Wednesdays without Will: Microsoft’s PR Flip

In a month, the next generation of video games will be upon us. When console makers announced the features of their new machines earlier this year, gamers were quick to take sides on which systems they planned to purchase. Microsoft launching its successor to the Xbox 360, the Xbox One, immediately faced criticism, but they’ve changed their approach in order to remain competitive with Sony’s Play Station 4 and regain popularity with their target audience. The question that will be answered next month is if Microsoft’s PR efforts have been enough to sway gamers to the console.

Initially, the Xbox One, due to hit stores on November 22, featured many elements gamers found antithetical to their consumer interests. Instead, Microsoft seemed more concerned with making more money for game publishers by changing the nature of the economy in place. These features include a new used game policy whereby gamers would no longer be able to exchange used game discs at stores like GameStop because the discs would only function once and become attached to a gamer’s online account. Similarly, the Xbox One originally needed to connect to the Internet once every 24 hours. This prompted cries from gamers who had previously used the device in an offline capacity as well as privacy concerns when this factor was coupled with another policy that required the Kinect device, a motion and sound controller peripheral, be connected at all times. This information came out just before the NSA scandal, which did little to help Microsoft. The fact that the Xbox One would come with at a higher price ($499) than the previous Xbox also didn’t help the situation.

Microsoft’s original policies stood in stark contrast to those Sony prepped for its upcoming PlayStation 4 (due out in the United States November 15). During the press conference where Sony announced the features for its new console, the crowd erupted with applause when it featured not only the policies gamers requested, but a lower price point as well ($399).

Gamer hubs on the Internet became a firestorm of angry comments and calls to boycott purchases of the Xbox One. Previously brand-loyal gamers vowed to switch to the PlayStation 4 for the next generation. Looking to staunch the bleeding before it actually starts (considering neither system is expected to launch until winter), Microsoft issued a press release stating that it would no longer require the daily Internet connection and the used game policy would return to the status quo.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, this strategy seems to have had mixed results. Gamers pointed to the new connected policies for systems and games as a push into the future of gaming, suggesting similarities to the desktop-based Steam gaming service. By backtracking on its policy changes, Microsoft was decreasing the incentive to purchase a new console as its reduced features made it not unlike the system currently available.

Only a few weeks later Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, announced he was leaving to take a position at Zynga. Not only did Microsoft find out that its audience lacked brand loyalty, but it did little to reassure the public by backtracking on announcements and shuffling management. Instead, Microsoft appears beholden to the whims of an undecided audience. It’s unclear if Microsoft should have committed to its decisions, but we won’t have the final verdict until systems hit retailers next month.

Cover Photo Source: Marco Verch via Flickr

Kaz is a Junior Executive at SJG. He earned BAs in English Writing and Business Marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University and is currently pursuing an MA in Advertising at The University of Texas at Austin. Outside the office, Kaz consumes gobs of media including but not limited to books, magazines, music, movies and television.