Don’t kill the messenger, even if he deserves it.
No one really wants to be the bearer of bad news. I don’t care if you’re an executive in the gaming industry, film or television; it’ just not a pleasant job. Because of this, people will literally bend over backwards to soften the blow. They’ll dance around the issue, try a bit of sleight of hand (by sandwiching announcements between other stories), among a myriad of other tactics. All in the hopes of reducing the negative impact as much as humanly possible. The best method is always to rip the Band-Aid off in one quick motion, but most are afraid to just be upfront and honest in that regard (even when they make a business decision they feel is in their best interest).
Which is exactly the kind of thing that has left Microsoft head Phil Spencer “Mea culpaing” his ass off in the press.
It doesn’t seem like all that long ago to me, but E3 2013 may be a distant memory for some. However, to the folks at Microsoft’s corporate offices, last summer is not a time in the company’s history they are soon to forget. What should have been a monumental occasion (with the industry singing their praising and touting their accomplishments of their next-gen system), instead turned out to be a real PR nightmare. While making several miscalculations in the early goings which resulted in a firestorm of negative feedback from gamers (their policy on used games being the most prevalent), Microsoft would spend the majority of the following months having to clarify some of their ideas, and outright back-peddling on others. In a recent interview, Spencer looked back on that period remembering that it “…wasn't a highpoint for me.” While he doesn’t go so far as to say the new direction they had planned for their system was wrong, he does admit that they should have just lain their cards on the table right from the beginning. “…our messaging around what we believed in was confused...mainly by us… when you're going to say something to a consumer that might put them off, it's better to just be direct and honest, rather than trying to sugar-coat something that might be controversial…I'd rather deal with the controversy of what we're doing, and have an above-table conversation about that topic.” He says.
While it sounds like they’ve seen the error of their ways, has Microsoft really learned its lesson?
I have my concerns. Frankly, the company is still in full on spin-mode when it comes to the overall performance of their console on the world wide stage. While you can point at month-to-month sales data that shows slight bumps here and there nationally, on a global scale there’s no denying that the PlayStation 4 has simply run away with the opening laps of this race. The PS4 is has reportedly outsold the Xbox One by a 2:1 margin, yet to hear them tell it, Microsoft is #1. After the release of its much anticipated Titanfall, they actually claimed that the Xbox One was the most successful system launch ever! While that headline might look good in the news feed of a smartphone, upon further review, you see they slickly compare the sales figures to its predecessor the Xbox 360 and not to its Sony counterpart (whose infallible success simply can’t be touched at the moment).
Twisting sales figures into a press release that suggests you’re the top dog (when you’re only number two by default) doesn’t really seem like they’ve made any real strides to tone down the BS does it?
But honestly I can’t blame Microsoft. I'd probably do the exact same thing if I were in their shoes. I mean, what is their alternative? I get that this is their attempt at making the best of a bad situation, as I honestly can’t see how the Xbox is ever going to catch the lead car at this point (barring some unforeseen misstep by Sony). My gripe with my beloved Microsoft is that they don’t seem to have a real bead on who they are anymore. More importantly, I’m beginning to wonder where they’re going. It’s a worrisome time, as I can’t project what the landscape will look like one year from now.
Indecision is an enemy of success. You can’t hit a moving target as they say, but at this point, I’m not sure Microsoft is even clear on what their shooting at.