Close
Are you sure? Are you sure you want to report this comment? I understand, report it. Cancel

Mattrick's departure will be Xbox One's pivot point

Mattrick's departure will be Xbox One's pivot point

Tue 02 Jul 2013 7:15am GMT / 3:15am EDT / 12:15am PDT
BusinessPublishing

Former Xbox boss' move to Zynga must have been long-planned, but it gives Microsoft a chance to fight back from a horrific month

The departure of Xbox boss Don Mattrick, headed off to become Zynga's new CEO only weeks after the unveiling of Xbox One, is another bizarre chapter in what has been the strangest and most uncomfortable period of Microsoft's existence as a console platform holder. In a few short weeks we have seen huge damage done to the laboriously elevated Xbox brand, the firm's main gaming rival elevated to undeserved sainthood during an extraordinary E3 showdown and finally a rare, humiliating and completely necessary U-turn from one of the world's biggest and most stubborn companies. Now, another unprecedented twist - the man behind a brand new console running out the door before that console even launches, even as its feature set has apparently been thrown into flux mere months before it hits retail shelves.

"Another bizarre chapter in what has been the strangest and most uncomfortable period of Microsoft's existence as a console platform holder"

This is a mess. There's no two ways about that. It may well be for the best in the end, but right now, it's a mess. Microsoft is in a tailspin - one minute Xbox is soaring above the clouds, the next, thrown around by winds of negative public opinion from all quarters, it's desperately hauling at all the controls and trying to correct its course, something that this corporate juggernaut simply isn't used to doing. As a rule, Microsoft ploughs ahead with its product strategies until either the world bends to its will or the product crashes into a mountainside. Tugging and pushing at unfamiliar controls as it tries to turn Xbox One from its course, Microsoft appears to have found the pilot ejector seat switch and thought "hey, this one is worth a shot!".

That's a fun narrative. It's the narrative that's probably going to be adopted in most quarters - the specialist gaming press and the business press alike. Mattrick's departure is going to be irrevocably pegged to the huge backlash against Xbox One - and there's some truth in that association, but not enough truth to count as actually being true. Step back for a second. Does anyone really think that a senior, superbly wealthy executive has a bad show at E3, hits the phones and organises a new CEO gig at a multi-billion dollar company to parachute himself into in the space of less than a month? As much as it's a great story to tell - Mattrick fired for Xbox One's failures, quickly lining up a new role to make it all look better to the world - it's clearly, patently not accurate.

Don Mattrick's intention to leave Microsoft (for Zynga, ultimately, but I believe that other roles were considered) has been around for months. His bosses - including, ultimately, Steve Ballmer, who may have had a direct hand in choreographing this move - will have been informed of Mattrick's plans for some time and will have been working behind the scenes to figure out a succession plan for the Xbox division. What has changed, I believe, is the timing. Mattrick probably intended to leave Microsoft after a successful Xbox One launch later this year - or perhaps, if he's in a hurry, to depart on good terms a few months after a rapturously received Xbox One unveiling and E3 showing. He's being shuffled out the door ahead of schedule, but he was always planning to leave.

Why did Mattrick decide to go? What led him to walk to the door, before being shoved out of it? Only Don Mattrick can really answer that question, but rumours abound that the uncommonly ambitious executive - and I do mean that; even in an industry where most executives nurture great personal ambition, Mattrick stands out as particularly obsessed with his own progression - was frustrated in his attempts to take on ever wider responsibilities at Microsoft. He wanted to move up to the top table there and may even have seen himself as a future CEO (the line of succession after Ballmer is far from clear, after all). Microsoft, however, showed no intention of releasing Mattrick from the confines of the Xbox project. This is all rumour and speculation, of course, but it fits Mattrick's profile to imagine that his ultimate goal at Microsoft was never simply to lead Xbox, and that being denied further progression would lead him to seek a more senior role elsewhere.

"Even in an industry where most executives nurture great personal ambition, Mattrick stands out as particularly obsessed with his own progression"

Why did Microsoft decide to hasten his departure? That's a simple PR gamble. The departure of a major public face like Mattrick in the wake of a blow-out like E3 compounds the error to some extent, but it also gives the company an opportunity to draw the line underneath its mistakes. It sends out two messages - to shareholders, it says that a sacrificial head has rolled and the company is fixing the problem; to consumers, it says that the guy doing the bad stuff is gone, and now the good guys will step in and set everything right. Similar messages, subtly different in their content and intent, yet both aimed at saying "that was then, let's focus on now". It's no mistake that Mattrick's last major public act prior to his departure was to announce the roll-back of Xbox One's hated physical game DRM policies - it will be interesting to find out some day whether that was something he did by choice, or something he was instructed to do from on high in response to deepening horror at the company in the face of anti-Xbox sentiment which effortlessly leaped from the specialist press over into the mainstream media during the course of E3.

What will happen now is an attempt to row back and regain the trust and goodwill Xbox has lost, using Mattrick's departure and the appointment of a new public face as a pivot point for the console. To some extent this will work, because some of the problem for Xbox One up until now has been around messaging and communication rather than actual content (although the content hasn't been great either). Mattrick's departure will be a useful way for Microsoft to draw a line underneath Xbox One's problems to date - and it also opens the door to the appointment of an executive who, bluntly, is a more personable public face than Mattrick. Mattrick is a well-regarded and respected businessman, but as the frontman for a console, he was never terribly successful - his conference performances, key for a console executive, were stilted and a little inhuman, never feeling in touch with the audience or the product. By comparison, the Phils, Harrison and Spencer, brought Microsoft's conference stages to life - they were credible as game enthusiasts and genuinely passionate in a way Mattrick was not. A little of that credibility and passion will go a long way for Microsoft in the coming months.

However, there's a problem with the Xbox which Mattrick's high-profile departure can't fix. Bear in mind that while issues around DRM may have ignited anti-Microsoft sentiment in recent weeks, the issues with Xbox One really started with Microsoft's decision to market the box as an all-in-one media device, trumpeting its ability to connect to cable boxes, run Skype calls and generally do lots of stuff that's got nothing to do with gaming over its capability as a gaming device. That messaging, I fear, isn't going to go away - because that messaging is a true reflection of how Microsoft as a whole views the Xbox. Microsoft, right up to Ballmer's level, is tired of sending out Trojan Horses that never actually get around to disgorging their soldiers. Xbox One is viewed at the top level within Microsoft as an open and deliberate play for living room dominance in which gaming prowess is a given rather than a true focus. Of course, within the Xbox division itself, the vast majority of people are utterly and totally committed to the gaming experience - that should not be in question - but the branding and messaging of Xbox will not be decided at that level, and even with Mattrick gone, that branding and messaging is still going to risk alienating gamers who are deeply, deeply suspicious of soi-disant game consoles that don't seem to be putting games first.

"This won't draw a line underneath the problems Xbox One has faced unless Microsoft also shows a commitment to changing its approach and its communication"

Once we get beyond the initial few days of excited chatter, I think that Mattrick's departure will probably be a net positive for Microsoft as it tries to lay the foundations for a successful Xbox One launch. I also think, incidentally, that being Zynga CEO is a role which will play to Mattrick's strengths far more than being Xbox boss ever did - it suits his perspective on the world, his undoubted abilities as an executive and his limitless ambition, and I suspect that he will actually do very well at Zynga. It's no contradiction to say that I think both Microsoft and Zynga will be better off for this change.

However, this won't draw a line underneath the problems Xbox One has faced unless Microsoft also shows a commitment to changing its approach and its communication. Everything the company says right now will be treated with suspicion by consumers - earning back trust takes more than a "we're listening" statement and the departure of a scapegoat. If Microsoft wants Xbox One to enjoy the kind of success that Xbox 360 did, it's going to have to fight like it's never fought before over the next six months - with humility, flexibility and understanding. Whoever replaces Don Mattrick is walking into the toughest job in the games business.

24 Comments

Paul Jace
Merchandiser

900 1,330 1.5
Microsoft needs to add to this move by further reversing more of the negative buzz they've gotten over the last two months. Tell Indie devs they can self-publish, lower that price by $100 and make a serious commitment to the free games for gold promotion. Oh, and don't mess up Killer Instinct 3.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 2nd July 2013 8:31am

Posted:A year ago

#1

Mark Friedler
VP Sales

11 20 1.8
They should get away from traditional video game guys who are at their core CPG folks. They need someone who has come up though the ranks of creating an Internet-first content business. That's what's driving the games business in mobile, social and, yes, even console.

Posted:A year ago

#2
It tellsIt tells us everything that the media had ignored the egocentric arrogance of the MS management style till this point. Even with the abysmal Xbone reveal event claims, the-
"...deal with it"
What will we learn from the next high profile departure? Will the game media come clean that there is a serious problem in the quality and focus of the current 'suits' that manage the industry, and that the cult of personality that the media has engendered has damaged the credibility of the business?

Posted:A year ago

#3

Gary Jacob
Localisation Project Manager

10 12 1.2
"...firm's main gaming rival elevated to undeserved sainthood during an extraordinary E3 showdown ..."
I'm glad someone said it; the poor offerings of the WiiU and X1 make the PS4 seem just quite awesome. To me it's an uninspired generation all round so far.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Peter Dwyer
Games Designer/Developer

481 290 0.6
@Kevin - No idea what your post is trying to say man!

I have no idea whether Mattrick's departure has any real consequence to be honest. I'm fairly certain he wasn't pivotal in much of the success of the original Xbox or 360. I'm also not too sure he was wholly responsible for the Xbox One strategy. What is clear however, is that Microsoft got too pally with the likes of Activision, Ubisoft and EA and it's likely them more than anything that were driving things towards an always online DRM nightmare. Like the emperor's new clothes, they likely persuaded Mattrick of the benefits to cost, control and hiking up profits but, also like that ill gotten fable, at E3 the emperor stepped out on stage assuming he was clad in regal attire and couldn't work out why the gathered crowd were staring and pointing!

Meanwhile the evil tailors of his downfall slinked off back into the shadows whispering "Wasn't me guv"

Posted:A year ago

#5

Varun Tyagi
AI Programmer

7 7 1.0
Popular Comment
Here's an interesting plot twist: Zyanga realizes its mistake, and lays off Don before he even joined. Suddenly Don Mattricks is out of job and all he can do now is play his Xbox 360 because he has no internet to activate Xbox one.

Posted:A year ago

#6
@Peter -

If you really had -
You seemed to have expounded some time trying to explain that!

To try and claim -
seems to show a level of confusion that makes me wonder if you may have a vested interest to declare?

Mr. Mattrick had been:
- President of Worldwide Studios for Electronic Arts (1991-2006)
- Senior Vice President overseeing the Xbox 360 and PC gaming businesses (2007-2013)
If that is not 'pivotal' to the leadership and direction of the respective corporation as well as to Xbone and XB360 then you are in major denial and I would suggest you may be a tad wrong!

It also begs the question how a co-founder of a small team like Distinctive Software with Game Manager credentials, could rise so far only after said company was acquired by EA?

Regarding your statement about -
[slinks] off back into the shadows whispering "Wasn't me guv"
We can agree here - Oh so true.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

521 748 1.4
@Kevin
It tells us everything that the media had ignored the egocentric arrogance of the MS management style till this point. Even with the abysmal Xbone reveal event claims, the-

"...deal with it"
suicide note
Probably because the media can tell the difference between a mistake on twitter by an ordinary employee vs an official statement or interview with an executive acting as a spokesman for the company.

Posted:A year ago

#8
@Dave-
...the media can tell the difference between a mistake on twitter by an ordinary employee vs an official statement or interview with an executive acting as a spokesman for the company...




Oh - I miss Trip Hawkins! *3D0 = XBO"

Edited 2 times. Last edit by kevin williams on 2nd July 2013 10:47am

Posted:A year ago

#9

Jamie Knight
International Editor in Chief

48 21 0.4
Popular Comment
really? well isn't it odd then that any 'real gamer' out there on 'the interwebz' see's the social features adopted by mobile gamers ( with little else to fly from their Spartan masts ) as nothing more than glitter...?

internet content on the games console is the 'hope' of a promised land by men in suits, ( no pun intended ), who are completely out of touch with the core console audience.

what console gamers want is this:

Better online services in the area of dedicated servers, party communication, drop in and drop out friends list participation

core console gamers could care less for Facebook, Twitter, TV services yadda, yadda, yadda

give them what they want such as longer and more involving single player campaigns, dedicated servers for multiplayer titles, the ability to actually download their digital content to play offline, the choice whether or not to keep or sell a game, no season passes, no Day One DLC scams, no always connected, ping back ridiculousness, and possibly a premium service feature for full demo's and free gifts monthly.

Roberts your mothers brother....

...who cares that you can tweet your latest headshot? who cares you can share your killstreak with your friends on Facebook ( do you really want randoms you meet on XBL and PSN even ON your Facebook ), and who cares for a mobile industry always proclaiming itself to be 'the next big thing' when it clearly isn't.

Keep telling yourself that is what your business needs to focus on and I'll pass you and wave on my way to work as you are queuing in the employment line.

here's a tip:

"When you want to know something regarding what console gamers want to see and what they don't....ASK A GAMER, NOT A SALESMAN "

Posted:A year ago

#10
A little bit of history repeating:

1993
-Ex-EA executive undertakes launch of new consoles looking for multi-publisher support
-Promoted as a multi-media platform via extensive CD film deals
-complaints that games take back seat
-announced with a incredibly high sales price ($699)
-Console has poor launch event ('Worst Console Launch of 1993' by Electronic Gaming Monthly)
-launched October that year
-discontinued 1996
2013
-Ex-EA executive handed the job to launch new console looking for multi-publisher support
-Promoted as a multi-media platform via extensive cable TV deals
-complaints that games are after-thought
-announced with a incredibly high sales price ($599)

-launched November that year
-tbd

Posted:A year ago

#11

Chris Hunter-Brown
IT / Games specialist

52 15 0.3
As usual, summed up my thoughts almost entirely. Mattrick has never sat well at Xbox for me and as a lifelong fan I won't look back on his reign with much fondness. The division has largely trodden water during his tenure and the fruit of what was presumably the focus behind the scenes in the Xbox One is as you politely put it, in a bit of a state.

He seems most capable of steering his vessel efficiently along a well charted course, which might be saying something about Zynga in their decision to hire him. Whether that is the right call remains to be seen but he'll probably execute against those parameters very well.

Hopefully Microsoft get the right person in to make a proper fist of things.

As far as trojan horses go, the 360 was very successful in that respect. Whether it's the right strategy in this decade is another matter but the uncloaked variant of Xbox One is not going to get into Troy if all it does is tread a more direct and visible path to the gates of the living room than it's predecessor. Most of these executives expounding how many "entertainment hours" are consumed via the 360 are completely forgetting how it got there in the first place and why the software line up from the last few years might have been pushing people to these other channels.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

1,072 1,007 0.9
In a few years, the TV will be nothing more than the external monitor for your cell phone/pocket device. Your phone will manage all your IPTV services, all your Netflix clones, social media etc accounts and it will wirelessly beam the data to a TV; should you desire. Some TVs might even support a DRM handshake and pull the IPTV stream from their network connection, or are the registered devices which provide access to your services to whomever sits in front of it. Not everybody will have expensive smartphones anyway.

That is how SkyTV essentially works already in Europe today (bad streaming resolution of SkyGo aside). That is how every entertainment content will work within one console cycle. If Microsoft can put up a service aggregating all those content providers into one, in the same way Apple iTunes bundled all the record labels into one, then Microsoft will stand a chance. Vodafone (best known for being a cell phone provider) is making a move in Europe to gobble up cable TV providers. Amazon is one step ahead commissioning its own episodic shows. You could say, Microsoft is already late to the race and barely keeping the pace with HaloTV.

Otherwise it does not matter what the Xbox does, because beyond games it is all about the services. So far, the XBO neither replaces my ISP, nor my cable provider, or offers any way of managing them or reselling subscriptions, so why would I need that thing to interact with either? All we have seen in the "battle for the living room" is Microsoft's version of a universal remote with fancy hand gesture; sry, no enough.

Xbox also plays games you say? Well, then Microsoft has even more things to fix. There is the price. There is the mortal dependency upon a Kinect nobody really needs. There is the issue of how powerful the hardware is; rule of thumb: if you try to defuse the situation before the first round of comparative Destiny/CoD videos has even raised them, then you are in trouble and you know it.

Firing one exec is not going to make Microsoft competitive in this environment. They really need to put the warpaint on. To win this, it does not take a console launch with a $300 million ad campaign. Competing with the likes out there requires billions of Dollars in investments. Apple did not build cash reserves of $40 billion for no reason. They are moving into position for a digital age kill shot, while Xbox division is peddling a toy.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Paul Shirley
Programmers

175 147 0.8
Anyone remember Steven Sinofsky resigning just weeks before Win8 launched, it's believed because he wanted Ballmers job? Ambition that threatens Ballmers position in the company is increasingly looking like a quick way to get sacked.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

280 180 0.6
Popular Comment
@Jamie
core console gamers could care less for Facebook, Twitter, TV services yadda, yadda, yadda
I know, just being fussy here (especially for a non-native speaker)... but I can't help reacting to that since I saw this. :)

Posted:A year ago

#15

Anthony Chan
Analyst

88 72 0.8
I believe most of you are overestimating the power of one "suit". Mattrick, was a key member of the leadership and that is probably an understatement by large. However, Xbox is still a brand (note I did not say console) that must be taken seriously - unlike the indie loved Ouya or even that elusive Steam box from that "whats-that-name" company.

2nd, get out of this "core gaming console" mode. This demographic is pretty much the same as the "hardcore gamer". This demographic is now the niche. To make money that suits would consider even a mentionable amount, products must be geared, targeted, and marketed at the masses. Convince a non-gamer; somebody who has never even played pong, heard of Atari, or touched a controller, to buy a next gen console - and you are onto something. Catering to a niche when there are so many competitors is profit line suicide - especially when each games is available on all platforms anyways.

Apple has pretty much done this. They made computers non-nerd through the glam, chic-ness, and prettiness while maintaining their original niche - graphic designers and digital artists. Now you ask a group of school children, would they choose some beefed up machine that can beat every benchmark of Crysis or an iMac, I am sure you know the answer. Rinse wash repeat for iPhone (versus every damn smartphone out there), iPad (versus every tablet out there), and iPod (versus every MP3 player out there). All these products were marketed at the masses, that even hardcore gamers have no choice but to agree, these are all valid gaming platforms. Yes you nerds can tell me how certain android tablets will kick the iPad in every way, or how gaming is not an option on an iMac (it so is), but the fact is these products are leaders in their category.

PS4 and XBox have to accomplish this. They cannot afford to dig themselves into a hole because the "hardcore nerd gamer" raised their voice. They need to remember, they both had products that controlled their market segment only to have their control eroded away by Apple.

Posted:A year ago

#16

Barrie Tingle
Live Producer

368 144 0.4
@Jamie
core console gamers could care less for Facebook, Twitter, TV services yadda, yadda, yadda
http://youtu.be/om7O0MFkmpw
That is all :)

Posted:A year ago

#17

Jack Pochop
Studying Telecommunications

27 16 0.6
It bewilders me to think that, even if Microsoft had long-planned Mattrick's departure, they let Mattrick speak at the forefront of the Xbox brand for the last two months -- which have, arguably, been the most important months in this new generation's 'rallying of the troops.' Had he done a good job of maintaining a positive image even (which he did not), this move would still come off as surprising. You would think that Microsoft would have tucked Mattrick away for a time, maybe even training a protege before he left. That same person could have even spoke in Mattrick's place, making this whole transition more of a private problem for Microsoft, rather than a public 'mess,' as you say. Ai yai yai, Microsoft.

Posted:A year ago

#18
@Jack -

Very cogent argument - why let the man speak for your Xbone if he is baling in a week or so?

Posted:A year ago

#19

Donald Dalley
Freelance writer

50 31 0.6
what console gamers want is this:

Better online services in the area of dedicated servers, party communication, drop in and drop out friends list participation - Jamie Knight
As a gamer, I am very wary of having people on my friends list just drop in unannounced while I am playing. You do that often enough and you might not be able to ever do it again.

Posted:A year ago

#20

Michael Carter Jr
Studying Business Administration

9 2 0.2
The xboxone disaster was just the final issue of what for me has been a long but steady decline for Microsoft in my eyes. I was slowly loosing faith and trust in the company over the past year and a half and I finally gave up on them with the xboxone announcement. I honestly don't care how much they claim or actually change in their vain attempt to sweep this mistake under the rug, their true colors have been exposed and I for one do not plan to continue to support their game system.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Paul Acevedo
Games Editor

16 18 1.1
As a gamer, I am very wary of having people on my friends list just drop in unannounced while I am playing. You do that often enough and you might not be able to ever do it again.
Drop in, drop out co-op is actually a very important feature. The benefit is that players don't have to meet up at the exact same time and create a special lobby just to play together. Instead, your friend sees you are playing, asks to join, and is able to do so without interrupting your experience. Basically, this is what anyone who enjoys co-op would want. It does not mean that people just appear in your game without your permission - I've never seen a game that didn't allow people to make their games not joinable or to hide their online status.

Also, I recommend populating your friends list with people who are actually your friends and that you would be happy to see as opposed to people whose presence makes you want to delete them.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Acevedo on 3rd July 2013 7:33am

Posted:A year ago

#22

Donald Dalley
Freelance writer

50 31 0.6
Depends on the game. I don't play co-op games. One game I play makes it difficult to keep people out when you might want to control who is in the lobby.

Posted:A year ago

#23

Login or register to post

Take part in the GamesIndustry community

Register now