Friday, June 14, 2013

XBox One - Celebrating Microsoft's Design Arrogance

As the news surrounding the XBox One comes pouring out of E3, the details of features and implementation on the platform are seeing some serious PR backlash and groundswell dissatisfaction among their existing XBox customer-base. From stomping on the used game market to the must-connect-and-phone-home once-per-day or the always on Kinect monitoring the room, Microsoft has implemented a lot of features that seem more closely aligned to the interests of Microsoft than those of their customers.

It's not uncommon for products to suffer a misstep or two at launch. For as much time and effort as is put into development, it's still difficult to interpret applied uses. And the are always bugs. But with the XBox One platform, it's difficult to envision a product that has done more to take aim at their existing market and customer base, line up their most sensitive parts, and fire not once, but multiple times. Full disclosure: the XBox game that I'm currently playing is a first person shooter.

Seriously though. Consider some of the design changes that have been implemented on the XBox One platform:
  • While the XBox360 always tries to connect to XBox live when it's turned on and there is a network available, it will function without an Internet connection. Now the platform is being changed so that it won't work without phoning home? What problem does this solve for the user?
  • While the XBox360 can operate without the Kinect and a user has the option to connect the Kinect or opt out, the XBox One will not operate without the Kinect, and the Kinect is always on. Was it really necessary to eliminate this option with the system? What problem does this solve for the user?
  • While killing physical game media may simplify Microsoft's distribution network and reduce costs, killing the used game market essentially takes aim at long tail game market, gives it the finger, then fires both barrels. Again, what problem does this solve for the user? 
All in all, it sort of exemplifies that traditional Microsoft approach.
  1. Start with 'what would be best for Microsoft'. 
  2. Make it the standard on all of our stuff so that it only works this way, our way.
  3. Tell everybody how awesome it is and how they are fools if they don't recognize the Microsoft genius.
Remember all of the various iterations of IE that worked their own way? And Silverlight? Or Microsoft's Java?

In that way, you kind of feel sorry for the businesses in the used game market. Like Microsoft's notebook and tablet partners with Surface, they are the latest ecosystem to get oops-ed upside their heads. Classic.

Opportunity Lost
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about XBox One is that it really was an anticipated platform. Microsoft really does have a strong foothold in the living room with the XBox360 console. XBox One could have been a contender. If they had simply made it a consumer friendly, not always-on-nanny-cam that worked with any media, they might not have alienated a huge chunk of their core.

What's more, most hardcore gamers will tell you that, while Kinect can be an amusing accessory, it doesn't really add to or improve their experience for the games that they play the most. It's more of a Wii-wannabe that's makes the platform more accessible for families -- anything but a "Must Have". In that way, must have, always on kind of spits in the eye of some of current platform's most passionate evangelists.

Some of these problematic features could be easily corrected, simply by making them optional. Imagine if they had kept Kinect as an accessory but did a "look what you can do with this" presentation. My guess is that, given the option and enough benefits from having always-on enabled, you would build a large base of users who ran that configuration.

In conclusion, here's a little thought for take-away. With many approaches to technology, there are trade-offs. But a lot of idea acceptance comes in the way something is framed. During some of their presentation materials, Microsoft reps talked about smart phones and always on connectivity. In that way, it's easy to think about the privacy that we give-up by opening geo-location features on our smart phones. But in asking people to adopt this, do we say:
  • Imagine the power of being able to know exactly where you are?
  • Then imagine if, when you are somewhere you don't know, the information was appropriate for that place -- like finding a nearby restaurant? If you open your geo-location information to Yelp, then they can help you when you're someplace you don't know.
Or do we say:
  • Imagine if we knew where you were all the time? 
That is a truly frightening concept.

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