Microsoft: How Not To Handle a Crisis
It’s been fascinating to watch the fallout from the Xbox third party rumours this week. But what’s been more fascinating is Microsoft’s complete lack of response to them.
The gaming community has hit fever pitch. If I wrote an article about how the next Xbox was going to charge you per hour of gaming time, it’d get picked up and shared by people desperate for any bit of negative news. It would be treated as fact.
For context, this is some of what I’ve seen:
- Microsoft are leaving the gaming industry.
- Every game will be released on PlayStation and Switch.
- Game Pass is being stripped down and will be worse than PlayStation Plus Premium.
- Game Pass is going up in price.
- The service will lose its day one games.
- The next-gen Xbox will be released in 2026 and will again be across two consoles – a handheld and home console. These will be the same power.
- Upper management will be fired because Starfield/Forza/HiFi Rush didn’t do well enough.
- The “adorably digital” Xbox Series X will be released this year, and have to face off against the PlayStation 5 Pro.
In the working week since Phil Spencer acknowledged the rumours and announced next week’s business event to discuss the plans, things have only gotten worse. Leaks from insiders – if they were ever really leaks – have slowed down. The rumours have not. Only gamers can make a huge deal about the accidental use of “Microsoft Game Pass” in a Gamestop ad. And that’s without mentioning the sudden realisation that the Xbox website has been updated – six months after the fact.
Maybe you can’t expect the richest company in the world to react to every silly little idea that floats up on Twitter. But this kind of thing is why Xbox struggles.
In the last few weeks, Sony have had a decent State of Play, and has Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth coming out any day now. They’ve also found success with Helldivers on Steam, and probably on console. Nintendo will have a third party direct in the coming weeks, and will probably reveal the Switch 2 next month. But Xbox squandered good will from their own successful direct by letting half-complete plans leak out. And then letting them run wild. Their biggest fans are melting down on the daily.
Let me say that again. Even people who backed the underdog when it was at its worse are panicking. This just doesn’t happen with Sony and Nintendo.
And then after they’ve got themselves into that situation, they exacerbate things by refusing to put a lid on any of the rumours. I’ve read multiple people say they’re selling their consoles. This is do or die for a lot of people. Obviously it shouldn’t be that important – it’s just video games. But if a 20-year veteran console maker doesn’t take their video games company seriously, who the hell is going to?
I’m not unaware of the reality of corporate messaging. There needs to be strategizing, multiple drafts, checking and rechecking, legal and potentially time to record and edit. It isn’t sending out a quote or issuing a press release. And if this is really about a whole new direction for Xbox, it needs to be gotten right.
But for those who’ve spent the last week knocking Microsoft’s attempts at shaking up the game industry, it has been like Christmas come early. And there’s nothing anybody can say in defence, because there’s this business meeting on the horizon.
This stuff sticks. And no matter what ultimately gets said, this will erode trust in the brand.