The feeding frenzy of E3 has begun. Amongst the earliest announcements: the renaming of Project Scorpio into the… Xbox One X. One does not need Rahul’s crystal ball to know this is hardly an auspicious start.
The last time adding a superfluous X to something to make it “cooler” was the 90s, when boy bands and skate boards ruled the world. It would seem that Microsoft’s marketing department and branding team missed that memo. It is also readily apparent that the same team that brought gamers the XBone have not learned their lesson. If anything, they’ve made it easier for their target market, a group known for being antagonistic, to mock it. It takes far less sarcastic minds than mine to make the connection between One X and Triple X. Perhaps they were hoping for kisses after the mauling they received last time?
The naming of new game consoles has developed a long and embarrassing history over the last twenty years. Before the turn of the century, console names were either utilitarian (Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System) or designed to appeal to the aesthetics of the young or the nerdy (GameBoy, PlayStation). Sega exemplified the latter with a series of consoles, starting with the Sega Master System, then continuing with the Genesis, the GameGear, the battery-blackhole that was the Nomad, and the Saturn. That came to an end when the next-generation system code named Katana became the Dreamcast. The name was one of thousands submitted in a public contest and was meant to be a portmanteau of “dream” and “broadcast,” an idea likely “inspired” by the “PlayStation.” I had not even made it into adolescence when the new name was announced, but I distinctly recall how lame it sounded when I flipped open GamePro.
The case study for the importance of naming things well can be seen with the Nintendo Wii U. Almost immediately after its announcement, consumers were under the impression the Wii U and its new GamePad were merely accessories or add-ons to the existing Wii. Gamers mocked the name as ruthlessly as they had the original Wii, if not more so. Retail clerks told their customers the consoles were essentially the same thing. Nintendo’s marketing department tried to counter with commercials explaining the difference, but to naught. Five years later, the Wii U is a commercial failure, one which the Switch must overcome in order for Nintendo to continue to stand apart in a homogenized industry.
That’s some of the history, but what leads to these kinds of things happening? Marketing departments often overestimate how clever and creative they are, to the detriment of the whole company. The Xbox One’s name derived from the idea that it was supposed to be the “one device that addresses all the entertainment that you want to enjoy on your TV.” However, few gamers understood that without being told, and most never knew. Instead, there was confusion. The XBox One was Microsoft’s third console, a fact that clashed with the logic of the name. It was enough to even make the spokesmen pitching the XBone stumble in their media interviews.
The code name that preceded Xbox One X, Project Scorpio, was created by the engineers who worked on it. It excited media and gamers. With all the buzz Scorpio generated, it would have been viable to drop the One from the console name, but apparently that was not even an option. When the new name was unveiled, the general reaction was one of exasperation. So what are the workarounds?
Rather than the usual buzzwords of collaboration and synergy, marketing’s branding activities should be capable of being vetoed by another department. Back in the days of the Roman Republic, there were two consuls in charge, and one could veto the other’s actions without explanation. It was designed to keep bad ideas and the men behind them from going rampant. Applying it to marketing departments would be immensely beneficial, as marketing is comfortably within its own echo chamber. Being obliged to explain to a methodical group of accountants why “Xbox One X” is a good idea should force them outside of their bubbles and at least give them the practice to sell the idea to gamers.