Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Xbox One: Hardly Surprising

Microsoft certainly moved the Xbox brand forward today. Not necessarily in a direction that all gamers are comfortable with, but it continued to push in the direction of being an all-encompassing "entertainment" box that we've been hearing about since the PlayStation 2 reveal back in 1999. Neither Microsoft or Sony have ever seemed particularly comfortable with the mantle of being simply a "videogames console," certainly not in the way that Nintendo and Sega embraced it. The PS2 played DVDs, the PS3 "only did everything," the Xbox 360 was your digital hub. The battle for the living room has not been exclusively about games for more than a decade now, yet the vitriol from vocal gamers is as strong as ever when a new device isn't introduced with near fully-formed, mind-blowing experiences already up and running and ready to go.

There will no doubt be some mind-blowing experiences shown at E3 next month, but for now it seems that the Xbox One announcement was more a statement of intent, than a reveal event for a gaming device. It was a declaration that "Xbox" really is a digital entertainment brand, not a gaming brand (something they've been pushing for years now, so it's hardly a fucking surprise now, is it?) it was huge "fuck you" to Apple in a space where Microsoft is actually already ahead, and it was an attempt to show that there's a bridge between your computer, your tablet, your TV, and your phone.

Much of the disdain leveled at the event among gamers on Twitter, and on message boards is almost certainly as much to do with the presentation as it was the offering. OK, so the obfuscation and misinformation around some of the specifics was a bit of a dipshit PR gaff, and the whole thing around activation codes and online requirements warrants some further investigation, but fundamentally the basics of the box itself are actually pretty strong. The problem is with the way that  rich, middle-aged, obviously out-of-touch and very uncomfortable executives reading from a script and desperately trying to remember their media training fail to portray the achingly hip image that Microsoft wants for Xbox. There's nothing "effortless" about the way these people present on stage. No one has gravitas, no one seems natural, and even though they're all accomplished executives steering a multi-billion dollar business, no one really comes across as having a genuine love for what they're doing. The Xbox team has come a long way since the scrappy days of Ed Fries, Seamus Blackley, and J Allard, who despite being put up onstage alongside ohmygodthatissofuckingcheesy marketing schlock, they always approached these things with a clear, genuine love for the thing.

Geeks respond well to figureheads, to visionaries, and to strong personalities that are clearly steering the ship and representing our needs when building a product. It's why we loved Ken Kuturagi, it's why the Phil Harrison and Andrew House double-act was always so successful, and it's why we hung on J Allard's every word, even after he turned into Moby and did that weird photoshoot in Wired where he was lying down in mid-air. All due respect to Don Mattrick and his Prada-clad team of VPs, but it's just a bunch of dudes trying to sell us a box. Bring out the product guys, the visionaries, and then have them explain why they made the decisions they made that will affect us all, and there'll be a noticeable change in attitude from the gamer crowd. 

1 comment:

Josh said...

Couldn't agree more. My initial thought was, "That sure is an xbox". It's everything Microsoft has been moving towards. If anything they said today surprises you, you haven't been paying attention.

I really hope they have a solution in place for DVR watching. The market that MS is going for does not sit around and watch Price is Right on live tv. I have 2 small children, and I get 2 hours a night to entertain myself. I live off of the DVR, and if Microsoft doesn't recognize my recorded content, all of those fancy widgets are for not.