Company or Consumer: Who Is In Control of Xbox One?

Let’s face it. Consumers do not like change. That is not just regarding video games, that is regarding everything in our life. We do not like it when products change their labels. We do not like it when our favourite food tastes differently. We do not like it when we have to move house. We do not like these scenarios because change is scary; change takes us out of our comfort zone and forces us into the unknown.

However, change is not necessarily a bad thing once you give it a try. Maybe your favourite tin of pasta does change its recipe. You take it home to give it a try and it does not taste as good as you remember. You sit there, on the verge of hurling said pasta across the room, and listening to the bowl as it shatters on the ground. You don’t do it though. You give it another try. Funnily enough, it tastes alright the next time – possibly even better than before. After a few meals, the new taste of the pasta grows on you and you forget all about not liking it in the first place. The pasta has changed and it was for the better, you just took a while to be convinced.

While comparing it to pasta may be strange, an instance like this has occurred in the video game industry. However, the results have not been as pleasant. Earlier this year, the Xbox One was revealed with an always online requirement and the need for Kinect to be plugged in. Like the pasta, it presented a change from the norm. Like the pasta, the change made consumers agitated, insecure and worried. It threw us into the unknown. However, unlike the pasta analogy, consumers did not give the Xbox One a chance to grow on them. Unlike the pasta, consumers did not try out the Xbox One before making a decision; they just reacted negatively to something that was going to promote change. And by “they” I mean a vocalised proportion of gamers.

Yes, change can be bad – it can be horrible – but you don’t know until you try. The Xbox One as it was at the time of its reveal could have been a massive flop. It could have performed a SimCity or a Diablo 3 on launch day and been infamous for about a month before stabilising. On the other hand, the Xbox One at the time of its reveal could have been at the forefront of innovation for home consoles. It could have survived launch day and created an experience like no other. It could have defined the next generation. Now, we will never know. We will never know because of us. Consumers. We were the ones who cried foul when Microsoft announced that the Xbox One required an Internet connection to work. We were the ones who cried foul at the necessity of having Kinect plugging in. We were the ones who did not give the Xbox One a chance. We were the ones Microsoft listened to. But is it really our fault?

Microsoft is a company which employs some extremely smart people. Those smart people are making the products that we consume. They created the original Xbox and allowed the creation of Halo, and they created the Xbox 360 and helped to bring online gaming on home consoles to a mainstream audience. None of us are employed at Microsoft, so why did we have a hand in influencing how the console runs? We were not the geniuses who created the Xbox or Xbox 360. The answer to that question lies in the truth that consumers are the people who are going to be buying Microsoft’s next console. Of course Microsoft are going to want to make decisions that consumers will like.

However, the backlash from the Xbox One reveal was just that – backlash. It was a knee-jerk reaction to change. At first, the thought of having an only online console was daunting to me as a consumer. What if my Internet goes down for an extended period of time? What if the Xbox servers go down? True, I would not be able to play my Xbox. However, after a few days I realised that the likelihood of those occurrences was not very high. There is the argument that Microsoft would be excluding a chunk of its consumer base who do not have access to the Internet, but that ‘chunk’ is becoming increasingly smaller.

If statistics from VGCharts are to be interpreted, up to the week of E3 the Xbox One was being preordered over twice the amount of the PlayStation 4 per week. After just four weeks, the Xbox One had 45 000 preorders, which is roughly 11 250 per week. While after 17 weeks the PlayStation 4 had 75 000 pre orders, which only works out to be 4 412 per week. This information has to be taken with a grain of salt though because it is only based on US numbers, so Japan and Europe are not included in the tally. In those four weeks, which was at a time when quite a few consumers were confused about the Xbox One’s policies, the Xbox One was in demand in the United States.

Jumping forward to the week ending August 24, the Xbox One was still selling more consoles per week. By my count, the Xbox One had been revealed and available for preorder for 14 weeks and the PlayStation 4 27 weeks (assuming retailers started taking preorders within the week of reveal). 25 000 units of the Xbox One, according to VGCharts and some calculations, are being preordered per week, which is more than the PlayStation 4’s 22 222 units per week. Once again, this is U.S. only.

It would seem that even though there were vocalised negative views towards the Xbox One reveal, a lot of consumers were fine with the path the Xbox One was going to travel down – in the U.S. at least.

There is nothing wrong with Microsoft changing its policies and the design of the Xbox One, but it has supplied the console with a negative marketing campaign. Changing the capabilities and requirements left consumers in a state of confusion. I, for one, gave up on reading about the Xbox One during the period of the changes because the messages Microsoft were sending out were mixed and constantly overwriting previous messages.

Yes it needs Kinect plugged in. No, it does not need Internet connection. No, Kinect does not have to be plugged in now. Yes, the devices does require Internet connection but it can be offline for 24 hours. The messages, which currently stand at no Internet connection and no Kinect required, were the response from Microsoft to attempt to satisfy consumers. However, as the statistics show, maybe there were misconceptions at Microsoft as to what consumers actually thought. Maybe its possible that it was video game publications (just like Analog Addiction) who accentuated a vocal minority? Perhaps journalists played a role in Microsoft’s backflips? It would be foolish to not take that into account. It could be that video game journalists, and some mainstream media, exacerbated the fear of change and over exaggerated the negative response from consumers. Without the media, change could have been guaranteed.

It is in every company’s interest to satisfy consumers, however, there are different ways to go about it. Just comparing Sony’s and Microsoft’s next-gen campaign we can find a stark contrast. Sony is satisfying consumers by showing them what they should want. Sony has come out and said from the get go, here’s Indie support, here’s a bunch of first party games, here’s some awesome next-gen features that you never knew you wanted. Microsoft, at first, took on this approach, but ended up changing its ways. Instead of telling the consumer what they should want, Microsoft has lately been giving the consumer what they want.

An example, although more aimed at developers, is the Indie initiative announced at Gamescom a couple of weeks ago. While Sony told consumers and developers the PlayStation 4 was going to support Indie games to a greater extent, Microsoft gave developers, and consumers, what they wanted through support for Indie games. Although both companies have shown their intentions towards Indie games, the way in which they did it was much different.

The worst thing about Microsoft’s change in policy is the lack of differentiation between its competitor now. Xbox Wire has an article that lists what you will be able to do on Xbox One, and it sounds awfully similar to what you will be able to do on the PlayStation 4.

Play online or offline, “suspend” your game and resume later, play a game while it downloads, etc. The PlayStation 4 can do all of those too. The switch from Microsoft took away some of its potentially differentiating and defining features. In particular, family sharing. Steam has recently announced a family/ friends sharing service, and it sounds similar to what Microsoft wanted to do. However, the main difference is that Steam has provided details on how its service will work. Whereas Microsoft kind of left it up in the air before letting it be carried away in the breeze.

We’ll never know whether it really was consumers and the press who contributed to changes in Xbox One’s policies. The Xbox One in its current state is not a bad console, it just could have had the potential to be so much more revolutionary if Microsoft kept to its original ideas. It’s clear the Xbox One is still in the next-gen console race, but the lack of difference between the two competing consoles brings the war down to company loyalty rather than choosing between policies. So who’s running Microsoft; the company itself or the consumer?