180 degrees

Microsoft Puts Their Feet On Eddie Murphy’s Couch

What is 51 weeks?

That’s the question in our game of Jeopardy. The answer: This is how long it took for Microsoft to confirm that they have no marketing strategy for the Xbox One and concede defeat in the next-gen console war. May 21, 2013, Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One to the world. The console announced that day had already morphed from the always online device it was rumored to be prior to its announcement.  Two weeks later, at E3 2013, the messaging out of Redmond changed some more; users will be able to play preowned games and the packed-in Kinect will not be mandatory to use the console but will be included in every box. While it was not going to be mandatory it was strongly hinted that Kinect is fundamental to the Xbox One experience thus justifying it’s $499 price point, 100 dollars more than Playstation 4.

Yesterday, all of that changed…again. Yesterday, Xbox head Phil Spencer, announced that the Kinect, deemed to be an integral part of the Xbox One experience, the same Kinect that was going to completely change your experience both as a gamer and as a purveyor of living room entertainment, will be an optional peripheral starting in June. The benefit to removing the piece of tech will be a $100 decrease in the price of the console to $399. This move makes it the same price as the more technically capable PS4. In concert with this announcement was the news that the Games with Gold program will also be making the move to Microsoft’s premier console starting with Halo:Spartan Assault and Max: The Curse of the Brotherhood. Like the Playstation Plus model that it’s duplicating, games will be available to you as long as your Xbox Live Gold subscription is valid (Currently users own their GwG downloads). Additionally, non-gaming/entertainment apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus, do not require an XBL Gold subscription to use. When these announcements were made, many people across the internet rejoiced. The push for making gamers play poorly made motion controlled games is finally over.  I am not one of those people.

Yes, I realize that price is an important factor for many consumers and for many I think this pricing will make the Xbox One more attractive. One of the myriad problems I have with this move is, “What about the 5 million gamers worldwide that were excited for what a future full of voice controls could mean?”. You read that correctly, in the 5 months of recordable data, almost 5 million Xbox Ones have been sold. This is roughly 60% better than the Xbox 360, year-to-date and by far Microsoft’s most successful console launch. While  the subtraction of Kinect isn’t necessarily the death-nail for the peripheral, the fact that they haven’t announced pricing for the console bundle with it, or the price of the Kinect sold separately, doesn’t bode well.

We’re just six months into the life cycle of the console and the console is doing exceedingly well, in a vacuum. Why did Microsoft feel the need to concede failure so definitively…and so soon? What type of messaging are they sending out to the world? Can you really trust a company that succumbs to pressure from the community the way that Microsoft has so recently? What if the powers that be had been this quick to react when they released the original Xbox with only an ethernet port and not coupled with a 56K modem that was the dominant technology of the time? Multiplayer gaming would not be what it is today without Xbox Live and Xbox Live would not be what it was, and still is, without standardizing every Xbox console to work only with a broadband connection.  This provided the consumer with a quality expectation and guaranteed that developers could design an Xbox game with multiplayer in mind because every Xbox owner would have the ability to have the same high quality experience.

It’s Not All Bad….

I’m not completely negative here. There are still a few things that we don’t know. We don’t know how much the “bundled” Xbox One will cost, nor do we know the price of the Kinect sold separately. Say they release the bundled Xbox One for $449 with a digital copy of Titanfall or Forza Motorsports 5  while also moving apps to the front of the pay wall. Would that have been enough to make the Xbox One an appealing choice? Let’s also say that the Kinect sold separately is $79, does that make a bundled Xbox One at $450 with a game, more attractive than Kinect-less one at $400? Personally, I think the console priced this aggressively coupled with the Games with Gold program and the destruction of the pay wall would have been all that was needed to achieve the desire results.

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery Sony must be absolutely blushing this week! Virtually everything that Microsoft is doing they “borrowed” from Sony. Xbox’s used game policy? Sony did it first. Xbox’s handling of app services? Sony’s. X1’s free and discounted games program? You guessed it; directly from Sony. Xbox’s new price point? Ibid. Recently it was noted that the controller light bar that has caused much consternation for Playstation 4 users was added to work with the recently announced Project Morpheus. Often were there cries to have the light toggled off or have the controller redesigned to omit them. Instead, Sony remained steadfast, and silent. They had a plan and they stuck to it. They had conviction and a vision. They’ve only recently decided to share it with us. Why couldn’t Microsoft do the same? Why couldn’t the Microsoft of today be the same company that had the foresight and fortitude to weather the storm during the launch of their initial console?

What does the exclusion of Kinect mean for developers? Will we see the game that expertly marries motion and conventional control schemes? That prospect seems less likely now. How do we differentiate these current consoles from each other? More importantly, how do we differentiate them from last gen? Yes, they’re both technically more powerful than its respective counterpart but that’s it. To me, the Kinect was the most next-gen(y) thing about this new generation.  Its applications, from a gaming and a casual prospective was the one place where you could easily see innovations taking place. Now that’s gone and all we’ve got is stuff that’s pretty but stagnant.

Microsoft’s marketing messaging has been more temperamental than the internet critics they’re trying to placate. Will there be a tangible message that consumers and early adopters can understand? I guess we’ll find out at E3.

Cicero Holmes

Cicero is an avid gamer and sports fan masochist of the New York Islanders and New York Knicks. You can follow his poor life choices on twitter @StubbyStan.

16 Comments
  • Younanomous
    Reply

    Great article!
    They said that they listened to their consumers, but I definitely think it was more of a “we’re losing to Sony and our shareholders are upset” kind of move. The added cost of the Kinect was hard to swallow, the broadband connector was cheap and it didn’t affect peoples’ perceived notion of privacy, and it was practical. I do think they should’ve simply bitten the bullet and only dropped the price of the console, the value proposition of the Xbox would have tilted completely in its favor.
    It does suck that now we have two, more alike than not consoles (same amount of ram, same cpu, same GPU save for some added power in the PS4) that play the same exact games, save for a few exclusives. But I’m also a glass half full kinda guy, and I think the parity between the two systems will only push Sony and MS to add value to their consoles to make them more attractive. Microsoft is a software company first, and I’m hoping that’s where they put there money, we’ve already seen the XB1’s software transformed from where it was just 6 months ago.

    May 14, 2014 at 12:15 pm
    • Cicero Holmes
      Reply

      Younanomous! This response to my article was probably more thoughtfully crafted than the article itself! Thanks so much for reading and responding!

      Personally, I believe that providing the consumer with an option on how the console is consumed is the right thing to do IF they also provide shoppers with a value added incentive by bundling the console with Kinect for $450. My guess/hope is that they made this announcement this early before E3 so that people like us can toy with that idea and they can announce a “focus tested” price point at their press conference next month. What do you think?

      May 14, 2014 at 2:08 pm
      • Younanomous
        Reply

        I’m not sure they would announce a price drop for the Kinect bundle this early on, it would piss off the early adopters, and I think that’s why they went with the Kinect-less option. This way, they can match Sony’s price point, without punishing the people the truly believed in Microsoft’s original vision. It’s like your previous article about US Xbox fans getting left out in the cold simply for being loyal whereas the gamers in Europe got Fifa and Forza for free because they needed added incentives to opt in.
        Honestly, I think the price drop alone will encourage mainstream sales, while the Kinect no longer being included will spur sales to the “hardcore” crowd (you know, the guys that complain about these consoles not being that much different than last gen, but then shoot down any drastic innovation).
        And maybe we were kidding ourselves when we thought about the gaming possibilities for the Kinect, you can bet I’ll buy anything Harmonix puts out, but beyond that I doubt any other dev would’ve put in the work to use the Kinect for anything beyond voice control and maybe some awkward gesture controls.
        One thing is for sure, E3 can’t come soon enough!

        May 14, 2014 at 2:33 pm
  • jnemesh
    Reply

    Great article! There have been MANY articles in the past day or two talking about this dubious move from Microsoft, but I think yours was probably the most insightful and also the best written. I agree with your opening statement, Microsoft no longer has a “vision” for what the Xbox is supposed to be. The problem at the beginning, though, was that MS thought it “knew better” than their customers. They saw that gamers were also using the 360 for video streaming, and decided that people really didn’t need or want a “hardcore” gaming experience, they wanted voice controls, motion controls, TV integration, NFL fantasy football integration, and on and on and on. Meanwhile, they CRIPPLED themselves by putting in sub-par hardware. Then they shot themselves in the foot AGAIN with some of the WORST PR I have seen from any company! “Want an offline console, we have a console for that, it’s called a 360!”, “Kinect is integral to the Xbox One and will never be removed”, and “DRM can’t be disabled”. ON and ON and ON. They showed that they were not only willing to straight up LIE to their customers faces, but that they really didn’t care if “hardcore” gamers “got” their “vision” at all…the “casual” gamers would flock to their wondersystem and they would win without the “hardcore” crowd. Well, the result of all this is predictable…just like with Surface, Windows Phone, and Windows 8…remember those gems? They too are the result of Microsoft pushing a “vision” on the public whether the public was on board or not! At this point in the game, they are done…they should just surrender outright, kill off the Xbox division and move to greener pastures. Developers are STILL not happy…neither with the quality of the dev kits and tools, nor with the “parity clause” that forces them to be Xbox exclusive or release on both platforms simultaneously, or with the inability of Microsoft to answer simple emails or get dealers registered in their programs in a timely manner. Without developers, Xbox has no exclusive games, without exclusive games, no one will want an Xbox One. This generation is OVER for Microsoft…they just don’t know it yet. Don’t expect them to drop the Xbox yet though, because if there is one thing that Zune, Surface, Windows Phone and Windows 8 have shown us, it’s that MS LOVES beating dead horses!

    May 14, 2014 at 6:34 pm
    • Cicero Holmes
      Reply

      Thanks for reading and responding, jnemesh. Also thanks for the kind words. As for calling for the Xbox’s demise, that’s super premature. Like I said in the piece, the system is selling roughly 1 million units per month, in second place! Console gaming has never been, from a sales standpoint, more popular. They can stand to make changes to their marketing philosophies because they’ve been awful but the console is just fine.

      *ASIDE* I wonder why we do that in the gaming biz? Why is not okay for a company to be the second best doing what it does? For a long time, the Honda Accord was the #1 selling mid-sized sedan in America. Did people run to tell Ford, Chrylser, and everybody else to pack it in because the best they can do is second? Seems silly when you put it in that prospective, doesn’t it? *Aside is aside*

      The problem I have with this move is that they succumbed to the pressure of the market when they could have easily compromised with them instead. If, like I said in the article, they release the $399 version (Core) and a bundled $450 version (Pro), it would incentivize more people to look at the Pro version. Most Xbox One owners I know that were sour on the Kinect before using it have really come to rely upon it. Maybe they don’t use it for gaming right now but it is part of their system. They don’t look at it as unnecessary hardware. It was that they assumed they knew what the experience would be before they tried it and we know what happens when you assume…

      May 14, 2014 at 11:01 pm
      • jnemesh
        Reply

        In response to your aside…the answer is that Honda doesn’t pressure gas companies to make inferior gas for other vehicles, nor do they make it so only Hondas can travel on certain roads. Microsoft, on the other hand, has developers sign “parity clauses” which keep game developers from making a superior version of their game on competing consoles. They also buy exclusivity…either timed or outright, restricting gamers on other consoles (or in some cases PC gamers as well) from playing those games. THIS is why the console “war” is so polarizing for gamers.

        Also, I do not think it’s too early to say that MS is doomed in the console space. They have shown, repeatedly, that they simply don’t “get” what gamers want. They have shown, repeatedly, that they have no respect for their customers OR their competition (see recent interviews with MS executives slamming the PS3 for instance). They have shown that they have no problem straight up LYING to their customers either. These things matter. People notice. Aside from the PR mess…what you have now are two $400 consoles…but one is significantly less powerful than the other. Customers aren’t dumb. They know by now which console plays games better. I expect sales will continue to slide…I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end of 2014, the Xbox is outsold by the PS4 three to one, globally. You will see, especially in the months following E3, exactly what I mean.

        May 15, 2014 at 1:13 pm
  • AlexH
    Reply

    Here’s another Jeopardy question:
    What’s a $400 Ouya called? A PS4!

    Sony the company is going down so quick it’s not even funny and going down with them is there PlayStation. They are so lacking in money that instead of getting AAA games like Titan fall they resort, or should I say the have to, resort to indie games. 1985 8-bit looking indie games, what a joke…

    Sony is valued as “junk” status at the stick market. Sony is going down along with its $400 Ouya, the PS4.

    May 14, 2014 at 6:59 pm
    • AlexH
      Reply

      *stock market

      May 14, 2014 at 7:01 pm
    • Kahlief
      Reply

      I would say that description is hyperbolic and not reasonable. The PS4 is more than holding its own has proven to bring in Indies which is not a bad thing at all. The day of consoles being held down by AAA titles is long gone

      May 14, 2014 at 8:49 pm
    • Cicero Holmes
      Reply

      AlexH! Thanks for reading and responding! I can, based on your description of the console, understand why you’d call the PS4 a $400 Ouya, (it IS hyperbole but I think it’s funny). The thing you’re missing is that the console gaming is not just the bastion of the AAA title anymore. There isn’t a mid-tier that’s really worth mentioning & in its place are the Indies. There are wonderful experiences to be had there and no, I don’t necessarily think that a bundle of Indie titles is a valid justification for your $400 living room centerpiece, it is better than nothing. Sony and Microsoft have both put out essentially the same gaming offerings. Save a handful of exclusive titles on both sides of the fence, these consoles allow you to play the exact same games…EXCEPT there are a ton of Indie and free-to-play games available for the PS4. When you’re starving for games to play, that type of stuff does make a difference.

      As far as Sony as a company? They’re in trouble and the Playstation isn’t going to be enough to save them.

      May 14, 2014 at 10:46 pm
      • jnemesh
        Reply

        Sony as a company is still worth $72 BILLION! They aren’t going anywhere. Even if they DID fold, SCEA would be spun off as it’s own independent company. The PS4 is not going anywhere. However, the incredible money pit that the Xbox division has become will not be tolerated by MS shareholders for much longer. I would sooner expect MS to kill off Xbox than Sony to fold or kill of the PS4.

        May 15, 2014 at 1:17 pm
  • Hates bad writers.
    Reply

    They fixed things people didn’t like, what assholes. Of course it was to make money, that’s the thing with Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Disney, Burger King, drug dealers, you name it. They’re here to make money. God forbid they do something YOU WANT in order to make some.

    I’m glad they changed stuff, I’m glad Sony got them to do so, but I ain’t gonna bitch about good things happening, that’s what a fanboy does.

    May 14, 2014 at 8:33 pm
    • Kahlief
      Reply

      First thanks for reading the piece, second I would say that we all know companies want to make money. That’s not the point of this why they are being criticized by fans. They have no identity at this point. They have no direction and that is what most people are finding frustrating. Saying your camera’s inclusion is key to the experience makes sense from a money standpoint yes but from a philosophical standpoint it makes them look extremely wishy-washy and unconfident in their own product.

      May 14, 2014 at 8:56 pm
    • Cicero Holmes
      Reply

      Thanks again for reading! I’m under no illusion of the goals of corporations. The thing that needs to be remembered is that they can’t make these decisions and then erase everyone’s brain, removing the consumers’ memories so that the previous marketing stances don’t exist.

      You may believe that this was a great decision for MS and the Xbox but I don’t think so…mostly. Like I said in the piece, I think the $399 price point is smart only if it’s coupled with an aggressively priced full scaled bundle. Remember that the Xbox 360 has multiple SKUs when it released. If you could not afford the 360 Pro initially. You could buy the Core version and then add the 20 GB hard drive at a later date. The unspoken understanding was that the Core owner should always aspire to “Pro” his console up. I think because of shortages at launch the Pro version wasn’t priced advantageously but I think it would be wise to do so this time around.

      Remember this price point isn’t scheduled to go into effect until June 9th which also happens to be the date of the MS E3 presser…

      May 14, 2014 at 10:37 pm
  • Chris Clow
    Reply

    Well said, sir! Hopefully their strategy, if they have one, will pan out. Fingers crossed for E3.

    May 17, 2014 at 3:30 am

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