Category Archives: XBOX One

Steve Ballmer to handle the Xbox division…himself

This is a joke, right?

No. Really. This must be a joke.

In an internal email sent by Ballmer today, shared online via official Microsoft channels, the CEO advised Mattrick’s directs to report to Ballmer himself, as it appears the company has no immediate replacement for the departing exec.

It’s unclear if this is a temporary measure, or if Microsoft is actively seeking a candidate for the position, which will be crucial as the November launch of Xbox One approaches.

Here’s the email in full:

“Zynga announced today that Don Mattrick would be its new CEO, effective July 8. This is a great opportunity for Don, and I wish him success. Don’s directs will report to me and will continue to drive the day-to-day business as a team, particularly focused on shipping Xbox One this holiday.

This is ridiculous. RIDICULOUS. Even if Ballmer had the faintest clue about gaming, and there’s been no indication that he does, he’s still got way bigger problems to deal with. He needs to bring the public around on Windows 8 or reorient the OS in reaction to 8’s failure, he needs to revive the Surface brand after the debacle that was Windows RT, he needs to get Windows Phones in people’s pockets he needs to hire proper replacements for Sinofsky and Allard to bring some vision back to the company…

…and he’s supposed to be the gaming guy, too?

Yeah. Ridiculous.

Sure, if the Xbox were a year out, that’d be fine. But it’s four months out. Even if he’s only taking over temporarily until they hire a replacement for Mattrick, that’s still months before they have a new guy up to speed and able to handle the situation. Mattrick’s replacement in the event he left should have been sorted out ages ago, so that someone could smoothly pick up the slack.

This is honestly more of a bad sign than the DRM thing was. That was just arrogance. This is laugh-out-loud incompetence. The latter’s far harder to fix and they simply do not have time. What happened to the smoothly, almost impressively competent Microsoft that conquered the sector in the first place?

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Don Mattrick Moves to…Zynga (Also: why he failed)

There are nowhere near enough snarky things that could be said at this news.

So instead, post Xbone, I think I’ll just limit myself to wishing Microsoft’s Xbox unit all the best.

Edit: Actually, I’ll add a note of Serious Thought, especially since I did a bit of media coaching for a young Toronto-based activist just this past Friday.

(No. really.)

Mattrick’s problem wasn’t the Xbone’s various DRM problems. People in that GI comment thread pointed out that those decisions were almost certainly made before he got there. I think they’re right. That sort of thing takes ages to implement. He might well have been served up the proverbial shit sandwich.

Mattrick’s problem is that he screwed up in how he handled it. They should have had an ironclad, well-laid-out strategy on how to deal with the fallout from this. They should have had a crisis management and/or conflict management strategy ready to go immediately. They should have figured out how to defuse this LONG before E3, and definitely after the Orth debacle.

Hell, I could have done it for them. It’s not hard. I can think up some strategies right now:

  • Be open about what you’re doing and why.
  • Emphasize the convenience elements, how the games follow you from system to system, and how you can download forever, and how family members and other users of your Xbox can play the game without fuss or muss.
  • Give loads of tantalizing hints about that online trading and sales scheme you’d been working on.
  • Express your sympathies with people with unreliable Internet and your promise to do what you can to ameliorate the issue, including the promise of a robust “offline mode” along the lines of Steam’s. The 24-hour thing is dumb, make it once or twice a week.
  • Be absolutely one HUNDRED percent sympathetic with the troops, including looking into ways to accommodate them specially.
  • Demonstrate at least one game that uses the new Kinect’s abilities in ways that makes the extra hundred bucks seem like you’re paying for a premium good.

If you really wanted to demolish, you could demonstrate that the games will be cheaper by announcing that you’re making your own games cheaper. Not third party games, YOUR games. Microsoft games. Sell ’em for fifty bucks, or even forty five. It’s not like you’re Nintendo and dependent on first-party sales. Your money’s being made on license fees and Xbox Live anyway, and you’ll generate so much goodwill that it’ll blow that little Sony video out of the water.

(Can you tell that I’ve been thinking a lot about crisis management recently?)

That was Mattrick’s job. SELLING it was Mattrick’s job. Managing this crisis was Mattrick’s job. He didn’t just fail, he actively made it worse. He came across as an arrogant ass with all that “go buy a 360” stuff, and making that the center of the company’s messaging was inane beyond all recognition.

He failed. Badly. And now he’s moved on to another company in crisis, arguably a WORSE crisis. I just hope he does better this time. He could hardly have done worse.

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“Poors, Foreigners Shouldn’t Get Xbones!” sez Gizmodo writer, commenters

The worst part about Kyle Wagner’s Gizmodo piece about the Xbox One isn’t the touching-if-bizarre faith that games would be cheaper under MS’s old system. That’s just being Bad At Economics and it’s not terribly rare among people talking about these issues.

(Though it is slightly weird coming from a technology writer who’s addressing Microsoft.)

No, what’s disturbing is reading his response to Jason Schrier, who rightly called him out on his assumptions, because the defenses quickly devolved to this:

The 24-hour limit is more problematic (especially since some hacker collective probably would have just bricked the thing for a week at some point), but at that point, they do have a choice to not buy an Xbox One. That sounds cold, but you can (and really in that case, should) wait a few years and see if it’s right for you then. New consoles are $400 and $500 luxury items. They’re not smart purchases, for the most part, and ensuing models (with built-up libraries) might get there in time for improved connections.

and this:

We do tend to focus almost entirely on the US. Being the US Gizmodo site, I don’t think that’s entirely unreasonable (also, we just don’t have the context of living abroad in those areas), but yes, we should address that at least some.

and this: (Albeit not from Kyle, but from a commentator:)

To be honest, Jason, consoles aren’t a democracy. They’re luxury items— a profoundly first-world offering…

What the hell is wrong with people?

No, you apocalyptically entitled DUMBASSES, consoles are not only for the one percent. The five hundred or four hundred or whatever for a new console is drastically different from the hundreds of thousands of dollars in housing costs between different parts of the United States. Someone who lives in a rural area, who has ties to that area that goes beyond “I’m so poor that I shoot squirrels for me proteins!” just might just be able to afford an Xbox One, even though they’ve got spotty Internet! And if someone saves up for one in a place with spotty Internet, they should be able to USE the damned thing!

As for that “first world” stuff…okay, as a Canadian, that particularly annoys me. Almost all the television functionality of the Xbone would be unlikely to work here, because we’re too small a market for these companies to really care about and we’ve got these ridiculous television licensing arrangements which mean that YouTube is terrible now, let alone Hulu et al. We also have crap Internet connections. That doesn’t make us not a first world country. Until recently, we had a better standard of living than the Americans did, and we likely will again once we free ourselves from our collective addiction to digging up black flammable goo for cash. 

But even outside of the “first world” (a term that’s a cold war relic in the first place), consoles sell quite well. Half the reason Sony is even a contender is because the PS3’s third-place finish in the United States was made up for by solid presences in places like Asia, South and Central America, and Europe. If you look at worldwide numbers, Sony almost kinda-sort won the last generation. That matters!

Who the hell are these idiots to presume that only the United States matters? Have they completely forgotten where the NES came from? Japan! Remember, that big ol’ console market that Microsoft isn’t even going to be selling the Xbone in? Have they forgotten where the free-to-play revolution sweeping gaming started? Asia! Hell, one of the Xbone’s big showcase titles, Witcher 3, is being developed in Poland, an Eastern-European developing nation! One that, guess what, the Xbox One wasn’t going to be available in, either!

I don’t CARE if you’re a US-focused site. I don’t care if you and your friends are wealthy and live in wealthy neighbourhoods  Console gaming is a global industry across all classes.

If you’re going to write about it, keep that in mind.

If you don’t want to, just stick to salivating over whatever Cupertino is telling you to salivate over this month.

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Microsoft Blinks

And how. After the drubbing by Sony and the entire media over their even-worse-than-I-had-anticipated DRM policies, they turned around and said “okay, fine, whatever you say, just stop hitting us.”

So, oddly enough, I ended up being right. Microsoft can learn. It’s just that they have to take the absolute worst kind of drubbing, the absolute nastiest sort of backlash, before they’re willing to do it.

It doesn’t mean that the Xbox One is bereft of problems now. The exclusives don’t really grab me, their attitude towards indie devs is baffling, the always-connected Kinect thing is still vaguely creepy, “TV” thing is a joke just waiting to be told, their choices on system memory could come back to haunt them, and the price is still too damned high, largely due to the aforementioned Kinect. But at least it’s now something that someone could plausibly want. 

(Though, as Jim Sterling ably points out, if they changed their mind once, they could always change it again…)

If nothing else, it’s a welcome rejoinder to all those smug asshats who call themselves “journalists”, “analysts” and “enthusiast press” that continue to jabber and bloviate about how the “vocal minority” are unrepresentative of the broader whole. That was bullshit and IS bullshit. They may not be 100% representative, but they’re closer to the truth than you’d like to admit. Maybe they aren’t where you are, with your sympathetic ear towards the publishers moaning about production costs and resale “theft”…but maybe you are the one who isn’t representative.

It’s also a victory for user’s rights. Huzzah. We’ve needed a few of those.

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Microsoft blinks on used games. Good.

So there’s reports floating around that the MS is saying that Xbox One will not charge a fee when you sell a game on.

Instead, what it seems to do is use the physical disc as a bit of a “key”. You pass the physical disc on, and the disc installs the game and then “activates” it on the Xbox One in question, deactivating it on systems elsewhere. I suppose you can “activate” elsewhere using Xbox Live, too; if you have it installed elsewhere and then log into your account, you’ll have the option to activate where you are and then deactivate elsewhere. Hence the “checking in” aspect; it needs to do that in order to make the system work.

Meanwhile, the system will give MS the ability to give publishers (and themselves) a cut of used games sales by big retailers, and (I suppose?) to allow for permanent ownership transfers from one person to another as a part of that. Gamestop et al will be able to get “reset codes”.

Do I like this? Not completely, but it’s sure-as-hell better than how it looked in Wired. This still plays hell with anybody with Internet connection problems, and still means that the console’s useless if the servers go down at some point in the future. If this is how the scheme works, though, then it DOES open up the possibility of digital resale of game licenses. That’s really, really overdue, even if publishers probably hate the idea. I still think it’ll be Steam that opens that door, not Microsoft.

Funny thing is, I still think the Wired article was right. This stinks of damage control. Microsoft knows that they’ve got a PR nightmare on their hands, and that the whole idea of leading off with the TVish stuff and putting the games on display at E3 was a TERRIBLE idea made worse by their decision not to even tease the E3 game roster. The presentation itself should have had lots of fun teasers for games that they’ll be revealing at E3, in order to keep the gamers onside while they rolled out all this set-top box nonsense.

They didn’t, and so gamers’ attention is caught up completely in this half-baked and clearly unfinished DRM scheme. I doubt MS has thought it through enough and I’m SURE that it isn’t finalized yet. The Wired version was probably where they were last week, and now they’re hurriedly revising things to make it less objectionable and even, dare I say it, consumer-friendly.

You know what? That’s a good thing. I like that. It shows that they’re paying attention. It shows that they’re listening. Everybody makes mistakes, especially MS. Where MS excels is in taking a flawed product and iterating on it until it’s good. Windows XP had a lot of problems out of the gate, and it wasn’t until the second or third service pack that it became the OS that people are loathe to give up. Vista was terrible, and it wasn’t until Windows 7 refined Vista that we learned that MS had actually built something really, really great. Iteration, iteration, iteration. It’s why I still think the Surface is going to be a huge deal in a hardware generation or two.

Consoles are no different. The first Xbox was a neat entrant, but it wasn’t until the 360 that they got it right, and the 360 itself had hardware issues until later revisions. Xbox One is an extension of the UI concepts that they’re using on the 360 and in Windows 8, and certainly the Kinect being heavily improved.

It’s when MS thinks that they’ll pull it off all in one go, that they’re an Apple that releases a polished product right out of the gate, that they screw up. They aren’t Apple, or Google, or Samsung. They’re MS. They’ve got inertia. They need to listen, learn, and improve. They do that, and the Xbox One might well become something worth owning.

Edit: Or maybe not? I’m re-reading that Harrison interview and it seems to suggest that you can’t just pass the disc on.

MS, let’s be straight on this. Allowing for store-mediated resale is not enough. If you don’t have a mechanism for users, actual users, to transfer ownership either permanently or temporarily, people are going to be pissed off beyond all reason. It’s perfectly fair to block people from playing games that they’ve lent or given to friends. Each purchase should mean only one user playing at a time. But blocking the ability to lend/sell/borrow/give at ALL is over the line.

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Games are Political. Sorry.

Had a fascinating exchange on Twitter with Dan Amrich, Community Manager for Activision. We were talking about the anti-used game stuff on the XBOX One (or XBone, if you prefer), and after I rebutted his point that people shouldn’t be haters by saying that it’s okay to hate terrible ideas, and gave the admittedly-hyperbolic example of dumping PCBs into public pools as a terrible idea that I feel free to hate,  he busted out the “it’s only games” thing, quickly following it up by an exit featuring the  “you’re mixing up games and politics. Good day sir.”

Mixing up games and politics.

Hah.

Dan, do you even know what politics IS?

Politics, dear Sir, is about the exercise of power. When I studied political science, that was pretty much the entire curriculum. What power is, who has it, how it’s used, where it’s used,  and how it should be used. An entire field based on one concept.

So why is it an entire field of study that goes back thousands of years? Because power is everywhere. It’s all around us. Every day, in every way, in every action we take and every action we don’t take, we are exercising power and being subject to power. It can be as obvious as not taking a candy bar from a store out of the desire not to be punished by the state, or as subtle as the language we use in a casual conversation with friends. Sure, power affects who you vote for, but it also goes into the things you buy and sell and, yes, the enterrtainments you enjoy.

(Hence that whole “the personal is political” line. It’s not that everything reduces to power. It’s that power  suffuses everything.)

Gaming is no exception to that. The entire field is rife with issues of power. The gender issues that everybody’s worrying over right now? Power. The all-consuming discourse over freedom of expression? Power. The concentration of economic power in the hands of a small number of publishing houses? Power. The move of the industry to the locations with the best subsidies for development? Power. The rise of free-to-play on mobile devices? Power.

But the whole resale thing on the XBOX One? The one that we were talking about? It’s more of a power issue than almost ANY of these, barring the gender and identity questions. It pits the power of the publisher and manufacturer against the power of consumers. It pits the publisher’s power of copyright ownership and the manufacturer’s powers of patent ownership against the consumers’ power of media ownership, as embodied in the first sale doctrine. Whoever has the least power may face bankruptcy, fines or even imprisonment.

(Yeah, that’s the thing about power. It’s entirely relative. It’s a zero-sum game.)

Yes, most of these issues are discussed in terms of “rights”. Rights are about POWER. They’re recognized and endorsed entitlements, backed up by the state’s power to punish and the moral power granted to rights-holders in our society. You have rights? You have power. It may not be much, and it may not be enough, but it’s there.

So, no, Dan, there’s no distinction. Everything is political, and this is VERY political, because it’s a move by powerful publishers and distributors to curtail the (very small) amount of power still enjoyed by consumers.

Now, you could theoretically argue that it isn’t important. People do. Dan did, if unwittingly. But I think that you have to be consistent on that. If games don’t matter, if they aren’t important, then, yes, there’s no point granting consumers these powers. But that opens the question of whether and why their creators should enjoy the powers granted by copyright and patent laws, as well as freedom-of-expression laws like the Americans’ First Amendment.

If they DO matter–and this is where I stand–then their creators do deserve the power that come from the recognition of their rights, but consumers deserve the same thing. That includes resale, borrowing, rental, and all the rest.

And, yes, that includes the ones yelling on Twitter.

(Oh, one last thing. Power isn’t always gained or granted at the point of a gun. Moral power matters. Convincing people that you have a just cause in order to convince them to go along with what you want is often far easier and more effective than trying to use the state as a blunt instrument to punish the hell out of them. 

(If you want people to  respect your rights as a copyright holder, the first step is recognizing their rights in turn. That’s why resale isn’t “piracy”. Resale prevents piracy. Something to keep in mind.)

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Xbox One Revealed, Almost Gameless

You’re probably asking yourself “what the hell was THAT?”

I did, for more than a little while. This was a gaming console launch that barely had anything to do with games. “Casual”, “hardcore”, pay-to-play or free-to-play, forget all of it. It was about TELEVISION more than anything else.

What that says to me is that Sony isn’t really the target here. It’s Apple, and maybe Samsung. Microsoft knows that the 360 is their biggest asset right now in the consumer space. Windows is doing well enough,  but nobody’s really inclined towards upgrading their existing PCs. They’re buying tablets and phones to accompany their PCs, and Microsoft isn’t doing that well in those spaces yet.

(Though I do still like the Surface Pro.)

No, if MS wants to be a player in the consumer space, their ace-in-the-hole is the 360 and the XBOX brand. They’ve got a solid lock on people’s televisions, and a burning need to leverage the hell out of it.

That’s exactly what they were doing over the last hour.  It’s a broadside at Apple and Samsung/Google. They focused on TV because their main consumer device attaches to televisions The face that it’s theoretically a gaming console is incidental; games have almost nothing to do with their vision for the XBOX One. Games are an incidental means-to-an-end, and it shows.

They’re probably more interested in free-to-play tablet-style “casual” games than the big ol’ console experiences in the first place, since they’re cheaper to make and are seen as a more profitable and safer investment right now. That may change, as we saw with Facebook gaming, but it’s where things are right now, and this is a console that only looks at gaming right now.

This provides a huge opening for Sony. Almost every time a console is successful, the manufacturer gets arrogant. In the case of Sony with the PS2 and now Microsoft with the XBOX One, they start thinking they can leverage it into control of the living room. Sony backed away from that, which is a large reason why the PS2 was as successful as it was. They made it into a gaming console, and it turned out to be a really good one.

What Sony realized and MS needs to realize is that people neither want nor need a gaming console to be their “All In One Device”, especially when they live their lives surrounded by a multiplicity of screens. They might want those screens to coordinate, but they don’t want some sort of single device dominating and controlling them. There IS no “All In One”, and there probably never will be.  Sony gets that this time. Nintendo’s understood it since the get-go.

Leverage or no, I guess the question is whether MS will figure it out before they get trounced.

(Edit: Oh, and the fact that it’s not backwards compatible is absolutely ridiculous. The 360 is off-the-shelf hardware. This was a cynical business decision that is only going to hurt their brand.)

(Edit 2: And it blocks rental and used games, too! This just keeps getting better. We really are in “everything that’s terrible about PC gaming with none of the good stuff” territory. At least PC games are backwards compatible.)

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