The Top 5 Biggest Gaming Mistakes Microsoft Has Made

The popular theory that no press is bad press was put to the test for Microsoft when their unveiling of the Xbox One was met with a series of very humorous memes, and a stunningly low approval rating, that many would have a hard time calling good press.

As bad as it was though, it’s not exactly the worst tragedy in the history of mankind, the video game industry or, for that matter, even Microsoft’s gaming division.

So while the controversial Xbox One may prove to be their biggest bust of all, for now let’s all keep things in perspective by revisiting the top five biggest mistakes Microsoft has ever made.

5. The Duke

Xbox-Duke-Controller

A controller is one of the most important parts of launching a video game system, and when that system is your first one ever, may even come to define part of your image for all time.

If that is true, then unfortunately part of Microsoft’s image will always be that of a big fat failure.

“The Duke” as it would commonly be referred to, was a gargantuan gaming controller recognized by Guiness as one of the largest of all time, and by everyone else as one of the worst. Awkward for most, and impossible for some, “The Duke” would later be phased out in favor of the Japanese model “Controller S.”

Though it would lead to one of best controller designs of all time in the “360 Wireless,” few will ever forget the pain and hand aches associated with “The Duke.”

4. HD-DVD

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Though Blu-Ray hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in the way that DVD’s did, Toshiba’s similar “HD-DVD” format didn’t even make a spark.

Yet when it came time to support a next-gen disc format, which one do you think Microsoft chose?

In a way it’s difficult to fault them for doing so, since at that time the format wars were far fom resolved, and Sony was a big backer of Blu-Ray, but try telling that to everyone that jumped the gun and bought a 360 HD-DVD player, only to have it collecting dust along with a small stack of HD-DVD titles less than a year later.

3. Acquiring Rare

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When Microsoft acquired developer Rare for a cool $375 million, it looked like they had pulled off one of the great gaming coups of all time. After all, Rare was only one of the most storied developers ever, and had produced the greatest N64 games this side of Nintendo.

Much like a brilliant assistant coach leaving Bill Belichick though, once Rare was free from the umbrella of Nintendo’s influence, they would flounder in the spotlight.

While the re-make of “Conker” for Xbox was fun, and the 360 launch game “Kameo: Elements of Power” was decent enough, it was that other 360 launch title “Perfect Dark Zero” that would define their future with Microsoft.

It’s a future that includes titles ranging from boring to broken, with hardly a commercial or critical hit to be found. While some gamers hold out hope for the glorious return of one of gaming’s most famed developers, or maybe just a new “Killer Instinct,” it’s looking less and less likely the 11 year old mega deal will ever pan out.

2. Lack of Support for the Japanese Market

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As one of the first U.S. grown gaming systems to make it, Microsoft has always had a strained relationship with gamers from the land of the rising sun.

You could argue that they are up against a cultural barrier that isn’t entirely their fault, but from soft system launches in Japan to serious issues in successively seeking out major Japanese developer’s support, Microsoft has done no favors for themselves when trying to gain the support of the creatively, and financially, lucrative Japanese market.

In many ways it feels like they’ve completely written off the idea of ever really selling in Japan and, as a result, guarantee they will never be able to make a serious impact on their biggest rivals until they do.

1. The Red Rings of Death

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Really, what else could it be?

The Xbox 360 did a lot of great things for gaming, but instead of being remembered for the brilliance of Xbox Live, or an assortment of classic titles, the lasting image of the 360 will always be blinking red lights indicating a massive system failure that almost every 360 owner has had to experience at some point, or at the least fear forever.

Though a return and re-furbish option became available, once you got the red rings, you never really escaped them, just as Microsoft would never be able to escape the issue, even late into the system’s life span when the lights would become far less prevalent.

Instead the red lights of death are Microsoft’s version of herpes, in that they dealt with it once, and it’s now with them forever.

Are the Xbox’s Days Numbered?

If you can get past the irony of someone on Yahoo calling anything else outdated and irrelevant, there was an interesting article up on there recently, where writer Jay Yarrow of Yahoo’s business section painted a doomsday picture of Microsoft’s future in the video game industry. In it, the idea is presented that the PC giant may no longer have the clout and financial stability needed to stay in the video game industry.

His points are numerous, but they all center around the same basic idea that in a world that is constantly adapting more to the idea of smartphone and tablet use, the field of personal computer operations the Redmond based PC royalty once called its kingdom is no longer strong enough to keep them relevant. What’s worse is that they are not only losing ground in the home market, but more and more businesses are turning to using Macs as well. He adds to both these points by noting that Microsoft’s latest attempts to reclaim the tech throne with Windows 8 (and the systems that support it) as well as the surface tablet aren’t exactly making the impact culturally or financially to take a bite of Apple.

It’s hard to argue with any of those claims, as Microsoft’s recent financial shortcomings are well documented. However, the controversial idea presented is that as Microsoft looks to shore up its base operations for the changes of the coming world, the gaming division may be seen as expendable. The exact figure presented is that of Microsoft’s $21 billion income last year, only $364 million of it came from the Xbox division.

How I View $364 Million is, Apparently, Inaccurate

It’s a damning argument with a lot of big numbers behind it, but I find it to be ultimately flawed. For one thing, the biggest problem facing Microsoft right now is that they weren’t able to anticipate the coming changes in the technological world and make the necessary operational adaptions to keep up with them.

The 360 is the exception though. Outside of the notoriously stingy Japanese market, they have managed to make the Xbox name synonymous with mainstream gaming in a way that names like Nintendo and Playstation used to know. It’s sales figures continue to astound each quarter, Xbox Live is by far the most capable and complete of online services, the Kinect is an amazing piece of popular (if flawed) technology, and, even though exclusives aren’t as important as they used to be, the Xbox has some of the best and even more importantly is the most popular destination for major cross platform releases, due in large part to the technical issues inherent in PS3 releases and the limitations and adaptations required for Wii ports. The 360 managed to survive a shaky start that was highlighted by three glowing red rings of failure, to become the most complete system on the market.

While it’s true the Microsoft Xbox division launched in more prosperous financial times, since then in one mere generation it has managed to become a symbol of modern gaming, a household name, and the most consistent and inventive aspect of all of Microsoft’s operations in the last few years in terms of finances and public reception. While Microsoft’s current situation make the next Xbox a tricky prospect that may become more dependent on more gimmicky aspects like Kinect to become a more complete entertainment set piece and not “just” a gaming console in order to take a calculated risk in maintaining its position without breaking the bank, the fact remains that they would be stupid to write off the only part of their company that isn’t seriously lagging behind another major competitor.

Instead the reality is a little more frightening. If Microsoft can’t pick up the slack in every other field but gaming, then, and only then, will the Xbox fall. Even though the Xbox can’t claim responsibility for Microsoft’s current situation, it’s fate is still directly tied into the company overall, and all things considered, that’s not necessarily a brighter future.

The Epitaph of Microsoft?

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