Shadow Boxing – Microsoft is Wasting its Time Fighting Sony and Nintendo
Back in the mid-1990s, one of the biggest rivalries in rock music was between British bands Oasis and Blur. It was a perfect rivalry in the sense that they were diametrically opposed in a number of ways. Blur was made up of middle-class university graduates with trained musical backgrounds, while Oasis centered around working-class brothers with bad attitudes and an unhealthy Beatles fixation. Anyway, their rivalry played out in magazines, on awards shows, and in the charts and it all came to a head in 1995 when they both released new albums the same week. Long story short, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory by Oasis blew Blur’s The Great Escape out of the water. The latter band retreated for a couple of years while the former explode into the stratosphere (and soon after imploded into cocaine-fueled hubris). They emerged two years later with a self-titled album that had virtually none of the polish and…Britishness…they had made their name on. Hell, the album’s most famous song didn’t even have a proper title:
Blur was a bold statement in response to the rise of Oasis, not because it met their challenge but, because it conceded and moved on, its implicit message being, “Fine, you guys go be the biggest band in the world and fight that battle. We’re going over here and doing our own thing.” Not only did this move expand Blur’s appeal worldwide, but it freed them up artistically to experiment. In the end, they only ended up making one more proper album, 13, but it was one where they really stretched themselves creatively.
So, if you made it this far, you’re probably wondering to yourself what this could possibly have to do with video games. Well, I was reminded of this story when I saw the following Xbox One promotion being offered through the Microsoft Store:
This promotion is an outstanding example of how Microsoft is hurting themselves through terrible messaging and lame promotions. I imagine executives of this company high-fiving each other when they came up with this idea; “We’ll give them a deal, but they need to throw their PS3 in the garbage. TAKE THAT, SONY!” I’ll admit, I had a chuckle when I first read it because it amused me the same way it amuses me watching people get into arguments on Twitter. Thinking about it though, the campaign ultimately fails for two reasons:
Reason One: It comes across as smarmy and dickish. Yes, we get that you are essentially referring to a PS3 as ‘garbage’ that needs to be recycled, and that this Alpha Dog aggression is an integral part of marketing and competition. The problem is that it only really works if you are aiming it at competition that’s bigger than you. Sega could get away with saying “Sega does what Nintendon’t” back in the 90s because they were, even at their biggest, nowhere close to usurping Nintendo’s hold on the video game industry. If Nintendo tried replying in kind to Sega, they likely would have been labelled as bullies.
Reason Two: They’re picking a fight that nobody really wants. This goes back to my early analogy of the Blur/Oasis feud. Microsoft is pacing around trying to start a fight with Sony, Nintendo, and whomever else is in the vicinity as a way of trying to assert its dominance. The GameCube, a console I actually quite enjoyed, was pretty soundly beaten by the PS2 and XBox back in the fifth generation. When it happened, Nintendo learned a very important lesson; stop trying to compete on their level and just go do your own thing, all while letting the remaining two companies fight over the same piece of pie. Sony certainly engaged in its share of gauntlet-throwing over the past few years, but, with the PS4, have decided they’re going to ignore whatever Microsoft is doing and just follow their own path.
When somebody is acting like a jerk in public, sometimes the best way to respond is to not respond. Simply allow them to dig themselves deeper and look like an even greater fool while everybody else gets on with their lives. This is pretty much what seems to be happening with this Microsoft Store promotion, and it remains to be seen whether they keep trying to create conflict where there is none, or whether they let it go and focus instead on making their own customers happy.