What is Microsoft’s Hedge Bet?

The origin of this thought process that I’m hoping to call an article should come as no surprise to anyone interested in this industry. Microsoft dropped an impressive amount of balls at E3 earlier this month, with the coupe de grâce coming in the form of Sony systematically opposing all the right bullet points, whether intentionally or not, to a powerful effect.

This seems like a good time as any to get this out of the way; I plan to buy a PlayStation 4 this Holiday Season. Even though I have this nagging feeling that 7 years of Next-Gen Drought will lead to both systems selling out, I believe that Sony has already won this Holiday Season, and likely the early years of this upcoming generation. My current Xbox One plans consist of “Maybe around tax return time. We’ll see then.” I’m actually quite excited for both consoles, but the PS4 is – in my case – right up my alley.

But, one has to wonder… What the hell is Microsoft thinking? Clearly they’re being arrogant and, as the Internet will tell you, they have a big problem with conveying a message. I’d like to point back to an article I wrote up when all the rumors about this stuff were circling around. Back in the dark ages of February, I estimated that around 20% (up from a 2010 statistic of 27%) of Xbox were not connected to the Internet. I entertained the notion of somebody seeing that statistic and okaying the locking of those folk out, and now that we know it to be true I started to think about why they would do that. When you add on the obvious bad will and Sony’s aggressive (even before their E3 press event) strategy, somebody somewhere had to look at the big picture and say “Hey dudes. We need a plan.”

Hedge Bet Kinect

Right..? It may not seem like it from the outside looking in, but clearly someone with some sort of intelligence must be running this ship. If not, let’s all wait for it to run aground so we can point and laugh.

So, if we were to assume that Microsoft has someone with a basic understanding of their job working there, what is their plan? We’ve heard bits and pieces of it, such as console-Steam and the sort, but apparently Microsoft has a messaging issue – if you hadn’t heard. The way I look at it, Sony has this Holiday locked down. They’ve probably also got at least a 2 year head-start thanks to the price alone, let alone the goodwill. There’s whispers in the shed about Microsoft planning to release a subsidized box, which would certainly take some of the pressure off, but any hard details (or, heck, a confirmation) of this are nowhere to be found.

If you step back and look at what we know about the Xbox One, there are some very interesting possibilities there. Imagine if you will, three years down the line. The Xbox One has a growing library, all available digitally, with regular Steam-like sales (yes, in price. That is important, Microsoft. Very important. ) The console gets a(nother) price cut and is now quite affordable. Just to entertain the idea, Sony is probably doing pretty awesome at this point, maybe (hopefully) with the same sales and such. So back to the Xbox One. More people have Internet access, we’re all fully informed of how Microsoft’s weird-ass DRM policies work, and while the Xbox One isn’t doing amazing, it’s getting by – as a part of their long-term plan.

At this point, we’re more comfortable with buying stuff digitally. Xbox One owners are enjoying not ever needing any discs they’ve bought, and if they have a regular Internet connection, they’ve become comfortable with the (if you have constant Internet) non-intrusive DRM. It might even take them three years to turn a profit, which is, in my opinion, where a console can be labeled as successful. They probably won’t win this generation if it’s back to 5 or so years, but they’re possibly on a path to basically change the world, and that’s an idea I could get behind.

Hedge Bet Box

Let’s snap back to reality (oops, there goes gravity). We don’t really know what the future holds. We won’t even really have a good idea until we get these consoles into our homes. It’s an extremely exciting year, and I hope both consoles, hell even the Wii U, prosper. We don’t lose anything from everyone doing great. That means they’re happily making money and we’re happily gaming. That’s the core of this Industry and why we love it so much.

To wrap it all up: Don’t be so quick to demonize Microsoft. Be wary, though. I mentioned they would have a bumpy road ahead of them, and they definitely do, just now it’s also a slippery slope. The ideas they clearly have and plans they might have could go all wrong real fast, or – and this is a big or – could revolutionize the Industry as we know it and benefit us as consumers in awesome ways. In any case, we’re in for a bumpy ride with them or a fun show.

Xbox. Off.

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