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Microsoft wants to win back core gamers, but can it pull that off?

Things are apparently starting to sink in for Microsoft. Like a hung-over frat boy waking up to a destroyed apartment after a rager, the company is starting to realize that some of the choices it's made in the year since the Xbox One was revealed may have trashed the brand. Between announcements of now defunct features like a mandatory Internet connection, hamstringing used games, an always-on Kinect, and losing all of your games if you're banned from Xbox Live (all while being kind of snarky jerks about it), Microsoft seemed to be giving the middle finger to its consumers in 2013. But now it's the morning after, and if Microsoft's the frat bro, its core consumers are the angry girlfriend who doesn’t feel very forgiving. Could it be that, despite its best efforts, Microsoft's previous behavior has turned that core audience against Xbox for good?

There is much to be said for the power of consumer opinion, and how willing a customer is to buy from a company they feel has mistreated them. "Core gamers" in particular feel this way about Microsoft's actions, since many of the negative features proposed for Xbox One disproportionately affected them. Though Microsoft didn't punch us in the face or steal our lunch money, there's a sense of brand loyalty that many gamers feel has been betrayed. It was sad watching Microsoft shoot itself in the foot over and over again until it was left standing on a bloody stump, and it singlehandedly drove some into Sony's loving, game-sharing arms.

However, hope is not lost. Phil Spencer's recent statements about the Xbox's future seem to be genuine, and Microsoft's recent changes in behavior back up his claims. Removing the Xbox One's built-in Kinect and dropping the price was certainly a good way to start, and the company focused almost exclusively on games during its E3 2014 press conference. Those choices represent a big change in course that is honestly appealing to the core market, rather than Microsoft telling us what we should like.

Spencer has also been much more humble than his predecessor, admitting Microsoft's made some poor decisions leading up to this point. As much as those choices have hurt their reputation and could continue to do so, owning up to them is a big step, and showing their commitment with tangible changes is the best thing they could have done.

Microsoft’s next steps are going to be critical ones, because it has to prove its commitment to core players will last. It's started inching forward with worthwhile deals in Games for Gold, making Xbox Live a tempting investment. Plus, removing the Kinect has given developers more GPU to work with, so they can increase the overall quality of games for the system. Rather than making the Xbox an all-encompassing entertainment box with little of interest to the gaming audience, these changes shift the product focus in a way that core gamers should favor and appreciate.

The clincher, however, is going to be exclusive franchises. This year’s E3 was impressive in terms of single titles, like Ori and the Blind Forest, Inside, and Project Spark, but the Xbox will need more than Halo to carry it in terms of ongoing series. That seems to be Microsoft’s plan of attack with games like Phantom Dust and Quantum Break, so it’s down to how well those are received. And hey, if Quantum Break takes off, Microsoft can tap Remedy Entertainment to become a second-party developer, or at least sweeten the exclusivity deal--something to help the Xbox find the Naughty Dog to its Playstation, or replace the relationship Microsoft once had with Bungie. Something to give it the edge it needs to bring its gamer audience back into the fold.

No question, winning back the core audience is going to be a hard one. Microsoft's already a year behind now, and with plenty of bad blood between them and their customer base, the recovery is going to be difficult. Still, knowing when to admit you're wrong and following up with honest change is a huge step in the right direction. Though there's a lot of groveling to do, a good apology will at least get the core market to start listening--though some flowers wouldn't hurt either.

27 comments

  • rxb - June 25, 2014 7:04 a.m.

    Hi miss Ketchum. I think as other have said if Sony managed to redeem the Playstation brand then MS could possible do the same. Personally I just think they need a humble message, focus on great games and enough time for people to see they have changed.
  • xblue878x - June 25, 2014 6:12 a.m.

    Im a Halo 1, Halo 2, and Halo 3. I played Halo 4, didn't really enjoy it as much as the previous games. One thing, I love the grunts. The way they look and talk and walk and run. I like shooting them in the ass and chasing them in a big ass field. Halo 4 was boring to me, the grunts just weren't the same and where was the Arbiter. Then in Halo 3, Johnson died along with Keyes. Not being thrilled with how Microsoft treated me with their product and all the requirement and the fact that Halo 4 wasn't worth it to me, Im really hesitant towards Microsoft.
  • FoxdenRacing - June 24, 2014 8:39 a.m.

    The words are there, now let's see if actions continue to back them up. Phil seems to be more genuine than Don, at least, though there's a lot of damage to undo. It's strikingly similar to the missteps made by Sony in the run-up to PS3, but was done with such a level of hubris, such a level of contempt for their customers and doubly so for the immense swath of the world not living an 'always on' lifestyle that it could have given pause to even Kutaragi or Jobs at their worst. You've hit the nail on the head: MS is struggling to appeal to anyone but the most dyed-in-the-wool brand loyalists, and it's hurting them badly. Phil is doing a decent job of sewing the tatters of their reputation back together, but there's a long way to go, and a lot of mud to wash out of their name. Personally, I'm worried that they emptied their magazine at launch, and are going to have an extremely weak library until winter. Neither system looks to have a lineup of must-haves coming, but that was the one thing XBO had over PS4 in the first few months. So far, in all my experience with it, the only selling points are genres I'm not interested in, genres I am interested in that have been ruined by microtrans [note: 'present' and 'ruined' are very different. FM3 and GT6 have them, but were not ruined by them], and the facilitation of laziness...when voice recognition works. Been countless times where I'm at a friend's house, watching them yell at it before giving up and grabbing the controller, and find myself thinking 'how was that quicker, more convenient, or less frustrating than just grabbing the controller in the first place?'...or even worse, when what we're doing is interrupted because it sees his wife walk in & wave to us and goes to her dashboard. Games I don't want, games I would want if they weren't twisted to pit my patience against my wallet, a heavy focus on integrating with services I don't have (cable TV), and attempts at 'convenience' that are inconvenient...there's nothing on the system for me, so I haven't bought it and have no inclination to. Also, welcome! I don't think I've seen your name go by on a byline before.
  • GR_AshleyReed - June 25, 2014 11:19 p.m.

    Thanks! I've been around, lurking in the shadows, but if you're a fan of commentaries this is indeed my first.
  • Eightboll812 - June 27, 2014 5:39 p.m.

    Of course it is genuine...at least now. They are flirting with disaster. Nothing motivates a company to listen like when they are losing market share, and are getting pressure from the higher ups to drive sales and growth. They just might be nearing the pain point to where they won't ever dare some of the crap they tried before. My fear was that they'd ride this out, and turn the crap back on eventually. The difference with PS3 and Xbone, was that while there was a price issue, and hubris, the PS3 wasn't a bad machine, woefully underpowered, trying to masquerade as a TV set top box, and riddled with DRM, paywalls, and other always-on, always-spying nonsense that turned a lot of people off with the Xbone. So while all it took was eating a humble sandwich and a price cut to get the PS3 where it needed to be, MS had to retract a bunch of stuff on top of the humble sandwich and price cut. I still haven't heard them say they were wrong with the used game restrictions and stuff. I've heard them say they were misunderstood, and they communicated poorly, and things like that. Maybe I missed the apology article somewhere, so maybe they have and I just don't know it. Not admitting it was fundamentally wrong, leaves me to believe they still might try it again, and just make sure to "communicate it" better, lol. It's like the difference between apologizing that someone's feelings got hurt [by me] and apologizing for calling someone a fat cow. The latter takes responsibility, the former is hemming and hawing around the topic, trying to avoid personal responsibility. MS has done a lot more of the former than the latter, at least from what I've read.
  • FoxdenRacing - June 30, 2014 8:11 a.m.

    The worst part about the PS3 hardware-wise was being a bear to work with...hence all the awful ports. Either you targeted PS3 and all other platforms suffered, or you targeted something else and the PS3 suffered. The rest? Well, let's just say we don't disagree. I really don't like where MS is trying to go, am disgusted at the 'monetization' schemes [pushy, pricy microtrans in a $60 game? Carving up beloved old franchises into nickel-and-dimeware? Seriously?], don't care for most of the 'features' that pushed what should be its primary job...playing games...to the realm of 'oh, and it plays games, too' during last year's conferences, don't care for shouting at laughable speech recognition for 30-45 seconds when I could just push a button instead (the benefit to all of the guys having one is having firsthand experience with just how clumsy K2 is), and am showing that disapproval by not buying it. It doesn't offer me anything I want; the closest it gets is providing the ability to be peer-pressured into a game I'm not really interested in, get run roughshod over in, and generally not enjoy, but hey, at least I could be miserable with all the friends that are super-excited for it. That, combined with sharting all over the two must-have exclusives for me [Forza and Halo, the system's defining racing sim and what used to be the last bastion of arena deathmatch; now, FM5 is an insult to all that came before, and Halo's been having an identity crisis since (and including) Reach, folding in more and more ideas from CoD], and policies that make me want a shower even after they've been repealed [on grounds that they had the gall to try it in the first place] have reduced my interest to 0.
  • daniel-acree - June 24, 2014 8:19 a.m.

    i have been an xbox guy ever since the first halo came out. and for the longest time ive had had alot of issues with sony products except never with their consoles. and i used to swear by the microsoft brand. and i specifically remember some of the questions that were asked before the the full reveal of the xbox one. and one thing that just killed it is when the question came up. "if the xbox one requires internet connection all of the time. what about our troops deployed down range? how will they be able to play?" and the announcer answered the question with a nice snarky " oh we have a solution! its called the xbox 360!" and BOOM! goodbye microsoft with veterans. i think sony is going to take it from here and pick up the pile of shit that you decided to leave on the side of the road for an outrages amount of money.
  • AsheDarkthorne - June 24, 2014 8:29 a.m.

    Why are you hashing up stuff that to be honest is not even relevant anymore. Sounds to me that your just a fanboy looking to keep the flame wars going.
  • alex-eddy - June 24, 2014 11:29 a.m.

    No, it is relevant Still. Even with their exclusives they tout, and a price cut the system is not selling. Like the piece says, they blew their load last E3 for damage control and doubled down on paid exclusives. Which as we can see with Garden Warfare, and Titanfall has not worked to persuade customer's who either own a 360 or not to buy their system. This year they are doing the same thing they did during the last couple years of the 360, with their annual franchises like Fable, Forza,Dance Central, and Halo. And it's not pulling people into that ecosystem. Simply because their messaging has been piss poor, more so than Nintendo's on the Wii U. At least with the Wii U you know it's going to have quality First party Nintendo titles. With the Xbox One we are kind of seeing where it goes, they have no first party studios working on large franchises outside of the ones we expect. The whole point of having different console manufacturer's is to have different titles that the other one doesn't have. Sure Xbox has Halo, Forza and what not, but they have not invested in new IP's. They buy a game for exclusivity, and after it ships sends them on their way. Halo wars rings a bell, same with what they did to RARE studios, who has been reduced to nothing but Kinect SPorts, which isn't selling btw. So this piece is very relevant as the changes Microsoft has made may not sway people who have been burned over the Years by Microsoft, me included. They have to show me some foresight on their part, with investing in First party games. They need a Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch, Santa Monica, and SCE World Wide to make some diversity in their catalog. This is why Sony right now is destroying them, it isn't because they had more money to throw at exclusive deals, it's because they have a diversity of games, from F2P, Indie, Third Party and First/Second party. Which looks very enticing to any gamer, big or small, instead of SPORTS, SHOOTERS, RACING,...... REPEAT.Even games that are not even out yet, you can see a preview of big games coming out, along with games like "No mans Sky". Plus they have a friendlier ecosystem for Indie's, and an easier box to develop for. The xbox one was not made for gamer's first, which can be seen in the marketing, and design of the box. Playstation 4 was, and the fact they gave options to their buyer's and don't charge them for access to netflix shows they don't see themselves as the be all for online connectivity.
  • AsheDarkthorne - June 26, 2014 8:12 a.m.

    I see your response is not really an answer to my question your whole Diatribe included the DRM mess and the whole statement about soldiers that was said. One the DRM issue needs to die because as I stated it is irrelevant to the overall status of Microsoft. I would suggest you also look at the turn of ID@Xbox for your indie games how that has grown exponentially in the last 4-5 months since it's push. There are many indy developers working on games on the Xbox One for that reason and many have stated how easy it is to work on the system. Obviously you fail to mention that. I am not worried about Microsoft "creating" a new franchise and focusing on established sellers for their systems. I would much rather see a CRACKDOWN than have a new IP not accepted by the masses do to it's unfamiliarity . I am sure Insomniac games will change this with Sunset Overdrive. You say that the machine isn't made for gamers. On who's authority do you make the claim? I have the machine and it is very much a gaming machine it plays games just as well as any of my other consoles. Is it aesthetically appealing? I would say so. If you refer to what it can do then I hate to tell you but the whole graphics superiority that both Sony and it's fanboys tout is something that even the naked eye truly can't tell. Another aspect you bring up is "they gave options to their buyer's and don't charge them for access to Netflix shows they don't see themselves as the be all for online connectivity." Didn't Microsoft just bring down their pay wall on this? Did they ever put a gun to their subscribers heads and say you must do this? I have been an Xbox Live subscriber for the only reason when it comes to playing multiplayer games there is NO service like LIVE. Sony may have never charged "subscribers" extra but they are doing something even worse. They are forcing all their FREE PS3 subs to pay for PS+ just to play their new console. They had the perfect window with how online connectivity was on PS3 and now ruined it. Of course you will say sales dictate otherwise. Truth be told I can count on 1 hand how many "1st party exclusives" Sony has. None the less you as I have stated have made this into ammunition for the flame wars to continue. I personally see the best and worst in both new consoles but at the same time see them as only being in their infancy and expect great things from both systems down the line.
  • Eightboll812 - June 27, 2014 5:25 p.m.

    You accuse others of making statements to fan the flames of console wars, and then you add your own lie on top of it to further fan the flames...just from an Xbox fanboy perspective. "They are forcing all their FREE PS3 subs to pay for PS+ just to play their new console." SMH Oh, and DRM, DRM, DRM, DRM, DRM.. lol
  • AsheDarkthorne - June 28, 2014 7:28 a.m.

    "Lie" what lie? AM I wrong in saying that with this generation you need to pay for PS+ to play with others? Last I check that was key in Sony's plan for the PS4 no one plays for free online anymore. You sir are just trolling but if I am wrong then PROVE IT. Oh and since you mention DRM if you actually believe Sony doesn't and didn't have a DRM plan for the PS4 then you are only fooling yourself which is exactly what they want you to do, be a fool that is.
  • Eightboll812 - June 29, 2014 9:30 p.m.

    Let's just skip past all the back and forth to the inevitable conclusion of this conversation. You chastised others' for fanning the fanboy flames, and you are doing that very same thing, except from your little pathetic MS fanboy perspective. You got caught trotting out a classic MS fanboy canard. Not only that, it's a lie. And you are propagating it. Any casual search on the terms of Sony's PS+ will show you are lying. First you said: "They are forcing all their FREE PS3 subs to pay for PS+ <b>just to play</b> their new console." Now you change your statement to refer to playing online. But your original statement was a blanket statement about having to have plus JUST TO PLAY their new console. That's a bold faced lie. You know it too, or else you wouldn't have changed your statement to: "Last I check that was key in Sony's plan for the PS4 no one plays for free <b>online</b> anymore." A clever rewording, but even that is a lie. The correct truth is that Sony allows a publisher to determine what is or is not behind the Plus paywall. They aren't forcing all online play behind the paywall. But of course we all know you aren't interested in correct statements or the truth about "the other console". You are just here to play the role of the MS fanboy, which you are doing oh so excellently, sir. Bravo. Special clap for the little touch of hypocrisy you didn't think anyone would call you out on. And encore clap for the "but they [Sony] are doing something even worse." when in reality if anything they've given back the full value and then some with free games with the plus subscription. Oh, but no, that's worse than MS, lol. Well played, but returned back into the back corner of your court. I especially liked how you worked some other MS fanboy jabs in there, while accusing others of playing Sony fanboy, such as: "Truth be told I can count on 1 hand how many "1st party exclusives" Sony has." Whew, now let's all start doing what you suggested, which is stop with the fanboy rhetoric. Unless that's only something you expect others to follow and not yourself ;-).
  • daniel-acree - June 25, 2014 7:33 p.m.

    i do see your point. ive been a gamer since NES. and played everything in between. but as a us army combat veteran. alot of us are gamers for the down time. but you could say yes i am a fanboy. and i do love alot of things about both consoles. and im sure both do make up alot for eachother downfalls. i was a ps2 guy for the longest time. and when i got my first xbox and played halo and farcry i was absolutly amazed and fell in love with microsoft. i dont hate microsoft really. there are only two companies in this world i actually hate. thats apple and electronic arts. and thats honestly why ive almost completely turned to steam to root out the middle man and see that alot of these indie games that keep coming out are actually alot better than some that ive played on console. seriously check out nether on steam. fucking amazing!
  • robert-tenty-ashford - June 27, 2014 4:33 a.m.

    I second that mate! Have done the exact same thing myself. And call me a stubborn armed forces supporter but I did find Microsofts xbox 360 comment a bit of a kick in the teeth, not cool.
  • Shigeruken - June 24, 2014 8:15 a.m.

    That DDR3 ram is still the largest obstacle to overcome. I'd love to know who thought a console that's supposed to last ten years would be fine with vram that runs at a fraction of the speed of every recent gpu. With the push for higher resolution textures, and larger environments, willingly building a system with such a glaringly obvious bottleneck simply boggles the mind. Oh, but don't worry, Microsoft has got devs covered with a tiny cache of slightly faster esram! If you're clever enough, you might figure out a way to make use of it! Thank Tesla for Phil Spencer. We may be stuck with a crippled system, but at least we'll get some decent games for it.
  • Vonter - June 24, 2014 3:18 p.m.

    Nintendo: *Waves hand* They mostly need exclusives, mainly because they're at a disadvantage in regards to performance. Also I don't know if they could offer 360 and original Xbox games. They need to conceive an identity if they want to sell that VCR looking machine.
  • Shigeruken - June 25, 2014 3:25 a.m.

    If you're implying that the Wii U being a less powerful system than everything else is a similar situation to the Xbox One having vram that's significantly slower than the standard for the last five-six years, then I've failed to get my point across. Overall the Wii U is a comparatively weak system, yes, but at least it's designed to a sensible standard. The DDR3 ram of the X1 is a bottleneck. If the X1 shipped with any speed of GDDR5 vram (perhaps instead of shipping with kinect), third party games would almost be graphically identical on both the X1 and PS4. There would be none of this 792p business and the draw distances would surely be the same. The only difference would be that the PS4 could have slightly nicer post-processing or a more stable framerate. One substandard component is limiting the potential of the entire system. Microsoft's goal with the Xbox One was to launch a system that will last at least ten years, that gamers would want to play both first party and third party games on, all for a premium price. So it's ridiculous that the X1 is bottlenecked by DDR3 ram. Nintendo's systems are developed without regard for third party developers, with no specific lifespan in mind, at a lower price point. So it makes sense that the system isn't on par with anything else. The Wii U's biggest shortcoming in my opinion is that it's region locked, and overpriced outside of the main territories. Either way, the Wii U is more or less a failure in it's current state so I probably shouldn't haven wasted so much of your time with this explanation.
  • xblue878x - June 25, 2014 6:06 a.m.

    I like the WII U
  • Vonter - June 25, 2014 9:42 a.m.

    Oh I appreciated, so essentially the X1 is like the Genesis and the PS4 is like the SNES. Like I also said, the X1 lacks an identity, in their E3 conference they showed their first party exclusives like and after thought. "Halo Collection, and Halo 2, we didn't move anything and can change the graphics back and forth. Do you want to play with TJ Combo, good, here's a cult classic obscure game, how does it play? You didn't had and Xbox? Oh Fable, this one doesn't play like the old ones. Also here's Conker, no, we're not making a new game, you are." To me it came like a lack of confidence in their own exclusive content [aside from indies which at most are timed exclusives]. Wii U despite failure, struggling and lack of third party has more of an identity, even if that is being a Nintendo games machine.

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