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Back before Microsoft announced the Xbox One, everyone assumed that the next Xbox was going to be the first choice among gamers. With the Xbox 360, Microsoft understood social features and controller ergonomics, and it understood that gamers who used to be 14 year olds playing games were now 20- and 30-somethings who also appreciated having Netflix on their living room TVs.
But wait, doesn’t the Xbox One also have those things? You can now start Skype calls while gaming. Microsoft put over $100 million into developing the controller to fine-tune it to perfection. Then we have TV on the Xbox One. Also, sports. If you didn’t know the “Xbone” shows sports, then you definitely haven’t been paying attention.
Despite these features, the PlayStation 4 has surpassed the Xbox One in early sales. In the first week on eBay, the PS4 made $12.5 million dollars in one market (North America) while the Xbox One made less than $8 million in 13 markets, according to market research group Terapeak.
The consensus seems to be that Sony understood gamers while Microsoft alienated them. Microsoft spoke about Skype, which makes you think of computers, while Sony spoke about integrating social gaming features right into the PS4’s controller with a share button. We heard more about Microsoft’s controller than its investment in games; meanwhile, we’ve heard so much about Sony making it super easy for indie developers to publish on its platforms. Apps such as Netflix won’t need Playstation Plus, Sony’s premium service, but they will require a paid Xbox Live subscription. Oh, and Sony didn’t mention sports once.
I’m not even going to mention the blunders and policy reversals made by Microsoft prior to launch.
So here’s the thing. The Xbox One is actually pretty unique — but not as a gaming machine. It’s almost identical to the PlayStation 4, a Steam Machine is on the horizon, and if we think of graphics, then there is no reason for me to buy a console (mmm, PC). Wait, sorry — back to how cool the Xbone is. Microsoft has made a brilliant multimedia machine. It’s got multitasking and split-screen. Group video calls. Voice recognition and control. Phone and tablet support. Loads of video and music apps. It does all that really well, and of course, it plays games very well. It’s all designed to be so intuitive that even a child can use it.
The Xbox One does make a fantastic home entertainment system. Take my brother, for example. Without a PC or console, the only games he plays are the ones on his phone. Yet he is the one who introduced me to games. As kids, we split our pocket money to buy our first-ever computer graphics card to play Final Fantasy VII.
Does he watch the Electronic Entertainment Expo and read gaming news? No. Does he use Netflix? Yes. Does he use Skype and place video calls? Yes. Does he listen to music in the living room? Yes. Would he like to enjoy the occasional game from his sofa? Sure.
So why wasn’t the Xbox One marketed to both young people and home owners? Microsoft spent so much of its time trying to convince gamers that they didn’t just want to play games that it excluded the market that already put multimedia content over games in their everyday lives.
If the Xbox One wasn’t the successor to the Xbox 360 (and wasn’t called a Windows machine, either — ew) but instead pitched as a non-PC, very cool device to have in your living room for all your TV needs, then it would blow past the PlayStation 4 sales figures. Why? For the same reason that mobile phones have seriously threatened handhelds. Most people are casual. Microsoft could have marketed two very separate audiences and eaten so much cake.
Here’s the irony: Microsoft tried so hard to make a console that wasn’t a console that it succeeded. Now it seriously risks betraying the gamers who invested in it. The company is going to need smarter thinking and smarter-focused marketing to catch up with Sony. Time will tell what Microsoft decides to do.