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Xbox 720: Microsoft has lost control of the message

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Sony revealed the Playstation 4 during an event in February that did enough to showcase the next-gen console’s new features and capabilities even though the console itself wasn’t shown. Meanwhile, Microsoft is still playing it close to the vest with the next Xbox (aka Xbox 720) and the result is that it has lost control of the messaging culminating in a furor Friday over comments from a director forcing the company to issue an apology.

This all started when Kotaku reported on anonymous sources claiming the Xbox 720 would be always online and being connected to the internet was a requirement for starting games. While it also reported that there were conflicting sources saying that they knew of no such requirement, this rumor spread like wild fire among the gamer community going from rumor to “truth.”

Microsoft Studios Creative Director Adam Orth made the situation worse with a series of snarky (and now locked) tweets concerning the always on nature of the next Xbox.

“Sorry, I don’t get the drama around having an ‘always on’ console," he wrote. “Every device now is ‘always on.’ That's the world we live in.” This was punctuated with a “#dealwithit” hashtag followed by even more bizarre tweets about vacuum cleaners not working when the power goes out and an elitist attitude towards those that don't live near major metropolitan areas.

While Orth’s tweets seemingly confirmed the always on nature of the next Xbox, this was obviously not how Microsoft wanted to present the message. It did not directly address the rumors that a connection would be required to start games and it was done so in a way that insulted Microsoft’s audience instead of enticing them. Naturally, an apology was issued by the company.

We apologize for the inappropriate comments made by an employee on Twitter yesterday. This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views do not reflect the customer centric approach we take to our products or how we would communicate directly with our loyal consumers. We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter.

Unfortunately, this still leaves a huge vacuum around the question of whether the Xbox 720 will require an internet connection to start games. In the absence of information, rumors become truth which can damage the perception of Microsoft’s next-gen venture before it is even announced.

The sad part is “always online” is not necessarily a bad thing depending on how you define it. The PCs and laptops are technically always online in my home along with the various tablets, smartphones and Roku player. This would have the benefit of being able to push through updates for the console even while it is “turned off” (reportedly just a hibernation mode). Does that mean even single-player games will require the Xbox 720 to be online? Nobody seems to know the specifics for sure but this is where Microsoft has lost control of the message. The SimCity debacle has turned any mention of always on into a net negative.

So what can Microsoft do to solve this issue? A simple announcement from an official Microsoft spokesperson on when the company plans to unveil the next Xbox with a wry message confirming that the console will always be online but that isn’t a requirement to play games would be a good start.

It’s doubtful that will happen so until then, Microsoft will get to watch potential buyers be lost to the swirl of rumors in the void of information. The only positive in this is that those gamers who don’t follow every rumor and piece of news will be largely unaffected. However, Microsoft will have to make a definitive statement that an online connection is not required to play games when it officially reveals the next-gen Xbox unless it wants to see an explosion of fury and vitriol.

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