Published on May 29th, 2013 | by Darik Kirschman9
Failure to Communicate: Microsoft, Xbox One and the taste of foot
By now, it’s no secret anymore: Microsoft unveiled its next-generation console, the Xbox One. Its reveal, supposed to be a glorious celebration and a wonderful coming-out party for Microsoft’s newest brain-child, ended up causing quite a bit of concern among critics and fans alike. Many of the design decisions seem to be flat-out anti-consumer on the most fundamental levels, while others — such as the always-on-even-if-you-don’t-want-it-to-be Kinect — are just plain creepy. Above all else, however, the single most mind-boggling thing about the reveal of the Xbox One, in my humble opinion, is just how ridiculously inept Microsoft’s Public Relations department seems to be.
I’m no stranger to talking to others. As AWESOMEoutof10‘s official Communications Director (and unofficial Community Manager), it’s my job to make us look like we know what we’re doing (SPOILER: we don’t), as well as frequently speak to gaming developers and publishers on behalf of the site. This industry is a pretty relaxed affair, with other folks in similar roles to my own being some of the most down-to-earth, friendly people I’ve met in my year of working as a quote-unquote professional. Knowing how to effectively get your message across is something that is Public Relations 101. Large corporations like Microsoft should have highly-educated, experienced men and women to do that for them — so why is it that with nearly every single statement made to the press since the Xbox One’s unveiling, the company seems to be shoving their collective feet further and further down their throats?
Let’s start with the biggest, most attention-grabbing “feature” of the One — its limitation of used games. During the actual conference, nothing was said regarding used games — or Hell, barely any type of games in general, am I right? — but as soon as it was over and invited members of the press began asking questions, a rather troubling picture started to emerge. The Xbox One’s game discs would be single-use, tying the game to the player’s Xbox Live account, which in turn would render the actual physical disc useless upon reselling or even lending the game to a friend…unless this new player purchases a license to play the game, which would be the same price as it is brand new at retail.
The shitstorm that ensued was nothing short of phenomenal. Jim Sterling of Destructoid, who emerged as a sort of champion of consumer rights in several instances before, put together a rather scathing video on the subject. Forums like NeoGAF were positively set ablaze with hatred and vitriol. So what did Microsoft do? They attempted to clarify. Phil Harrison, the corporate vice president of Microsoft, spoke to Kotaku on the whole debacle surrounding the second-hand market.
“It sits on your harddrive and you have permission to play that game as long as you’d like … the bits that are on that disc, you can give it to your friend and they can install it on an Xbox One, they would then have to purchase the right to play that game through Xbox Live.”
Harrison went on to say that you can absolutely sell your used games, backpedaling spectacularly on something said less than a day before, though Microsoft is being oddly quiet on the specifics of how — though it’s easy to see that the Redmond based company is eager to keep gamers in their own walled garden. “Would you like to sell that game? Certainly, we’ll give you money for it…that you can only use in our ecosystem.” It’s an incredibly shady business tactic, one that is a hop, skip and a jump away from a downright monopoly.
While most are upset at the apparent disregard for ownership rights, other gamers have been up in arms over Microsoft’s supposed policy toward indie games and developers. In the earlier days of the Xbox 360, Xbox Live Arcade was a bastion of independent, fun and truly inspiring titles that audiences couldn’t really find anywhere else. Unfortunately, as the years went by Microsoft’s draconian systems and regulations put undue strain upon its relationship with smaller studios, whereas its competitors began fully embracing them. Matt Booty, the general manager of Redmond Game Studios and Platforms, stated that the no-self-publishing rule would continue on Xbox One.
Then came the backpedaling.
Larry Hryb — better known as Major Nelson — took to his Twitter in an effort to quell the sobs and despair of indie developers and gamers the world over and said that many of the so-called facts about the Xbox One were misguided, incomplete or perhaps even flat-out wrong. Then, the Head of Interactive Entertainment at Microsoft, Don Mattrick, spoke to Kotaku about how much the software giant loves small, independent developers and will absolutely be working for them. Again, however, much like used games, details haven’t been divulged and Microsoft is keeping their lips sealed.
The Xbox One is a solid piece of hardware and, while some of the decisions made during the design process are incredibly misguided and just plain stupid, Microsoft’s real problem is a lack of a direct, focused voice. Stories are constantly getting muddled or mixed up, with executives contradicting themselves and other workers within the company. It’s clear that Microsoft did not expect such a negative reaction and after shooting itself in the foot, decided to reload the gun and do it again. Repeatedly. There’s still hope, however. Let somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about clarify the used games situation. Release some details about this supposed Xbox One independent development initiative. Silence is not the answer to your problems, Microsoft and frankly, will bring further negativity down on you and your product. Speaking up loudly — with one voice — is.