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Microsoft : The Difficult Third Album


Comparisons between industries are never perfect. In fact they’re often crude. But they’re fun and occasionally useful, nonetheless.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve always drawn a good many parallels between the automotive and games industries. Both require massive, high-risk, up-front R&D and broader investment costs. Both require huge, multi-disciplined teams working on complex problems that touch upon everything from aesthetics to old-fashioned precision-mechanics. Both are a labour-of-love for employees within and consumers of each respective product. In short: both are fuelled by passion.

Differences notwithstanding:  I believe there is a lot that certain players in the games industry, Microsoft, for example, can learn from experienced car manufacturers.

Don’t believe me? Watch this:

Now, if, like me, you love cars, that will have moved you on some deep, primeval level. Hell, it’s car porn. But what really did we see? Was there any flashy imagery, dude-bro smiles, catchy phrases, focus group nonsense or unwanted clutter whatsoever? No. There was the machine, presented in its purest form doing the job it was born to do. And if you know your audience and understand what drives them, then that’s arguably all that you’ll ever need.

So why are Microsoft letting what drives them – profit – dictate the next Xbox so overridingly?

Before you start: all listed firms are driven by profit – I get it. Even Audi. But if you start to put the horse before the cart; if you start to let the bottom line not only drive but rule your design-decisions, then you may as well quit whilst you’re ahead. Especially if you’re in the market of luxury, passion-fuelled goods. Why? Because your market’s smart and they can smell a con from a mile off. It might take them a while to fully absorb this truth – and you might become over-confident in the process – but sooner or later you’ll push the boat out too far. And pay for it.

Perhaps Microsoft’s dominance of other markets is driving this arrogant approach. Want to charge me a fortune for an incremental OS or Office upgrade? Well, OK, it’s not like I have much of a realistic choice on that front – in the workplace at least. Want to grind my nose in the dirt with an always-on console, a murdered second-hand market and a media-player-first-games-console-last approach?

Erm, ok: I choose Sony.

Steve Ballmer: a man driven by a good many things; games aren't one of them

Steve Ballmer: a man driven by many things; games not being one of them

Microsoft had me at hello with the first Xbox. Ugly, yes, but honest and admirable. The 360 was a genuine thrill: HD gaming from the comfort of your sofa. What more could a gamer want? These last few years, however, have seen a drastic turn for worse with clear boardroom politics, fuelled by an ecosystem that’s haemorrhaging users, barely hiding a real sense of desperation to lock people in and squeeze them for all they’re worth. Old habits die hard and Microsoft, it seems, think that they have you cornered.

With what, might I ask? Halo 5? Forza 5? Gears 5? High 5, dude-bro!

The difficult third album? Maybe for you, Microsoft.

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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.

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One Comment

  1. There’s a great expression that says: Do great things and the money will come. Look for the money and you’ll struggle to find it.
    Apple and Nintendo are perfect examples of this. Sony were until PS3.
    It’s difficult to go on rumours, but it sounds far too much like Microsoft are trying to design Xbox to fill market gaps rather than making something people will actually want. I hope they are learning the lessons and looking to do something much better than we expect.
    It’s a tricky one. If they go fully focused on Kinect and the living room they open up a wider market but alienate core users. If they go totally hardcore gamer focused they narrow their audience. For me it needs to be 70% amazing machine with hardcore games, and 30% amazing extras that can be focused on later to sell to the masses.

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