It’s certainly been an interesting opening round in the latest chapter of the next-gen console war. With Sony immediately jumping ahead with a clear-cut lead (and some at Nintendo lining up to jump off a bridge); I for one certainly anticipated this to be more of an even-handed fight. Instead, Microsoft has had such a tough time pulling the spotlight away from its rival that some are actually speculating that the Xbox could be on its way out.
Could the house that Gates built really be considering folding up shop regarding its game enterprise? Probably not. In fact, if you were to believe Corporate VP Phil Spencer, it’s a definitive no. He still calls the Xbox a critical brand, and assures us that the company is as committed to the console as ever. While I have no reason to doubt him, it’s not as if these Xbox closure rumors were pulled out of thin air. The fires were stoked after several high-level firings and resignations, not to mention a massive restructuring of many of their internal departments.
After some suggested that this was a sign of things to come, these rumors threw gas on the fire that Microsoft would eventually hit ctl+alt+del and sell its Xbox division off. While such speculations make for good press, Spencer states firmly that there simply isn’t anything to these baseless accusations.
“We're in the middle of a good, competitive battle in the system space with PlayStation, which is great for the industry…they remain extremely committed to us succeeding with Xbox…when I stand in front of Xbox fans, I want to make sure that they understand we are extremely committed to this product.” Spencer explains.
But allow us to consider a what-if scenario. What would an Xbox-free console market look like in the future?
Despite Nintendo’s recent struggles (with the failed Wii U acting as the albatross dragging them down into a handheld-only business model), I’m certain no one expected the Xbox’s future to be in jeopardy as well. While Spencer touts that this isn’t the case, I’m sure the very notion floating around the interwebs is enough to make some sit up and take notice. If we were to consider such an outcome, what would that really mean for gaming as a whole? How would the face of our industry change and would it help or hurt us as gamers?
First off, competition is the driving force of any market. If you’re a Sony fanboy who feels the PS4 is the bee’s knees, you certainly have to thank Microsoft for that. It was the constant pressure put on them over the last decade that drove Sony to create a better product (literally saving the company from bankruptcy, I might add). However, with the lack of real competition from either the Nintendo or Microsoft camp, you’d see the Sony brand suffer. It might take a while, but a lack of motivation to remain superior to their advisory would no doubt result in an eventual complacency with the product. Even if the Xbox brand were handed off to another company, it’d never seriously compete against an established console with a 20+ year track record (that is, unless someone like Valve or Rockstar took it over).
Keep in mind this isn’t going to happen any time soon. I’m not predicting a 2012-esque, end of the world scenario (but Nintendo has proven you can never say never). The Xbox brand is still a profitable one, not likely to pull up stakes in the future. I’m simply highlighting how competition is the best thing for our industry, not just better graphics. Even if you hate the other team; just know they’re a necessary evil.
I do, however, feel it would behoove those marketing strategists in the Microsoft war room to bring up these closure rumors at the next board meeting. As I’ve said in the past; perception is reality. If people keep hearing the rumor that the Xbox is on its way out, how long until they actually start believing it? I have to imagine this will directly affect revenue at some point. And that is when Mr. Spencer may learn the hard way that no amount of Tweeting will un-ring that bell.