Food For Thought: Xbox One and Losing Faith In Microsoft
Just recently, the world has been a-fire with sheer contempt for the next generation as gamers continue to show their frustration towards Microsoft with its seemingly anti-consumer policies that it seeks to implement in the upcoming Xbox One. With reports of system-wide DRM that prevents gamers from sharing their games with their friends (instead, your buddies would have to end up buying their own copies), or the Kinect always actively watching you, it’s no wonder that people are hesitant to buy into Microsoft’s next console. Better yet, how about this little gem?:
“As for trade-ins, as things currently stand it looks like Xbox One owners will only be able to trade games at “participating retailers”, presumably taking customer-to-customer eBay sales and non-Microsoft approved trade-in stores out of the equation. Disc rental services will not be supported at launch at all. Microsoft is taking tighter control of what customers do with purchased games.”
“Digging Into Xbox One’s Used Games Policy” – Keza MacDonald, IGN
Needless to say, not many people were pleased by what were, plain and simple, DRM policies that would forcibly allow Microsoft to have complete control over the gamer. That is why so few people were enthusiastic about the Xbox One at Microsoft’s E3 conference, and why Sony received, by far, the largest and loudest applause in the whole event when they announced that the PS4 was going to support used games, not have any system-wide DRM, and allow indie developers to self-publish. So what was a multi-billion dollar company like Microsoft to do with this news? Surely, with the overwhelming amount of criticism garnered on the internet against the Xbox One, and the overwhelming show of support gamers have been giving to Sony and the PS4, Microsoft (or at least the Xbox brand) would go the way of Sega or Atari and die out, right? Not exactly.
Instead of following through with its prior decision (which would have admittedly been a disastrous and costly idea in itself), Microsoft decided to reverse its DRM and sharing policies last Wednesday. Don Mattrick, President of the Interactive Entertainment Business branch of Microsoft, said the following:
“Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One…
…An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games– After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.
Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360…”
“Your Feedback Matters – Update on Xbox One” – Official statement from Microsoft
So this is a victory for the gaming community, right? Our collective outrage and public outcry led to Microsoft’s change of heart concerning the Xbox One’s more draconian policies, right? Well, while some publications like to believe this is the case, I’m afraid I have to disagree. See, even though Microsoft changed its policies, they didn’t do it for you. As Cliff Bleszinski of Epic Games-fame said last week, it was ultimately Sony that forced Microsoft to scrap the DRM measures on the Xbox One.
“At the end of the day many hardcore dislike what was attempted. You can’t do well in that space with many of your core unhappy . . . Especially when users have a choice. The nature of capitalism encourages competition and Sony played into that.”
“Bleszinski: Sony forced Xbox One changes, not the internet” – Craig Chapple, develop-online.net
Realistically, this makes more sense. Just like how Nintendo and Sega fought tooth-and-nail with their advertising campaigns to sell their systems in the 1990’s, Sony has basically played on internet outrage and used gamers’ hatred for Microsoft’s DRM measures to gain a massive PR victory at E3. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m usually the most optimistic member of the CheshireCatStudios crew, so I hate to put a damper on anyone’s sense of accomplishment, but we have to look at the big picture here. Even though gamers have achieved some significant things in the past, like effectively forcing Bioware to develop a whole new ending to Mass Effect 3 (and potentially forcing the heads of Bioware into retirement), gamers complaining about something on the internet can only do so much to invoke change. What I’m trying to say is that Microsoft changing its policies had less to do with listening to the internet’s backlash and invoking change for the best interests of the consumer, but more to do with Microsoft’s chief competitor Sony successfully playing public opinion against them at E3. Not only this, but many key players in the industry were becoming increasingly unsure on if they would turn a good profit if they stuck with the Xbox One as the console they would ship their games on. After reading reactions from game developers and publishers after Microsoft’s announcement, it’s becoming more and more clear that the change in Xbox One policies (undoing years of very expensive work) was to prevent a mass exodus of games, gamers, and profit to the Playstation 4. Thus, videos like this are missing the entire point of why the Xbox One’s reversed policies took place:
In the end, Microsoft changing its DRM policies are not due to the consumers finally making them listen and see the day of light. God knows I wish this was true, but we live in an age where companies are willing to make their employees work as part-time workers so that they can avoid paying health insurance for full-time employees, in turn maximizing their overall profit-margin. Public opinion matters far too little in this day and age, especially in the gaming industry, and this is why we’ve been repeatedly told that our concerns don’t matter because “companies exist only to make money.” If public opinion mattered, Don Mattrick would not have effectively told the military demographic that their only option for playing offline games is to invest in a last-generation console, the Xbox 360. If public opinion mattered, then the everyday consumer would not be punished for what pirates do by game companies employing always-online DRM in a lot of their games, like in Diablo 3 or Sim City. This is why, despite the Xbox One’s DRM policies virtually disappearing overnight, I still don’t trust Microsoft.
We have to always remember as intelligent consumers that, without the public outlash or threat of losing billions of dollars, Microsoft would have been more than eager to screw the consumer and employ the always-on requirement, or try to do away with used games. We should never forget this. Just like how Jim Sterling pointed out in one of his most recent videos, we should never forget the Sim City or Diablo 3 controversies, or Ubisoft’s DRM policies; without the threat of losing money, companies like Microsoft would not pull off dramatic, seemingly pro-consumer policy changes. This is why I have lost faith in Microsoft, despite being a happy Xbox 360 owner of more than four years: the change in Xbox One’s policies are not a victory for the gaming community or the consumer.