An article last week by Rob Fahey for Gamesindustry International, posited on recent rumours that Microsoft might want to sell Xbox and that Amazon might just be in a position to buy it. Before the fanboys break out their pitchfork fuel, it’s worth noting that Fahey’s opinion piece declared from the outset that the evidence was ”sketchy and circumstantial” and based wholly on recent events within the industry. Microsoft have appointed new CEO Satya Nadella whose career focus has been on Microsoft’s enterprise software, which traditionally does far better financially than their consumer divisions; this change at the top could be an indicator that the company are planning to refocus their efforts on the business world. In addition the man Nadella pipped to the post for the top job, Stephen Elop, is now in charge of Microsoft’s Devices and Studios division in which the Xbox brand sits; according to Bloomberg, sources inside Microsoft when he was still in contention for the CEO role said that: “Elop would be prepared to sell or shut down major businesses to sharpen the company’s focus…” “…He would consider ending Microsoft’s costly effort to take on Google with its Bing search engine, and would also consider selling healthy businesses such as the Xbox game console if he determined they weren’t critical to the company’s strategy.”
But if they were to sell off the Xbox to Amazon, would that be such a bad thing? Whether you love them or loathe them, you have to admire Amazon as a company. They started as an online bookseller from the CEO’s garage in 1995 and now have warehouse space that could house the water from 10,000 Olympic sized swimming pools. They have expanded into many different territories and offer a diverse range of products and services including retail goods, consumer electronics, digital content and computing services to name just a few. They have never been afraid to challenge the traditional model and sell against themselves, going from being the worlds largest retailer of physical books to the world’s largest retailer of ebooks, with the development and introduction of the Kindle. So why do I feel that selling the Xbox to Amazon would be a good thing?
An enterprise focussed Microsoft might see the Xbox brand as a distraction, if that were the case would it be allowed to ‘tick over’ as long as it’s profitable with little investment and innovation? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ philosophy is that: “Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas.” It’s essentially a zero-profit company and that should make investors run for the hills, but they stick with Amazon as Bezos states: “Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.” They continuously invest and develop, which is where their amazing growth and ability to successfully enter new markets comes from; Amazon won’t shy away from acquiring other companies or technologies that can help them to achieve their strategic aims, reminiscent of the growth of GSK and Pfizer in the 1990s. Recently Amazon purchased the developer of Silent Hill: Homecoming and Killer Instinct, Double Helix, to add to their burgeoning game studio. This could of course be to develop games for Kindle devices, but it’s just as feasible that Amazon might be planning to start developing and publishing console games (perhaps even console exclusives), similar to how Amazon Studio is already developing films and television for distribution via the Amazon Instant Video service.
One of the things that makes the most sense in all of this, is the position of the Xbox One as a home media centre and not just a games console. Amazon already has significant investment in digital and cloud infrastructure for enterprise and commerce, with their own digital delivery services and Amazon Web Services; how easy it may, or may not be, to integrate Xbox Live into this is anybody’s guess. Amazon Instant Video is already available on Xbox One for users to buy and rent movies with a choice of instantly streaming or downloading for later use; Amazon MP3 and cloud player could be integrated too. With these services already up and running it’s no stretch of the imagination that Amazon might try to introduce their own digital delivery platform for games, to match Steam and Gaikai. They already have the technology with Amazon AppStream, which allows resource intensive applications to be streamed with low-latency to consumer devices with all the processing power of the cloud. Amazon have shown that they are committed to developing their own hardware and this combination bodes well for future console generations, which will likely be far more tightly linked to digital delivery and cloud serving and saving than current iterations. Who’s to say that the next generation of consoles won’t use this technology and come in at a similar price to the Kindle or cheaper. Amazon already offer discounted tablets if you’re willing to have adverts displayed on your lock-screen, maybe the next generation consoles will cost almost nothing if you can put up with an advertisement before the cutscene at the end of the level.
The best thing for me, is that Amazon aren’t afraid to go the extra mile for their customers. They will e-mail you a refund, if they notice you’ve had a bad experience with their streaming service. Last year they introduced AutoRip, where any CDs or vinyl you purchase (or have purchased over the years) from Amazon will also be available to download from the Amazon Cloud Player free-of-charge; they have recently launched MatchBook in the US, which does a similar thing for books you’ve purchased and allows you to get the Kindle edition for a greatly reduced cost ($0.99 – $2.99), owing to the agreements entered into with publishers. Amazon have already said they’d like to do the same with videos/DVD/Bluray etc., so why not games too? Imagine being able to download or stream any game you’ve bought from Amazon over the years straight to your console! Amazon Prime already offers unlimited streaming via Amazon Instant Video to its members, if they were to bundle game streaming and even online gaming it would make for a very attractive premium service that would outshine the current Xbox LIVE Gold and give PlayStation Plus a run for its money.
PlayStation announced this week that they have sold 6 million PS4s in 57 markets worldwide since launch and Xbox One is believed to have sold around 3.5 million units in 13 markets; the ‘console war’ is far from over, but perhaps a little bold innovation and investment wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It might help to ensure that “the end of the console is nigh” naysayers get to eat their words and their placards!
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