A strange question, but think about it - Sony's game division is in the midst of one the greatest privacy breaches in history, in an area that its major competitor, Microsoft, has dominated - so why hasn't Microsoft done more to take advantage of Sony's woes? No gloating from pompous execs, no subtle jabs over the parapet. Both myself and Nick Broughall from Gizmodo found that a little strange, so we're asking the question - should Microsoft have done more?
NICK: So Mark, as games journalism's version of the Highlander, you understand better than most the mantra of "there can be only one". So why is it that, while Sony is languishing in a pool of its own sweat, watching customers leave its Playstation Network in a fury, Microsoft hasn't launched itself at Sony's jugular and taken the easy kill?
MARK: It’s a solid question. Microsoft seemed quite opportunistic to begin with, offering Xbox LIVE Gold for free over the first weekend, but since then? Nothing.
Sony is such an easy target and even I, with my flaccid jellyfish of a brain, can come up with a few ideas – why not sell Xbox LIVE subscriptions at half price for as long as PSN is offline? Why not package some sort of deal with new Xbox 360s sold at retail – free 12 month subscription included with every console sold? Why no clever ad campaign with a “You Get What You Pay For” slogan?
Admittedly it’s probably been too short a period for a fully fledged ad campaign, but Microsoft has been completely dead silent on the issue – you’d expect you a gloating quote from a Microsoft exec at least, but nothing.
What are your thoughts?
NICK: Everybody knows that Microsoft is a behemoth of a company, and in every behemoth it can sometimes take a long time for things to get done (Kinect voice control for Australia, anybody?). But in this particular case, I think it's obvious that Redmond has dropped the ball.
I can understand how launching a promotion like free Xbox Live subscriptions or even bonus Microsoft points for downloading games or add-ons probably takes a bit too much preparation to effectively turn around in time, especially given the uncertainty of exactly when Sony will bring the PSN back online, but that doesn't forgive them for not sending out daily press releases or social media jabs at Sony's misfortunes. When you look at how Microsoft has campaigned against Apple in its PC advertising, you know that it isn't a gentleman's agreement to not kick an opponent in the nuts before taking its lunch money that's stopping Microsoft from taking advantage of Sony's misfortune.
There's no question Sony will go on a marketing blitz when PSN goes back online to try and undo the damage. And Microsoft really should be issuing a pre-emptive strike to showcase its strengths in the online gaming market to try and nullify that campaign before it even takes off...
MARK: Well, I wonder if Microsoft’s experiences in the whole RROD situation has made them more sympathetic to a competitor in trouble? Perhaps they don’t want to be involved in a pot/kettle situation?
It’s also possible that Microsoft is attempting to use this opportunity to take the higher ground – which is unusual for them, particularly in such a hotly contested market. There is absolutely no doubt that this is a huge opportunity. Xbox LIVE really is, for ‘serious’ gamers, one of, if not the, major selling point of the console.
I think Microsoft is just happy to let the damaging PlayStation Network stories circulate and reap the benefits. On some level the connection between the two services is so obvious and barely needs to be made explicit. Microsoft’s woes aside, the LIVE service has been completely stellar, practically from day one, and has always sold itself on quality of service – it’s a premium product that you pay for, but works as an unassailable unified service. To an extent that brand awareness is already secure – you could argue that Microsoft doesn’t want to get that brand dirty by rolling around in the dirt with Sony over this issue.
And on that note – it may be wise for Microsoft to completely distance themselves from the whole debacle lest they be thrown out with the bathwater. I may be mixing my metaphors here but, essentially the PSN situation has resulted in a huge backlash towards online services in general - a huge consumer confidence hit - it may be that Microsoft wish to avoid being mentioned in the same breath as Sony right now.
Why we haven't seen Microsoft partner with 3rd party titles to advertise key online games escapes me. Imagine seeing an ad for Brink, with a snippet at the end saying simply: "Play online today with Xbox 360". It's subtle, it's not blatant, but with the mass media coverage of Sony's woes, the message would still come through loud and clear.
As I said before, Sony are going to try and come back hard from this, and Microsoft should be taking advantage of any opportunity to emphasise its strengths. To sit back and let Sony struggle does them no favours.
MARK: I agree. There’s also a chance that Microsoft consider this year’s E3 to be the battleground and I’m sure they’ll throw a couple of friendly jabs in their direction then – but right now Sony is on the ropes and its legs are gone. It makes more sense to go straight for knockout blow right now.
As you just mentioned, the PSN story has hit the mainstream news with a vengeance. The mainstream, non-core audience is the one that Microsoft is currently chasing as it seeks to expand its position in the market place.
In the end, it seems they’ve been a little too passive in their approach. Surely we have to rack this up as an opportunity lost?