Oh, what a difference a year can make. Roughly twelve months ago, I wrote a sardonic "break-up letter" to Microsoft about how I'm done with their brand and their messaging. Yet here I stand, a proud owner of an Xbox One, and a strong proponent of their newly found initiative.
Prior to the release of Xbox One, the now infamous DRM, cable TV, always online, Kinect heavy, and policy laden reveal turned away many loyal customers. When it was all said and done, Microsoft and Xbox were openly panned. Loudly. Months of backpedaling and movement within the company lead them back to square one, but still far behind the competition. Price cuts and restructuring were needed to restore balance in sales, and have also possibly attributed to Microsoft's first quarterly loss in twenty years on the open market.
Now it would seem the Xbox One's rocky start has played a huge part in why they are striving to improve. Identifying the need for a swift change in direction has them poised to close the gap in not only sales, but public opinion. The people who felt betrayed by Microsoft cried out and this year Xbox finally answered.
It all started with an honest admission of mistakes. Taking away their "deal with it" mentality and shifting their attention back to what made Xbox successful in the first place, the players. It's clear to see Xbox has been taking notes from the hardcore audience. Building upon their strength in infrastructure with Windows, lowering the barriers between PC and console gamers, offering fully customizable controllers, bringing mods in, picking up indie developers, closing deals for more exclusive titles, showcasing virtual and augmented reality hardware, and possibly the biggest consumer friendly move in company history: backwards compatibility.
At first glance, it would be easy to think backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 may not matter in the overall terms of the console's success. But as the weeks have worn on between E3 and Gamescom, Xbox has been tooting the horn of their 360 library in a triumphant manner. It's a free feature that gets you more games than the competition. It's hard to argue with them for rereleasing the original Gears of War, but doing so with four 360 games in tow was a step above what was expected. Now huge titles like Fallout 4 for Xbox One will ship with a copy of Fallout 3. Their Rare collection bags together 30 games for $30. The two free 360 games offered through their Games with Gold service mean much more to Xbox Live members with new consoles. Perhaps the most pertinent result of all, is that backwards compatibility provides a sensible reason for less remakes of old games to flood the market and offers an incentive to buy the Xbox versions of third-party sequels.
Now fresh off Gamescom, Microsoft has carried their momentum into a holiday where they'll have the superior library of new games. In addition to that, they've shown off a litany of titles being prepped for 2016 to go up against Sony. Which excites me not only as a fan of Xbox, but for gaming as a whole. Historically, I'm a much bigger fan of Playstation, though truthfully, no matter which side you find yourself on, it is always good to see the competition thrive. If Xbox One hadn't gotten trounced at their E3 reveal, and Sony hadn't responded, it'd be a slow and boring race. Instead, it continues to be a calculated fight with both companies calling checkmate on the other's weakness. Now that the Playstation 4 has been king of the hill for nearly two years, Xbox One has reared back with their first major counter strike. This move leaves Sony tasked with improving a product that people already adore. It's an important part of their symbiotic relationship with one another, and one where everyone wins.
When people mention the phrase "console war" it's easy to lose sight of why the competitive spirit is so important. It's also simply refreshing to see strong leadership take hold and help maximize the potential of my favorite hobby. Microsoft's recent surge of progress is part of the reason I have such strong faith in Phil Spencer the same way I did for over a decade with Jack Tretton. The long-term implications of Xbox's current moves have restored my belief in them. I'm excited to be a part of the future of Xbox, as they usher in a new age in gaming.