’m pretty sure Microsoft could make a pretty awesome experience using Smart Glass to control the Xbox One. Do they think gamers are going to spend more time browsing through the various screens of the Xbox One just because they can talk to it? No. If they don’t see something worth checking out on the start screen, they will go to whatever game they are going to play and start it ASAP.
To be honest, one of the reasons I still can’t consider getting an Xbox One is because I don’t even have a place to put the Kinect 2.0. Right underneath both of my TV’s I have a sound bar, so I can’t put it there. I have one specific TV that I play console games on, and the shelves the stand that TV is sitting on are holding my other consoles (and a Tivo), so even if the shelf is large enough for me to fit the Kinect 2.0, I’m already using the space. I would have to go to great lengths of accommodate your mandatory accessory (that I don’t even want), and why would I do that when I can get a PS4 that will be much easier to accommodate? I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem.
If Microsoft removed the Kinect 2.0 from the package they would be able to offer a $400 “core” model of the Xbox One to combat the PS4. I’m not saying that they can’t have a $500 model, but giving gamers the option of purchasing an accessory that they may or may not want will help Microsoft place more Xbox Ones into more homes. Sure, they wouldn’t be able to enforce that patent they have where Kinect can stop groups of people from watching certain media, but at least they’d be selling consoles.
That Publishing Policy
(Note: This section was written right before Microsoft announced an about face on their publishing policy. I decided to keep it in because, even though they changed the policy, I think Microsoft still doesn’t take indie development seriously. They have announced that they will have a “program” in place to allow self-publishing, but if it’s anything like XBL Indie Games section then much hasn’t changed at all. We’ll see how that plays out.)
I can’t even believe this one is was an issue. I knew Microsoft was never big on XBL Indie Games section and tried to bury it with the Metro redesign, but I really can’t understand why Microsoft is against letting indies self-publish. Sony is the complete opposite of the spectrum, embracing indie developers and allowing them to self-publish on the PS4. Indie games aren’t a fad or a niche. Thanks to indie developers being able to access powerful tools for cheap (or free), we have been seeing incredible games coming from that community for years.
Bastion, Antichamber, Hotline Miami, Monaco, Fez, and The Swapper are great games that pop into my head when I think indie. Why would Microsoft want to hamper indies from putting their great content on their console? I’m not saying Microsoft needs to open the flood gates and let the indie games flow freely without quality control, but do they need to force them to deal with a publisher when the developer has all of the resources they need to complete a great game, only requiring Microsoft’s ok to put it on Xbox One?
There are going to be periods of time where the Xbox One has dry spells, and that is a great time to place quality indie games on users’ home screens to keep them entertained, and more importantly to Microsoft, keep them spending money. It’s not like the indie movement is getting smaller, either. Due to the current trend of “make a hit or your studio gets closed”, many developers are leaning toward making games independently when they can. The number of indie developers is only going to increase, and while Sony is standing there with open arms, Microsoft is gating off their platform. Sony already has a reputation for having great exclusives, and with them being so open to indies it will only make their library stronger while Microsoft relies on creatively-stifled publishers to supply their console with titles.
Rebuild Consumer Confidence
I know that Microsoft already knows this one, but I hope they know they are far from where they should be. Reversing their policies was a good decision. Whether the world wasn’t ready for Microsoft’s original plans or Microsoft just didn’t communicate their plans properly, it was good they changed course when they did because that snowball was headed downhill and getting bigger fast.
At this point Microsoft cannot afford any “anti-gamer” policies. They can’t bring any policies forward that would stop gamers from enjoying games the way they are now; even if that means killing advancements like sharing games digitally with friends. They also can’t afford to ignore gamers. Microsoft needs to be responsive when dealing with gamer worries and complaints. I’m not saying they need to cater to every whim, but when the overall community is making a reasonable complaint, Microsoft needs to reply with a well thought out statement.
Microsoft needs a strong game line up, and from what we saw at E3, it looks like they are focusing on that. We know that they are looking to release quite a few new IPs and exclusives in the first year, but this also needs to continue into its second, and possibly third year as well. This is a good place for those indies to fit in. Also, I know Games for Gold just started, but Microsoft needs to come out a bit stronger than their current offerings.
With PS Plus I feel like I’m stealing from Sony. Between the games I’ve claimed for my PS3 and Vita I have received more than double the value of one year of PS Plus. The key, however, is that they offer some phenomenal games; ones that I actually want. Microsoft needs to at least match this if they want to compete with Sony’s subscription offering.
Don’t Forget Us
Microsoft’s endgame has always been to make the Xbox the center of your living room. I do believe they can achieve this strategy in time, but they have a lot of work to do with making the Xbox brand synonymous with entertainment and not just games. They thought it was a good time to make that jump, and obviously, they were wrong. They forgot the reason the Xbox 360 didn’t share the same fate as the original Xbox, which was because gamers lifted them up. I think we are seeing a similar situation to what Sony experienced back in 2006; where they took gamers for granted and thought we would scream “take our money” just because the box had a Playstation logo on it.
In 2006 we championed Microsoft as being for gamers. They provided a new console at a reasonable price, provided a strong network backbone to create a great multiplayer experience on console, provided services that improved the console gaming experience, and overall just made a console that focused on making everything about console gaming better. At this point it feels like we are championing Sony, not just because of the improvements they are bringing to the table, but because we don’t feel like they are trying to give us the shaft.
Microsoft can definitely repair its fractured relationship with gamers. It took a while, but Sony did it. They would do well to remember that the Xbox brand was built on the (green)backs of hardcore gamers, and then act like they remember.