Microsoft. Oh Microsoft. Why.
It seems like someone was lucky enough to get an Xbox One early. Two weeks before release, a guy sees that Target has the previously sold-out Xbox One in stock online. He pulls the trigger, ordering it on Monday. And, to his endless surprise, he receives a package on Friday. In the space of four days he has become one of the first people in the world to own an Xbox One.
His name is MoonlightSwami (real name André Weingarten), and he did what any self-respecting excited early adopter would do – he recorded and shared his experiences with the internet. Weingarten tweeted a blow-by-blow recount of his setup, including a bunch of details like game sizes, images of the dashboard, download times, and the ability to play while installing games. He made an unboxing video and posted it to YouTube. It was a veritable trove of information that nobody had shared before, all with an enthusiastic and excited tone. Weingarten’s information was, by all accounts, extremely positive.
And then, after about six hours, the bomb dropped – Microsoft had banned his console.
Weingarten’s Xbox One was deactivated, rendering it useless. Additionally, Weingarten’s YouTube unboxing videos were DCMA’d, taken down by Microsoft under copyright claims.
It seems that Microsoft didn’t like the fact that Weingarten had an Xbox One early, and did something about it.
This behaviour by Microsoft is problematic in two ways
Firstly, it’s just terrible PR. Weingarten, an otherwise incredibly excited fan who, by a trick of fate, got his hand on an Xbox One before the official release, finds himself being able to provide details that nobody else has thus far been able to provide – including games journalism sites and Microsoft themselves. Weingarten’s “coverage” of the Xbox One was highly positive in all ways. By silencing him, Microsoft has removed a bunch of valuable information that consumers are so desperate to hear, and, since Microsoft themselves aren’t providing it, that’s a massive vacuum. Potential Xbox One purchasers who are wishing to make an informed purchasing decision are being starved of facts, and this is a huge blow for them. It also removes a positive voice. Weingarten himself had nothing but praise for the Xbox One. Looking at it dispassionately, Weingarten’s communications were a huge PR boon – a massively positive “review” conducted by an excited community member that generated untold buzz and hype, all for free. Shutting down Weingarten stifled an informed, positive voice, and derailed the hype-train Weingarten had set in motion.
Secondly, and less benignly, it sets a terrible precedent around console and information control. Members of the press, when told certain information, sometimes agree to keep that information secret. This is the non-disclosure agreement – an embargo. For example, I know something about something that’s happening soon, but I can’t tell you about it because I agreed not to, via an NDA. If I told you, I’d be breaking that agreement and would a) get blacklisted by the company and b) be vulnerable to legal action. Weingarten, however, never signed an NDA. He never agreed to any documentation that prevented him from disclosing information from his own personal property. He bought an Xbox One, and he is absolutely entitled to disclose information about that purchase. Microsoft had absolutely zero right to remove Weingarten’s access from the console – legal or moral. It also shows that Microsoft are willing and able to shut down a person’s console at any time for an arbitrary reason that was never agreed to as a condition of purchase. Microsoft are, effectively, getting upset and taking someone else’s ball and going home.
I understand that Microsoft want to control their message, and even tentatively agree with the sentiment in principle. But I do not support their actions in this matter. Weingarten owns an Xbox One, and what he chooses to do with it is his business. His console should not be rendered useless by a Microsoft killswitch because he’s not playing by an arbitrary set of rules he never agreed with.
This episode has revealed just how rabid Microsoft (and some other industry players are just as rabid) are in their desire to completely control their message. They eke out details in such a stage-managed ballet that anything that disrupts their precious choreography is deemed utmost anathema. They control their message so tightly that anything that is not authorised, stamped, signed-off in triplicate is immediately and comprehensively shut down. Not only that, they expect everybody else to adhere to their rules, and will enforce those rules regardless of agreement. What we see in this instance is that even somebody who never agreed to keep any information secret and was under zero obligation to do so is forcibly restricted by the PR puppet masters. Microsoft expect their November 22 release date to be adhered to, and anybody who breaks that date gets cone-of-silenced, regardless of any legal agreements – or lack thereof.
Microsoft expects to control every aspect of their consoles, despite having no reach to do so. And they expect everybody else to play along.
That’s not to say there is no fault to attribute in this instance. The street date agreement is between the supplier and the distributor – in this case, between Microsoft and their agents and Target and their agents. Microsoft had no doubt drawn up strict legal documents about the supply of stock, certainly with some mention of the November 22 release date. It’s probably in bold. And underlined. Microsoft agreed to supply Target with consoles, and Target agreed not to provide any customers with stock before November 22. And that agreement – by accident or on purpose, it doesn’t really matter – was broken.
The vendor in this case is at fault, not Weingarten. Target took the order. Target sent the console out early – by accident. Target is the one who broke street date. And no doubt Target will be receiving a stern talking-to by Microsoft. Weingarten broke no rules. He’s just a paying customer who got shafted (wrongfully) by the system for being lucky and wanting to share his excitement.
In this case, Microsoft have shut down a potential massive source of positive PR – and not just positive PR, but FREE PR, PR the person actually paid Microsoft to provide – and ended up losing. They look like the bad guys, the meanies, the bullies, and they look incredibly suspicious – why would they shut Weingarten up? Does Microsoft have something to hide? Is there something wrong with the Xbox One? Almost certainly not, as Weingarten himself communicated, but it’s a very bad look. Microsoft have sent a clear message to the gaming community, and that message is “do what we say when we say it or you will be punished”.
There is a happy(ish) footnote to the story. Weingarten’s console will be unbanned sometime before release, and Microsoft will rescind its copyright claims on Weingarten’s YouTube unboxing videos. Major Nelson has had a friendly chat with Weingarten, has acknowledged that it’s Target’s fault and not Weingarten’s, and has invited Weingarten to attend the (currently unannounced) Xbox One launch party as a guest of Microsoft. Weingarten will regain full control of his own personal possessions when Microsoft says so, will have his YouTube videos re-allowed when Microsoft says so, and gets a free party. Thanks Microsoft, how generous.
Still, it’s better than nothing, and goes a long way to
reclaiming their positive PR message rectifying the situation.