On June 19th, much of the gaming community let out a collective cheer after Microsoft completely reversed on all of its DRM policies for the upcoming Xbox One. After industry PR-speak and an abysmal attempt at disseminating positive information about the new console failed to show any reason for the average gamer to choose it, angry consumers took to forums and meme generators to voice their resistance to the decisions being made by Microsoft. Image macros making jokes like “I’ve got 99 problems, and my name is One” quickly became popular in the days following the system’s initial reveal, but soon, this attitude morphed into something else.
Instead of explaining the pros and cons of each system (pre-reversal), many gaming forums and news sites simply turned into platforms to spew hate not only towards the manufacturer of the system, but also towards anyone interested in purchasing one. A quick look at news aggregate site N4G saw a console wars post quickly devolve into a platform to spew ridiculous comments about how the next generation of consoles will play out.
“Sony commited to gamers. Ms commited to money, at expense of gamers. Xbox One wants to lure early adopters and then release Kinect games and keep soccer moms happy with yoga and deepak chopra channels after the 1st two or 3 years,” writes user TemplarDante.
Grammatical errors aside, what members of these communities don’t seem to understand is that both Microsoft and Sony are in the video game business to, first and foremost, make as much profit as possible. No one is being forced at knife-point to purchase either of these consoles. That’s the beauty of capitalism; companies actually have to earn their sales by delivering a product that consumers will enjoy. Microsoft’s initial strategy for this was to go after a wide spectrum of entertainment users—gamers, as well as TV and movie fans—to create an “all-in-one” system to appeal to more than just core gamers. Sony’s strategy relied on core gamers almost exclusively, with the PlayStation 4 reveal including clips of new entries in established hardcore IPs and a look at indie games from well-respected developers. A large group of core gamers quickly decided that this meant that Sony was on their side, and that only Sony cared about them, but Sony doesn’t care about them: they care about what’s in their wallet.
Sony’s decision to appeal to hardcore gamers and create a powerful, dedicated gaming device has paid off, but that’s the key phrase: “paid off.” I saw an image macro the other day that stated, “Every choice by every company is made to make more money,” and it’s absolutely correct. Sony is made up of over 140,000 people. It cannot afford to make decisions out of good will, especially after finally reaching a profit for the first time in years.
But what about PlayStation Plus? Isn’t that program designed to give a tremendous value to owners of the PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Vita? Yes, it is absolutely is, but before gamers can get such a tremendous value on games, they must first purchase one of those machines. Many of the games offered in the program are also third-party releases, meaning Sony isn’t losing as much money as it would be if the games were all Uncharted or LittleBigPlanet, for example.
Microsoft’s strategy has also begun to move more towards Sony’s plan in this regard, as well. With every month leading up the release of the Xbox One, Microsoft will be giving away free game downloads to Xbox Live Gold members. The coming months will feature Halo 3 and Assassin’s Creed II, while Fable 3 has already been made available. This decision was not just made because of the righteous hearts of Don Mattrick or Phil Spencer; it was made to help improve public opinion of Microsoft before the Xbox One is released, hence the program’s conclusion at that point, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Microsoft’s reversal on DRM was also made for this reason. While vocal gamers certainly had a role in damaging perception of the Xbox One, Microsoft’s bottom line on the device was what drove the change. Perhaps this was why a decision had not been made prior to E3: Microsoft simply underestimated how poorly the public viewed the Xbox One. Had Microsoft not seen such a huge initial gap in pre-order figures between the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, this decision would have never occurred. This in itself shows the power of the consumer and the concept of voting with one’s wallet. A huge change in approach for Microsoft was taken because of the way its initial product was received by consumers.
Of course, third-party publishers have to face some of these same issues, albeit from a different perspective. When Electronic Arts announced a decision to do away with the online pass program, some assumed this was simply in preparation for the new policies being put in place by Microsoft for the Xbox One. Given the near-universal support shown to Microsoft by EA at E3, this argument held some water. However, EA has stated that the company will not be reinstating the online pass following the policy changes from Microsoft. Could “big bad EA” be doing something to help out gamers on a budget? Yes. Were they doing this solely for the benefit of those gamers? No.
It’s no coincidence that this follows one of EA’s worst news years in the company’s history. After horrible public reaction (but good sales) of SimCity and lackluster performances from both Dead Space 3 and Crysis 3, this decision was made to put the company in a better light with core gamers. When consumers have a better attitude towards a particular company, they are more likely to purchase a product from that company, and EA is counting on this going going into the next generation.
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? Sony did not always have such high approval by gamers as it does today. The launch of the PlayStation 3 saw massive amounts of ridicule, both for the price and immensely stupid quotes from key members of the company, but that did not destroy the PlayStation’s reputation. Rather, Sony worked on rebuilding the trust of consumers through high-quality exclusives and deals to encourage new adopters. Although EA is in a much larger hole than Sony in terms of public opinion, it is counting on this same basic strategy to improve its own sales.
And though Nintendo chose to have a smaller presence at E3 this year, the most recent decisions of that company can clearly be seen as being made to improve sales for the Wii U. From a new Donkey Kong Country game to Super Mario 3D World, these games can be both positive experiences for consumers and Nintendo. It’s a testament to how much the system is struggling that no risky new intellectual properties were announced this year, and though Nintendo has a great reputation within the gaming community, these were not introduced because they could affect profits of the company. There’s nothing wrong with that.
There seems to be a misconception among gamers about how and why video game companies make decisions. No, these companies are not operating because they want to serve gamers and “always be there” for them, but the ideas of making money and developing trust with the consumer are not mutually exclusive. As more companies begin to not only realize this, but also allow it to affect business policy, everyone wins. What a weird idea.