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Complacency: Microsoft's Curse

It’s been around 4 years since the initial launch of the XBOX 360 and at that time, I felt that Microsoft was the underdog in the console race. Everyone was prattling about how ‘awwwwzommmm!!’ the Sony Playstation 3 was and laughing that Nintendo named their console after a male appendage. When the XBOX 360 came out, I believed that Microsoft hit jackpot. They had the right vision, they had the right games and I was fully on board. But the last 4 years of the XBOX 360 was marred by the horrendous 3 red lights of death and Microsoft’s insistent denial that they had absolutely nothing to do with it; like Pilate washing his hands clean. But the truth eventually came out and Microsoft really did rush the console to market in order to beat the PS3. While that strategy may have worked for the last 3 years since they gained a good portion of the North American market share, the stigma of faulty hardware plagues Microsoft to this day. Sure the Jasper doesn’t break as much as the Xenon or the the Falcon or the Opus (or whatever code name Microsoft gave to its consoles) but after going through around 5 broken XBOX 360’s in the span of 4 years, I’m more than a bit wary about purchasing a Jasper when essentially I can simply try to fix the console myself and have a remedy for the overheating problem that Microsoft has never been able to address with their puny heat sinks and weak exhaust fans.

For the last few months, I have stayed off the console game radar with my husband occasionally giving me news on what’s going on. While I still do like games, my priorities have shifted. The console war and the people raging it all seem puny in comparison to the life that I actually lead. The internet has always been a distraction for me and a time waster and I refuse to get into it as much as I was before. But being ‘off the hook’ has given me a new perspective regarding the console war from someone that isn’t so entrenched to one particular platform.

While for me Microsoft started off great…somehow something was lost in the last 4 years. Right now, there is only 1 thing that defines the XBOX 360 and that’s Halo. And it’s blatantly obvious. So what’s the news about Microsoft these days? Oh there’s a new Halo ODST motorcycle helmet! How about that Halo figurine over there? Wanna buy a warthog? By the way we are making more Halo games in the future.

That’s it, Microsoft?

At this point one can say that Microsoft hasn’t made any money from Rare, one of Nintendo’s older developers but at the rate they are going…of course they won’t make money! Rare is now relegated to making Avatar clothes that Microsoft peddles on its XBOX Live marketplace for an exorbitant fee. Sure its 3D clothes but come on! What can that Avatar do other than scrunch its nose and wave at me. Of course Microsoft is giving you the tired excuse of having ‘choice’. Yes you can buy it and you can also not buy it. But apparently in the last 4 years, the Microsoft XBOX have clearly forgotten the importance of adding real value for their customers.

XBOX Live is a long wait with nothing much happening other than listening to whatever Larry Hyrb has to say in his podcast, looking out for ban hammer news and waiting for facebook. Microsoft has lost Netflix to Sony and that doesn’t bode well for them. XNA appears to be a bust when it was supposed to be the defining factor of the XBOX 360 service for me. Why? Because while Microsoft does tout it to be free, to be able to test your games on the XBOX 360 you’ll need to pay for premium membership. And how long does it take to tweak those Facebook and Twitter apps anyway? And last but not the least, online play remains to be expensive relative to Sony’s free online. While I don’t really go online in PSN, I assume that playing there is workable since there are still people to settle for it.

And PSN has surprised me.

Forget Playstation Home, which IMHO is clearly a flop; Sony offered relevant gamer content that is mostly free. I can’t remember the name right now, but Sony offers a well edited show for PSN users that showcases what’s new and up and coming for the PSN and the console. Meanwhile, XBOX Live is stuck with a horrid streaming show that showcases office employees trying to be gamers and being ‘hip’ and ‘cool’. It sounds mean but let’s face the reality, the gaming industry is like showbusiness. People want to see charismatic people who had tons of plastic surgery blathering on like they know something about games even if they honestly don’t even want to have anything to do with it.

While being the cheapass that I am, I haven’t really bought anything on PSN but I did enjoy my free content video downloads. I do enjoy looking at what Sony has to offer in relation to what XBOX Live has. The PS3 interface is also getting tweaked and refined. So with that mind, I feel that Microsoft is losing a good chunk of the people who believed in its platform because of its ‘superior’ online services. Well…that doesn’t hold true anymore. There is no mythical dedicated servers for XBOX Live that makes online game magically better. Sure Microsoft may have better algorithms in trying to find good internet connections close to your location but that’s all they have to offer in terms of match making service. Gold subscription isn’t really worth that much anymore since apparently you can settle for Sony’s match making service even if its not really at the same level as XBOX Live since it’s FREE!

Don’t get me started on the games. Right now the only thing I hear from Microsoft are old franchises…wow…sound familiar? The only thing new that they will offer will be Alan Wake and that’s something that is done by a third party developer. Do they have anything else? Sadly there is none…or they’re not telling which may strongly indicate that they really do have nothing new to offer! While I love MasterChief, I kinda feel sorry that he’s the only one that is actually carrying the XBOX brand.

Natal will be a big gamble for Microsoft. Yes, the technology is great. I can imagine what great interfaces you can make with something like that for future corporate marketing. But as a game console addition…if Microsoft doesn’t have anything to offer for Natal other than the whack ball and the paint game, then it will be useless. Natal has to be supplemented with actual good games on launch to make it work. Sure you’ll get the initial buyers but long term is the name of the game…something that Microsoft seems to envision as pinching budgets.

Perhaps I’m being harsh on Microsoft considering chances are they redirected all their funds for a Windows 7 launch but I feel that these days the XBOX team is rather complacent. Sony is catching up and I can see why. Nintendo is stable thanks to their handhelds. But what does Microsoft have? They don’t have the brand name associated with Sony and Nintendo and the only thing you can actually remember about the XBOX 360 is the 3 Red Lights.

So why is it that when you’re on top, you become complacent?

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