After the Xbox 180, Can we Trust Microsoft? - Article

By Gordon Bryant, June 23, 2013
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I am not sure if I will ever get an Xbox One.

Truth be told, I want One, but as time goes on I'm finding myself less and less interested in One. As the seventh generation of home consoles came to an end, both Nintendo and Microsoft just kind of gave up, limiting their exclusive output to a mere trickle while the PS3 is still releasing quality games like Ni No Kuni, God of War, The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, and Gran Turismo 6, all in 2013. Naturally, that kind of output will result in me (and many others) having a preference, but going into the next generation I really, really hoped Microsoft and Nintendo would change their policies and learn to upgrade their output and improve their outlook. This is a new generation, a time for rebirth, a time to start fresh, and I felt like it was time to put any of my fanboy tendencies behind me, and so far it's working, at least with Nintendo. Microsoft has a long way to go before I trust them again though.

 Give it away Don Mattrick!

With the next generation around the corner, I was finding it increasingly difficult to get excited due to the rumors of both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One blocking used games and having always-online connection requirements. Neither of these things sounded appealing, and while I don't buy used games often and have a pretty stable internet connection, I do lend a lot, so this is not something that would stand. I told myself right upfront that if either PS4 or Xbox One had restrictions on used games or any sort of invasive, restrictive DRM, I wouldn't buy them. Luckily, after Sony announced the PS4 they immediately took to the interview circuit where they assured consumers that they shared our values and that they would not be imposing restrictions on gamers. 'Not Bad', I said to myself, imagining the impressed meme as I nodded, 'Clearly Microsoft would not have the stupidity to not follow suit'. Despite my own feelings that nobody could be that dumb, and the continued hate machinations of the internet aimed at Microsoft, we were all proven wrong when Microsoft announced that their system would be putting fees on used games and requiring gamers to check in online once every 24 hours lest your console be – for all gaming intents and purposes – bricked. Needless to say, the feedback was less than positive.

The issue wasn't just that these policies existed, but that consumers had no idea what the details would be. Right off the bat we were informed that the Xbox One would be imposing used game fees, and that lending was going to be a pain. This first iteration of their genius philosophy was that you'd be forced to install games onto the hard drive via disc, but that you wouldn't need the disc to play the game, and that lending the disc to others would then force your friends and family to pay a fee if they wanted to install it to their hard drive. This sounds fine if the fee is 10 dollars or something, but then what's stopping 40 people from pitching in money for a game, then paying 10 dollars per person to all get the game? The only way this 'fee' would work would be if the cost was equal or near to the price of a full game, otherwise the developers and publishers would be out a lot of money. Once this came to light, Microsoft backtracked and changed their explanation of how this would work, never once confirming a price point for the used/recycled game fee. They eventually settled for a 'family sharing' plan that would let you and 10 family members all share your game in some indirect way. This sounded alright, but like the previous fee, it was never fully explained, so when a supposed Xbox employee came out and claimed that the family plan was just a glorified demo, people believed him, even though his claims were refuted.

The details of the used game fee and family sharing plan were never made clear, nor were they outlined or explained. Different representatives were giving slightly different explanations on the programs and 'features', but the internet at large and the community that would be giving Microsoft their hard earned dollars were not sold. Microsoft is a huge company, there's absolutely no reason why they couldn't have an exact list of stats and features to explain to the public about how these things worked. My theory (and this is just a theory) is that Microsoft planned on always-online DRM and complete used-game blocking, but upon hearing the massive fan backlash, they had to come up with something of a compromise on the spot, and they didn't have the time to properly explain how it would work exactly. I can't think of any other explanation as to why they had such terrible policies, yet had no idea how to sell them. Even the slimiest of snake-oil peddlers know how to lie and make something sound better than it is, but even Micosoft's best in PR failed to make any of their proposed changes to the console gaming paradigm sound like anything less than draconian anti-consumer practices. What they planned on doing was terrible and they knew it, and so did we.

Look at that One!

To make matters worse is their stance on cloud connectivity. The 'always online' rumors have been circling for a while now for both consoles, and even after Microsoft admitted that they would be imposing a sort of online checkup system once every 24 hours, naysayers and apologists assured the world that Sony's DRM policies would be just as bad, or that Microsoft's wasn't as bad as it sounded. There's a lot to be said about such a mentality, but that's another article in and of itself. However, the gaming world got rocked on June 10th when Jack Tretton announced that Sony and PlayStation would not be imposing any new restrictions on used games or online requirements to thunderous applause. This was as big and direct a statement as a company could ever give to a competitor. The message was loud and clear, and the consumers proceeded to let their voice be heard by pre-ordering PS4 in record numbers, completely squashing the Xbox One in the process.

However, Microsoft still insisted that they were in the right, and that gamers didn't understand what they were offering or didn't understand the value they were giving. Don Mattrick explained in an interview that the 499 dollar/euro (429 pound) price was actually a great deal, and that they were giving gamers thousands of dollars in value. This is nowhere near as arrogant as Sony's 2006 stance, which assured you that you should get a second job to afford a PS3, but it's certainly not the kind of statement a gamer wants to hear, especially when that statement is that you (the gamer) don't know what you're talking about. Well, Microsoft, it was on your onus to let us know and understand what it is at stake. It's your job to convince us that what you have in mind is worth it and that it won't be too bad, but you didn't do that. Not only did you fail to make your policies appealing or the benefits of the cloud be explained properly, but you also told a big chunk of the world's population that you didn't care about them, and that can't possibly be interpreted as anything other than malice or indifference.

During an interview Don Mattrick was asked about the 24 hour check-in policy, and how it would affect people in unsupported countries or those who travel. His response? “Fortunately, we have a product for people who are unable to get some form of connectivity; it's called Xbox 360”. He then goes on to talk about how he read the blogs, and one person wrote, “Hey, I'm on nuclear sub.” His response is, “I don't even know what it means to be on a nuclear sub, but I've got to imagine it's not easy to get an internet connection.” Now, it's not as much a middle finger to the armed forces as many believe it is, as Don seems genuinely concerned for the people in the armed forces, yet it's still a form of PR suicide to basically say, “Too bad for you.” Especially to the troops of a country that is so patriotic towards their armed forces.

 The result in one image macro

Seeing the immense backlash of not just the internet, but media outlets and the most important factor – pre-order figures – Microsoft saw that the community did not approve, and that their fans would not tolerate such 'advances' in the medium. Microsoft may have been adamant that what they were doing would be beneficial to the consumers, but gamers are known for their ability to raise a fuss when something comes along that we don't like or agree with, and we have the means to have our voices heard. Microsoft completely failed to convince the world that its plans were honorable, and it didn't help that many had prepared for such a statement due to the rumours that had swirled. We were armed with responses, and ready to fire them directly at the cloud when it became known. Seeing their mistakes, Microsoft slapped together a blog report stating that all previously discussed online requirements and used game fees would be dropped, and as a result so was the ill-defined family sharing plan. They listened, even if they used it as ammo to shoot back at us, declaring us to 'not know what we're missing'. Not a perfect response, but certainly a step in the right direction. 

Personally, I'm happy they had a hint of humility and actually learned that what they were doing was wrong before they had a chance to release a console to the masses. This shows that Microsoft are willing to listen and change, but something about the whole situation has put me at unease. The change is nice, but everything leading up to it and their attitude even in defeat shows that, at best, they're disgruntled. Despite the fact that neither Sony nor Nintendo would be imposing such restrictions on games and online connectivity, they still went ahead with their plan, then when the internet showed they hated it, they proceeded to beat around the bush and fail to explain themselves as they scrambled to find a solution. Out of nowhere they come up with a family sharing plan that doesn't seem all too bad, but the restrictions are still in place and they seemed to not want to get rid of them. In a roundabout way, they belittle their customers in the armed forces and outside of the 21 established countries with a statement that basically tells them 'too bad, get an Xbox 360' when confronted with very real problems that could (and would) arise from their policies. Even after they changed their mind and decided that clearly what they were doing would only anger people, they got in a last dig by claiming that we'd be missing out or that we don't know about the benefits. This is not a mature response, and if we really are missing out, it's your job to enlighten us, not belittle us when you fail to explain the benefits of your plans.

However, it also needs to be said that despite the restrictions being lifted, I can assure you that both new consoles will still have games that operate with limits and restrictions. This generation has seen the rise of online passes, and that sort of technology can be expanded upon in the next generation, much like how it is on PC (which is funny since both PS4 and XB1 both operate on PC-like architecture). Sony has said that they will not be imposing these limitations, but that it's up to individual publishers and developers what they can and can't do with their restrictions. If Ubisoft wants to force Uplay passes on gamers, Sony can't (or won't, for fear of damaging ties with partners) stop them, just like if Sunset Overdrive requires cloud connectivity, Microsoft will support that. So even with their change of heart, and even with Sony's deafening middle finger heard around the blogosphere, don't think you're in the clear just yet; there's a good chance this is just well-managed PR, and that restrictions will still be present, just not console-imposed. Sony and Microsoft may not be enforcing restrictions, but that doesn't mean the devs and publishers that make games for their consoles won't be. Just keep this in mind.

 sunset overdrive will require an online connection.  Mark my words.

As a man who loves the idea of variety in his gaming, it pains me to say this, but even with their lift on used game restrictions and reversal to their online policies, I can't in good conscience support the Microsoft brand. They showed a hint of humility and proved that with enough negative feedback they'd be willing to change, but the animosity that was required to get them away from something that shouldn't have been an option in the first place showed that they really, really don't care about us; they care about our money. This is true of any corporation, be it Sony, Microsoft, Apple, Nintendo, Toshiba, Panasonic, EA, Ubisoft, Acer, Dell, Paramount, Universal, Buena Vista, or any other mega corporation you can think of, but never have I met a company that seems to treat its consumers with such contempt and flat out disrespect. Throughout this ordeal Microsoft proved that customer ownership is – at least to them – an illusion that they'd want to control and limit. I get the impresison that if they had it their way, things would be way worse than they were presented, but this time the internet fought back and won. Enjoy your victory while it lasts, because as time goes on these restrictions WILL be gradually imposed, and by the time you realize it, it will be too late.

I may get an Xbox One down the line, if and when they prove that they really and truly have dropped all restrictions and online requirements. As it stands, getting an Xbox One is not a priority despite my position as a member of the gaming media. I'd like One, as I do think their revealed game list looks good, but I've been playing games for a long time and over the last three generations I've come to see that an overwhelming majority of the games I like to play come out on Nintendo or Sony platforms. Microsoft has a solid lineup, but in the end it's just not enough to overcome the sour taste they've left in my mouth due to this whole ordeal. Their push to limit consumer ownership makes me think that even if I bought one, they'd only find a way to ruin it for me, so I'd rather play it safe.  

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