Earlier this week we received news of Don Mattrick leaving Microsoft to join Zynga as reported by Game Informer. At first blush, it would seem like career suicide to take over the reigns at the imploding social games developer, but Mattrick has a long history of success and he has as much a chance as anyone to save Zynga from complete collapse. Then just this morning I read on Game informer again, that the oversight of the Xbox division is now rumored to be spread among multiple department Chiefs which concerns me even more. Initially Balmer looked to be standing in for Mattrick indefinitely, but I am not surprised that has changed rather quickly.
I think the Mattrick departure publicly works for Microsoft, as it sheds the face and the voice that has given us the #Xbox180 hashtag. I certainly expect some folks may spin this as a mutual decision based on how bad the messaging has been for the Xbox One from all Microsoft sources, from its initial used game policies to its previously required broadband internet connectivity. My personal concern comes with who the rumored replacement is; Julie Larson-Green, VP of Windows Program Management. She is credited as having been directly involved with the UI design for both Windows 7 and Windows 8. Windows 7 was basically an upgraded Vista with little visual improvement, and Windows 8 is receiving a patch this year that is directly changing how you interact with it on a desktop/laptop PC. That does not make me feel confident in Julie’s ability to deliver us some innovative and smart new UI. It actually makes me think we will end up with a broken UI, that will be patched and changed once a year while they struggle to figure out what everyone is telling them, nearly every day.
The rumors are also stating that Tony Bates, Skype President will head a division focused on acquisitions and mergers, as well as relationships with developers. This spreads out the load of the Xbox heads in a way that could be good as each individual will have greater opportunity to focus on their core roles, but Microsoft has very clearly demonstrated that they are unable to deliver consistent messaging and that leaves me wondering if these teams will be able to effectively communicate to deliver a unified Xbox experience.
This saga is far from over and we are presumably less than 5 months out from launch of the Xbox One. While these changes are not catastrophic and there are enough teams still in place to keep everything on track, it gives me pause when considering the future of the Xbox One and Microsoft in general. Balmer has not made many decisions which are viewed as smart. The Surface launch has been lackluster. Windows 8 is implementing a significant change, less than a year after launch. Xbox One has drastically changed its policies before it even launched and rumors of supply chain problems suggest that units available at launch could be well below estimates. The next few years for Microsoft will be very telling. I predict a lackluster Xbox One launch and subsequently a regime change. But I think that is all for the best. Some smart and innovative new blood is the key to their continued success.