Microsoft has a messaging issue when it comes to their rumored next-gen Xbox. They don’t have any messages, which is the issue.
After the break, let’s look at how Microsoft is losing the PR battle.
Here’s what we know for sure. Most sources say that the next Microsoft console is internally called “Durango” and it will be on store shelves for the 2013 holiday season. That’s about all we can agree on.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the unknowns. Everything. Seriously. No one outside of Microsoft knows anything for sure about the next-gen console, (and devs seem to be under very strict non-disclosure agreements) which is exactly the problem. With nothing substantial to talk about, the news sites are reporting on every rumor that hits the internet. VGLeaks has been racking up hits with every document leak and there’s a Twitter user named Superannuation that has been causing a stir with almost every post. Microsoft’s standard “no comment” replies to every inquiry just fuels the fire which means news outlets are framing the narrative for them – usually in negative terms.
That’s the problem that Microsoft is facing now. They’re losing control of the story before the console has even been officially announced. Every rumor brings another anti-gamer tidbit. The console is always-online. It won’t play used games. It’s a glorified TV streaming box. Kinect use is required. There’s no backwards compatibility. It will be $500 without a subscription agreement. The bad news just keeps coming and recent Twitter gaffes haven’t helped.
The latest rumors say the next Xbox will actually be two devices. One that is the “Durango” unit, full of next-gen goodness, while the other will be a cheaper Roku-like unit that will also supply backwards compatibility when it’s hooked up to its bigger brother.
When the Durango (game machine) launches, it will not support backwards compatibility for 360 games out of the box. Instead, this functionality will come from the other unit that will be networked with the Durango to provide this (not unlike the DVD add-on for the original Xbox).
The purpose of the smaller Xbox unit is to compete with Apple TV, but also provides XBLA and 360 game support which will give it an edge over Apple TV. The rumors of “always online required” comes from the smaller Xbox unit which may not have a disc drive and like Apple TV it would require a network connection and internet to provide any real functionality. It may be possible they will design both consoles to be stackable.
GamesIndustry International published the one piece of positive speculation I could find, but it comes off like a ridiculous attempt to cheerlead and allay fears.
Microsoft is in a slightly different position. It has the ability to make that gamble – and having launched a few big games of its own without incident, it has some expectations of what to look out for. Halo 4 and any recent Call of Duty debuted without any major hiccups in the multiplayer component – and expanding capacity to handle the single player element wouldn’t be too challenging for the company.
Consider also that, even if the new Xbox does require a constant Internet connection, Microsoft will have plenty of time to study trends before it reaches a significant roadblock. The system will be supply constrained at launch, meaning roadblocks won’t be a problem.
Additionally, there’s unlikely to be a game that has the same level of anticipation as a SimCity or Diablo, since it’s economically infeasible for publishers. (That’s why the holiday after a system’s launch is typically much more exciting for players – the installed base has reached a point that publishers can fully devote resources to it.)
That gives Microsoft a chance to learn, like Valve did with Steam, and be ready.
There’s always the possibility that Microsoft will blow everyone away when they unveil the next console. After all, everything so far has been a rumor. Everything may turn out to be false, or actually be implemented in consumer-friendly ways. It’s possible, but it’s unlikely that the audience will cut them much slack since the story will be cemented in their minds as negative. If the next console does require Kinect 2.0 to function, it’s going to be tough to combat the image most gamers have of people flailing awkwardly in front of laggy and unresponsive games. They could pull it off, but it’s going to be harder than if they had announced their machine a couple of months ago and taken control of the media from the outset.
There’s a school of thought that says any publicity is good publicity. Certainly, speculating about the next Xbox seems to be the hot thing to do, so they’re getting plenty of publicity. Here’s hoping Microsoft brings their A-game to the launch presentation and has a way to turn the discussion around.