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I Wish Microsoft Kept Its Awful Xbox One Policies

The quick reversal of anti-consumer policies is nice, but Microsoft and other companies are now likely to take the wrong lessons away from the debacle.

Article by Brendan Sinclair, .

It was supposed to be such a fascinating start to a new console generation. Sony was going to launch a consumer-friendly PlayStation 4 and help expose the world to a wealth of quirky and interesting indie games in the process. Meanwhile, Microsoft was doubling down on DRM with the Xbox One, releasing a system designed from the ground up to tightly control the user experience, requiring daily online authentication and neutering the second-hand market with unspecified transfer fees.

But the loss here isn't just for rubberneckers who enjoy a good gaming industry train wreck. I think in the long term, the big losers will wind up being the consumers. The cancelled policies were generally awful, unnecessary, and anti-consumer. Had the system launched and failed, we would have a fantastic cautionary tale to work with, right up there with "Don't try a surprise launch of your new system" (Sega Saturn), "Don't price your system at 599 US dollars" (Sony PlayStation 3), and "Don't be the Atari Jaguar" (Atari Jaguar). Notice that all of those cautionary tales have been well heeded in the industry. We haven't had a surprise launch for a new system (only redesigns), hardware prices are a bit lower for next-gen, and the Atari Jaguar remains a singular flop.

Now THAT is a cautionary tale.

Now what will the big lesson from the Xbox One be? It won't be "Don't implement aggressively anti-consumer policies." Microsoft's about-face was swift enough and (at first glance) total enough that the Xbox One has time to recover. When it launches later this year, gamers won't care about what Microsoft tried to do with the system. They won't care about the company's future-of-entertainment endgame, its desire to squash consumer rights, to dictate who can play what and how. They'll care that they can play Titanfall, and then trade it in for $6 when Titanfall 2 comes out.

For Microsoft, the response will not be a fundamental rethinking of its positions. It will instead be a rethinking of how it presents those positions to consumers.

For Microsoft, the response will not be a fundamental rethinking of its positions. It will instead be a rethinking of how it presents those positions to consumers. The next time the company tries this (and assuming it stays in the console market, it will), the policies will be determined well ahead of time, and the executive cadre will be on the same page about them. Gamers will be several years more comfortable with digital distribution, and those griping about wanting to hold onto physical media will be akin to the niche purists who still buy LPs instead of downloading or streaming their music.

If you don't believe that, take a look at the debacle that has been always-online DRM. Ubisoft tried it years ago with its PC games, the horrible scheme predictably introduced headaches for customers while offering them literally nothing in return, and the publisher eventually dropped the practice. It was a flame-out, but not a spectacular enough one to enter the realm of cautionary tale. So Blizzard went ahead and put always-online DRM into Diablo III, publicly messaging it as crucial to maintaining the security of a key piece of the game, the real-money auction house. That security wound up being compromised anyway, and now that there are auction house-free console versions of the game on the way, it's suddenly much less vital to Blizzard's vision for the game. Then there was EA's SimCity, which required an always-online connection so it could leverage the power of the cloud for all kinds of stuff it didn't actually do. Both games had horrible issues with legitimate customers being unable to play the game for long stretches of time at launch, both were widely decried by gamers for their DRM, and both avoided cautionary tale status by selling millions of copies.

Diablo III proved online outrage and absurd success are not mutually exclusive.

Despite the online outrage each of those online-DRM attempts generated, it didn't make the concept toxic. Customers kept coming back, kept accepting excuses for why a single customer wanting to play alone would absolutely need to be connected to the publisher's servers. When the online furor over stripping away some basic notions of ownership in games didn't translate into real-world financial ruin, Microsoft decided to build its next-gen console around the idea of vastly expanding its control over users' access to purchased content.

With Xbox One, the online uproar clearly shook Microsoft's resolve on the issue, and precipitated the panicked back pedaling we saw yesterday. But gamers aren't very good at holding grudges, and I don't expect resentment over the original Xbox One plan to stop anyone from buying the system if they decide it has enough interesting games to be worth the asking price. So in the absence of a cautionary tale-worthy catastrophe, I suspect all consumers have won in the long term here is a more competently run campaign to erode their rights the next time Microsoft or some other company decides their customers are actually a hindrance to the bottom line instead of the reason it exists in the first place.

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Comments 20

  • Avatar for Keldorek #1 Keldorek 4 years ago
    Great article. The now-cliche phrase "Vote with your wallets!" will, I think, always drive every decision these companies make. The outrage will be loud and shrill, but the millions will still be sold. It would've been very interesting to see just how true this was had MS not backpedaled so fully.
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  • Avatar for Mindwater #2 Mindwater 4 years ago
    The only issue I had was with the authentification servers. My main concern was whether they'd be shut down, many years from now, rendering my Xbone (for all intents and purposes) impotent.
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  • Avatar for zoot_car #3 zoot_car 4 years ago
    Was "online uproar" the only reason MS backpedaled, or were preorder numbers taken into account? There was a lot of Internet Talk about PS4 preorders outstripping X1. I see that the X1 is the #1 seller in Amazon's video games listings, but it's also the only X1 sku, compared to five PS4 skus in the top 20.

    You and I will probably never know for sure, but it certainly seems to me that Microsoft may have been listening to retailers and publishers on this reversal, too.
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #4 Mega_Matt 4 years ago
    Agreed. They still won't be getting any of my money for an Xbox One.
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  • Avatar for filgate #5 filgate 4 years ago
    @Mindwater Or if they went down for a few days and stopped everyone XBone user from playing their games.
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  • Avatar for aaronpinsley40 #6 aaronpinsley40 4 years ago
    I think the "online uproar" was less significant than most of us want to admit. There were two key things that happened this week that let to this reversal: one, the CEO of gamestop came out and said "we'll sell every PS4 they send us" and two, Jimmy Fallon says "So, the PS4 is the only new system that can play used games".

    One of their major retail partners is coming out directly on the side of their competitors and their DRM policies are breaking out into popular culture in a real and damaging way.

    Game over.
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  • Avatar for AxiomVerge #7 AxiomVerge 4 years ago
    I think the cautionary tale regarding DRM and used games has already been learned. But the new Xbox still has a chance to fail if nobody wants to spend $100 for the superfluous Kinect or if they continue to market it as a peripheral for your cable box.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #8 benjaminlu86 4 years ago
    I completely agree; gamers are entirely too forgiving in some respects. The real message we should be sending is "I won't buy an XBone even knowing they changed the policy because I KNOW they will change it back in the future", but sadly, we hedonistic plebians will never summon the courage to do so.
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  • Avatar for Bremenacht #9 Bremenacht 4 years ago
    I just don't think Microsoft care about consumers enough to change. I reckon it was these words that made the difference:

    "PlayStation 4 won't impose any new restrictions on used games. This is a good thing" Jack Tretton, Sony.

    Or perhaps just one word: competition.

    Still; at least it took them a week to discover the mistake, rather than half a console generation.Edited June 2013 by Bremenacht
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  • Avatar for voodooray #10 voodooray 4 years ago
    I think DLC was the first step, which somehow gained wide-place acceptance. This probably led MS to believe that consumers would be falling over themselves to accept the new direction they were trying to take.

    I agree with this article in that this will probably re-surface in a later, and most likely heavily marketed revision. Though I suspect it will only happen after someone else takes that next step.Edited 2 times. Last edited June 2013 by voodooray
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  • Avatar for Rory-Taylor #11 Rory-Taylor 4 years ago
    I am le sad. I was looking forward to getting a ginormous bucket of popcorn and watching the ensuing bloodbath this holiday season.
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  • Avatar for skybald #12 skybald 4 years ago
    I don't think having a publically-shared company failing to prove a point (DRM is bad!) would have been the best outcome. In fact, it would have been the worst. We have the best possible outcome, so we should be happy.
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  • Avatar for ob1 #13 ob1 4 years ago
    I was on 1up, I was fond of Jeremy's work, I kickstarted, I loved USG at first sight, you had me signed in.
    Great article !
    Cheers from France,
    Olivier
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  • Avatar for brianthrasher94 #14 brianthrasher94 4 years ago
    Similar to what Mindwater had said, with the music industry, you don't have to worry if the iTunes servers (or similar) are going to go down, causing your music to never be listened to again. If Microsoft had kept the features that caused the outcry, then 8 to 12 years later, the servers would eventually go down to force people into buying the next consoles, thus making it impossible to play the games you paid for. Physical media and the lack of "always connected" ensures that your money is an investment.Edited June 2013 by brianthrasher94
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  • Avatar for riseer #15 riseer 4 years ago
    I saw this site on Eurogamer.Seems cool to me,i don't know about MS.It seems they really don't know what they are doing.What about this cloud we heard about it was going to be the saving grace.Now that you don't need to log in what does this mean for the games?Long term i am sure they will figure it out,at this moment Sony seems to have a plan,1st party games and indie titles.Seems like a great plan to me.
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  • Avatar for juliankennedy23 #16 juliankennedy23 4 years ago
    I am pretty sure the don't put an always on camera and microphone in peoples living rooms lesson is still out there to be learned... Honestly my wife wouldn't let that thing in the house.
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  • Avatar for Tony__p #17 Tony__p 4 years ago
    The Microsoft employees who wanted a required internet connection with Xbox One should be hung upside down naked in front of Microsoft headquarters as a warning to other Microsoft employees. That way, Microsoft employees will think twice before trying to violate customer privacy in the future. I am grateful that Microsoft removed this requirement but my blood is still boiling. I don't know what kind of crap Microsoft will try to do next. I have absolutely no interest in their vision of a connected digital nightmare with buggy software updates, server crashes, internet delays, malware and games uploading God-only-knows-what so they can sell the data to Facebook, Google and anyone else who wants it. I'm still an Xbox fan but I don't trust Microsoft anymore. If Xbox One constantly displays popups asking me if I want to connect to the internet, I will dump it and buy a PS4.
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  • Avatar for JustPlainJack #18 JustPlainJack 4 years ago
    I was torn as to which way I would go this fall when it came to my new console purchase. That is until MS unveiled XB1. The hardware does not appeal to me at all considering I no longer subscribe to a cable provider and never bought into the whole "motion gaming" craze.
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  • Avatar for JustPlainJack #19 JustPlainJack 4 years ago
    I was torn as to which way I would go this fall when it came to my new console purchase. That is until MS unveiled XB1. The hardware does not appeal to me at all considering I no longer subscribe to a cable provider and never bought into the whole "motion gaming" craze.
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  • Avatar for bemaniac #20 bemaniac 4 years ago
    For the first time a console may dictate who I purchase my tv and sports package from in the longrun which is a bit crazy.
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