It would seem I’m not the only one reading the gaming tea leaves these days…
I take pride in my job. Not just because I want to do well, but because there is a satisfaction that comes with looking ahead and making a predictions (then finding out if you were right). The stormy sky ahead for Microsoft is one of those cases. On more than one occasions I’ve begrudgingly asserted that the Xbox’s path is uncertain. With a brand spankin’ new next-gen console out (and a huge fan base supporting their efforts), a company such as this should be on cloud nine. Instead, they are mired with internal discourse, leading to a rash of resignations, and sales data suggesting the fight against Sony is possibly out of their reach. As a result, speculation has begun to circulate that Microsoft could finally pull the plug on its console “experiment.” If a change isn’t made soon, this is an outcome I have deemed a serious possibility in the future, despite many suggesting I was nothing more than a Sony fanboy shilling for the opposition.
It would now appear that I am not a single, solitary voice raising concerns regarding the mindset of those piloting the Xbox mothership.
Taking it straight from an industry horse’s mouth may be the spoonful of sugar that is needed to swallow this bitter pill for some. If you roll the clocks back a few decades, you’ll remember that Microsoft was the dominant force in another field of gaming: the PC platform. While iOS has exploded as the new pop culture phenomenon, you can count on one hand the number of high profile games people were playing on Mac’s back in the day. The PC platform was literally the “be-all end-all” when it came to computer gaming in the 90’s (and even until recently). Recently, choices they’ve made with their latest OS Windows 8 has Tim Sweeney (founder of Epic Games) sighting his displeasure regarding their new direction. “I genuinely worry about the future of Microsoft. They've locked down this Windows 8. They say future app developers should focus there, but you can only ship that with Microsoft's permission and Microsoft's approval through Microsoft's store. And that sucks compared to the open nature of the PC platform before…" he said. Sweeney would also go on to insinuate that if Microsoft doesn’t get its shit together, developers will seek greener pastures in platforms like Linux or Steam as “backup plans.”
At this point (due to a bit of sleight of hand on my part), you’re probably wondering what the hell Windows 8 has to do with the success of the Xbox One and Microsoft’s next-gen standings?
It’s simple. The recent restructuring of internal departments under the banner “One Microsoft” was a sign that the company felt many of its developmental wings were too disjointed. Bringing things under one umbrella (in the hopes of implementing a more top-down approach) would not only streamline things, but help “brand” their products with the same heartbeat. Up until now, any problems that consumers (or investors) had with the video game console would be laid at the feet of those in charge of the Xbox. Even though the companies still have their own “heads” (with Phil Spencer recently being installed as overseer of the Xbox), there was kind of a “plausible deniability” among the rest of the company (IE: the PC people don’t take heat for a bad Xbox One roll-out). However, one thing is certain: EVERYTHING is coming from a brain-trust at the top. In the past, the true creativity and intelligent strategies seemed to spring from the smaller sub-groups underneath. Now it’s clear that Microsoft has installed a handful of people who are filtering down the same misguided mentality into all divisions. What makes me say this? You can take Sweeney’s own comments above as proof. Go back and re-read what he says and you may find it sounding very familiar. Much of the problems with the current state of affairs on the PC platform are the same issues that plagued the early days of the Xbox One (until Microsoft ultimately had to backpedal). From the company making indie development on the console rout with more red tape, to their used game policy, it would seem we’ve heard these same complaints once already. The issues facing Windows 8 are no different than those of the current Xbox, because they come from the same pool of bad ideas.
The Xbox One was able to make a course correction due to the public taking Microsoft to task early and often (and the mad scramble to fix it by the launch window). The Windows platform is still playing catch up, simply because the general populous doesn’t rely on it for gaming as much. The real point is this: the fate of the Xbox, Windows and Microsoft as an entertainment company are all intertwined. Bad decisions that trickle down on one side of the company (the Xbox One in this case) are bound to bleed over into other seemingly unrelated areas (the Windows 8 OS).
Instead of focusing on the Xbox One console itself, perhaps we should have been focused on Microsoft all along. They are the ones behind the wheel (and who will ultimately be responsible if they drive the Xbox in a ditch).