Is Microsoft’s silence regarding NextBox damaging its chances of success?

10 Apr

One cannot fail to notice the recent influx of rumours surrounding Microsoft’s follow-up to the Xbox 360, codenamed ‘Durango’. Unlike the rumours surrounding Sony’s PlayStation 4 before they officially announced it back in February – rumours which were generally quite positive and then exceeded (particularly with regard to RAM) – Microsoft are going through something of a PR shitstorm.  In light of Sony’s relative openness regarding PS4, Microsoft’s perpetual silence has left fans feeling frustrated, and perhaps worst of all, ignored.

Their problems began when Kotaku ran a story last Thursday in which they claimed that two ‘sources’ – who allegedly have access to early development kits – reported that:

“Unless something has changed recently, Durango consumer units must have an active internet connection to be used. If there isn’t a connection, no games or apps can be started. If the connection is interrupted then after a period of time – currently three minutes, if I remember correctly – the game/app is suspended and the network troubleshooter started.”

The report goes on to say, however, that other developers familiar with the hardware have claimed they are not aware of such plans. Incidentally, the claims of these two sources seem to corroborate a report from Edge back in February that this was indeed Microsoft’s plan for the NextBox.

Then the following day, things took a turn for the worse. Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth took to Twitter and staunchly defended ‘always online’ technology.

By now many of you have already ready seen the exchange he took part in with Manveer Heir, a designer at BioWare, so I will not recount it. If you haven’t, a Redditor was smart enough to get a screenshot of it which you can view here. Following outcry from his followers Orth’s account is now protected, for his own benefit no doubt.

Needless to say, comparing an internet connection to one’s electricity supply was perhaps jumping the shark. Not surprisingly, Microsoft were very quick to distance themselves from Orth’s remarks. What they subsequently didn’t do was give us anything resembling a bone on which to gnaw.

But whilst Orth is not a spokesperson for the company (and thus his comments should be taken with a pinch of salt) these comments only add to people’s understandable worries about an ‘always online’ console. As Heir pointed out, it makes one wonder as to whether Microsoft have learned a thing from the woes of both Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts. It also raises the question, “Do Microsoft listen to their fans?”

So far, so not very good. Monday brought yet more rumours, one being a possible reveal date of 21st May. The second was regarding the cost of the machine. According to respected technology journalist Paul Thurriot (known to have sources within Microsoft) the machine is going to be “expensive” and will cost somewhere in the region of $500 or $300 with a subscription. You can see his interview here.

It is important to remember, that despite another report backing up these claims, all of the above is rumour, conjecture and no doubt some of it is complete twaddle. In 99% of circumstances I would say ignore it. However, after being pleasantly surprised at how accurate the playground gossip about PS4 turned out to be, I would not be shocked if most of what we have read over the last week was actually correct.

And this is my concern – that all of this is true. We live in an age where we now applaud Ubisoft for keeping titles such as Watch Dogs and Far Cry 3 expansion Blood Dragon secret (although that hasn’t stopped hackers from tricking Ubisoft’s uPlay store into allowing free downloads of their games, Blood Dragon included). The video game industry is basically one almighty sieve through which info constantly seeps. Usually the downside of this is that it leaves developers and publishers with nothing to surprise us with. In Microsoft’s case, the ramifications of these recent steady drips of ‘info’ could be of huge cost to the Washington giant’s Xbox division.

The simple reason for this – if true – is their apparent and quite astonishing arrogance with regard to pricing. Seven years ago Sony were severely criticised for what was considered hubris on a grand scale when they announced their pricing for PS3, and the public voted with their wallets resulting in a poor first year or two for Sony. It is difficult for one not to draw similar conclusions this time around.

Microsoft are a business and their purpose is to make money, something they are rather good at. But when you weigh up the cost of $500 for a console, $60 for an Xbox Live subscription and at least $60 for one game? You’re looking at a sizeable outlay come launch. Is it any wonder that most people across forums all over the internet are saying they’ve already decided that PS4 is their console of choice (not mentioning PS4’s apparent technical superiority)? With no doubt huge amounts of money already spent on R&D, production, software development, and yet more to be spent on marketing, if they’ve been paying attention to gamers’ reactions recently Microsoft should be very worried about recouping it.

Whilst we admittedly know nothing about the new Xbox, that itself is also a huge problem. Microsoft are obviously trying to keep us on the edge of our seats, but by not reacting to Sony’s unveiling event and giving us nothing to go on, it reeks of an arrogance that Sony have learned all too well will only serve to come back and bite you on the arse.

If the event allegedly taking place next month does indeed materialise, Microsoft will have to wow us in order to woo us. There is every chance Microsoft could do that, but Sony have done a pretty excellent job of getting not only gamers on side, but developers and press. Their coverage has been extremely positive and if they can keep surfing this wave into E3 – where heavy-hitters like Uncharted and Gran Turismo surely await – then Microsoft could face an uphill battle to keep some of their loyal customers.Their lack of communication to try and keep some of them is also concerning.

Unless Microsoft can blow us all away unexpectedly and prove us all wrong, their aloof behaviour and failure to learn from others’ mistakes, could see Microsoft sailing into troubled waters.

On the other hand, we know nothing about it and should all stop being so negative. Bring on May 21st!

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