Last May, Microsoft hosted a grand event on its campus in Redmond, Washington to reveal, what it first called the “next generation of Xbox.” This was the event that would reveal their latest console, the Xbox One, to the world for the first time. As a relatively devoted gamer on the Xbox 360 platform, I tuned in on my 360 for the day’s presentation, anxiously awaiting what the next iteration of the extremely popular console brand would look like.
Almost immediately when the presentation began, I grew somewhat disconcerted. While of course it’s normal in any dramatic or sales-oriented presentation to rev the engine a bit and build up to the big revelation, something felt particularly off about what was going on. Don Mattrick, the former executive head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, was spewing out buzzwords in a manner that seemed like he was trying to rapidly progress through all of the hyperbolic words in the English language as fast as he could, and his deadpan delivery felt extraordinarily inauthentic to me. “I’ve never been more excited than I am today,” a phrase he used to open his diatribe, made me immediately think that he must not get excited particularly often. This adjective-opening sentence spectacular went on for about 4 minutes before the Xbox One itself was revealed, and while I and millions of other gamers and journalists were very excited to learn about what the new console would bring to the table, I was disappointed that the presentation continued in much the same way: this wasn’t an introduction, this was a brochure.
The gaming press also seemed disconcerted by the event, not so much in the presentation, but the actual substance. The messaging about certain capabilities of the new console, particularly as it pertained to used games and digital distribution, seemed muddled and ambiguous. Some rather serious fumbles by Mattrick (particularly this extremely stupid one) and the constant answer-dodging on social media by Microsoft Game Studios head Phil Spencer caused a bit of outrage in the very community that Microsoft was supposed to excite by news of their latest console.
Most people know the story from there: after a highly-publicized policy reversal on the new console made official in a statement by Mattrick, the executive then left Microsoft altogether to lead mobile game company Zynga. While the policy reversal did some damage control, for many, the damage was done, and the foul-ups, compounded by well-executed potshots by Sony, have caused the PS4 to outrank the Xbox One in sales per-unit thus far in both consoles’ lives.
Thankfully, we’ve found a breath of fresh air. In an interview conducted at SXSW, Phil Spencer doesn’t look back particularly fondly at the reveal of the Xbox One last May, or in the continuing message at last year’s E3. “I look at last summer and that wasn’t a high point for me, coming out of the announcement of Xbox One and E3, where I thought our messaging around what we believed in was confused –– mainly by us,” he said. He would go onto talk about the virtue of honesty over “sugar-coating” something that could potentially be controversial, and that’s a point that I and many other enthusiastic observers seriously hope he continues to believe, and of course, put into practice. Hopefully corporate VP of marketing and strategy Yusuf Mehdi was listening as well, since he’s also just as (if not more) guilty of the “spin-speak” of either Mattrick or Spencer.
I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing the Xbox One here at GeekNation, and really think it speaks for itself as a pretty remarkable entertainment machine. While it has some kinks to work out (as any new technology does), the integration of voice commands, the Kinect camera, and a surprisingly diverse software library really make for an impressive console, that has serious ambition as far as becoming the center of a person or family’s living room. Microsoft’s PR firm got way too overzealous in its language and its messaging, and paid the proverbial price for it. The pitch for the console to consumers, I feel, came on a little strong. In any conversation or campaign, that kind of charged and hyperbolic language, more often than not, manages to speak of desperation rather than confidence.
Microsoft didn’t need to be desperate when pitching this machine. It is impressive. And the lack of honesty only made a feel of desperation worse. Now that the Xbox One is in millions of households worldwide, maybe they can now take that new pledge of honesty and run with it, while also laying off the inauthentic buzzwords by letting the console speak for itself a little bit. Be confident in the machine you developed, and let word of mouth do some of the legwork. When you do engage in an ad campaign, show us why, beyond the technical features, why it makes gaming and enjoying our favorite media not only easier, but more fun. Stop trying to make every ad and statement make us feel like we just watched Ben Hur, and remember that this is primarily a machine for recreation, because unless it can raise a kid and clean the gutters, chances are it won’t fundamentally change peoples’ lives.
Basically? Talk to people like they’re people. Phil Spencer has shown that he’s on the right track with his thinking, so let’s see if Microsoft and the rest of the team behind the Xbox brand can put that talk into action.
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