How did Microsoft seemingly turn everything around? Surprisingly enough, with games.
From the very beginning, no one could have faulted Microsoft for wanting to try something different with its next console. Digital streaming and downloads are on the rise, as are platforms which provide stellar deals on an almost daily basis. Multiplayer gaming peaked and has never stopped growing, and it helps that your console is hope to some of the best shooters ever made. Netflix and Hulu are also growing at an astronomical rate and the days of physical rental and retail for movies are dead. From the very beginning, Microsoft wanted to do something special with its Xbox One console.
"It eventually came as no surprise that Microsoft eliminated many of the controversial aspects of its console due to overwhelming feedback from players."
It didn’t take long for everything to go horribly wrong.
From the second it revealed its Xbox One in May 2013, Microsoft seemingly made one bad decision after another. Limited sharing of used games among consumers, 24 hour authentication of one’s console, stricter guidelines for indie developers which translated “Sign with us/some other big name or go somewhere else”, a heavy focus on TV and content streaming, a tendency to fall back on the Call of Duty name but featuring one of the worst titles ever in the franchise as the focal point, the arrogance of Don Mattrick proclaiming those who didn’t have an internet connection should buy an Xbox 360, the mandatory bundling of Kinect which added an additional $100 to the console’s price, the always-on nature of the motion camera which coincided with revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on citizens throughout the world through Microsoft, Google, smartphones, you name it…the list literally goes on.
Despite a relatively decent showing at E3 2013, it didn’t help that Microsoft was still pushing for TV content, Kinect and a higher price tag along with so many of its controversial practices. The entire public message of the Xbox One – that it would attempt to be Steam for consoles – never materialized. Microsoft was struggling to maintain a cohesive front of features like Cloud computing and its Family Sharing policy. It was a PR nightmare of epic proportions.
It eventually came as no surprise that Microsoft eliminated many of the controversial aspects of its console due to overwhelmingly negative feedback from players. It announced ID@Xbox to give indie developers a fair shake and has since relaxed its launch parity clause that prohibited games from appearing on PlayStation consoles and PC before the Xbox One. It bumped up the power of the console. It started to slowly but surely come back to the games that defined the Xbox generation, with Don Mattrick leaving and a more subdued focus on TV content.
"Microsoft could be criticized for a ton of things but at E3 2014, it promised - and delivered - nothing but games."
How did the Xbox One become perhaps the best possible Holiday 2014 console in such a short time?
Before people disagree with that claim, it’s worth noting that the PlayStation 4 has The Last of Us: Remastered, LittleBigPlanet 3 and DriveClub. That’s already a pretty stellar line-up but let’s face it – one of those is a remake of a game that is a year old and has simply been created to cater to that subset of players on the PS4 who didn’t play the PS3 version (Naughty Dog said so themselves).
Many of the big name indie exclusives like Volume, No Man’s Sky, Hotline Miami 2, The Witness and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture don’t even have release dates. Sure there’s inFamous: Second Son DLC coming up but you won’t be getting The Last Guardian any time soon. The Order: 1886, Bloodborne and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End won’t be arriving till 2015. Even the Ratchet and Clank PS4 remaster won’t be out till 2015 and is more or less just meant to plug the movie.
In comparison, the Xbox One has Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2, Project Spark, the Fable Legends beta and a heaping helping of indie titles incoming like Cuphead, Inside and Ori and The Blind Forest incoming. You could argue that Halo: The Master Chief Collection is just a remake – except this remake contains four games with revamped visuals, all the multiplayer maps, tons of enhancements and new additions, access to the Halo: Nightfall series and access to the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta. Microsoft could be criticized for a ton of things but at E3 2014, it promised – and delivered – nothing but games.
"There’s still a ways to go before the Holiday season though. Sony apparently has much to share at Gamescom and you can bet Microsoft won’t be far behind."
This renewed focus is seemingly company-wide as well. The Xbox Entertainment division is dead and will simply be rolling out whatever content was planned in the coming months like the Quantum Break and Halo TV shows. Kinect is now uncoupled from the Xbox One and will retail separately with a reduced focus on motion controller games.
Microsoft is seemingly relearning how to be a major player in the games industry and even with the wide margin the PS4 has in terms of sales, it’s reaping bigger commercial benefits because of it.
There’s still a ways to go before the Holiday season though. Sony apparently has much to share at Gamescom and you can bet Microsoft won’t be far behind. The console war is an ever-evolving one and it’s simply amazing that Microsoft went from a planned albeit controversial strategy to eating humble pie and catering to whatever the gamers wanted (and then making them want things they didn’t know they’d want). Whichever way you look at it, the next 11 months till E3 2015 are going to be very, very interesting.