The Xbox One-Eighty

xboxone

I swear. You go to see Man of Steel and the whole world changes. James Gandolfini, a man who changed the face of television with his portrayal of Tony Soprano passed away and Microsoft reversed all of their crappy DRM and online check-in policies.

What an afternoon.

I have to say, this reversal was pretty damned shocking. When you’re this involved in gaming, it’s easy to think that the rest of the world feels as strongly as you do about things, but in many cases, it’s just the echo chamber effect and the stuff that you vocally despise isn’t that big of a deal to the greater game buying public. ¬†Clearly Microsoft felt that the backlash shown at E3 as well as the love shown to Sony over the PS4 was enough to make them change their minds and not wait until the console launched to see how the public reacted. I don’t have access to pre-order information, so it’s possible that pre-orders were down, but I doubt it. I would imagine that pre-order allocations were low enough to let the hardcore Microsoft fans get their hands on a console at launch as well as let Microsoft PR send out many the press release touting how the Xbox One sold out at launch. I don’t have any hard data to back that up, just things I’ve heard here and there about pre-order allocations at various retail stores.

It’s interesting to see what Microsoft felt was necessary to withhold as a result of the DRM changes, things like family sharing and being able to install the game and just play the installed game. Seems to me that both of those things could still exist, and still exist with a mandatory, once a day check-in, only with the new policy, customers could choose to enable the daily check-in so that they could make use of those features. Microsoft seems to be missing the point that choice is the key word here. If people want to have game sharing, fine, let ‘em, but they have to have daily check-ins enabled, as does everyone they share with. Ditto for game installation. This binary set of choices seems arbitrary and a little punitive, to be honest, as if they’re saying, “Oh yeah, well then you don’t get these awesome things here that we haven’t really talked about but trust us, they’re awesome.”

Honestly, I’m not sure what to think about game sharing. You’ve got a blog posting making the rounds today from a supposed Microsoft employee working on the Xbox One that states that Family Sharing was just glorified demos. I’ve got other people saying it was full game sharing. If I had to guess, it was somewhere in between with publishers deciding the level of sharing. I mean, if it was full game sharing and it allowed you and nine other people to split the cost of games, why wouldn’t Microsoft be shouting that from the rooftops? I mean, they can’t be that bad at PR, can they?

As expected, once the reversal was announced, out came all of the people who were for these restrictive policies, even if they never mentioned it in the past. Gizmodo thinks that the Xbox One just got “way worse” as if it were a given that Steam type of sales would come to the Xbox One, you know the same way that the current spate of Xbox OnDemand games are so darn inexpensive. Yes, I would like to download JASF, an 18 month old game for thirty bucks. I mean, why wouldn’t I? It’s not like I can find it cheaper anywhere.

It was also cool to see CliffyB head back to Twitter to tell all of us ungrateful children that this why we can’t have nice things and that tacked on multiplayer and tons of microtransactions are all but inevitable now. Look, I’ll admit that there’s no easy answer to this whole thing but as I’ve said before and will continue to say, you are blaming the consumer for a problem they did not invent. If the only way you can add “value” to your game is with tacked on multiplayer then you didn’t do a very good job making your game. Nintendo said it best when they said that the best way to keep people from trading in games is by making a game they don’t want to trade in. Cliffy also brings up Blood Dragon and Minecraft as games brought to us only via digital distribution and he has an excellent point there, except he’s leaving out one very important detail: cost. Minecraft is twenty bucks and has infinite replayability. Blood Dragon is 15 bucks and gives around 12 hours of content, and good content too. How am I supposed to feel good about buying digital games at 60 bucks a pop when it’s clear publishers can charge less? The lack of tacked on multiplayer and microtransactions is supposed to make me feel better? Never mind the notion that microtransctions going away simply because stuff is digital is patently ridiculous.

I do applaud him for wanting to make sure that every game developer gets paid for every sale of their games, but that’s assuming that publishers aren’t screwing with the numbers in some capacity to minimize the amount of royalties paid out. I don’t want to tell the guy what to do with his spare time, but if you really want to make sure developers get their fair share, maybe work towards removing the horrible practice of tying development bonuses and payment structures to arbitrary Metacritic rankings. Or, and here’s an idea, maybe work towards making sure that those in development and QA have some semblance of a personal life and aren’t made to work in sweatshop conditions for eight months of crunch time only to be fired before their game is released. I’m sure every developer laid off in the time between the game is finished and is released need only wait by the mailbox for the royalty checks that the publisher will undoubtedly send them!

I’m glad that Microsoft changed their policies, because the old ones were so anti-consumer that it bordered on abusive. It doesn’t change anything for me though, my PS4 preorder stands. For one, I don’t like the idea of game developers knowing that they have Kinect at their fingertips. I still remember all of the shitty ways that Sixaxis motion control was tacked on to early PS3 games and I don’t want to be working out and playing an Xbox One game and have to start waving my hands all of sudden, nor do I want Kinect’s ability to read my heart rate to result in an unnecessary call to 911 because it thinks I’m having a stroke.

Second, while I think that this move effectively places Sony and Microsoft in their respective corners in regards to DRM with neither willing to go beyond what they have right now for fear the other will pounce on them about it, I don’t like the fact that this stuff can all be turned back on with a simple software patch. This isn’t me being paranoid, this is simply acknowledging that Microsoft has a clear vision of a digital future, and the Xbox One was a part of that. Their vision hasn’t changed, they’re simply reacting to the rejection of that vision. As time goes on, they may start changing things here and there to take smaller steps to the same place rather than this giant leap. As they take those steps, I may decide that I want to go along with them, but I need some time to see how they manage it rather than blindly trusting them.

Finally, as it should be, it’s all about the games. The PS4 has more exclusives that I want to play. The PS4 also allows indies to self publish, which means I can play Transistor on it. Compare that to the stance towards indies that Microsoft has and it’s not a hard choice to make. Guess not all developers deserve to get as much money as they can from their work, just the AAA development studios.

So yeah, I’m glad that Microsoft reversed their policies because it means that if they keep them reversed, once the console gets a price drop or two as well as some exclusives I care about, I can pick one up and go back to being a two console household. It also means that with the PS4 and the Xbox One on relatively equal policy footing, the competition between the two can go back to being about the games. What it doesn’t mean is that I’m going to fall over myself praising their decision. Like I tell my kids when they complete a chore, I’m not going to congratulate you for doing something that you should be doing in the first place. Microsoft should have done this in the first place. Let’s not forget that.

14 Responses to “The Xbox One-Eighty”

  1. webdanzer June 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    I wish I had something more interesting to say to stir up conversation, but I agree with you pretty much* word for word. :)

    *(I don’t know what Transistor is. Need to look that up…)

  2. Michael Barnes June 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    First off, whenever Cliffy B. opens his mouth, you may as well be listening to the sound of a flea passing wind. What he says carries about as much meaning. Some of the recent comments about used games and AAA development from Nintendo’s leadership lately have been what EVERYONE should be hearing- JUST MAKE GAMES THAT PEOPLE WANT TO KEEP!

    As for the 180, let’s not kid ourselves that Microsoft’s heart grew three sizes and they suddenly changed their mind. This is an emergency decision driven not only by gamers’ reactions, but also investor and shareholder reactions. The investment community has been sending up warning flares about Microsoft after the announcement, and we’ve all heard the dismal preorder figures…as well as surveys pegging 80% or more of respondants as PS4 buyers. The policy change is a desperate strategic move to head off disaster for now, and like you’re saying here there’s not much to suggest that these changes might not return as part of their larger strategy. Don’t believe for an instant that they just threw out all those parts of their long term plans.

    I’m staying the course with the PS4 preorder I just paid off this morning. Sony is hardly the white knight of consumer virtue or whatever themselves, and they’re another corporation out to take our money. But at least they are marketing to a game playing demographic and focusing on content, including indie games and almost “alternative” exclusives. I still don’t like giving my money to a company that came out and earnestly tried to convince me that taking things away and restricting me was in my best interest for a couple of weeks before saying “OK, we’re capitulating”. Instead of that, I would have liked to have hear what the Xbone will be giving me in terms of value in exchange for all of these strictures and limitations.

    But that’s the biggest part of the message that they failed to deliver, there was ZERO value proposition other than “You can watch Price is Right and take a Skype call!”. There was arguably no compelling reason to purchase the new console over the Xbone, and in fact some of the ridiculous comments after E3 snidely telling folks to stick with the 360 actually made a decent case to NOT upgrade to the new hardware.

    As for Kinect, it’s the WiiU tablet all over. It means nothing if third party developers are unwilling to invest additional resources in designing and programming features for hardware that does not exist on two out of three consoles. And if a multiplatform game DOES have Kinect, you can bet on it being tacked on, not completely integrated, or poorly implemented. Microsoft made it sound like Kinect was MANDATORY for every game, but it’s not.

    What a trainwreck. They put out a non-Kinect version for $299 and I might be willing to pick one up if there are some quality exclusives that don’t do stupid shit like interact with TV shows.

  3. drunkenpandaren June 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    CliffyB is an idiot. I don’t see why people give him as much honor as some one like Carmack. Microsoft didn’t have to do much other then give out a unified message. They were still muddled with their past revelations on the issue of DRM other then phoning a small packet home every day. At the price point they’re offering, they’re really still just keeping Kinect bundled because of the whole Harddrive issue with the 360. Sony has their own version of it, the Eyetoy, which is 100 bucks by itself. So if developers want to put those kinds of interactions in their games, it shouldn’t be a huge enough of a deal to get those working on both platforms.

  4. Dorkmaster Flek June 20, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    Man, the indie situation with MS is just unbelievable. Even Nintendo has come to their senses and seriously upped their indie game. And talk about inconsistent messaging!

    “This DRM shit that everybody hates is part of our glorious vision for an all-digital future! But you need to release physical, retail games in order to publish a purely downloadable game, or get somebody who does to publish your indie title. Did we mention that glorious all-digital future?”

    Yeah, fuck that. It’s crystal clear that it’s only about controlling the marketplace. The library sharing stuff was a cool feature, but the way everything was integrated together was clearly designed to solely benefit the established publishers.

    I keep telling people, just invest in a gaming PC now. It’s initially more expensive, but it gives you access to a much larger library of games. For example, right now I’ve got Psychonauts and Brutal Legend (okay I love Double Fine) installed in my Steam library. Assassin’s Creed 4 will be a next-gen title, but it will also be on my PC. That’s PS2/Xbox-era, PS3/Xbox 360-era, and PS4/Xbone-era all together on one machine. And that’s just on Steam.

    Thanks to Good Old Games, I’m playing the old Thief games (since the reboot is sounding more like a pile of ass by the day) and mucking around with custom Doom/Hexen maps in ZDoom. Doom. As in the SNES era.

    Then I’ve also got old Lucasarts adventure classics like Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max, thanks to ScummVM. Don’t even get me started on emulators. My NES and SNES library still exists thanks to my 2013 Windows 7 PC.

    I’m sorry, what was that you were saying about a motion captured dog? I was too busy playing almost 30 years of games on a single machine.

    • ineffablebob June 20, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

      “I keep telling people, just invest in a gaming PC now.”

      This. The whole flap over consoles is just silly. If you’re a casual gamer that only wants to play COD or whatever, your decision is already made no matter what MS or Sony puts out. If you’re a serious gamer, you can get the good stuff on PC, including the gigantic backlog of great games as mentioned above.

  5. rob_d June 20, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    Meh. Microsoft had no choice here. They know the numbers. They know the reaction. This was forced on them and they did the only thing they could do to try and head off a certain disaster.

    The thing is, for me, I don’t trust them anymore. If they’re not able to screw the consumers on this I’m sure they’ll cook up something else. While it’s true that Sony may have their own plan cooked up to screw us over I just feel they’re the lesser of two evils right now.

    It’s sad that this has kind of gotten like politics for me where I’m having to decide between the perceived lesser of two evils when I know either way I’m gonna get screwed somehow.

    Oh well..damage done Microsoft. All those PS4 pre-orders aren’t going to get cancelled and switched over based on this. You showed your ugly head and just because you’re trying to put lipstick on it now isn’t helping. It’s still ugly.

  6. Autistic Angel June 20, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    The next time you guys update the “Favorite Articles” sidebar on the main page, I’d like to nominate this article, Matt Thrower’s review of Mice & Mystics, Todd’s “Ownership is Overrated” piece, and Barnes’ review of Injustice.

    There’s something to be said for highlighting older articles, but some of this recent work really deserves to be recognized.

    • Bill Abner June 21, 2013 at 9:31 am #

      I guess I could make myself useful…

      • Brandon June 21, 2013 at 9:35 am #

        Now that I know we can edit that directly, I see a large share of Mister Binky created articles as favorites.

        • Bill Abner June 21, 2013 at 9:36 am #

          Well, you are my favorite…just don’t tell Todd. It’ll crush him.

          • Todd Brakke June 21, 2013 at 10:50 am #

            Great. Now I have to spend the weekend crying in the fetal position in the shower. Thanks.

  7. nicthaninja June 21, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    I was going to get the Xbone before the switch so I’ll still get it now. I think Microsoft was envisioning a more digital world for this generation of games which was the reason for their stance on DRM. Buying the disk was basically going to be a download code. I don’t think Microsoft communicated their vision well at all.

  8. rainynight65 June 24, 2013 at 4:03 am #

    What really bugs me about this, is that the big companies are seemingly becoming more and more averse to giving their customers a choice. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that their DRM plans were anything but pro-consumer, but it also doesn’t take one to realise that all the stuff they are now not doing, wasn’t totally and inseparably dependent on a 24 hour check-in, mandatory Kinect and the licensing system they were envisaging.

    Why is it so hard to say “If you want Family sharing and diskless gaming, you’ll have to enable a 24 hour check-in”, and let the consumer make their choice, instead of acting like a sulking child because a large number of prospective consumers aren’t appreciative of their efforts to grasp control of what the player owns and what he doesn’t?

    I have withdrawn from the console circus for a different reason – I moved countries last year and I simply cannot convert my Live or my PSN account to a different country. I could do it with my Steam and my iTunes account no problem, but Microsoft and Sony just don’t want to wake up to the reality that, occasionally, people change their country of residence. So my choice is to create new accounts and lose access to everything I already owned, or keep the old accounts and just have a much harder time making purchases and managing content. I took the third option – but if it hadn’t been for that, this whole DRM circus would have given me a good reason to say bye bye to the console world.

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