Sony, Sony, Sony. I really do like Sony, and they've been the talk of the town lately. They hit a home run with their Playstation 4 reveal that was just a few weeks ago, and now at GDC they've been picking up even more positive press in regards to their absolutely aggressive upcoming plan to bring more and more indie developers into the fold. Not only did they announce a ton of upcoming games for the PS3, PS4, and Vita, but they announced their dedication to removing a ton of the publishing barriers that tend to restrict smaller developers.
In the meanwhile, the media has been ignoring Nintendo. That's not meant as an insult. Nintendo has simply been very quiet lately. We'll likely see more from Nintendo once E3 rolls around.
So, with Sony making such big hype-waves, all eyes are starting to turn to Microsoft. In fact, Microsoft has been awfully quiet for the last several months. They released the latest Forza to no fanfare. They released Halo 4 to quite a lot of fanfare (and for good reason: it's a great game!), and the latest Gears of War just came out. But there hasn't been any of Microsoft's usual posturing and hype-wagoning going on alongside Sony's announcements.
"This is odd," I've been thinking to myself, as I'm sure some of you have been thinking, as I'm sure the authors of all those "8 REASONS WHY MS'S SILENCE AT GDC MEANS THEY'RE DOOMED" articles have also been thinking.
It is odd to me, not because I'm a die-hard 360 fan, but because I have a long, long, history with Microsoft products. I grew up playing games on PC. I know what it means to boot up a game using MS-DOS. I remember when "please insert next disk" was a regular part of gaming, and not just a CD, but even a floppy disk. I've seen Microsoft's highs and lows, so keep that in mind when I spill my observations here in the next paragraphs.
Microsoft is being very intelligent right now. Wait. Back up. Let me clarify. Microsoft is being a very intelligent business right now. That's an important distinction to make, because some "stupid" actions may be in the works, "stupid", as in, something that we gamers would consider to be stupid.
There's no doubt that Microsoft has another console coming out. However, what we DON'T know is what direction Microsoft will take it. Nintendo was surprising. They went glasses-free 3D with the DS's successor (didn't see that coming) and they went all fancy-tablet with the WiiU's successful (also a bit unexpected). With the PS4 and Vita, Sony is focusing on social integration, live streaming, cross-play, and stuff that. What I'm trying to say is that Sony didn't simply make a bigger, better PS3. The PS4 has a very different design philosophy. Same with Nintendo. They didn't simply make a bigger, better DS and Wii. The 3DS and WiiU have different design philosophies compared to their predecessors. With that said, it is silly to assume that Microsoft is going to go the easy route and just make a bigger, better 360. Their design philosophy is going to be different.
Now, here's where the bad news comes in. I think we've been getting a glimpse of the NextBox's design philosophy. We've been seeing it with Microsoft's focus on Kinect and we're seeing more of it in Windows 8's design. For those that don't use Windows 8 (for good reasons), let me just point out that the Windows 8 media page has a big fat Xbox logo with "Xbox" written next to it. Enough said.
Microsoft needs to keep silent right now because it is likely they will be trying to push an integrated PC/console environment, or a Kinect 2.0 console, or something like that, something that will probably make the hardcore 360 fans writhe in terror. Hey! Don't jump the gun! Don't worry! Microsoft knows that if they show off what they have now, you'll be pissed. They are, after all, the company that took the Red Ring of Death and $50+ annual fees and turned it into a good thing in the eyes of their customers. In other words, Microsoft has enough marketing gusto to convince you their system will be tops regardless of the actual quality. That's not meant as an insult. It's meant as a history lesson: they've been doing it since the 80s. Get over it. It's what Microsoft does. Microsoft knows that they need to wait for the right time to show off their system.
When it comes to Microsoft's competitors, all the cards are on the table. The next generation of handhelds (3DS and Vita) both have over a year on the market. The WiiU has been out since last holiday season. PS4's capabilities are already being showcased. Microsoft is the last one to show up to the party. Will they bust down the door and show off and brag and claim that the late-to-the-party NextBox is everything the PS4 and WiiU aren't? NO! That's the problem. Microsoft can't do that. They don't have the first-to-the-party advantage like they had with the 360. They don't have the same brand loyalty that they once did (Kinect was to blame for that). So, instead of stumbling into the party like a drunk uncle, late, smelling like broken promises, they're keeping quiet.
And that's a smart thing to do.
I would like to point out a pattern. Deny it if you want, but it's a pattern that goes back many, many years. Microsoft has a cycle. They announce a product. They hype it to high heaven. They release it just a few months later, typically when the hype is at an all-time high. They support their gadget or software. They continue to whisper in your ear "this is the best thing you've ever laid your hands upon". Using your gadget is like heaven. Meanwhile, at every trade show, at every conference, on every TV channel, on every gaming website, SOMEONE is shouting in your face that this latest Microsoft product is the best thing since sliced bread. Sometimes, some aggressive bashing of the competition is thrown in there, finished off by more bragging. Then, something goes wrong. Usually it's small. Sometimes it's huge. But Microsoft very quickly steps in and fixes it for you. They support their new stuff very, very well...at least, for the first few years. Then, as the years go on, things start to go wrong, the support starts to dry up, and you start to wonder how wonderful this Microsoft wonder-toy really is. After all, you don't see as many pro-Microsoft articles online like you use to, do you? You don't see as many game announcements anymore, do you? Microsoft becomes quieter and quieter. You tell yourself "Microsoft is always quiet before a big announcement", and you tell yourself you're right. After all, they announced such-and-such add-on or software update or such-and-such new game three months ago, and certainly two new things a year is fine, right? Then, you start to realize you ARE right! You realize that Microsoft IS going to announce something big, but it's not for your gizmo. No. It's for a new gizmo. A new one that you'll have to buy. And then you feel a bit happy, but a bit sad. You wonder if Microsoft should have supported their old gizmo/software/OS a bit longer. And these doubts go on a little bit longer until Microsoft announces a BRAND NEW gizmo, and your old one is silently, elegantly dumped in the trash can by Microsoft.
That's Microsoft's pattern. Surely, you all remember Aaron Greenburg? He had something to say almost every single day, it seemed. Well, that was back around 2009. For the last few years, we haven't heard a peep from him, nor anyone else, really. Microsoft gets out the ol' bullhorn to shout about how well Kinect is doing. Well, no, they're not doing that anymore, either. They haven't been doing that since a half-dozen mega-hyped "hardcore" Kinect games all crashed and burned.
I'm not sure what the NextBox will end up being like. It might be Kinect 2.0. It might have uber-powerful hardware that blows the PS4 out of the water. I really don't know. But what I do know is that Microsoft is at a disadvantage. This isn't Summer 2005. We aren't waiting for next-gen to arrive like we were back then. This time, next gen is already here. It's been around for a bit. We've seen it. We're playing it. Microsoft has absolutely no reason to counter Sony's PS4 announcements tit for tat. They're being smart. They're giving people time to feel excited for whatever is out there. They're letting imaginations run wild. And then, they'll show off the NextBox. Sure, there will be some disappointments, but we'll tell ourselves it's ok. Sure, some features will be missing, or annoying, or puzzling, but we'll tell ourselves it's ok. That's because - not an hour later - we will see dozens of articles across all the tech websites, all the Good Morning Housewife shows, and on our Xbox dashboards. We'll be told how awesome this new gizmo is! And we will be happy, blissfully happy...
Maybe my sarcasm is bleeding through too much, so I'd like to close this up with a bit of raw honesty.
I am GLAD Microsoft is keeping quiet for now.
No, let me rephrase that.
I'm glad Microsoft is keeping their big mouths shut for once.
Really. I am. And I'm not being mean. I'm glad because finally, FINALLY, there's a glimmer of hope that Microsoft has decided to "jump out" of their bro-dude hardcorez console warfare mindset. Nintendo got out of the console-war catfight a long time ago. Sony did, too. You'll notice that, so far in this new generation, there is a surprising lack of "console warzz" talk. Sure, there are the occasional articles about why so-and-so prefers this or that platform. I've done a blog or two on that very topic. It's normal. But it isn't a console-war bloodbath, and I'm hoping that Microsoft is positioning themselves to maintain that attitude. I'm not sure what they're going to do, but it is clear that it isn't going to be the same as it was with the 360. There's a glimmer of hope that Microsoft has decided to take the NextBox in a new direction. I'm not just talking about the NextBox console. I'm not just talking about the games. I'm talking about the philosophy behind the console. Nintendo went with a different design philosophy with the 3DS and the WiiU. It was different and unexpected. With the PS4, Sony went with a different design philosophy than I would have expected, too. Even the Vita's blossoming future is becoming something that I didn't expect. Again, all I'm trying to say is that Sony and Nintendo both went in a different direction with their latest systems. I am hoping that Microsoft is also taking this opportunity to surprise us (in a good way) with their latest offerings. However, because they do not have the advantage of showing off the goods first (and because they will now be compared to the PS4 and the WiiU), it is smart of them to stay silent until they can show it all off.
Don't you get it? The reason why we're all asking "why is Microsoft keeping quiet?" is because, in the early days of the 360, Microsoft DIDN'T keep quiet! It's weird to not see Microsoft boast and brag and beat their corporate chest like a gorilla. They'd barge into every game announcement, every console feature announcement, every anything related to gaming and swing their gigantic Xbox brand around and turn it into a big, bro-dude bloodbath of fanboys and hype-trains and arguments and people getting banned from N4G's comment section because they got really angry and started using cursewords. It feels weird that Microsoft is keeping quiet because they usually don't. To me, that's a sign of very, very good things to come. No, not just because "Microsoft is always quiet before they announce something big". It's because I'm hopeful that in this next generation, Microsoft won't act quite so much like...well...Microsoft. I'm hoping their two generations in the console market has opened their eyes a bit and taught them some lessons. Maybe I'm being too hopeful. Microsoft has a habit of entering a market, devouring what they can, and then moving on. Maybe that's what they'll do. But I'm hopeful that's not what they'll do, and their silence is one tiny part of that possibility.
Their silence has another silver lining. It's likely that when they show off the NextBox, they're really going to show it off! They'll leave no questions unanswered, and there will likely be a slew of new games shown at the event. It's the only way that Microsoft can make a splash.
People keep saying "your move, Microsoft". I think they've made their move: shutting up and waiting.