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Microsoft's Xbox One Problems Are Clear, And So Is The Fix

Posted on Monday, July 1 @ 14:45:00 PST by

In a way, I'm not surprised by the rumor news that Don Mattrick hopes to unpack his desk toys at Zynga. If my bosses told me to walk out on stage and stand by the always-online cloud-based future they envisioned, I'd have to comply, but if one month went by and it fell on me to undo the public opinion shit-storm, I'd probably be trolling LinkedIn for opportunities as well (even if these two options don't necessarily look like a step up).

Don Mattrick has worked in the video game industry for over 30 years, starting his own company in 1982 before climbing the ladder at Electronic Arts and eventually joining Microsoft in 2007, becoming now the President of Interactive Entertainment Business. That last date is an important one, given that Mattrick took over the Xbox gaming business at a time when Red Rings of Death were bricking consoles left and right.

Somehow, the man and the rest of his team still built the Xbox 360's install base to 76 million worldwide and increased Xbox Live subscriptions from 6 million to 48 million. Xbox 360 did well on Mattrick's back despite the console's obscene failure rate.

Clearly, messaging and public relations are not an issue for Mattrick.

But both are proving to be horrific pitfalls for Microsoft and Xbox One. First, the company held back their plans for next-generation hardware, possibly to see if an all-digital future could be achieved by the end of Xbox 360's life, but more obviously because Microsoft hoped Sony would show their hand first.

Second, Adam Orth opened his mouth as an individual with some knowledge of the situation behind Xbox One and spit on consumers, vilifing the most vocal and reactive within Microsoft's potential sales demographics. Years later, after the console reaches maturity and establishes a base, the Xbox team at Microsoft will still be wrestling with the fallout from this preemptive rally of anti-DRM sentiment.

Third, the decision to renege on their always-online and used game restrictions came too late and felt more like defeatism than excitement. It made a potential E3 bombshell into a depressing and submissive last resort. Gamers went to preorder Xbox One in similarly depressing fashion after Microsoft's reversal. Xbox One shouldn't seem like an oppressive box that comes packed with anti-consumer methods. It should be a sleek machine that's going to do a ton of cool stuff.

Microsoft's biggest problem with Xbox One has been ongoing for over a year now, despite the console's unveiling less than two months ago. Its biggest problem is one it could have avoided by plotting a steady course from the peaks of Xbox 360 sales figures into the next-generation. Its biggest problem is also psychological and completely without any real impossibility.

Microsoft's biggest problem is believing they needed to force consumers into the all-digital space.

You'll catch more flies with sugar, right? Perhaps that all-digital future was part of the original Xbox's purpose. Perhaps Microsoft has always seen the opportunity to eliminate retail copies of games as a core goal of the Xbox brand, but what was wrong with the incredibly successful path they were already charting?

With PlayStation 4 requiring gamers pay to play online, all Microsoft needed to keep in lockstep with their biggest competitor was to offer a few free games every month. In software, in partnerships, and in consumer motivation, no other console has gotten users online and always-connected by choice like Xbox.

Playing Halo online, downloading Call of Duty map packs first, and measuring your e-penis against someone else with Gamerscore are all it takes to continue the march towards our inevitable all-digital future. Music and movie industries might maintain the retail space awhile longer, thanks to the nostalgic-hipster love of vinyl or the ritual of buying a new movie from Best Buy every Tuesday, but games don't have that.

PC gamers already prefer to download and maintain their library of games through the all-digital Steam storefront. Is it so hard to think console gamers could get on that bandwagon as well? Microsoft might be asking themselves: "If we can't force consumers to get online, how can we get them there faster?" Thankfully, I already have a few answers for you Mr. "I'm replacing Don Mattrick, what do now?"

  • Free games - Hey look! You're doing that! But, you know, do it better and don't lead people on by saying the names of two great games at your conference, only to say "well, that's not exactly what we said" afterward.
  • No ads on the dashboard - Another box to check off! This is easily one of the most infuriating things about Xbox Live Gold membership (and going to see movies at AMC theaters). The current Xbox 360 dashboard is actually cleaner and more appealing without the system connected to the internet. If you pay money for Xbox Live Gold, no ads other than those for XBL sales (see below) should appear on your Xbox One dashboard.
  • Competitive pricing flexibility - Sony has already seen success with themed sales, knocking dollars and cents off the cost of games for non-subscribers and offering even deeper discounts for PS+ subscribers. Both console manufacturers absolutely must encourage their partners to allow sales as drastic as those seen on Steam or else risk wasting the explicit control they have over their own digital shopfronts.
  • Clear, factual statements - One of my favorite games in the past console generation would have to be Red Dead Redemption, and easily the one piece of marketing material that influenced my purchasing decision more than "it's from the makers of Grand Theft Auto" was this plainly and factually narrated gameplay video.
  • Continue relying on established strengths - Millions of gamers continue to subscribe to Xbox Live for one reason: online multiplayer. Online Halo or Call of Duty with friends is all anyone needs to subscribe because that's how fun those activities are. $60 a year for Xbox Live and a $60 Halo game were all it took for me to finally jump on an Xbox 360 whether or not the console could brick on at any second.
I could go on. Digital titles available day and date with retail, discounts or bonus content and DLC for buying digitally, and incentive programs for buying a certain number of titles digitally in a year could all encourage further growth in Xbox Live subscriber statistics and digital consumption.

Microsoft made a grave error in not turning the always-online catastrophe into an opportunity. Anyone paying a modicum of attention to the industry could have predicted the preorder numbers coming out of E3, so why didn't Microsoft preemptively strike?

Xbox One's biggest issues are clear to every consumer, to everyone outside Microsoft's corporate structure, but perhaps not to Microsoft itself. Maybe Don Mattrick understands these issues more than anyone, or maybe he sees how Xbox One decision makers are the real issue, and maybe that's why he's leaving.
Related Games:   Forza Motorsport 5, Project Spark
Tags:   Microsoft, Xbox One

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