Lying with Data: A lesson in Microsoft spin
The latest in a rather long chain of 180 degree turns from Microsoft regarding policies and business decisions relating to the Xbox One came into effect last month. With Microsoft deciding that actually no, Kinect is not “an essential and integrated part of the platform” as originally stated, they made the console available to buy without their costly and unwanted camera, and in the process hit price parity with their closest competitor, Sony’s PS4.
The move to jettison Kinect was likely made in an attempt to win over consumers who aren’t sold on the notion of having a camera in their living room with barely any meaningful gaming applications. But how successful has this decision been?
According to Microsoft, US Xbox One sales “More than doubled” in June, the month that it was first made available without Kinect. More than doubled? “Doubled” is a big thing. That sounds like a successful outcome.
Except if we take a moment to scrutinise the specifics of Microsoft’s announcement, it falls apart somewhat. The announcement that they would be making the Xbox One available without Kinect came in May. Specifically on the 13th of May. The message was that if you want to buy an Xbox One without Kinect, you should wait until next month to buy one. For the rest of May, many customers who might have otherwise begrudgingly bought an Xbox One bundled with Kinect would have instead decided to wait to get one without Kinect at a lower price.
Without raw data from MS on the exact figures sold, it’s hard to know exactly how the sales pattern played out, but the announcement that a cheaper, more attractive option would be available next month will have negatively impacted sales for the month of May. How did May sales compare to the previous baseline sales they were experiencing? How big was the inflection in sales when the announcement was made on the 13th of May? Microsoft has chosen to omit this information. If May was a particularly slow month for sales, that has obvious implications for the significance of these figures doubling in June. Many of the people buying an Xbox One in June would have bought one in May had this announcement not been made.
It’s pretty easy to spot this kind of trick if you’re paying attention. Microsoft have been employing all the same kind of tricks Sony did back when they tried to make the PS3 sound like it was more successful than it actually was.
Sadly, it seems that the majority of the games press didn’t bother to scrutinise Microsoft’s claims. The likes of CVG, The Guardian, IGN, Polygon, and (A publication I up until recently worked for) Kotaku all repeating Microsoft’s claims without any scrutiny, spin fully in tact.
I’m not really having a pop at the respective authors and publications there. The consumer video games press isn’t really equipped to effectively scrutinise statistics and industry machinations, and honestly I don’t really think they have a mandate to do so from their users, but it is a bit frustrating seeing people who are supposed to be professionals falling for pretty basic spin. Seems to me that if we’re just going to get announcements parroted without any worthwhile analysis, perhaps it’s just better to go direct to the source, rather than having a journo act as an intermediary between consumers and PR departments.
But if you’re wondering how come MS opt to give out needless complex information rather than just giving us the raw data, it’s because the raw data probably doesn’t paint them in the best light, and they seem to be able to get away with giving out fuzzy information without any negative consequences.