When Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek broke the big news today that Microsoft was changing their strategies on DRM, internet connectivity, and used games, the online world basically lost its mind. The reactions were mixed, as all reactions are, but mostly positive. Twitter and Facebook responses ranged from people claiming they were about to put in their pre-order for the next-gen console, to others wondering if a little more work would not yield similar results for the Kinect and Microsoft’s self-publishing policies. Some people felt like the boiling pot of contempt for Microsoft forced the Xbox-maker to change their strategy, that this was a “win” for gamers. Instead of patting ourselves on the back, it might be better to wonder what we really “won” in all of this.
While we gain in the short term, we lose an ambitious future that Microsoft could have pursued. The company could have pulled itself up by its bootstraps and faced the challenge of dreaming up innovative ways to win back the hearts of consumers, like Sony has for the last three years. If shown ambitious commitment, the always-online console could be a forward-thinking movement, ready to adapt to an all-digital market that the games industry has been flirting with for some time. With digital sales, always-online could have lead to a market where you didn’t have to share your games because games were cheaper, or consistently discounted as is the case on Steam. Maybe Microsoft had big plans for Xbox Live and would be able to improve the service that won them the current generation. The only problem was the Microsoft themselves did not believe in that future. You can almost imagine the company’s brass, sitting around a table, starting at each other like deer in headlights.
Microsoft (hopefully) did not make decisions about these policies in a dark room, with the blinds closed, shuffling gold coins between their hands, ala Scrooge McDuck. They must have focus tested, done market research, crunched some numbers. How did they not foresee this kind of consumer backlash coming? They had to have known they would need always-online advantages to offer the consumer for them to give up their secondary-market games and offline flexibility. To the contrary, it seems to have been all about money. This change proves that there were no consumer perks to Microsoft’s new policy, at least not ones that Microsoft could communicate with any confidence.
Instead of coming up with a new way to win back the market, Microsoft came out with their tails between their legs, asking meekly for forgiveness. The recent announcement was a signal flare that there were no ideas in Microsoft’s back pocket, just a lot of posturing and big talk. It is fair that consumers begin to question Microsoft’s other policies now, because they apparently lack merit. Why does a Kinect come bundled with the Xbox One? Is it to provide the best entertainment experience or is it an excuse to ship more units of the peripheral? Why is Microsoft not allowing self-publishing other than to make financial middlemen sleep a little better at night? If Microsoft is suddenly so keen to listen to their fans, why just go halfway?
There are further concerns with Microsoft’s policy shift. As reported by Kotaku, players will have to download a day-one patch in order to turn on the Xbox One’s offline capabilities, I’ll allow for the irony of downloading a day-one offline patch to sink in. Furthermore after downloading said patch.there could be serious complications, causing significant launch trouble for the Xbox One. There is also concern that Microsoft could flip-flop again somewhere down the line after sufficiently gaining a grip on the market, and revisit some of their scrapped ideas. Microsoft’s lack of confidence in their own ideas should not inspire confidence from the consumer. No company has ever moved the market forward by failing to execute revolutionary ideas. When faced with adversity; great companies find new ways to succeed, not old ways to play it safe.
What did we really get from Microsoft in the end? If we wanted an offline, single-player experience we were going to get that already. Now we just have another place to do something that was already being offered. Are people suddenly going to make Xbox their console of choice because the Microsoft got scared? Aside from your gamerscore, a couple of exclusives, and the ability to yell at your console, what does the Xbox offer? If used games and offline play meant that much to you, why not stick with the console that never wavered, that really made the daring move during this whole policy chess match? Microsoft’s ideas may not have been popular, but at least they were a bold move, one that had the promise of unique opportunities. That promise was trashed when Xbox reneged on their online strategy.
Most of the Xbox One’s big games like Titanfall, Forza 5, and Project Spark still require online connectivity. The price for the Xbox One is still $100 more than the PlayStation 4, and that price is because of forced Kinect integration. The Xbox One is still going to lack significant independent support due to its unpopular self-publishing policies. There remain a plethora of unlikeable things about the Xbox One. To be honest, at one point someone could have defended Microsoft’s used-game policy as a move to help struggling developers, but that ship has sailed. Instead, Microsoft look like they are simply trying make the Xbox One more like the PlayStation 4.
If you really wanted to stick in the Microsoft camp and had a bad internet connection, then today was a good day for you. If you were just grasping at straws to defend your Microsoft purchase, then you won as well. If you buy used games hand over fist, then you really should think about how much money you take away from developers who are closing down every day. For the most part, we didn’t win anything. We stalled what is, most likely, an inevitable always-online future, and we revealed that Microsoft was (and possibly is) grasping at straws with the Xbox One.