Analysis of the general reaction to XBox One, E3 news, the game industry and what it all means for the consumer.
After E3 the stream of information from the big three has slowed down and the blatant backpedaling and grand standing has cooled off. Microsoft shot itself in the foot with an overwhelmingly anti-consumer ideology behind the X Box One. Capitalizing on Microsoft monumental blunder Sony played on the backlash by saying they would do the opposite of the X Box One with the PS4 by partially upholding the status quo. The PS4 will require a monthly 5 dollar fee to use its online multiplayer, which is a little cheaper than an Xbox Live Gold account that is required to play multiplayer games online with the X Box 360. That detail was conveniently glossed over amongst the thunderous reaction that hailed Sony as the savior of modern gaming.
The original ideas behind Microsoft’s X Box One with its Kinect 2, constant monitoring and limited used game policy were so disliked that Sony had to make very little effort to paint themselves as the hero to Microsoft’s distrustful and dangerous market view. Sony’s conference not only put to rest consumer worries but went as far as to take shots at Microsoft’s contemptuous outlook on the consumer. This is not exclusive to Microsoft as any of the big three have had similar anti-used game policies as a result of choice from the third party developers.
In an effort to save face, Microsoft has announced that they are going back on ALL those policies so that X Box One operates much like a X Box 360 with a mandatory Kinect.
In a Game Trailers interview with Geoff Keighley; Jack Tretton, the President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, labored this idea that Sony cares about the consumer and explained at one point that their business plan CAN’T be shaped by responding to their competitions strategy.
Perhaps Sony was acting with their audience’s best interests at heart, but it’s doubtful. If the consumer believes these were choices made on consumer input without competition’s response, we would need to ignore the striking parallels made between their own and Microsoft’s conference. Would you believe you could trust someone who cared so little in the past about the consumer there was virtually no encryption securing user account information on the PSN? Is this really a group that cares about consumer value if PS2 compatibility was completely phased out to make cheaper models of the PS3 as well as the removal of Linux functionality just because they thought people would use it to pirate games? If this was a genuine priority, why would they need Microsoft to mess up first before making a big display of it?
This is the product. Did you notice it? Did you get excited? Feel relieved that Sony was on your side? Cheer with the reporters in the crowd?
You just bought it. Not the PS4. You bought an idea. They sold you a feeling of trust for a platform that didn’t have it and an industry that been so lacking in it that it looks at consumer as if they’re guilty until proven innocent. Why would you want the industry standard and a five dollar online fee instead of actual developments that were in the consumer’s favor? It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement after coming out of the hostile climate of the last couple years.
Some of the press and industry has not only labeled consumers “entitled” for having certain expectations in the goods or service they purchase but outright insulting them for not spending enough money to meet industry sales projections. It’s almost as if someone thought bullying the consumer and mocking their ability to make choices would make them spend money.
Who’s the entitled one in this exchange?
Does a new generation of consoles mean a fresh start? Do they REALLY really value what the consumer has to say and that the audience is no longer regarded as entitled consumers who NEED DRM and rob developers with used game sales?
Probably not. It’s still just business and with studios shutting down and an eagerness to try new and strange payment models it’s a safe bet your money is needed now more than ever to support a complex machine in need of oil.
So is anyone on the consumer’s side? Nintendo is the only one that hasn’t been mentioned yet but they seem to be the one who is most trustworthy.
In the past Nintendo has usually been more restrictive than Microsoft or Sony of what third parties can do on their console. At E3 Reggie Fils-Aime confirmed that Nintendo will not allow third party developers to enforce DRM and anti-used sale tactics. When asked what Nintendo’s view was for their own games, Reggie explained that their used game resell rate was much lower than their competitors and not a problem since it’s a goal with their titles to give them enough value the player does not want to resell it.
This sounds familiar.
Only time will tell if Nintendo sticks to those claims because things said at E3 have a funny way of disappearing.
The consumer should be wary of what they’re told by any one who wants to make a sell to them. What’s worth consideration though is when a company has a history of pro-actively making choices that deny them easy revenue for the sake of consumer’s ownership rights and services like free online multiplayer such as Nintendo. Nintendo also has the smallest offering of DLC from the big three and currently lacks a real system to support the microstransactions that some publishers are eager to force into place.
While some games like to use CD keys to control who can play them, Nintendo’s only use of game keys and online activation is limited to a benefits program called Club Nintendo. One man’s punishment is another man’s reward.
Does this all mean Nintendo cares about you? It can’t be said for certain but they are after all a business.
From a business viewpoint these sorts of pro-consumer decisions increase brand loyalty and create a sustainable long term plan. I’ve said before that Microsoft and Sony seem less insightful than the toy company turned video game giant, but Microsoft’s concept behind the X Box One and apparent surprise before going into damage control demonstrates the people on top had been living in a bubble.
It’s not all doom and gloom, Sony’s capitalizing on Microsoft’s ignorance has at least cast a hard light onto many important issues that will hopefully keep the line of what is acceptable from moving for a while. Sony’s fee for a strong online infrastructure may be worth it but that’s just means it will help standardize the idea that the consumers should pay more to use the internet they already own.
So here are my predictions for whats in store;
Microsoft has already done a full 180 in damage control and trying to portray this as an act of good will rather than trying not to lose out to the other guy. Despite that it probably still won’t sell that well since the Kinnect is part of standard package and Microsoft might bleed a little money with low early adopters. With the Kinnect being a big part of the systems infrastructure they may play down it’s functionality in titles or sell a much cheaper bundle late into the consoles life time that lacks the living room surveillance camera. Online payment and monetization methods are likely to stay the same.
Sony’s will still sell an increased number of consoles as a result of Microsoft’s mistake as well as achieve moderate to great success with their online service, by banking on being better than the other guy. They’ll continue to tell the consumer that they own all those PS+ games which is as silly as saying Netflix users own the thousand some movies as long they maintain their subscription. With the inclusion of Gaikai, there might be a stronger push for digital distribution along side disc sales. Digital games might be sold at a lesser price to encourage the less physical ownership while portraying it as a consumer choice rather than a call by the content producers.
Nintendo might struggle to get Western third party support for a while but will be able to keep afloat just on their first party titles. Despite lacking the resources of Microsoft and Sony, it’s got a substantial war chest and knows how to keep their costs out of the red. Nintendo’s experience, insight and ability to self sustain with first and second parties, as well as self publishing means that it release strong titles free of the creative and time restraints of other publishers.
History has shown that the most successful console of each generation is always the one that’s least powerful; The Atari 2600, The Nintendo Entertainment System, The Playstation, The Playstation 2, The Wii. If a nearly four decade year old pattern persists, the Wii U should be the most successful of the upcoming three. It’s success most likely will be owed to it’s lower and more competitive price and it’s overcoming it’s dry spell as X Box One and Playstation 4 just get started with their own.
Stay skeptical and informed. Remain hopeful and optimistic. Until next time.
I want to give mention and thanks here to Kyle who helps me with my audio. He does video game reviews and some voice over work. You can check out his channel here. I also want to give thanks to Jake, who helped me with some fact checking. He also likes talking about video games and the industry. His channel is here.
“Marketing is what you do when your product is no good.”
–Edwin H. Land. Scientist, Inventor and Co-Founder of the Polaroid Corporation
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