The reveal of the Xbox One was appropriately timed, since it was structured like a bad summer movie. An exciting opening ten minutes, a finale made for watercooler discussion, and a bunch of loud noises, flashing lights, and brainless fluff in-between.
But the thing that stole the show seems to be the Call of Duty dog. Who doesn’t love dogs? They’re loyal, fluffy, useful, and devoted to their human masters. One could, if one was being cynical, say they’re good consumers. Microsoft has made a lot of money making Xbox culture into a pack mentality that rewards fluffy loyalty and punishes free thought, and that was on display in full force at the Xbox One reveal.
Microsoft clearly has a core demographic that’s done well for them, and they’re sticking with it. They’ve created a pocket in the marketplace so specific that you can describe its scent… and I won’t, because some of you may have just eaten. The Microsoft target is into NFL, FIFA, NBA and/or UFC. Also important: fast cars, the new Star Trek, Family Guy, Deadmau5, Rihanna wearing leopard print, Halo, Call of Duty, and apparently, German Shepherds. This profile was derived entirely from the calibrated images on display at the reveal. Mountain Dew and Doritos have apparently been relegated to a prerogative ghetto.
The core Xbox customer, let’s call him Phil because I have a friend named Phil, wants to watch TV while talking with his friends, while listening to music while playing a game. Yes, apparently all at the same time. I’ve only known one person in my whole life who ever actually did that, and he was crazy, a jerk, and not my friend Phil. Phil, however, does drink a lot of coffee, so he might like the idea of being able to do all that at once, even if he never actually did.
Phil is okay with a computer in his living room that tracks his heartbeat and facial expressions, listening to him like the computer on the Enterprise. This machine will have the option of being hooked up to something called “the Windows Azure cloud”. Phil doesn’t entirely understand “the cloud”, but who doesn’t like clouds? All this tech stuff is cool, and it’s even cooler because Phil has no idea how it all works.
Phil is as loyal and helpful as that CoD German Shepherd. He is in that spectrum of the consumer base who will respond to marketing. Phil, you see, is a dog person: comfortable in crowds, social, responsive to affirmation, and most productive when he has structure. Phil doesn’t mind that the Xbox employees presenting this stuff are wearing ill-fitting suits in last seasons’ colors, because, you know, they’re relatable. You may have noticed by this point that I’m imagining Xbox’s target customer as someone, well, other than me.
I am a cat person. This is relevant in that “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” kind of way. Dogs need a master. Cats are tiny wild animals sleeping on your couch and puking on your shoes. Cat people are more solitary and strong-willed. We like unusual ideas, a variety of experiences, and artistic and emotional risks. We are less competitive, meaning that the idea of pwning noobs doesn’t have the same appeal.
A single woman is the most likely individual to be a cat person. Which, of course, connects to that cat-related euphemism for a part of the female anatomy that Xbox Live DudeBros like to use as an insult.
There is of course, a third type of person who likes neither cat nor dog. But Xbox knows that the mouth-breathing, angry basement dwellers already condemning the Xbox One don’t need a marketing presentation. They will buy the system at launch precisely so they can complain about it, or to try to crack the security. They will then complain they have no money to pay their rent and buy Doritos.
When Xbox first launched Kinect it was a distinct brand as opposed to the integration we’re seeing with One. At the Kinect launch, there were lots of cats present. Remember Kinectimals? Those cute little digital tiger kittens you could pet with your ghostly Kinect hands? There was dancing, and Disney Princesses and weeeee the Kinect boxes were purple! Purple is the color associated with free-thinking and six year-old girls. With Kinect, Microsoft was really keen on cat people, because cat people are willing to try new things, even if they may seem silly.
Now that the Kinect comes standard with the Xbox One, Microsoft has forsaken us cat people. How do I know? Because cat people don’t listen to Rihanna or watch Family Guy.
A cat person sees the Xbox One and does one of two things: the non-geek cat person waits for the games announcements because that’s all they care about. The geek cat person goes to the excellent articles Wired did about the improved heat sink, the Azure cloud, the “always online” debate, and the slick new controller design. We geek at the cleverness of the hardware redesign and the fact that, if the 1080p Kinect works as promised, we’ll be able to rearrange our living rooms more comfortably, light them more sanely, and still get in our nerd-friendly cardio sessions. That takes us about twenty minutes.
The reveal presentation, however, took much longer and said much less. It stressed community, brand loyalty, and the social elements of the Xbox One experience. It was comprised of a lot of videos that told us very little, but made dog people feel good about being part of an artificially multicultural and gender-balanced Xbox pack. There was also a smattering of celebrities from both the gaming world and Hollywood, which dog people think is validating and cat people find annoying.
The only vaguely interesting thing for me was Quantum Break, a concept that seems vaguely Defiance-like in that it merges a TV show and a game, from the creators of Max Payne and Alan Wake. This is a new idea! It seems artistic! But the trailer was predictably uninformative.
The rest of the game offerings were the usual yearly third-party suspects: Madden, FIFA, NBA, UFC, and, of course, Call of Duty: Ghosts. Forza was the only returning exclusive. This makes dog people happy because it’s reliable structure. It makes cat people go “Yeah, but Ghosts is coming out on 360 too.”
Other than the hardware reveal, I felt like we were seeing a vaguely revised do-over of the E3 2012 press conference. The concept of the Xbox being a media hub was the same. The catering to sensory overload was the same. The rampant overproduction was the same. Again, reliable structure. Think about how excited your dog gets about the daily walk to the park.
Microsoft is likely hoping that the shiny factor and the power of Xbox culture will drive sales despite the company’s reputation for rough new product launches. In order for this to work, its loyal dog people must chase that big green tennis ball down the lawn yet again, forgetting what’s happened in the past because the present is just sooooo exciting! That’s what good marketing does.
Which is why marketers hate us fickle cat people, who watch the doggies chasing after the tennis balls with an expression that’s a mix of revulsion and alarm. Why, we ask, would we chase that first generation ball, when a better-looking, better-performing model with larger storage and a better games selection, possibly even with a cool bundle, will be out within the year, complete with at least one price drop? Is it possible that Xbox has pulled this trick one too many times? Or is it just that Sony is that much better at catering to the more discerning, but much smaller, cat person market?
It’s sadly true: dog people still outnumber cat people two-to-one. But cat people are more likely, based on our psychology, to be early adopters of products. Perhaps some research has indicated they’re already locked into a preference for the PS4? It’s very cat-person friendly with it’s try–before-you-buy hook.
For the record? I will eventually buy an Xbox One. Once I get out of my catlike shunning because I feel alienated by the marketing. But I might pee in a few Microsoft plants first.