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Xbox One listening to the consumers was a big mistake

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Xbox One

It’s not easy when you’re trying to outdo your competition. Innovation can widen that gap between success and failure, but most of the time, consumers don’t want things to change. That’s the case with the Xbox One, as Microsoft scrapped many of its ideas for that console, because of consumer outrage. Some of those ideas needed to go. But they also cost us several other features which would have been cool. And that’s a big mistake, says one veteran game designer.

Speaking to GI.biz at the GameLab conference in Barcelona last month, Schell Games founder Jesse Schell says that Microsoft should have never bowed to consumer pressure. “Your customers want you to stay the same, even if it drives you into the ground,” Schell said.

Somehow, Microsoft didn’t seem to think that would be a reality, or even a problem. The reality is that they can’t do what the customers want.

Basically, Microsoft said, ‘We’re going to be Steam. You like Steam, don’t you?’ And we all said, ‘No, we hate that. We hate you. You’re an idiot to do that.’ They came out and said, ‘We’re gonna do this new thing.’ And the customers said, ‘No, we don’t want that, we hate that’ – even though it’s what they really want and what they will ultimately buy.

So now Microsoft has had to say they won’t do all that stuff, but someone will.

That’s the problem with innovation according to Schell, because companies that do so, often find themselves dead and buried thanks to stubborn consumers.“That’s how it always goes,” Schell said.

This is the lesson of the innovator’s dilemma. Why is it that big companies fail when the technology changes? It happens in every industry, so what’s the pattern? What are they all doing wrong?

Everyone says, ‘Oh, it’s because they’re stupid. Big companies are stupid.’ They can’t be stupid. How did they get that big and stay that big if they’re stupid? Microsoft isn’t stupid. There’s one mistake that they all make, and that mistake is listening to their customers.

The problem is that the hardcore folks always want the same thing: ‘We want exactly what you gave us before, but it has to be completely different.’

When you want to do something really different – the solution to the innovator’s dilemma – you can’t take your big brand and say it’s going to be completely different. You need to set up something up on the side, and big companies are hesitant to do that. It’s how Valve could do it [with Steam], because they had nothing before.

I suspect that we’re going to end up in that world. Are we going to end up there on these consoles? I don’t know. It could be that some dark horse shows up. It could be that Apple shows up. It could be that somebody finds a better way.

Schell makes some good points. And I’ve always felt that the Xbox One had the technology to pull this stuff off. It just doesn’t want to apply that train of thought into a practical scenario though, without the guarantee that it wouldn’t lose some cash.

This is the the thought process that has resulted in digital games costing exactly the same as physical copies of games, because console giants don’t want to take too much of a big risk. And honestly, the only way we’ll move forward is if one of the big three puts on some big boy pants and takes that plunge. Because if they’re successful, they’re going to be kicking themselves for not doing this sooner.

Last Updated: August 6, 2013

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