You would think a company that was sued by the United States government for antitrust abuses in 1998 would be a little more careful about committing anti-consumer activities. I mean, dress it up a little. At least disguise the fact that you intend to monopolize all my free time and spare money by dressing it up with pageantry and symbolism. If I’m going to be ripped off, the least you can do is woo me.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?) subtlety is not in Microsoft’s repertoire. They go all in on some of the most anti-consumer practices that are legal (or questionably legal) in the U.S. Here are my personal favorites from the last two years—I intentionally limited the scope of this article so it wasn’t of Biblical length.
The Xbox One Announcement
After Sony’s misstep with the PS3 launch, a system which seemed destined to rule the seventh generation of consoles after the PS2 sold upwards of 155 million consoles (and for those of you who are wondering, yes, that is the record), I thought it a certainty that no console maker would be foolish enough to sell a console based on features the public wasn’t necessarily interested in, or at a price point higher than the competition.
Sometimes it’s good to be wrong. It was certainly more entertaining.
Microsoft’s unveiling of the Xbox One at E3 2013 was remarkable if only for its hubris. It’s as if their marketing team made a list of all the features their customers would not care about or want, accidentally mislabeled the e-mail, sent it to Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb, and then spontaneously combusted as a group before they could correct the mistake.
Among the completely undesirable features in the initial announcement:
- Required, always online internet, with the possibility that the console would actually shut down if it did not check in with Microsoft’s servers within a 24-hour period.
- The Kinect, bundled with the console, with no possibility of buying an Xbox One without it, or even disconnecting it from the Xbox One. Hurray for 24 hour surveillance!
- Unable to play used games, or even your friends’ games from their disc using your console. It did, however, allow you to take your library with you digitally and access it from any Xbox One by signing in, so long as you wanted to wait for the entire game to download.
- Interoperable with your cable television, a feature no one ever asked for or cared about, but for some reason was prominently featured at the expense of seeing actual games run on the device.
- Priced $100 over the PS4, for a machine with significantly less processing power.
Of course, Sony got to announce the PS4 shortly after, and you have to imagine that they ran out of popcorn watching the Xbox One announcement. I’ll summarize their presentation for you. “The PS4. $100 cheaper, more powerful, and with none of the bullshit you hated about the Xbox One.”
Shortly afterward, Microsoft removed the always online requirement and allowed used games, but the damage was done. Microsoft’s Xbox One is still lagging behind the PS4 (and is actually in third place, behind the Wii U!). So what have they done to right the ship since?
Well, if you can’t have the best console, have the best games, right? Xbox One famously bought exclusivity to Titanfall, expected to be the year’s blockbuster game. Electronic Arts made the deal without consulting Respawn Entertainment, a curious move considering their founders had just jumped ship from another publisher, Activision.
However, buying Titanfall was not enough (clearly), so Microsoft recently sent their trucks of money to Square Enix, and bought exclusivity to Rise of the Tomb Raider, much to the chagrin of people who supported 2013’s Tomb Raider. Darrell Gallagher of Square Enix took to Tumblr to inform fans of Tomb Raider that, “This doesn’t mean that we’re walking away from our fans who only play on PlayStation or on PC,” though if there is another way to view not releasing on PS4 or PC, I don’t know what it is. Scroll through the comments of the Tumblr link if you have time to view almost 10,000 comments of rage.
Since its inception, Xbox One games have lagged behind their PS4 counterparts in resolution, frames per second (FPS), or both. For a recent example, Bioware made the following announcement on Twitter:
There are numerous examples so I won’t waste your time recounting them all. Suffice it to say, PS4 runs games better than Xbox One… except for when it mysteriously does not.
On October 6, 2014, Ubisoft announced that both the Xbox One and PS4 versions of Assassin’s Creed Unity would be locked at 900p and 30 FPS. They initially stated that it was due to the complexity of the A.I. in Unity.
Anyway, they later corrected themselves by saying they just wished to avoid all the debates about which console was better. What’s interesting about this is that Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag also launched on both systems at 900p and 30 FPS, but was later patched on PS4 up to 1080p.
Now, all I have is a theory at this point, but it seems to me that Ubisoft wouldn’t go through all the trouble of making a game 900p and then patch it up to 1080p if they could avoid it. Why not just release the game at 1080p?
When analyzing a situation which, on the surface, appears to make no sense, my method of making sense of the situation is first to determine who benefits from the situation, and second to determine how they could have brought the situation to pass.
Here’s the rub—only Microsoft benefits from Ubisoft downgrading their game on PS4, and like any good business, Ubisoft doesn’t work for free. Again, this is just conjecture, but it’s unlikely that with Black Flag, Ubisoft only figured out the PS4 had more processing power after the game launched. They have the dev kits sitting in their office, in plain sight. They can see the FPS counter in the corner of the screen. One of these systems is clearly more powerful than the other, and like I said before, only Microsoft benefits from parity between Xbox One and PS4. You be the judge, and let me know what you think in the comments.
The Final Word
Even if I’m wrong about the possibility of Microsoft purchasing parity from Ubisoft, Microsoft has earned their current third place status. More hubris in this industry has rarely been seen since Atari paid $20 million for the rights to E.T. and then spent five weeks making the game (an event which is widely considered to have caused the video game crash). The unfortunate thing is, Red Ring of Death aside, I loved the Xbox 360. It was a lean machine with a great controller, library and price point, and I would have loved the Xbox One had it been a higher powered version of the Xbox 360.
Instead, executives drunk on the success of Xbox 360 botched the Xbox One and did not lose their jobs as a result (well, Don Mattrick left, but nothing changed). Larry Hryb still has a job, and he’s basically responsible for the outcry surrounding Rise of the Tomb Raider with his coy wording about it being exclusive (he conveniently left out the word “timed”).
Microsoft loves your money, but maybe it hates its own. It’s a shame—they could have won the eighth generation of video game consoles, but it’s probably already too late. Here’s hoping they learn their lesson, like Sony did after the PS3, because there’s a lot of money in giving the people what they want.