I was talking to a friend at work recently about the recent Xbox One launch woe headlines. Among such headlines were about the possible 720p of Call of Duty versus possible 1080p version on PS4, and the rumors about possible launch woes based on operating system issues, including one article saying Xbox One should have waited for 2014. It really surprised me reading all these headlines so close to showtime for both consoles, how the vibe from both consumer and media outlets alike has shifted to Sony from Microsoft. It also reminded me about how bad Sony messed up the PS3 launch, and all the people who were let go from that debacle, which caused Sony to re-brand the system from it's Spiderman Font, to the popular PS3 logo we know now. A logo that's carried over to the PS4, and originated from the PS1 and PS2 consoles, a logo we should have had in the first place.
All these things made me think about how Microsoft and Sony have really changed positions this time, to which I asked jokingly, "Geez, did Microsoft hire all the people Sony fired from the horrible PS3 launch?"
Then I realized, they did. Microsoft hired Phil Harrison.
For reasons we do not know exactly, when Sony was not happy with the PS3 launch and the way it was handled, Phil Harrison was one the larger figures to be let go from the company. But he was the figurehead who led the PS3 launch, a guy who sternly defended the removal of vibration as a "last gen feature", and also defended the lack of achievement support. But that's okay, Phil moved on to Atari, so all was good right? Wait... Atari closed up shop soon after his arrival, well that's okay, he went to Gaikai... Oh wait, damn... Gaikai was bought out by Sony, who did not reincorporate him back into the company after the purchase.
After Gaikai, Phil Harrison was hired on by the Xbox Entertainment Division of Microsoft, which given his resume is surprising. This truly is a man who has failed upwards on a corporate level. Now Microsoft has several woes in regards to the Xbox One and it's launch, and Phil Harrison is one of the people in charge. Sure, he isn't publicly the face of Xbox like Major Nelson is currently or even Don Mattrick was at E3, but this man IS indeed leadership at Microsoft, he is a decision maker for what the Xbox One has, or does not have inside and outside of the console.
Let's sum this up; Sony puts him in charge of the PS3 launch, they struggle... Sony lets him go... things improve for Sony... Atari hires him... Atari shuts down... Gaikai hires him... Gaikai is bought out... Microsoft hires him... Xbox One launch looks to be hurting so far. Is there not a pattern here I'm the only one seeing?
To be fair we don't know Phil Harrison's exact decisions he's made for Microsoft, Sony, Atari or Gaikai. This could be all a hugely bad coincidence for this man, and none of it is his fault. I joked once he was a mole for Sony, but the longer I look at the picture, he's doesn't look like a mole, he looks like a cancer to whatever company he is placed in.
But it doesn't get better for Microsoft's Leadership decisions.
Steve Ballmer is placing Stephen Elop in charge of an Expanded Devices Team, one that controls decisions for Xbox at Microsoft. Now to be fair, he is fairly new to Xbox leadership, so was not involved with any serious decision making of the creation of the system like Phil Harrison or Don Mattrick was.
But we are talking about the CEO of Nokia, a company that pretty much dived in popularity as a phone over the last five years, that he is seen as being the reason for it's failure by industry analysts. Mind you Nokia is also the company the brought us THE PHONE TACO. My concern with Stephen Elop, isn't one based on a resume, it's more a question of what direction Microsoft is taking Xbox One with him in charge. It's clear that they want the Xbox One to be an all in one media unit, something that connects to your cellphone, tablet, and everything together.
But for $500 I'm not sure that's the right price for something that does this, considering how much buzz there was when Google made a $35 device that was able to connect your phone, tablet and laptop to your TV wirelessly, and watch Hulu, Netflix and other streaming services as well. To me it seems other devices can be made to rival this for a quarter of the price, they just can't play graphic intensive video games.
While I see Elop as possibly a good choice for a guy to bring devices together, I see it as a move that less represents gaming then the Xbox 360 brought to the table originally. A move that could lead to the Xbox One to a "Jack of all trades, but master of none" situation. Elop is not a gaming industry leader, he's is a cellphone leader, and a failed one at that.
What IS wrong with Xbox One?
This is one I don't exactly have my finger on, many of the disastrous E3 reveal policies have been revoked or changed completely, with a possibility of bringing the things we did like back in the future. Regardless of which system is more powerful, or which does more things, or what features it provides, it won't mean anything if the mood or vibe of the device in question is not positive.
In the tech world, vibe is everything. Stats of hardware and features do not matter, it's all about vibe and popularity. These things only build up more and more momentum upon launch. The vibe is not in Microsoft's favor this time around and it takes good leadership to change that.
Remember when Steve Jobs came back to Apple after a long absence? Everything changed for Apple that day, the vibe for the company was ecstatic, and it did not matter what they did. They were loved. It proves leadership does matter. You can have a superior device, but people don't care about it and don't buy it. Just as you can have an inferior device that everyone loves that everyone owns...
This is what leadership has to do, change public perception. It's what Sony did when they let Phil Harrison go, and helped turn the PS3 around from a dismal launch from getting any worse. It's what Stephen Elop needs to do that, so far, I'm not seeing any evidence he is the right man for that job. But there's still time Microsoft, there's still time.