Friday, September 2, 2005

Microsoft Shoots Self in Foot. Aims for Other One.

It never ceases to amaze me how outright silly companies become the larger they grow. All grass-roots companies come across as scrappy, willing to fight the good fight to become huge successes, and all the while they mix in the good decisions with the bad. Then they incorporate, grow by a factor of 10, then promptly throw all good decision making out the window and try to get by on sheer force of name recognition.

How else to explain Microsoft's recent decisions regarding the XBox 360? By that I mean, any of their recent decisions, especially the latest one which has the console launched on November 25, 2005. You know it by another name:

Black Friday, aka The Day After Thanksgiving™. Roland Emmerich is probably looking to trademark that phrase as I type this.

One week earlier is all it would take to avoid this. Then they could consume every aspect of the gaming press and, more importantly, the mainstream media who will be looking for something else in the world besides the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But if The Xbox 360 launches on The Day After Thanksgiving™ then Microsoft will find itself sharing the spotlight with the usual news stories from that time of the year. Make no mistake about it - Microsoft CAN NOT AFFORD to share ANY amount of spotlight time with ANYONE that's not talking about the 360. They simply have too much time, energy, and money invested in it to have it be an "in other news..." story. Microsoft simply must have this console succeed beyond its wildest dreams to stem the immense financial bleeding from the current generation, but they seem hell-bent on making sure their own console is doomed to fail from the start.

The word via this story at IGN, who I never consiously point to as a bastion of investigative journalism, is that Microsoft doesn't even have final development kits out to the various game developers.
Why the late date? Microsoft is hoping to give developers as much time as possible to finish and polish their games while simultaneously shipping their concave new box during the most active day in North America. Additionally, independent sources have told IGN that final dev kits haven't replaced the mid-summer beta kits, which has added to developers' frustrations.
What that translates to is a bunch of launch titles that may only scratch the surface of the 360's power. In other words, nothing spectactular enough to blow us all away right from the get-go. I've seen the screenshots from Oblivion and the next Project Gotham Racing, but if no one is coding for the final hardware which is, to be blunt, staggeringly powerful, what will games look like two years from now?

Those are the ones I'm interested in, period. None of this short-term incremental stuff we're going to see come November and December interests me, and that includes Oblivion. Its predecessor Morrowind was aptly nicknamed Boreowind until the mod community added the fun, but that's a topic for another time. At present, Microsoft is asking us to bite the bullet on a brand new console system that's a year ahead of our normal 5-year-plan, is at least $100 more expensive than what we paid last time, and has an initial run of games that might work or might not because they were created using dev kits that were no where near finalized, all for the sake of beating Sony to the punch.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. All Sony has to do is shut up, and put out a stellar system at either $399 or $450 next summer, and point out that not only are all of their games truly next-gen, but that it came with the future in mind. As evidenced by certain developers already bitching about current DVD technology lacking the storage capacity to support next-gen games, the 360 might wind up dated before it hits the street. That's yet another blow to Microsoft's image this time around, and it's certainly not an appearance they can afford to have. If they don't get their act together and soon, then they'll have between six and eight months to capture as much of the market as they can before the 800-lb gorilla unleashes on them next year.


  1. Is not "Black Friday" the single largest shopping day of the year? Is it not unreasonable to think that on a day typically filled with news stories about shopping-madness that the release of a highly anticipated console, would co-opt many of those news cycles? Particularly if released in volumes that make the console easy to sell-out?

    Doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

  2. The 360 needs to be on shelves before that date because of many reasons, but the best was actually pointed out over at CG. One of the guys there said it was crazy to expect a midnight sale of a console, then have retailers still make do with opening stores at 6 a.m. for Black Friday and maintain the same level customer service for the rest of the day borders on insane. If that's the drop-dead date, then they need to move that drop-dead date up by two or three days.

    Plus, with Microsoft on this round, I still maintain that they need to absolutely not share the spotlight at any step of the way. E3 this year was a joke according to everyone that was there because neither Sony nor Microsoft showed jack crap. Also, developers STILL don't have final dev kits to make their games with, and that's just ridiculous this close to launch.

    Of course, Microsoft could always come out next week and say launch date is Nov. 8, and half of my argument is immediately mooted. :)