Editorials

Microsoft: Is their failure inevitable? Probably not…

April 5, 2013, Author: Andy Buick, 12 Comments

While you’d think we all eagerly await the announcement of the next Xbox from Microsoft (MS), it seems some parties have a somewhat different view on what the future holds. Forbes analyst Adam Hartung recently delivered what can only be described as an utterly damning verdict of MS’s future chances, suggesting that the company’s failure may already be inevitable, and their entertainment section could be sold to Sony!

Well quite...

Well quite…

Wow… I tend to take anything said by an analyst with a grain of salt as their every statement seems to be intended to get their name into the press (yes I know I’ve just done exactly that, sorry), but I do think there is some cause for concern. Of course, Windows is a huge part of MS’s business and I can’t really comment on how that’s working out for them (still very well you would imagine; I don’t see too many people using Linux as their OS!), but what about this entertainment section, and of course the Xbox? We know that a new Xbox is on the way, but is it doomed to failure or is there hope?

First of all, let’s take a look at the last E3. MS’s conference was just targeted all wrong to my mind, with no interest in growing their portfolio of first-party titles. More Halo, admittedly a huge success; more Fable; more Forza. Further exclusives largely limited to timed DLC, and who really cares about this? Oh no; I may have to wait a few weeks to play a game or some DLC that’s out on another platform. How will I ever cope? Oh yeah, I can just play something else! Not to mention pushing more motion tech with Kinect, Smart Glass, etc. etc.

Okay, so Halo 4 and Forza Horizon are both brilliant games, but how long can MS rely on four core series (add Gears Of War to the three already mentioned), some interesting, but flawed tech in Kinect which pretty much everyone bought and nobody uses, and a new feature which could be interesting, but is unlikely to be a system seller?

Kinect: Toilet Simulator - the latest sensation! Squat and thrust...

Kinect: Toilet Simulator. The latest sensation! Squat and thrust…

More worrying, if the rumours flying around about the next Xbox are true, then things aren’t looking too promising. There’s talk of blocking used games, embedded Kinect 2, and it seems likely the focus will shift towards it being more of a media centre. If this is true, it would suggest there are genuine reasons to be concerned for MS and the future of Xbox, especially when Sony has gotten so much right lately and really seem set to continue that with the PS4. Their base of exclusive IP seems to grow all the time, they’ve added more functionality in the PS4 but they didn’t overstate this too much in their announcement, and from leaked hardware specs for the Xbox, it looks like PS4 will likely be more powerful as well.

On the flipside, I refuse to believe even MS can be that stupid as to do half of what is being suggested! Lock out used games? Unlikely now Sony has confirmed that it will allow used games still with PS4 (although no mention of whether this will be free or not in fairness), and I suspect the rumour was a result of some investigation that was probably not going to be used in anger anyway.

Huge focus on Kinect 2? I can’t really see this either. Sure, have it in there as an interesting bit of optional tech where it makes sense, but at this point the Wii bubble seems to have burst, and there’s a good amount of negativity out there regarding Kinect, so playing the motion/casual gaming card is a very dangerous game. I know motion gaming doesn’t have to be casual, but let’s be honest, this is largely how it’s turned out so far.

As for the media centre side of things, this is not necessarily a bad thing anyway. Depending on how they do this, it could mean fewer boxes under the TV, and the current generation of consoles have been heading in this direction anyway so it’s a natural evolution. The real key for me is three areas though:

1. Exclusive AAA games. Can they really continue to rely on Gears, Forza, Fable and Halo? Halo is ridiculously popular but they need to expand this roster, otherwise more and more people will see the breadth of games they can’t play because they’re PS4 only, and you can see loyalties shifting.

2. Online subscription. If they continue to charge for Gold subscription, they have to give more for the money. PS Plus has blown MS’s offering out of the water of late and it’s confirmed it will come to PS4 in some capacity as well (although don’t expect it to be quite so good as it is currently), so a subscription with nothing extra won’t wash. Expect a response from MS on this during their announcement.

3. Indie developers. Of late, there have been a few reports from indie developers complaining about their treatment by MS. Just Add Water won’t be releasing their Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD remake on XBLA because MS refused to publish it, first due to file size limitations (2GB max), then purportedly because it didn’t score high enough. MS apparently require a rating of 80 and over on Metacritic to publish, which makes this all the stranger (forgive the pun) as this game had a score of 88 on original release, and 82 for the HD release. Not to mention that it’s absolutely brilliant.

Jonathan Blow has announced The Witness as a timed exclusive on PS4 with no word on any Xbox release because, as he puts it, “we like the positioning of the PS4 (it’s about games) a lot more than what we perceive Microsoft’s positioning is going to be” (thanks Kotaku). Add to this reports of crippling costs for patching a game on XBLA (only the first patch is free), and MS reportedly refusing to release games that come out on PSN first, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

On the other hand, Sony have already announced they plan to make the PS4 an open platform for indie development, and when you consider that some of the best, and certainly most original, gaming experiences this generation have been made by indie developers (Journey, The Walking Dead, Braid, Limbo, Outland and Fez to name just a few), you can’t understate the importance of this. MS simply have to change their strategy.

One area in which MS may already be hindered given leaked reports, though, is hardware. If the leaked specs are accurate, they’ve opted for 8GB DDR3 RAM. That’s a good amount, but of RAM that’s already commonplace in PCs, while Sony have opted for 8GB GDDR5, which you can’t actually get in that quantity yet. This could give Sony an edge, at the very least in graphics, but also in future-proofing their console. Will developers hold back progress to please MS, or when GDDR5 becomes more mainstream in PCs, will this create a shift towards PC and PS4, with the new Xbox being left in their wake?

Memory, all alone in the moonlight... Will we be mourning the memory of MS due to their lack of RAM? See what I did there? I'll get my coat...

Memory, all alone in the moonlight! Will we be mourning the memory of MS due to their lack of RAM? See what I did there? I’ll get my coat…

This may paint something of a gloomy picture, but if MS can get those three points above right, and not go overboard on the gimmicky nonsense, they’re still right in there. Also let’s not forget they have a huge install base this generation, which will likely see a very high number of loyal Xbox gamers remain onside, especially if their Gamerscore carries over (which it surely will).

As for Adam Hartung, have a look through his past articles and you will see a pattern emerge of unswerving negativity towards MS, and constant encouragement to forsake them for Apple. Make of that what you will, but to suggest MS should throw in the towel is, to put it bluntly, sensationalist nonsense. Let’s hope that all our worries are unfounded, and the rumours wrong. It’s good for us gamers to have both the choice of consoles, and the competition to keep these companies pushing themselves and trying to get our business. Don’t even get me started on Sony buying out the entertainment division…

Comments (12)

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  1. Phil said:

    I flat refuse to listen to any rumours regarding up coming consoles. Unless it comes directly from Microsoft it means nothing imo. Hopefully all this speculation and "what if this", "they might do that" nonsense will be over soon enough with an official announcement.

    Posted on: April 05 4:05 PM || Report || Reply

  2. AndyB said:

    That's the best approach for sure Phil :) That said, today's reports regarding an always-online requirement (previously rumoured) are a bit concerning! Again, no confirmation whatsoever that the new Xbox will have this "feature", but with staff taking to Twitter to defend that approach, and other parties seeming to suggest it will be in there too, it's not looking good...

    Posted on: April 05 4:47 PM || Report || Reply

  3. Phil said:
    AndyB wrote: That's the best approach for sure Phil :) That said, today's reports regarding an always-online requirement (previously rumoured) are a bit concerning! Again, no confirmation whatsoever that the new Xbox will have this "feature", but with staff taking to Twitter to defend that approach, and other parties seeming to suggest it will be in there too, it's not looking good...

    No but how many people that have an XBOX 360 don't have at the very least an XBLA Silver account? will it really make a difference?

    The big questions for me are about backward compatibility and if we do go down the road of digital distribution (inevitable over the life cycle of next-gen in my opinion) how much storage space will come as standard? Or will we be able to store full games in the cloud rather than just saves?

    Posted on: April 05 6:08 PM || Report || Reply

  4. AndyB said:
    Phil wrote: No but how many people that have an XBOX 360 don't have at the very least an XBLA Silver account? will it really make a difference?

    The big questions for me are about backward compatibility and if we do go down the road of digital distribution (inevitable over the life cycle of next-gen in my opinion) how much storage space will come as standard? Or will we be able to store full games in the cloud rather than just saves?

    Yeah I imagine most people will have some form of account. But take me for example - I have a PS3 and I pay for PS+, but I like the option to be offline if I'm not doing anything specifically online. I have an Internet connection that can be somewhat temperamental too. It's definitely off-putting for me. But of course that is just me and I'm sure enough people out there would accept it. Just as you've said it really depends on individual priorities.

    On the storage front, rumour (again!) has it both PS4 and the next Xbox will come with hefty HDDs (500GB minimum hopefully). I think you're probably spot on with digital distribution as well.

    Posted on: April 05 10:06 PM || Report || Reply

  5. Paddy said:

    You tell 'em Francis! :)


    love this guy, his videos are always funny as fuck, but so tongue in cheek.

    Posted on: April 05 10:54 PM || Report || Reply

  6. Paddy said:

    1/27/10 Ubisoft: Always-online DRM is a success
    http://www.computerandvideogames.com/23 ... e-or-else/

    1/3/11 Ubisoft: Always-online DRM is a failure
    http://news.softpedia.com/news/Ubisoft- ... 5733.shtml

    7/28/11 Ubisoft: Always-online DRM is a success
    http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/07/28/ubiso ... a-success/

    9/5/12 Ubisoft: Always-online DRM is a failure
    http://uk.ign.com/articles/2012/09/05/u ... -on-pc-drm

    So, with the rumours currently abounding that Watch_Dogs and Assassin's Creed IV requiring always online DRM, is it "Always-online DRM is a success" time again?

    Posted on: April 05 11:42 PM || Report || Reply

  7. Cueil said:

    No one even talks about how Steam employs the same features >_>

    Posted on: April 07 12:37 AM || Report || Reply

  8. Paddy said:
    Cueil wrote: No one even talks about how Steam employs the same features >_>

    Not quite true (because we have), but you're right about one thing: people don't mention it halfway near enough!

    Posted on: April 07 1:07 AM || Report || Reply

  9. Cueil said:
    Paddy wrote:
    Cueil wrote: No one even talks about how Steam employs the same features >_>

    Not quite true (because we have), but you're right about one thing: people don't mention it halfway near enough!


    here is my question then... IF Microsoft did all these things, but games were cheaper and they had these weekly and holiday steam style sales would you think that most of this would just blow over after a year or so and Microsoft would likely see a strong backend sale?

    Posted on: April 07 2:47 AM || Report || Reply

  10. Phil said:
    Cueil wrote:
    Paddy wrote:
    Cueil wrote: No one even talks about how Steam employs the same features >_>

    Not quite true (because we have), but you're right about one thing: people don't mention it halfway near enough!

    here is my question then... IF Microsoft did all these things, but games were cheaper and they had these weekly and holiday steam style sales would you think that most of this would just blow over after a year or so and Microsoft would likely see a strong backend sale?

    The thing here is it is largely a different audience. Historically, pc gamers and console gamers have been very different animals. That boundary is blurring more but there is still something fundamentally different and the idea of a download only always connected system is PC rather than console which is why there's so much grief.

    I know pc gamers who haven't bought a physical game for 2 years but pitch that idea to console gamers and the thought process is "i can't trade it in when I've completed it, my hard drive is full, what happens if my machine dies?" etc

    Posted on: April 07 11:41 AM || Report || Reply

  11. AndyB said:

    Hi Cueil. That's a good point about Steam, Valve do seem to have some magical way of avoiding negativity because a big deal was never really made about that, and if MS were to offer a similar service (certainly in terms of pricing) that could well work in their favour, if they can sell that service well from the off. And in fairness to MS, marketing has always been a fairly strong point of theirs (take Kinect for example...).

    I guess there are a couple of things to consider though. Steam is just one of many options on PC, so even if you have a slightly flaky Internet connection you could download something on there but still have alternative options from retail and other sites as well meaning unless the only boxed games you buy are Sim City and Diablo 3 (sorry, couldn't resist a pop there!), you can game offline still. If the rumours are true (and I'm still not convinced they are), then it doesn't sound like offline would be an option for the new Xbox.

    The second thing worth noting, and possibly why more PC gamers are willing to download - it's actually illegal (in the UK at least) to re-sell PC software in any form due to the way its licensed. So while you can take your used console games to a shop to trade in, or sell them second hand online, you can't do that for PC. Couple that with some crazy deals and you can see why Steam is so popular.

    Anyway, let's all just hope all these negative rumours do turn out to be rubbish when MS finally make their announcement, or at least that it'll be nowhere near as bad as people are making out...

    Posted on: April 07 3:41 PM || Report || Reply

  12. Cueil said:

    Personally I think Microsoft put the "always online" bit out there and then fanboys ran with it. The idea would only work as a secondary drm and there would have to be benefits... The one hard evidence never really shows any need to be online in order to play games, but does show that you wont necessarily need the disk. If you can register said disc to your account perhaps you can play your game without having to use the disk? Perhaps Microsoft allows you to play in an "off-line" mode but the features that use XBL would be off... this would be an evolution of the current way things work wouldn't it?

    Posted on: April 08 12:12 AM || Report || Reply

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