Xbox One's E3 showing "very unprofessionally done," says Molyneux

Sony and Microsoft squaring off at E3 felt like "two frat houses," the 22Cans boss tells us, while lamenting how insular the industry still is

Day two of E3 2013 is coming to a close, but the entire industry is still buzzing about the showdown between Microsoft and Sony that took place during those companies' respective press conferences earlier in the week. Whether or not it'll matter in the long run, in the short term everyone agrees that Sony had a clear PR victory. GamesIndustry International has been chatting up top members of the industry at the show, and today we had a conversation with 22Cans founder Peter Molyneux. The former Lionhead boss and Microsoft Europe exec held back no punches when it came to assessing his previous employer's Xbox One unveiling and E3 performance.

"This is me, purely as a consumer - it seemed to me like two frat houses," he remarked about Sony and Microsoft. "It's like 'oh you've done that, so we'll do this.' They are kind of defining each other's strategy. I think Sony changed its strategy because of what Microsoft did and Microsoft changed its strategy due to what Sony did. Me, as a consumer, I don't give a shit. What I give a shit about really is the games, whether the launch titles are something I'm going to invest 500 bucks in, or 400 bucks for Sony."

One of the larger PR issues for Microsoft is that Xbox One games either require you to be online or at least to "check in" to be sure your disc is authenticated. The idea itself of being always online isn't necessarily bad, Molyneux argued, so long as there's a very clear benefit.

"Always online is simple for me. As a consumer, just show me why I should be always online and I'll be happy with it. At the moment, it just means game sale authentication. I don't want that"

"I just think it was very unprofessionally done. There was one message from one Phil and then another message from another Phil," Molyneux continued, referring to Phil Spencer and Phil Harrison, "and they seemed to be kind of shooting from the hip. Always online is simple for me. As a consumer, just show me why I should be always online and I'll be happy with it. At the moment, it just means game sale authentication. I don't want that. But if there's some way you can give a huge benefit for the consumer, and make the message super clear, [it would be accepted]."

"Right now it's not very clear; it went from once every 24 hours to not at all to all the time, and I got very confused by it. They just need to be very clear, focus on the benefits, and after a while, we'll be in the same place as this," he said, pointing to a smartphone. "This has to be always online and we didn't have to think about it. Things like Clash of Clans is always online, and I don't mind, I don't care, I just enjoy playing Clash of Clans. So I think it's a little hiccup in the industry. I think consumers are being spun up by things like Twitter and Facebook."

"We need, as an industry, to be super clear to our consumers, and when you're at E3 you kind of forget about consumers for a while. It just seems to be all about the show."

Part of the problem with E3 and the industry, Molyneux believes, is that developers and publishers are repeatedly targeting the same audience. The business will never grow with that approach.

"I do worry sometimes when I come to E3, especially this E3, I worry just how much we're pushing the industry forward. It's not about the indies and - I'm probably going to get into trouble for saying this - it's not about bringing new people and consumers into the game industry. It's about pleasing existing gamers," Molyneux commented. "The whole design of the consoles is about pleasing existing gamers, and actually what Microsoft did was they went from the first press conference and they kind of lost their nerve a bit, and they said, 'Oh crikey, we better just nail the core consumers.' I don't know whether that vision of how to interact with our audience is the right vision, to say we're all about core, that's who our audience is, we know how many Call of Dutys we're going to sell."

"If we look at [the industry's] 10-year future or 20-year future, if we still continue to be inward looking rather than outward looking, I worry about it. That's why I think the indies, myself included, [have to push games forward]. We should be appealing to new audiences, we should be using this insane, crazy tech in a completely different, game-changing way, so these huge corporations turn around and say, 'you know what, maybe we should look at that software'."

The vast majority of games on display on E3's show floor or the ones that were showcased during the Sony and Microsoft press conferences are filled to the brim with shooting and explosions and violence. There's nothing wrong with those games, but there's just too much of it.

""We're not truly exciting our audience. We're not realizing that there are many more gamers out there that love relaxation based gaming," Molyneux said. "This show is all about adrenaline based gaming, but there are tens of millions of people that love gaming because they can relax. There's nothing... there's not a single title in that show about relaxation based gaming."

"We have been in an amazingly easy world for a long time where we've got fans and core gamers that we've been unbelievably abusive to and if we're not careful we're going to lose the belief of those people"

"I was on this IGN panel, looking at the Microsoft show and what I found incredible about that, being a designer sitting with the press, is that I start to understand how the press think, what they get excited about and what they don't, and everybody just went for a toilet break when the Battlefield demo came on. I said 'Where are you going? This is Battlefield for Christ's sake.' And they said, 'There's nowhere for this to go.' You know, you've already destroyed skyscrapers, destroyed New York, destroyed ships and everything, so what can they do?"

"Hollywood has this problem as well. The most memorable films aren't the special effects driven films - we're kind of bored with it - the most memorable films are when they take a character like Batman and make him vulnerable and real and it's all about his character and why he's like that. It's going to be interesting to see what they do with Man of Steel, because it has to be more than special effects. We [the games industry] have to make that leap. I think Hollywood has started to make that leap, especially with television. If Breaking Bad was done 20 years ago it would probably be all about shooting people, but it's all about the characters and their exploration. We've got to make that leap in this industry now," he continued.

"I deeply care about this industry and I do worry about it. I'm not saying I have any of the answers but I just feel we have been in an amazingly easy world for a long time where we've got fans and core gamers that we've been unbelievably abusive to and if we're not careful we're going to lose the belief of those people."

That's why Molyneux is now such a huge proponent of indies. Independent developers tend to think outside the box and are often more willing to try outlandish ideas. That's the sort of innovation that could propel the games business to the next level and elevate the medium.

"That should define us, and if the hardware manufacturers embrace that, and encourage that, which they can do, then great things can happen," Molyneux said, adding, "I think it's a shocking realization that the valuation of companies like GungHo and Supercell and even Mojang far exceed the valuations of any of the smaller teams or in-house teams in this [console] industry. You're talking about GungHo, based on two principal games, being worth more than the market valuations of EA and Zynga put together. And they've only released Puzzle & Dragons in one territory. That's where an incredible amount of excitement is happening. And we're totally oblivious to that [as an industry]."

We'll have more from our interview with Molyneux next week.

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Latest comments (21)

heirdt von braun Marketing Specialist 8 years ago
Peter is right, if consumers are not satisfied everything is lost. Even worse if you're trying to expand your market share in marketing we have a very important rule, never ever abandon your core audience. It's very easy to understand: MS is trying to build the biggest skyscraper they've tried in the history of Xbox (expanding market share), but its foundations are not solid at all this time (core audience). It's really that easy to understand. If you don't prepare the ground (PR), the complete edifice could sink.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by heirdt von braun on 13th June 2013 2:18am

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Martin Parker Studying BSc (Hons) Computer Games Programming, University of Derby8 years ago
Thinking about past E3s, the best part of them for me was when Peter would come un stage and talk about his vision for the next Lionhead game. When he talked about the fable dog, I didn't laugh at the concept like I did with CoD dog, it made me think about how games could use a simple feature or mechanic to draw me into the game and improve my experience. Looking at the M$ press conference I get the feeling that the only thing they needed to do was have 5 mins of peter up on stage talking about his vision for the XB1 and make people see how this could improve their experience (Like Peter says). Or if they can't think of anything then at least be honest about why they need to do this instead of appearing to be ignoring the entire issue.
That being said, I can't see why all of this (except kinect) needs to be required at launch instead of just added in as requirements later when having an internet connection is a non issue.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
I dont belive needing an online connection to check-in works in my benefit.

This was a great read. My respect for Peter has gone up a notch.

I think what pisses people off is how microsoft wants to dictate how people play, when and how. look I have a 4mb DSL connection. I pay $63 a monthe for it. And alot of times its shared between 2 or 4 devices. The more devices I have connected the more likely the connection will be interrupted. And microsoft doesnt give you a choice. And statements like... "No Internet? Stick With 360, Says Microsoft" or "We believe the digital world is better" or "If you have zero access to the internet then that [Xbox 360] is an offline device," he said. "Seriously, when I read the blogs and thought about who would be the most impacted it was a person who said, 'hey, I'm on a nuclear sub.'"I don't even know what it means to be on a nuclear sub, but I've got to imagine it won't be easy to get an internet connection. I can empathise... I would be disappointed."... These statements dont really make microsoft look as if they are interested in what the consumers want.

Just like the Xbox as a video game console was a trojan horse for the whole TV thing, this can just be another step towards their Utopian world were everybody holds hands wanting the same thing and Microsoft will be there to provide it, scenario that they themselves thought up in there heads.

The market and the world is made up of different consumers with different needs. Some can afford or are Ok with being online or digital all the time, others are not. Microsoft has no interest in catering towards different needs. They simply want to change peoples needs in order to cater to what they want people to want...

This is why SONY's press conference felt so good. I honestly felt really happy with them, simply because I feel they heard alot of what I WANTED. I was anxiously hoping they would say certain things, and as the conference went on slowly most of them were mentioned, including the price. I was left extatic. At the end of the day I dont need to be required to be on internet, I can lend my friend my games easily etc. None of this ball and chain bullshit that we have with microsoft. Plenty of Digital content but also supports retail. I mean I was completely stoked by SONY's conferences.

Anyway thats just my opinion

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 13th June 2013 11:07pm

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Show all comments (21)
Aaron Brown BA Computer Science Student, Carnegie Mellon University8 years ago
@heirdt von braun

Microsoft has done a good job of creating a system with content that appeals to their "core" audience. Now, they have to find ways to branch out and expand the consumer base by creating experiences that have never existed on consoles before; I presume that Molyneux is referencing games more inline with Journey.

Molyneux makes a great Point. It just seems so risky IMO.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 8 years ago
@ Aaron Brown.

As I just pointed out in the other thread from Morville's linking of the "disclaimer" for the XBO on the site they're actually really limiting their audience terribly. Let me get the list.
To fully enjoy an XBO you need:

1) A perfectly working internet connection
2) Have enough space to utilise Kinect
3) Speak a language supported by the console
4) Be on a supported cable network and TV subscription package
5) Have a supported TV receiver with HDMI output
6) Have Xbox Live (for all the services such as Skype, Netflix etc)
7) Be in a supported country (21 - fewer countries than even Xbox Live officially supports and I bet it will be IP blocked)
8) Accept binding arbitration and class action waiver clauses
9) Never move country due to region lock (Xbox One games are for activation and distribution only in specified geographic regions)
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Matthew Cross Media Team Leader, holdtheline.com8 years ago
I have to say that I definitely agree with you. When you look at the things that are being touted as "features" on the Xbox One there are many howevers that come up. As someone on our site had pointed out basically if you do not live in those countries that are supported with all the requirements like you listed, over half of the homescreen for the Xbox One UI doesn't apply to you.

Now from my own perspective Microsoft has very very big PR problem that it keeps repeating anytime it opens its mouth it would seem lately. A lot of the comments Microsoft has made, in all honesty, reminds me of Sony's E3 2006 press conference of the PS3 (Futureproof, etc, etc.) So as I look at the what Microsoft has spend the last 2 generations doing in growing its braning and base. They have more or less thrown out the core audience in hoping to broaden the appeal. Although at the end of the day it is the core audience you want to retain, because the best PR are not ads, but word of mouth of consumer. In the day and the age of the internet its no longer one person tells 10 about an experience. They tell 100's,1000's, or more now.

In business customer retention is much more important than appeal. A consistent income while trying to grow your appeal is what is needed. Seems perhaps Microsoft missed that course.
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Or Microsuits and Sony suits just swapped practises and strategies :)
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Kenneth Bruton Producer 8 years ago
I lost respect for Microsoft when they said 'buy last gen if you can't go online'. We take our DSL and other broadband lines for granted, and they do not always work properly (or get throttled) So, a lot of customers are going to speak with their pocketbooks. It is already expensive having cable and satellite. It becomes more so when you have cut the cord and have a plethora of streaming subscriptions, PLUS having to pay to watch those on your XBOX (no matter which iteration). It is no wonder that PS3 users watched more Netflix than any other system, because you didn't have to pay to watch what you are already paying for. I am not going to lie, I like both systems, but I will get the PS4 first.
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Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist, 8 years ago
I don't see Microsoft earning any money with this strategy. Maybe control is their main goal here, money being secondary. I expect a rough start for Xbox One as several of the requirements for the console will probably breach consumer rights in several of the 21 announced markets.

I wonder if it is Microsoft or the Xbox division specifically who are actually talking here. When finally it seemed xbox was actually ready to open up a little, they decided to be more conservative than ever.
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Kevin Patterson musician 8 years ago
Last year at this time, all of my gaming friends were waiting with baited breath for news about the Xbox720, and planned on buying a new Xbox this fall. As of this writing, none of my close friends are buying an Xbox One.

This is a small sampling of around 10 gamers, but these were diehard Xbox fans, more than half who bought the Xbox 360 at launch, and around half who bought the original Xbox at launch, and were first day live subscribers when it started. Half are buying a PS4, some are sticking with PC, some are considering a PS4 but haven't yet decided, but none want the Xbox One.

These are guys that bought multiple titles at launch, buy new games, XBLA games, and DLC all the time, and have spent a ton of money. Most have families and play games with their kids, and have multiple consoles in the house. Most don't own a PS3, some have never owned a Playstation in their life.

It's not just my friends either, it's co-workers who are casual gamers that ask me what do i know about this new Xbox as they have heard negative things about it. It's just a massive change, and it seems MS has lost quite abit of the good will they worked so hard to earn all these years against the mighty PS brand. I don't see how MS thinks this is acceptable, as their interviews hint that they expected a backlash.
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Ralph Tricoche Studying MA, CUNY8 years ago
I am at odds about Peter M. sometimes but this bit of interview left me with a little more respect for him than I did 10 minutes ago. He comments were lucid and to the point. Its nice to know I wasn't the only one going to the bathroom during the Battlefield 4 showing. I suspect that Microsoft requires its costumers to be always on-line for the sake of ad revenues and pushing their TV/Sports and Movie agenda.
This company has made deals with these other industries and now it must deliver the numbers they promise. How else can you do this unless you force your customers to be where the ads and promotions are at.
In my heart I feel Microsoft does not have my best interest at heart. Its a feeling I've been harboring for some years now. Every time I would see a new thing pop up on my dashboard that wasn't game related I became that much more angrier. When I couldn't get an online game going cause all my friends where watching Netflix. I harbored hate towards them in my heart.

When I came to this years E3 I wanted to know if they had received the message but I see they did not. In fact, if SONY would have said similar things as Micro did I was going to hang up my controllers for good.

In essence, Sony saved my dearest hobby.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
@Ralph Tricoche

Dude seriously... I felt the exact same way you do. I was gonna hang up my controllers for good if SONY followed in microsofts suit. But I was so happy with SONY's press conference I pre-ordered my PS4 the next day... me my girlfriends kid and her other son who is married. All 3 of us just like that. In essence , SONY saved my dearest hobby.
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Aaron Brown BA Computer Science Student, Carnegie Mellon University8 years ago
@James Prendergast

Those are good points that might deter some but none of that negatively affects me; and the same is true for people throughout the world today, especially the West. I just want to play great games on a console with embedded services that I will use all of the time. Plain and simple.

Also your 4th point is not even be true seeing as Microsoft cannot ensure that the Xbox one compatible cable providers will be offered in certain regions in the U.S.
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Rogier Voet IT Consultant 8 years ago
What's even worse that all that TV-stuff won't even work outside the US and knowing Microsoft (who thinks that the only interesting country in the EU is the UK) they will likely not be able to activate TV-functionality in most countries (except US, Canada and UK). So Europe is paying more for a Box with less features.

So where are the benefits for these online requirements? Does a Xbox One update automaticly during the night? Can I trade in digital games for credit on the Xbox Live Marketplace? Can I force a check? How does sharing games with family and friends?

Wake up Microsoft!!!! You are already forfeiting 50% of the current installed base of both Xbox 360 and PS3 (that is aboout the amount of 360's and PS3-consoles which are never connected to internet. That is 75 million potential customers gone.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rogier Voet on 14th June 2013 12:44am

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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
@Rogier Voet

The level of arrogance from microsoft is so staggering that they feel we are the ones who have to wake up...

My response to them is simply not buying their products. If SONY were to do the same thing i would have responded in the same way. Luckily they were very smart.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 8 years ago
@ Aaron

Just to add to what Rogier points out right after your post: The "West" isn't only America and there is a good portion of the "west" that is not served by these restrictions.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 14th June 2013 5:21am

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
Now I'm even more curious to see their Asian territory plans as they've said the console IS coming to Japan (at least) in 2014. Which should be interesting but perhaps not from a development standpoint as between Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid V and Swery's exclusive (gah, I SO want this on another console I can play!) D4 plus a few other titles, they have the "Import 101" fans covered...
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Makeda De'Jene Creative Director & Founder, Zombie Gamer Online8 years ago
Ive said this before, the only reason I can see the once every 24 hours connection thing working in gamers favors is if someone stole my game or I forgot who I loaned my game to. Then if they see my disc is in other XB1 they can alert me and I can decide what to do from there.

I love MS I really do, but after attending E3, I made the decision to pre-order Sony even though both of their presentations were lacking in one way or another.
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Aaron Brown BA Computer Science Student, Carnegie Mellon University8 years ago
@James Pendergrast

You make a lot of fine points sir.

Apparently PS4 pre-orders are sold out at most retailers. Consumers are clearly speaking with their wallets.

Regardless, I am still getting an Xbox One. The Games and Services are superior.
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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 8 years ago
I didn't get invited into either of the press conferences for Sony or Microsoft, but the more I hear about it, the more Kaz Hirai's E3 strategy seems to have been:

1. Keep mouth shut.
2. Smile.
3. Profit.

I wish I could be a fly on the wall when Ballmer calls Mattrick into his office to explain what exactly he thought he was doing by telling customers to buy their old console. It's just staggeringly weird to me. People kept WinXP around for so long because it worked well (after getting patched up enough), and Microsoft had to beg people to buy the newer OS platforms. Now we've got Microsoft telling people to buy the old console platforms. The mind boggles.
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Marco Antonio Rocha Lima Systems Enginner - Workin as Qualit Assurance Coordinator 8 years ago
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