Oh snap, things just got real up in this mofo…
It’s not uncommon to see the mixing of politics and entertainment. While Hollywood exports pop culture to the world, it often times (actually, most of the time) includes thinly veiled political messages with a touch of liberalism. It’s not uncommon in the least for actors, actresses, writers and executives to openly support left-leaning ideals. Bill Gates is just such a person. Over the years, he has been a vehement supporter of the agendas of the Democratic Party and our President (tax increases on the wealthy, more congressional authority, etc). In addition, he’s donated millions of dollars in support of the cause. Granted, the company he ran doesn’t necessarily have to reflect the ideas of its founder over-all, I doubt you’d see a trend within the organization leaning Republican. I think it’s safe to say that, based on its roster of executives, the Xbox creator is more in line with the political views of its former head Gates than any other party.
So, what do politics have to do with games you might ask? Well, in this case, everything!
We’ve seen a very different side of Microsoft in the press lately. One that sees it not just at odds with the actions of its own party (if you were to tie it to one side or the other), but taking on the President himself openly in the press. The recent NSA scandal was a PR nightmare for anyone involved. Subsequently, when it was thought that Microsoft may have been involved in farming out personal data of its users to the government, the company went into immediate damage control. They instantly drew a line in the sand, touting that not only would they not help the government spy on its citizens, but they would report on any such requests to the public. A smart move by the console powerhouse, as their image was already tarnished with a myriad if miscommunications and backpedaling in the press during 2013.
In an attempt to pull the horse back into the barn, President Obama recently announced reforms to the NSA that hoped to calm the nerves of some of the more overly paranoid individuals in the country (sitting with their foil hats and listing to “Somebody’s Watchin’ Me”). While he does state that we need tighter restrictions on the harvesting of data records (and the tone down of overseas espionage), at no time did he suggest that the NSA program and the covert operations taking place in the U.S. would end.
Apparently, this wasn’t the leap forward that some with Microsoft wanted to hear. Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive VP at Microsoft, responded to the President’s comments, essentially calling them “too little, too late.” Fearful of more data-mining attempts in the future, Smith states, “Despite the President’s reform efforts…there has not yet been any public commitment by either the U.S. or other governments to renounce the attempted hacking of Internet companies. This has been and remains a major concern…”
So can a political scandal really turn a staunch supporter into an outspoken member of the opposition this easily?
Yes. It’s very apparent what bad PR and a hurt reputation can do to motivate a company. Once the perception of the public tilted toward the NSA scandal being a huge over-reaching of government power (about the same time Microsoft’s name got dragged into the conversion), it was easy to see that political ties weren’t as important as their brand potentiality being branded with a scarlet letter. You’re seeing Microsoft jettison some unwanted baggage overboard that could hurt them in the press in the future (not to mention in the eyes of gamers). Think of it like when you conveniently forget to call that black-sheep cousin of yours to let him know the family is getting together for Thanksgiving dinner.
Also, Smith does bring up another good point; where is the "please forgive us and we’ll never do it again” line? For the most part, the government has only acknowledged said practices are occurring, but has yet to give any indication they intend to pull back on the operation (I mean, the term “tighter restrictions” the President used is pretty vague). Let’s hope Microsoft keeps their promise of letting us know exactly what the government is poking around for from now on.
Keep us posted Microsoft.