“…dogs and cats…living together…MASS HYSTERIA!” – Peter Venkman
I’m not a game developer, nor have I ever worked for a game company. So, I can’t honestly speak on what it takes to rollout a new console for launch. However, as a gaming journalist and video game enthusiast, I CAN tell you this next-gen will be used as a template for years to come as a cautionary tale on how NOT to completely sink your PR campaign. I recently touched on just how large of a hole both companies have dug themselves in over the last few months regarding negative PR. Frankly, this debacle has resulted in Microsoft and Sony playing catch up way too late in the game, when they should be focusing on more important aspects of the launch.
In the past, game companies launching a console had to worry about things such as game libraries, controller accessories, or how they would meet supply demands. Now, with the digital age driving so much of what we do (gaming is no exception), Microsoft and Sony are facing challenges with this launch they’ve never experience before. When information (or rather, misinformation) is reported and people are misled, it’s not so easy to pull it back. Back in the day, reporting through mediums such as game magazines was a much easier way of containing information. Now, if one little incorrect factoid gets out (if it goes viral), it can literally spread like a wildfire across the Internet, thus causing the companies to focus precious assets on putting out these fires instead of focusing on other things.
I know I've beaten up Microsoft a bit in this arena, but I do feel like the guys there didn’t really learn their lesson between the launch of the 360 and now. If you remember, in Microsoft’s attempt to beat its competitor Sony to the market, the company rushed the Xbox 360’s release, despite the console still containing hardware defects. This resulted in the infamous Red Ring of Death that plagued many systems. And such a huge debacle forced Microsoft to cover the costs of repairing or replacing thousands of consoles, which no doubt ended up losing the company millions. So, was it worth beating Sony to launch when this kind of headache followed? You would assume it would have taught Microsoft the valuable lesson of being measured, precise, and having no wasted motion with its next launch. Unfortunately, this didn’t really happen. The console has been plagued by sloppy misconceptions that have required repeated clarifications, not to mention that much of the maligned news came from Microsoft itself, which forced the company to constantly backpedal (in response to negative reactions from the gaming community). This has led to gamers becoming so distrustful of their own console that they’ve sought ways to block some of its key features. Recently, an Xbox One accessory has become available that will literarily cover the lens of the Kinect’s camera in order to make the console feel less invasive in people’s homes. Can you remember the last time you covered your Super Nintendo or Dreamcast with a sheet because you were afraid it was watching you?
Sony has also dropped the ball. Granted, maybe the ball didn’t bounce as many times before the guys there were able to recover it, but it was dropped nonetheless. Now, I don’t expect Sony to answer for things like delayed launch titles (such as Watch_Dogs and Driveclub), as there are simply too many X-factors in play that it couldn’t foresee. Watch_Dogs and Driveclub are both games that have so many working parts, it would be impossible to predict some of the issues and snags that could cause a delay. However, when it comes to what people know or don’t know about the PlayStation 4, that falls at the feet of Sony themselves, as they are ultimately the gatekeepers of this information. Take its usage policy for instance. There has been so much confusion regarding used games lately that Sony was forced to create an FAQ just to try and clear the air once and for all. This is one topic that perfectly represents the cluster-fuck that has become this next-gen launch cycle. The FAQ reads: “You can share disc games with your friends and play used disc games on your PS4™ system just like you can on a PlayStation®3 system. You do not have to connect to the Internet or pay any usage fees to play used games.”
That last quote used to be a really simple, common sense thing. Sony is not going to charge me twice for my own game. Have the companies REALLY muddied the water so bad that people can’t even figure out whether a simple game-night at a friend’s house will work anymore? Also, why does Sony have to answer for a concept that was perpetuated by its competitor (as Sony immediately took an opposite position to Microsoft on this very issue early on)? This comes in addition to its own shortcomings Sony has had to answer for that ranges from its online data policy (also an issue Microsoft is facing) to pulling down hardware specs regarding the DualShock controller and the PS4. In this instance, do you blame the student for not understanding his math homework, or the Teacher for not presenting the information properly?
As we inch closer to launch day for both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, I can’t help but look beyond to what the next cycle will bring. The juggling act that companies will have to contend with in regards to how the stream of information is controlled is only going to become more complex as social media continues to grow. All I can say is good luck to those who work in the front offices of Microsoft and Sony whose job it is to sort out these PR nightmares that are continually dropped in their laps.
I don’t envy you, my friends…