Schell: listening to customers was Microsoft’s big mistake

By Dave Cook
5 August 2013 08:21 GMT

Microsoft’s decision to reverse its bold Xbox One policies is a mistake typical of companies that restricts real change, according to veteran game designer Jesse Schell.

Speaking to at the GameLab conference in Barcelona earlier in July, Schell – who is both an author and founder of Schell Games – suggested that in Xbox One’s DRM policies Microsoft was trying to give customers a console-based equivalent of Steam that ultimately soured the consumer’s perception of the company.

Schell began, “Your customers want you to stay the same, even if it drives you into the ground.”Somehow, Microsoft didn’t seem to think that would be a reality, or even a problem. The reality is that they can’t do what the customers want.

“Basically, Microsoft said, ‘We’re going to be Steam. You like Steam, don’t you?’ And we all said, ‘No, we hate that. We hate you. You’re an idiot to do that.’ They came out and said, ‘We’re gonna do this new thing.’ And the customers said, ‘No, we don’t want that, we hate that’ – even though it’s what they really want and what they will ultimately buy.

“So now Microsoft has had to say they won’t do all that stuff, but someone will.”

Schell asked theoretically why, whenever companies take the lead in changing tech, they are often doomed to fail. He offered that perhaps it’s because consumers don’t like change, and that listening to customers who want things to stay put is counter to the nature of innovation.

He added, “That’s how it always goes. This is the lesson of the innovator’s dilemma. Why is it that big companies fail when the technology changes? It happens in every industry, so what’s the pattern? What are they all doing wrong?

“Everyone says, ‘Oh, it’s because they’re stupid. Big companies are stupid.’ They can’t be stupid. How did they get that big and stay that big if they’re stupid? Microsoft isn’t stupid. There’s one mistake that they all make, and that mistake is listening to their customers.”

Schell suggested that he only way Valve could have created Steam and have it be such a success is because it didn’t have such a platform before. Had it done so, fans might have not warmed to such a seismic change in tech and content delivery.

He continued, “The problem is that the hardcore folks always want the same thing: ‘We want exactly what you gave us before, but it has to be completely different.’

“When you want to do something really different – the solution to the innovator’s dilemma – you can’t take your big brand and say it’s going to be completely different. You need to set up something up on the side, and big companies are hesitant to do that. It’s how Valve could do it [with Steam], because they had nothing before.

“I suspect that we’re going to end up in that world. Are we going to end up there on these consoles? I don’t know. It could be that some dark horse shows up. It could be that Apple shows up. It could be that somebody finds a better way.”

What do you make of the above? Is Schell on the money here? If Microsoft don’t impose these sweeping changes is it only a matter of time before someone else does? Let us know hat you think below.

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