Hype can be a blessing or a curse. When built up in the right way, word spreads across social media, blogs and forums, without the need to spend exorbitant amounts on marketing and you end up with a large number of potential buyers for your product, even before the products hits the shelves. It requires a deft hand and a light touch to achieve this and is an important aim in all commodity-based industries.
Since announcing the PlayStation 4 in February, Sony have made the most of their time in the spotlight – from confirming that they will not block the use of second-hand games, to garnering the support of numerous indie and mainstream developers. All of the headlines being made so far have been positive. This is in stark contrast however to Microsoft, and their yet-to-be-confirmed next generation console. Every gamer with a pulse knows that it is coming, but so far, the Redmond-based multinational has seen fit to keep quiet. If this is their marketing strategy, it is starting to backfire on them, suggesting that they have not so much gone with a light touch, but rather no touch at all.
Perhaps Microsoft wanted to steer clear of the situation in which Nintendo found themselves; fumbling the initial announcement of the WiiU, leaving many consumers with the impression that the new system was simply an add-on for the current hardware. Or maybe they wanted to avoid impacting the Xbox 360’s sale figures which saw a huge spike over the holiday period. Whatever the reason may be, like many others, I assumed that they had a rough draft of an announcement ready, just in case Sony decided to draw first. However, in the weeks (and now months) since February 20th, it has become abundantly clear that Microsoft have a certain marketing strategy, and they are sticking to it.
Alas, when you leave such a void of information, it inevitably gets filled with speculation and rumour. For months now, we have been hearing how the next Xbox will require a constant Internet connection to play games and will automatically close down the application after three minutes if the line goes down. It will block the use of second-hand games and will be more of an ‘entertainment center’ rather than an outright video game console. As there has been no confirmation either way on the console, these rumours have gained traction within the gaming community. Furthermore, none of these stories make the new Xbox sound particularly appealing.
Things seem to have come to a head in the last week, when Adam Orth, a creative director at Microsoft Studios, shared his opinion with the Twitter-verse that he doesn’t ‘get the drama around having an “always-on” console‘. Seemingly ignorant of the numerous consumers of Mr. Murdoch’s Finest Interwebs, he went on to suggest that anyone who feels aggrieved at such a design decision, should ‘#DealWithIt‘. Starved of actual information, many people have now jumped on the comment as some form of confirmation that the next Xbox will be a constantly connected console. What has been Microsoft’s response to all of this? A brief statement, apologising for Mr. Orth’s comments, with no confirmation, denial or even mention of their actual content.
Once Microsoft lifts the covers on their new machine, we will see how successful or not their “marketing strategy” has been. It seems at present that their silence is allowing a mountain of expectation and ill will to develop unchecked, potentially making their task all the more difficult. Even the most ardent fanboy will find it difficult to become hyped up for a system that effectively doesn’t yet exist. The most recent rumours have mentioned that Microsoft plan on announcing their new system on May 21st. If true, this will give Sony another month and a half to bask in their positive press (and their good fortune).