How Steve Ballmer Impacted the Xbox One
CREDIT: Tom's Guide
Steve Ballmer has announced that he will step down from Microsoft, and his departure will likely affect every arm of the business, from Windows 8 to the Xbox One. The latter is still in a tumultuous state, and Ballmer may have had a hand in its current difficulties through his lack of oversight.
Aside from 10 days spent at the Xbox One helm, there is no evidence that Ballmer ever had any special involvement with either the Xbox One or its predecessor, the Xbox 360. Although he oversaw the initial, restrictive Xbox One, he also oversaw (and continues to oversee) Microsoft making more and more concessions to its fanbase.
If you've been following the Xbox One since its announcement, you'll know that it's gone through a number of changes. At the E3 conference in June, Microsoft announced that the Xbox One would require constant online check-ins, an always-on Kinect camera, and steep fees for used or borrowed games.
Fan backlash was both immediate and severe. Don Mattrick, the president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business division, was effectively in charge of the Xbox brand during this time, and continued to champion the console's restrictive features anyway.
Mattrick believed that the Xbox One's restrictions would also allow developers to implement novel technologies and ideas in games: free game-sharing among distant family members, persistent worlds in single-player games and motion controls that would respond to instinctive actions (like holding a controller up to one's face while taking fire in-game).
Cynical gamers, however, accused Mattrick of defending the features for more transparent reasons. Restricting the used game market, requiring a Kinect to be active at all times, and forcing players to check in constantly would curb game-sharing, sell an extra peripheral and prohibit piracy, respectively. Microsoft would earn considerably more money from each Xbox One owner.
A few weeks after the E3 games conference, Microsoft dropped the Xbox One's online check-in requirements and used game fees. Mattrick departed soon afterward to work as Zynga's CEO. Whether he was forced out in light of the Xbox One criticisms or left because of disillusionment with Microsoft's reversals is anyone's guess.
Mattrick, Ballmer, Larson-Green
This is where Ballmer enters the picture. When Mattrick left, Microsoft was on the cusp of a companywide restructuring. The Interactive Entertainment Business division would disappear completely, and the Xbox One would fall under Devices and Studios instead, along with the Surface tablets.
Since the restructuring was so close at hand, it made no sense to appoint someone new to take Mattrick's position, and Ballmer himself stepped in. "Don's directs will report to me and continue to drive the day-to-day business as a team, particularly focused on shipping Xbox One this holiday," Ballmer wrote in an all-hands email upon Mattrick's departure.
If these sound like the words of a hands-off manager, it's only because they were. Although Ballmer created and reshuffled divisions for the Xbox many times during his tenure as Microsoft's CEO, he had no particular interest or experience in developing or selling video games and game consoles.
During Ballmer's brief reign over the Xbox, nothing of note happened. Microsoft did its best to deal with the fallout from dropping online check-ins. The move drew a tiny bit of grudging support from the gamer community, but many gamers were still angry that Microsoft had implemented the measures in the first place, or that it refused to budge on the Kinect.
Ten days after Ballmer stepped up to head the division, he stepped down again and appointed Julie Larson-Green. Like Ballmer, Larson-Green has had no specific experience in the gaming sphere, although she has had extensive experience with Windows, Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer.
The only major Xbox One announcement under Larson-Green's tenure so far has been that the Xbox One will function without the Kinect attached, as fans requested. However, each Xbox One will still come packaged with a Kinect, leaving the console's price at $500 (Sony's PlayStation 4 is $400).
Now that Ballmer is on his way out, it's unlikely that his departure will have any special effect on the Xbox One. Then again, given how radically the system has changed in the months before its release, it could prove hard to tell.