Continuing on our four part article as we talk about how Xbox One went from public disaster to video gaming hero in a few short months. After covering the initial announcement in Part I: The One-Two Punch of Doom, we take a look at how the public opinion began to change.
Part II – The Court of Public Opinion
If it’s fair to criticize Microsoft on their many missteps in the spring and summer of 2013, then it’s also fair to take a good, hard look at why Sony received a pass on many things during the lead up to launch. Yes, from a purely technical standpoint, the PlayStation 4 is the better box, but that’s not why they had such a clear advantage on launch day. Rather, the biggest reason Sony dominated early on was that they controlled the conversation from the very beginning, and their fan base ate it up. From there, Sony just had to sit back and watch social media do all of their work for them.
Sony was able to weave the narrative that they were the underdog whose only goal was to be about gamers. I can’t even put an estimate on the number of times I saw someone on Twitter say something to the effect of “PS4 is all about the gamer”. People ate it up and bought every word of it. A giant publicly traded corporation that had been in existence for 67 years was able to convince people they were the innocent start up that wanted to make something pure.
I’ll just come out and say it – anyone that truly believed that Sony only cared about the gamer and never even toyed with any (or most) of the policies that the Xbox One got pummeled over should contact me immediately because I have a map to the island where unicorns live to sell them. In fact, evidence points to them having the same DRM policy until seeing the backlash over the Xbox One reveal:
“ after the outrage and negative feedback from gamers regarding the Xbox One, Sony quietly reversed its policies, finally revealing at E3 that the PS4 will not feature used game DRM. This is according to none other than SCE Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida, who admitted the policy change in a recent interview.”
-ps4daily.com, 29 June 2013
The same story states that the PlayStation 4 was originally set to have a mandatory PS Eye inclusion and a $500 price point. This was also reversed after Sony learned of Microsoft’s plans for the Kinect. The reality is that there was no meeting where executives sat around a table and said “what can we make to show how much we love gamers?” Instead, the conversation most likely consisted of “hey, look at the negative response to what Microsoft is planning. How can we take advantage of this to grow market share?”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a publicly traded company answering to its shareholders before anyone else. That’s just the way business works. In fact, the pressure shareholders put on companies to drive more sales and profit often results in innovation and a greater level of interest in what the consumer actually wants. Sony combined smart business strategy and outstanding messaging to essentially motivate an army of fanboys to do all of their marketing for them.
A core element of Sony’s “all about the gamer” messaging was the idea of giving gamers choice. This was emphasized repeatedly in their 2013 E3 conference. Yet in July 2014 when Electronic Arts announced EA Access, Sony decided to not offer it on PlayStation 4. Their reasoning was that “it does not bring the kind of value PlayStation customers have come to expect”. Whether that’s true or not, shouldn’t that be left to the gamers as a, you know, choice? Surely the real reason couldn’t have been that EA Access was seen as a potential competitor to Sony’s PlayStation Now streaming service…could it? Given that PlayStation Now had a price structure that was criticized by many, how could a service that cost $30 a year not be a good value to someone that chooses to get it? Except they weren’t allowed to choose.
While Sony essentially received a pass on all these things and more, Microsoft was still fighting to capture its messaging in the months leading up to launch. Despite their reversal on DRM and game sharing, they still largely focused on the box being an all-in-one entertainment machine in their marketing. Microsoft was still full steam ahead with Kinect, only strengthening the perception that PlayStation was about choice and Xbox wasn’t. The fact that there was no AAA must-have Kinect game only further pushed gamers to ask “why do I need this?”.
Microsoft was in desperate need of a clear message and vision. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, they needed to get gamers back on their side. Repeated ads about NFL and Kinect functionality did nothing to accomplish this. Whether it’s fair or not, by launch Microsoft had lost a tremendous amount of credibility amongst hardcore gamers. Microsoft made the critical mistake of simply assuming gamers would come along for the ride, while Sony hammered home the message that their system was built specifically for gamers.
When the consoles launched, Sony held a decided advantage in sales. Although the Xbox One was outselling its predecessor by a healthy margin, the fact that it was losing to the PlayStation 4 gave the perception that it was a failure. At the time, reading social media would make one think they were the only person that bought an Xbox One. Microsoft was once again in damage control mode. In the months that came ahead, they would finally come to the realization that they needed to rebuild credibility with gamers before anything else, and their subsequent moves would work to change almost everything that detractors had said about the Xbox One from the beginning.