Lying with Data: A lesson in Microsoft spin

kinect

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.

27 Comments Leave yours

  1. Steven #

    I know it’s almost fashionable to bash Microsoft now, especially since the whole ‘TV and Sports’ reveal last year missed the mark so spectacularly; but its nice to know other people can see them for what they are.

    I’m not any sort of fan boy, i had a 360 which i loved for 5 years, but it became more and more obvious that Microsoft weren’t catering to me as a gamer, but catering to my wallet and whatever made me open it. (It wasnt until i moved to PS3 that i realised how ridiculous it was to require an Xbox Live Gold subscription in order to access my already paid for Netflix subscription.)

    Ditching Kinect, for the second time, is an embarrasssing u-turn for their corporate image, but it is a step towards making the Xbox One a legitimate choice for gamers.
    In an ideal world we wouldnt need to chose between consoles, but given how stunted the first year of XBOne has been, Microsoft have made it an easy choice for consumers to switch to PS4.

    Thanks for bringing this up!

    • Lewie Procter #

      I broadly agree that ditching Kinect is the correct move, albeit somewhat embarrassing for MS.

      But it’s not enough. They need to deliver on compelling games, and they need to be games that I can only play on their platform. 360 was my console of choice last generation, but it was my box for playing multiplatform games. Especially towards the tail end of it’s lifetime, Microsoft pretty much stopped investing in exclusive games that were of any interest to me long ago. They need to give me a reason to think that the Xbox One will be different.

  2. Doug #

    Well spotted, well analyzed, and well reported Lewie. Regardless of your intentions, these brief commentaries of your frequently put the hype-bloated pieces from many other sources to shame. Thanks as always!

    • Lewie Procter #

      To be honest the reason I’ve been writing more stuff here is that I’m sick of trying to do freelance games journalism for money. The kind of article I want to write doesn’t really fit in well with most publications, and the terrible pay and low job security isn’t really worth the personal cost to me.

      The stuff I like to write most is: Responding to current events in the games industry, analysing business goings on from a consumer advocacy perspective, and calling out bad things when I see them. That doesn’t really suit the structure of most of the places I could pitch something like this to.

      I could try and get a regular news gig somewhere, but I’m not all that keen on having to write something even when I don’t have anything worthwhile to write.

      I enjoy writing for myself and for my existing audience more than I do trying to mold myself into suiting another publication.

      • NRool #

        Perhaps you could start a dedicated blog for your writings?
        I mean, I love have a gander at your titbits on here but it’s not really the ideal place when you think about it, no offense intended of course.

        Regardless of what you decide to do, I hope you do continue to add little articles like this from time to time, here or anywhere, they are very interesting to read.

        • Lewie Procter #

          I’ve consider this, but the problems are:

          1. I’m not quite willing to make the commitment that justifies setting up an entire other site for it. It’s only ever going to be as and when I feel I have something worth writing about.
          2. From a purely cynical perspective, there’s a chance that people might discover SavyGamer through reading an article here, which wouldn’t happen in the same way if it was happening on a separate site.

          • Sean #

            While I’d love to see your articles somewhere a whole lot more people would find them (Giant Bomb comes to mind since they seem to be pretty decent folks but also don’t seem to hire freelancers) I don’t have any problem with them appearing here. In fact I think they really need to become a more regular part of the site.

            SavyGamer is already more than a list of deals. It’s not uncommon to see small notes appear in the descriptions of the offers informing us of something you feel we should be aware of (such as Zavvi deals) and being Savy is more than just knowing what’s available, it’s about understanding how to make the right decisions.

            I think keeping your audience informed of the sort of practices these companies get up to is all part of the SavyGamer “spirit” and I know it’s why I choose to keep visiting this lovely place rather than the hundreds of price comparison sites out there. I feel respected. And I appreciate that.

            Whatever you choose to do Lewie, don’t stop writing this stuff because it’s bloody good.

          • Lewie Procter #

            Giant Bomb is probably the only one of the big games sites left that isn’t on my shitlist for one reason or another, but as you say, they don’t do freelance.

            Most of the big sites I either wouldn’t really want to work for because I don’t really like how they operate, or I’ve had bad experiences working for/pitching to in the past.

            Anywhere else that I’d maybe write for would probably be for very very little pay, and I’d prefer to just have the freedom of publishing myself.

            There’s a couple of places that I’d maybe pitch a review to if I had a game that I felt like reviewing and needed the money, but that’s a bit different.

            I fully intend to keep it up on SavyGamer, and maybe do a little more, but I guess my main focus is going to be on subjects I feel I’m actually well informed about, and have something worth saying on.

      • Eduardo #

        Thanks Lewie, I love reading these articles. If you ever do similar pieces elsewhere, please let the Savygamer community know about it.

  3. Name the companies (that are out for profit) that do not manipulate data in order to make it look like it’s doing better than it is. Manipulation of data is always done, the fact they didn’t release actual figures, means that this double increase means nothing. Selling 1 item of a product, then “more than” doubling that sale in the next month. Wow, that’s amazing, you sold like 2 maybe three items. Break out the champaign! Put that initial number in the thousand units and you get the same forward thinking that gets applied.

  4. none #

    I came here for fuckin’ deals, not to read your spin on spincity while gettin’ a fat paycheck from sony.

    • Lewie Procter #

      If you don’t want anything but deals, I suggest using this link:
      http://savygamer.co.uk/category/deals/

      I have never received any money from Sony.

      Update: Also, if I was on the take, do you not think I would plaster this site with adverts? I get enough traffic that I would earn a decent amount from them if I did, but I don’t want to because I don’t like adverts.

      • manapause #

        thanks for the articles Lewie, keep it up and ignore the haters!

        I love the investigations into the business practices and marketing spin; it makes my brain melt reading eurogamer/polygon etc with the regurgitated press releases with no in-depth analysis or criticism

        although i see things like region locking still happens (a pet hate!)

  5. Diziet #

    It’s a shame none of them really release raw data, as without that even this is guesswork albeit logically argued; and therefore it just becomes one word against another.

  6. ziggymon #

    There was an interesting article on the manipulation of data and statistical spin in politics that Newsnight did a few months back. It’s well worth a check out.

    I would also love to see you write some articles about the frontline state of the video game retail industry if possible. I would love to contribute a little as well about some of the shady tactics distribution chains used to do to retailers.

  7. JasonP6 #

    I thought I was checking a deals website… Instead I get to read this opinionated, hypocritical rubbish. Please keep articles like this to an appropriate forum rather than force-feeding it down your users throats, or you’re likely to use many, such as this one.

    • Lewie Procter #

      I don’t think that you know what “force-feeding” means.

    • ron #

      I was sorry to read your opinionated rubbish relating to the very gentle expression of a different opinion about the changed position of Microsoft on Xbox one. I wouldn’t miss you if you didn’t post comments like this – perhaps you’d like to comment elsewhere on Microsoft’s sacking of Nokia employees as they gut the company?

  8. Dan #

    I echo the sentiments above – people do not come here for politics or your opinion on these things. It may sound harsh, but that’s the truth.

    This, along with asking people for donations when you already earn money from this site, are totally uncalled for, and it’s really setting off an unprofessional vibe.

    • Lewie Procter #

      Seems to me that there are two distinct groups. Those who want to read my articles, and those who don’t.

      Rather than stop doing them in order to placate the second group, I’m going to keep on publishing them, and I’d simply advise anyone who doesn’t want to read my articles to simple opt to not read them. That way everyone wins.

      If you don’t want anything but deals, I suggest using this link:
      http://savygamer.co.uk/category/deals/

      I’m not sure why you think asking for donations is unprofessional. Perhaps you could explain this further?

      • ron #

        I think this is your site, and your gentle opinions Lewie, when expressed are both worth reading and thoughtful. I don’t think posters like jasonp6 are worth bothering with, and i’m sorry that my earlier supportive response was open to misinterpretation and representation. My thoughts on Microsoft’s behaviour and other major companies have lost me many columns, and consequently I am well aware of the dangers honest opinions even gently expressed today pose. Keep going Lewie…..

  9. We don’t even have to speculate about the figures. Newegg’s editorial site GameCrate inadvertently published the full NPD figures for June so we know that the Xbox One sales had fallen all the way down to 77K in May and were back up to 197K for June. It would have needed to more than triple the May sales to even match the 269K PS4 sold in June.

    Jim Sterling’s most recent Jimquisition video on the topic of Microsoft’s dishonesty about the Xbox One (to put it kindly) is timely given your observations. Despite the friendly face they are trying to put on the division now it’s clear they think nothing of manipulating data, misrepresenting their market position and abusing the press for their gain.

    You don’t mention this, but releasing the announcement about “sales doubling” the day before NPD figures were to be released gave them basically 24 hours for all the media outlets to report it in a way that implied they carried the month, and denied journalists the immediate opportunity to put the numbers in context. Not that many bothered to use even the publicly available information about how sales had gone in May or, absent that, the logical result of the timing for the price drop’s announcement in early May you lay out.

    • Lewie Procter #

      Good points all round, thanks for posting this comment.

  10. Iain L #

    I don’t know how much Kinect costs them to manufacture, but if it’s not “quite a substantial sum” I’d personally have thought it better to leave it in and make price parity anyway. Normally with these things it’s the R&D costs that really rack up the big bucks, not sticking two webcams and a mic in a plastic case.

    There’s an argument that people who just wanted a faster 360 to play Halo with more pixels didn’t want such “casual gamer” stuff near their Manshoot Box. But cutting out the one significant unique feature you have over the PS4 leaves it as a “me too” device that’s still not quite as fast.

    Still, once past the opinion on whether it was a good thing to do, it’s hard to escape your argument that the judgement shouldn’t be against May’s artificially low figure if you want a fair comparison. Or that both new consoles are desperately in need of a game as good as Mario Kart 8 if they want to be of interest to the art, rather than the business of games.

    • Lewie Procter #

      I suspect the decision was made from more of a marketing perspective than a manufacturing costs one.

      It’s also somewhat advantageous to have more than one tier of pricing.

  11. Henrik R #

    A bit late, I know, but I just wanted to pop in and say I really appreciated reading this piece, as I have with your previous “investigative” or opinionated pieces on Savygamer. Surely there’s room for both deals and stuff like this on the same site – and anyway it’s your site to do what you want with, so screw the haters. 🙂

    • chrisj #

      I agree with everything Henrik says.

      (I’m also just boggling at the idea that people are so offended by the existence of a sidebar mentioning articles that they *need* to click through and complain about the article being forced down their throat. WTF is wrong with them?)

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