Oh Microsoft. The tech giant can’t seem to catch a break. Last year, Microsoft was criticized for spending too much time on non-gaming things: voice control, TV, original programming, the NFL, etc. So Microsoft listened to customers (or the press?) and at this year’s E3, the beleaguered company didn’t talk about anything but games, games and games. And yet, people complained that Microsoft’s presentation was too focused and uninspired. Forbes‘ take, for example:
[The presentation] wasn’t bad, so much — some of the games looked great, even if many weren’t exclusives — but it was decidedly safe. There wasn’t much that felt exciting coming from Microsoft, and you could sense that in the presentation as well. It was timid. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but you could feel it in the room. For a company that needs to re-invigorate its console, it doesn’t feel great.
It’s a catch-22 situation for Microsoft: damned for talking about non-gaming things, damned for only talking about games.
This is no paradox, however. Microsoft’s mistake is in taking feedback too literally. The objective of your business is not to listen to customers, the objective is to impress them enough so that they actually spend time or money on you. Microsoft focused too much on listening and not enough on the actual wowing.
Gamers want to be impressed — they don’t necessarily only want to hear about games. They want a good reason for buying an Xbox One or feeling proud enough of their purchase that they can advocate it to their friends. That could be games; that could be non-gaming things.
It’s not about the topic (games vs. non-games), it’s about the impact (wowed vs. not wowed).
Microsoft made a lot of U-turns recently in the consumer space. For the Xbox One, Microsoft reversed key strategies based on market feedback: always on connectivity, digital rights management, region protection, and most recently the Kinect unbundling. As Don Mattrick wrote:
Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.
Commentators point to the Xbox One’s laggard status relative to the Playstation 4 as proof that people don’t want the Kinect. Listening to that “feedback” and abandoning the Kinect vision would be the wrong move. It’s not that people don’t want voice or gesture control, it’s that those functions don’t work well enough to justify the price.
Execution is the problem, not the vision. There are no must-have Kinect games or applications. Take the experience of this Polygon writer:
The Kinect for the Xbox One is a sophisticated, expensive piece of equipment that adds very little to the act of playing games. I’m able to get voice commands to work around 80 percent of the time, but my wife and children have much worse luck…The use of the Kinect for navigation and voice commands is limited and often frustrating, but the lack of games that use the hardware in any compelling way is just as much of a shame.
A decade ago, Microsoft had Tablet PCs. It looked like a great idea, except few purchased one. Does that mean people didn’t want touch screen tablets? No, it just meant that the execution was not good enough. Tablet PCs were too expensive and it had too many problems. It took Apple many years later to show how it’s done.
Graphic and captions from Quantarazon
If Microsoft wants to make a 10x impact, it can’t listen too closely to customers. Instead, it needs to focus on making the product good enough for its vision. For example, in making the Kinect work 100% instead of 80% of the time. In creating a killer Kinect game.
I am not saying Microsoft shouldn’t listen to customer feedback. They absolutely should — it’s more in how feedback should be applied. Feedback shouldn’t be used to define the vision but in how to refine it. Customer feedback isn’t for “What should we do?” It’s more for, “Here’s what we’re doing, now how can we make it better?”‘
Microsoft is doing too much of the former.
Of course, it’s easy to make “vision” the banner cry, but it’s easier said than done.