For those of us who decided to give our money and vote of confidence to Microsoft this console go-round, the number-two placement of the Xbox One is more than OK: It’s great. We are fewer in rank than we might have been had Microsoft not made a myriad of missteps back in 2013, likely costing them millions of customers. From their commitment to Kinect to the baffling inclusion of mandatory internet connectivity, Microsoft made the classic mistake of misinterpreting the desires of their customers.
Meanwhile, Sony’s PlayStation 4 had practically won without even trying. To Sony’s credit, it learned from the PlayStation 3 release and its newest console was developed and marketed in the safest way possible. That conservative stance paid off for Sony. Late in 2013, both consoles hit the market, and to the surprise of no one, PS4s flew off the shelves as former Xbox lovers switched brands in droves.
In a few short months, Microsoft had squandered the massive ground it had gained with the release of the Xbox 360, whose sales had miraculously almost matched PS3’s worldwide numbers that followed the iron grip Sony had from the PS2 era. As it stands today, PlayStation 4 has sold 35 million units to Xbox One’s 19 million. Not exactly a close race.
So, where was I in all this? Arguably blinded by my love for the Halo brand, I ignored the hype and stuck by Microsoft’s side. It wasn’t pretty at first. In fact, I had a long period of doubt as I played slightly prettier versions of last-generation games and wondered why I dropped $500 on a box that didn’t do a lot more than my 360 did. But as I sit here two years later, I can say with confidence that I’m happy with my choice. Microsoft has been feeling the pressure to rebuild its brand and made a massive investment back into what counts: customer satisfaction. Three things come to mind when considering the positive impact that Microsoft’s unfortunate market position has had on us gamers-things that I’m not sure would have happened if Microsoft was winning the proverbial war.
The true sign of a great console is its lineup of exclusive content. In 2015, Microsoft released one heavy-hitter after another, with Halo 5, Forza 6, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Rise of the Tomb Raider all releasing in the short span of a few months. Meanwhile, Sony seemed content to release Bloodborne in March and then organize downloadable content deals on multiplatform titles for the rest of the year. It’s hard to argue that the Xbox One wasn’t the console to have if you wanted the best gaming experiences in 2015.
Microsoft also delivered a feature that gamers on both consoles had all but given up on: backward compatibility. They said it couldn’t be done, and even Sony’s mouth was left agape when that bomb dropped. It didn’t just happen, Microsoft had to make it happen by investing untold time and resources to develop a feature that would not inherently generate revenue. That’s a gutsy move in anyone’s book, and it’s a large-scale project that points to a true change of heart from the top of the organization all the way down.
The improvements made to Xbox Live (the console family’s online service) and the Xbox One interface have demonstrated Microsoft’s renewed commitment to providing a superior online service. Xbox owners still get the most stable, consistent, and secure online experience available on consoles, while also getting up to four free games monthly. I have to give credit to both Sony and Microsoft in this case. Sony’s PlayStation Plus program pushed the boundaries of what a subscription gaming experience could offer, and Microsoft responded accordingly. It’s a classic example of competition ultimately resulting in a stronger product for the consumer.
As for the interface, Microsoft was wise enough to scrap the Kinect-friendly operating system and revamp it with the completely new Windows 10 experience. The upgrade is truly remarkable and unmatched by anything I’ve seen on a console. It’s easy to use while still offering unparalleled multimedia functionality that finally delivers on the promise of making the Xbox the center of your living room. Like backward compatibility, this was not an upgrade that came without significant cost and investment.
What I wrote above may paint me as a bit of what internet message boards like to call a “fanboy.” Honestly, I think it is perfectly natural for us to develop an attachment to the brands we spend time with and that benefit our lives. There is a certain affinity bred by siding with the underdog, but in the end I know that mega-companies like Sony and Microsoft are not benevolent. They are not our friends. Even if these companies are ultimately out to make a buck, they should do so by winning the hearts of their customers by truly providing value above and beyond expectations. I believe Microsoft has exceeded those expectations and is deserving of my hard-earned money and maybe even a little bit of my “fanboyism.” Here’s to riding with number two.