Biding Their Time
The degree to which Microsoft is sabotaging their own efforts to sell a coming product to consumers has become almost an art form unto itself. It is like watching an extraordinarily talented prodigy as they express their talent in a way that no one had ever considered possible before — except that the Xbox One team’s unfortunate talent is making people hate them.
But as we burn our homemade Don Mattrick dolls in effigy, we would do well to remember our new best friends are far from innocents. Watching E3 has been to me a bit like watching a band of criminals double-cross one another. It’s as though Microsoft, Sony, EA and their ilk all pulled up to the bank to rob it, but then Microsoft pulled a Leeroy Jenkins and went charging off on its own, only to find the bank already filled with police. As Microsoft is hauled away in handcuffs, Sony and EA stand in the gathering crowd, shaking their heads shamefully and tsk-tsk’ing their former partner in crime, only to wait for the chance to hit the bank down the street.
Jack Tretton, playing the consumer rights hero on stage a few nights ago, was a sight to behold. While I was as caught up in the schadenfreude as anyone else, it occurs to me now that the casting office must have been a little drunk when filling the part of Champion of the People and Friend to the Indie Dev. It’s a bit like choosing Michael Cera to play the lead in a biopic about Mike Tyson. Or maybe vice versa.
While I too am now the proud owner of a Playstation 4 pre-order, I try to remember why I don’t already own a PlayStation Plus account. While I am eager to get my hands on a new Star Wars Battlefront game and laud the decision to do away with online passes, I try to recall my feelings on Sim City. Sony and EA are doing a good job of buying up majority shares on consumer goodwill this week, which is what they should be doing.
I just wonder how they will eventually spend that currency.
I suppose there is a hubris that comes naturally with “winning” the previous generation. While the Xbox One team is doing a good job of charting new territory in the landscape of hubris, their tone-deaf arrogance at least echoes the language of Sony some six or seven years ago. Even Nintendo has an up-and-down cycle with the success of their consoles that suggests they get caught up in the echo chamber of their own self-identity every other time around the block.
The shame of it is that Xbox One’s ideas, at least as a starting point in some cases, aren’t all bad. There is an appeal to having all games be digitally available on day one. Having a Kinect that is more sensitive, better integrated and a generation more advanced leaves open the door for some nice opportunities. A lot of the games Microsoft showed are games I’d really like to play. Their Twitch.tv integration is really interesting, and should they iron out the kinks there is a lot of possibility in having a system that pulls together all my media.
Mind you, right now there’s no chance I’m buying an Xbox One under the current conditions. Even if I wanted to, my wife is absolutely not letting that thing into our house. She is far from a close follower of the hardware and gaming scene, but so pervasive is the information around the Kinect’s almost surveillance-like nature, that she is adamantly against having something with such ability to look into our lives in the same room with our kids. It probably didn’t help that the whole NSA spying thing blew up the same week.
I have railed to my wife in the past on the transgressions of UbiSoft DRM, games requiring always-on internet and the mismanagement of client information by gaming publishers. She has listened patiently if passively, and patted my hand gently as if to let me know she is going to work hard to pretend to care about this thing I’m talking about because I seem to care about it so much. But, when it comes to Microsoft’s recent announcements, I think she could hold her own in a NeoGAF flamewar when it comes to the One.
Congratulations, Microsoft. I’ve been trying to get my wife this involved into a gaming-industry discussion for almost twenty years. Between telling us how many people we’re allowed to have in the living room when watching a movie and jokes about sexual assault during your presentation, you’ve finally accomplished what I could not.
When I ask myself the question of whether Microsoft’s direct competitors (and even in some cases their partners) have changed their stripes or taken advantage of a clear opportunity, I submit that the latter is true. I might even go so far as to assume that they are working temporarily in opposition to their longer-term goals, which is not to say that once everyone has bought a bunch of PS4’s we might not see backtracking. That seems even more likely if you believe the earlier assumption around winner hubris.
I think of the current state of the industry a bit like I think about gas prices. I live in a state of mind such that I am happy to see gas prices around $3.50 a gallon, because just a few weeks ago it was over $4.00. That’s interesting, because it was only so many months ago that I was upset about $3.50 a gallon, and now here I am happy about it. Someday not too far down the line, the currently untenable $4.00 will certainly be not only acceptable but a thing to be excited about, because someone will push the $5.00 barrier.
The thing about me, and probably consumers as an aggregate, is that we don’t sustain base-level expectations. There doesn’t seem to be some bar past which we will break, as long as you take us there slowly enough. In the end, what Microsoft’s aggressive and broken strategy accomplishes is that the things that used to make us mad, that used to be a bridge too far, become normalized. We get to “go back” to just the things that were unacceptable, which now seem like a benefit.
So, yes, I was as excited as anyone else during Sony’s press conference, but now in the brighter light of day I begin to wonder: What have we actually gotten from them short of a promise not to murder us in our sleep? I like some of what I’m hearing from the major publishers, but do I really believe they wouldn’t be aggressively in favor of some of what Microsoft is positing, had they simply been able to get away with it?
No. I do not.