Just a few hours ago a momentous decision was announced by Microsoft: The online DRM scheme previously announced for the Xbox One at E3 will be dropped. No more 24-hour check-ins, no more locked-down used games, no more region locking. It was a huge victory for the consumers who desperately want to throw their money at Microsoft for what may be the most competitive holiday season yet in the gaming industry.
It was a decision that shouldn’t have been forced. It shouldn’t have been a question at all.
The Xbox One didn’t exactly get off on the right foot. From the start, its various DRM schemes were oppressive, bordering on draconian. Even the concept of lending games was in danger of extinction. Even games bought on physical media would be tied to someone’s account, with the possibility of only a single transfer, ever. It’s a ludicrous restriction–the two major incentives left to buying physical media are avoiding huge downloads, and avoiding that sort of DRM. There is (or at least, was) no reason to buy discs on Xbox One, since all that would happen is that the disc would register to your Xbox Live account, and then install itself onto the hard drive. From that moment on, the disc is 100% redundant.
It’s part of a whole campaign publishers are launching; a war against consumers. Publishers want to control what end users do with their products. Every single aspect they can possibly control, they are at least exploring. On PC, their obvious option is to launch their own marketplaces and sell directly to customers, bypassing competitors and retail fronts. Things are bit more complicated on console, where they are still obligated to go through at least one company–be it Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo–to push their product to market. EA is already attempting to carve their own channel on these platforms; rumor has it their cuts to Wii U releases are the result of Nintendo refusing to allow Origin on the system.
With Xbox One it seemed they found their ultimate answer: make the producer of the system bow to their wishes. According to at least one inside source, Microsoft had two long-term goals with the XB1: transition to an all-digital-download platform, and tip the balance toward publishers. Microsoft seemed to be more concerned with increasing the freedom of the publishers rather than maintaining freedom for the consumers. As if the lords need help limiting the freedom of their dirty peasants who don’t know well enough to enjoy them.
With their reversal, things look a bit brighter. Honestly, the only way Microsoft could dig themselves out of the grave dug for them by their competitors at E3 was to do exactly this kind of complete reversal. There shouldn’t be any such thing as “too far to consumer”; the consumers should have the rights to decide what to do, and the publishers should be the ones asking for their business, not demanding that it be done only on their terms.
Another fact that has been made apparent by this whole ordeal: Micrsoft’s PR team is horrible at their job. From statements like Don Mattrick’s “we have a product for people who can’t go online, it’s called Xbox 360” to “are you on the development team? No?” smacks of people who are, at best, socially inept, and at worst, professional narcissists. Time after time they effectively told the world “you’re getting screwed, learn to love it”, and acted shocked when people reacted negatively. Another tidbit of their PR logic relates to the lockdowns on used copies. Do I want to get screwed by GameStop and get $5 for the game I just paid $50 for, knowing they will turn around and sell that for $30? No. But what will I get for a used game that can’t be transferred to another account? Nothing. How is this better?
Major Nelson has also demonstrated he can’t function as a mouthpiece–his technique of answering questions is on par with high-level politicians. When he’s pressured for actual, direct answers to these questions, he doesn’t react well. (He later defended his behavior in the AJ interview by claiming he was being “screamed at”.) He continues to draw false comparisons between Xbox and Steam (“can you give [a friend] a game on Steam?”), and can’t seem to break from the script even when he knows he needs to.
The real shot to the family jewels was when Reggie Fils-Aime heard that the entire operation was devised as a way to protect the used game sales market. His knee-jerk reaction was the state simply, “make better games“.
Maybe Microsoft just needs a new PR department.