Microsoft Speaks From Both Sides of its Mouth On Monetising User Data
Microsoft is again in hot water this week after yet another instance of sadly characteristic muddied messaging with respect to their Xbone console. So far Microsoft’s only consistent marketing strategy, if one could call it that, has been to tell every disparate party exactly what they imagine they would wish to hear, irrespective of whether such pledges are incompatible with one another. First we saw Microsoft unveil the Xbone as a media center device, then they swore to gamers until blue in the face that they had changed direction, and that gaming would still be their top priority, but then their first wave of adverts was unveiled, and Microsoft has, as of yet, failed to produce a single one which features gaming. In similar fashion, Microsoft has repeatedly promised that the user-data which is farmed by the system’s mandatory inclusion of Kinect will not be used for marketing purposes, but they have then turned around and sent one of the Xbone’s top marketing executives to the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference, where he suggested that the very opposite would be true.
Earlier this week Microsoft’s Albert Penello took to NeoGAF in order to allay fears that marketers would have access to user biometric data in order to better inundate them with advertising:
“Some of the new Xbox One Kinect features *could* be used in advertising – since we can see expressions, engagement, etc. and how that might be used to target advertising. This is the point that seems to draw some controversy. First – nobody is working on that. I’m not aware of any active work in this space. Second – if something like that ever happened, you can be sure it wouldn’t happen without the user having control over it. Period.”
This would all be very comforting were it not for the fact that in the same week the Xbone’s marketing and strategy vice president, Yusuf Mehdi, was standing up in front of the best and brightest in American advertising in order to herald the Xbone as the golden dawn of aggressive marketing and marketing research. The Xbone and its Kinect is something like a holy grail in this regard, as it is able to track the body language of users in order to see whether they are paying attention, while also being able to process six individual voices at a time:
“We are trying to bridge some of the world between online and offline, that’s a little bit of a holy grail in terms of how you understand the consumer in that 360 degrees of their life. We have a pretty unique position at Microsoft because of what we do with digital, as well as more and more with television because of Xbox. It’s early days, but we’re starting to put that together in more of a unifying way, and hopefully at some point we can start to offer that to advertisers broadly.”
Naturally, after Microsoft’s hand had been caught in the cookie jar they responded by sending out a bunch of emails claiming that Medhi had been taken out of context and misinterpreted, but really there is only one way in which the above statement could be interpreted. Microsoft wanted to reach out to the advertising community to tell them exactly what they wanted to hear, even as they were reaching out to the gaming community to tell them exactly what they wanted to hear – and thus Microsoft has once again managed to trip themselves up through excessive dishonesty.
The Death of Gaming in Japan
If the fortunes of western game development are beginning to see the effects of smartphone gaming attrition, then Japan should perhaps be afforded closer scrutiny as the best available model of what to expect. We have been hearing for years now that console gaming is dead in Japan, and now it stands to be said that we are beginning to see that portable gaming alone is unable to sustain the operations of Japan’s traditional game developers.
This year has finally seen the profitability [in terms of both operating income and net income] of Japan’s top three mobile game developers outstrip the combined profitability of Japan’s top nine console game developers, an outcome that was no doubt hastened by the fact that Japanese style games are no longer in favour with the vast bulk of Western gaming audiences. More specifically, the combined profitability of GungHo, DeNA, and GREE is now greater than that of Nintendo, Sony [gaming division], SegaSammy, BandaiNamco, Konami, TakaraTomy, Square Enix, Capcom, and TecmoKoei! Eurotechnology Japan graphs indicate that from about 2008 onwards there has been a precipitous decline in the profitability of console gaming in Japan – a timeframe which neatly coincides with the rise of smartphone gaming.
This is an outcome which provides much in the way of context to reports that this year’s TGS had seen a dramatically scaled-back showing of console games, with smartphone titles taking center stage. At the same time it is also a worrying outcome, not just for gamers who enjoy Japanese style game experiences, but also people who prefer console gaming in general. One was once rather favourably disposed toward smartphone gaming after supposing that it was something that could be enjoyed along-side console gaming without having an overly deleterious effect on the industry. That has clearly not been the case, and if there is no clear winner in the next round of console launches, then it is possible that we are currently looking at the very last release of gaming-specific hardware platforms.
Because Square Enix
Then again, perhaps it is possible that the Japanese console industry is floundering based solely on its own poor decision making – exhibit A: Square Enix. This week Square Enix confirmed that the Wii U version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut would be priced at a whopping fifty dollars on the Wii U, while being priced at a much more reasonable thirty dollars on the PS3 and 360. Moreover, people who already own a Steam version of the game can upgrade to the Director’s Cut for as little as five dollars if they already own the DLC. All this makes one wonder why Square Enix even bothered to create a Wii U version if they were planning to price it so absurdly that literally the only people who will buy it are all five of the people who do not own another gaming platform.
That was not the only Deus Ex news for the week though, as Square Enix announced Deus Ex Universe – this is not actually the name of a game, but rather “The concept behind Deus Ex: Universe is to create an ongoing, expanding and connected game world built across a generation of core games.” Yes, that is right, the concept of ‘polymorphic content’ has been such a smashing success for Square Enix that they have decided to reheat it for the Deus Ex franchise! Square Enix just cannot help themselves, they have never had a bad idea that they did not immediately adore and want spun-off into its own franchise. More frustratingly, it seems that we have seen the last of Deus Ex games which feature self contained stories, as Deus Ex Universe is set to “deliver a deep conspiracy” that will stretch across multiple games. Put that way, it really does sound like all the worst aspects of Assassin’s Creed. Cue the “I never asked for this” memes, because the last thing one would ever want for the Deus Ex franchise is a lazy backdrop conspiracy in which one loses all interest long before the series has reached its conclusion – see Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect.