I think that it is safe to say that just about everyone in the world of gaming has been scratching their heads over Microsoft’s odd choice of DRM requirements on the Xbox One. The console itself is on par with the PlayStation 4 from Sony when it comes to specs (not the sweet, sweet DDR5 RAM, though) and honestly, when it comes to exclusives that have been shown so far, Microsoft has the upperhand. The problem for Microsoft and the Xbox One has always been its ridiculous insistence on forcing their Orwellian-nightmare that is the Xbox One’s DRM on the world. In fact, it made little sense at all for Microsoft to push such a pro-business, anti-consumer device on consumers when someone like Sony, their direct competition, didn’t even attempt to be as restrictive as Microsoft. They still had all of the same third parties supporting them.
So it came as a bit of a shock this afternoon when reports leaked out about Microsoft doing an about-face on their DRM policies for the Xbox One and basically mimicking Sony’s PlayStation 4 when it comes to DRM and region-locking. It isn’t a shock because it is a bad idea, but a shock because Microsoft spent all of E3 defending its awful position in regards to DRM, with such PR nightmares of quotes as, “just buy an Xbox 360” in regards to not having a solid internet connection.
Don’t be fooled by this decision as an act of a benevolent ruler, or an enlightened despot, this is an act of sheer, unrivaled panic. This is Microsoft seeing the bad press stacking up — even after unveiling wave after wave of quality exclusive titles — knowing that no matter what they do that consumers will be unhappy with the Xbox One. Microsoft was essentially backed into a corner and given two options; reverse your stance on DRM and look weak, or push forward, remain headstrong and have a troubled launch.
Microsoft’s decision to reverse the Xbox One DRM policies is not going to win them any immediate favor, as gamers and consumers will still be weary of Microsoft, who obviously had this intent and power to pull such a stunt, only to reverse their decision later. Who is to say that once they’ve sold a few million Xbox Ones that they don’t decide to change their policies, rollout a new EULA that has to be accepted before the system will boot up and create a new nightmare? While it would be suicide for them to even consider it, such an abrupt change for the company will leave consumers uncertain of how concrete Microsoft’s word is.
This was, no matter what, the right decision from Microsoft, but the timing is what truly hurts them. While there was probably a faction within Microsoft who felt that E3 would be their deciding factor of instituting these changes if the complaints persisted, there is no way that anyone could be that blind as to think that showing off a few nice exclusives was going to turn the tide for the Xbox One. This announcement belonged at Microsoft’s pre-E3 event, it belonged there to show everyone that they were listening, not that they were trying to hold onto a bad idea until the last possible minute before changing their minds.