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Console-ing Customers: How Customers Forced Video Game Companies To Listen To Them

Guest Post:  Asher Lurie is an emerging PR professional, ready to make his mark.  Prior to receiving a post-graduate certificate in PR from Humber College, Asher earned his Masters degree in media studies from the University of Western Ontario, where he focused on popular music and culture. You can connect with Asher on Linkedin or Twitter.


Those that argue that companies still don’t listen to their customers should look no further than the current adjustments Microsoft are making to their Xbox One gaming console as proof that they’re mistaken. After two weeks of vehement complaining from a very vocal fan base, the company is removing restrictions on how the games can be played, as well as removing what were stringent rules in terms of game sharing and trading.

Admittedly, this isn’t the first time gaming companies have given in to consumer demands. I remember back in the day, Nintendo began issuing special gloves designed for certain Mario Party games if you wrote in, complaining that the skin on your hand had split open during one of the rigorous ‘rotate the wheel as fast as you can to stop a giant ghost from touching you/from falling into a giant carnivorous plant/etc.’

But those were minor quibbles, solved with band-aid solutions (more or less literally). This is a case of a major company completely changing their initial plans for the rollout and execution of their next major gaming system. It proves, once more, that transparency and engagement with key stakeholders is no longer simply a bonus; it is now a requirement.

The necessity of Microsoft to comply with the demands of its customers (and gamers are notoriously particular and vocal when it comes to their wants and needs) was likely exacerbated by the far more positive response Sony got with their PlayStation 4 launch, which features none of the limitations that Xbox attempted to add, while also selling for $100 less. The two companies will be going head to head this holiday season with their new consoles, with success being determined ultimately by the customers themselves.

While Microsoft has attempted to make amends by listening to their most important stakeholder, it remains to be seen if they have done enough, or if the damage has been done. The major issue, when it comes down to it, is simply a lack of communication to the audience about the intended benefits of their planned restrictions. Since the intention is to make Xbox One a more complete entertainment experience, the plan was that users would have to be connected to the Internet at least once every 24 hours to enable new technologies to work properly and ensure the best possible experience. This wasn’t made especially clear to consumers, and combined with their intended harsh used game policies, it appeared to be more about heightened restrictions and appeasing the publishers than providing a better experience for users.

This is yet another in a long line of examples of how integral communications are as part of a product launch. Without a clear explanation, especially when it involves a new idea or thought process, the intended meaning can easily get lost in translation.

As a casual gamer at best (the only systems I ever owned were an original Game Boy and a Nintendo 64, many years after its release, and the only games I ever mastered were the aforementioned Mario Party and WWF Attitude, mostly because nobody else would play it), I’m the type of person that has no allegiance to either Microsoft or Sony, and would base my purchase on which provides the best user experience. The restrictions Microsoft had in place would certainly make me wary, but their willingness to admit their shortcomings and make adjustments proves that they are a company that cares about what I want.

So which system will I ultimately be purchasing when they come out this holiday season? Truthfully probably neither, as my video game enjoyment probably is on par with Bart Simpson playing Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. But for those in the market, the question remains if Microsoft has done enough damage control to put them pack on equal footing with Sony.

One thing is clear though: one-way, asymmetrical communication between corporations and the public is the video game equivalent of getting a single green shell when you’re in last place in Mario Kart: it has its moments, but pales in comparisons to the alternatives.