Xbox One: The Power Of The Crowd
Well well well.
In one of the most staggering reversals we might have ever seen in the games industry, Microsoft dropped its controversial used game restrictions and online requirements for Xbox One.
Buying, selling, trading, loaning and renting Xbox One games works as Xbox 360 games currently do and furthermore, you only need to connect online once when setting up the console rather than every 24 hours.
A positive move forward, you may think. After all, Microsoft had been transparent that Xbox One was made with publishers in mind, not us, and the success of Xbox One would have almost certainly triggered a slippery slope effect in terms of our consumer rights as gamers.
Even so, some of the reaction to Microsoft’s reversal was disappointing. There were attempts to claim this was a step backwards rather than forwards and worse still, there were also attempts to undermine the movement on forums and social media that had been a major factor in the events that unfolded last night.
Xbox One – A Step Backwards?
One of Xbox One’s most interesting features was that of family sharing, where you could share up to ten games with those in your ‘family’ regardless of where they are.
This feature was culled when Microsoft killed off its used games restrictions and always online measures last night. This is a sad and significant loss for the Xbox One. Despite Microsoft’s own garbled messaging about how the feature worked, family sharing clearly held promise and was one of the Xbox One’s distinct advantages over PS4.
Also gone: the ability to play games without the disc, once they had been installed.
The loss of both features have had some claiming Microsoft’s moves last night was a step backwards, that Xbox One is now little more than an Xbox 360 with more muscle under the hood and Kinect 2.0.
But here’s the thing – nobody asked for Microsoft to get rid of those things. Nobody was offended by the idea of family sharing or playing without a disc. What was offensive were the used games restrictions and always online policies, and Microsoft was quite rightly slammed for them.
If the family sharing feature was intrinsically tied into the draconian DRM measures and always online requirements – and let’s presume they are as there doesn’t appear to be any other logical reason for them to have been killed off – then consumer rights and the freedom to play our games when we want and to do with them what we please has won out over temporary convenience.
That is a trade-off we should all be happy with.
Furthermore, if Xbox One’s only real distinction from Xbox 360 are the features that were culled last night, then that should be Microsoft’s burden to bear – not ours. We shouldn’t have to suffer through draconian DRM measures for the sake of diversity.
Look to Microsoft to talk up the Xbox One cloud even more than they had been doing to this point. Microsoft said that its vision for Xbox One and the power of the cloud remains unchanged. Outside of exclusives (which have been announced) and Kinect (which still hasn’t struck a huge chord with core gamers), the cloud will be Microsoft’s main hook for Xbox One gaming.
Xbox One – The Power Of The Crowd
One of the defining features of Xbox One was the negativity from gamers, which began with the TV-heavy nature of the reveal and picked up momentum when the used games restrictions and always online requirements emerged.
Microsoft’s PR team seemed incapable of slowing the negativity, let alone stopping it, which culminated in this recent moment on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (skip to 1:12):
“This system is the only one that plays used games” was the message mainstream was receiving about PS4 – it’s incorrect but it’s also a much easier narrative to remember and repeat than Microsoft’s paragraphs of explanation about how you can sell used games, if publishers allow it, and how they’re working on allowing you to loan games, etc.
So where does the crowd come into it?
They were the ones piling the pressure on Microsoft. They were the ones spreading the no DRM hashtags. They were the ones making their feelings known on Microsoft’s Xbox page on Facebook.
Some people last night and this morning are shouting “but it was Sony!” in defiance, attempting to downplay that movement.
No shit. Of course Sony was part of it. If Sony hadn’t allowed used games on PS4 and had online check-in requirements to play games offline, Microsoft would never have been forced into last night’s u-turn.
But the reason Sony had made such a big song and dance about it at E3 is because of the pressure and anti-Xbox One sentiment that had been building, handing Sony the biggest opportunity it would ever have at E3. Even Sony – the company which fumbled the PS3 launch so spectacularly – wouldn’t miss an open goal this big.
What really would have sparked Microsoft into action would have been the data on pre-order sales. The proof, if it was needed, was in the Amazon pre-order poll for next-gen consoles: PS4 scored 20,200 votes while Xbox One scored 1,160 votes.
Who’s pre-ordering next-gen consoles? Us. The dedicated gamers. The core. Who was spreading the word about Xbox One and its draconian policies? Us. The dedicated gamers. The core.
To write us off as a small group who didn’t have an effect on the mainstream perception is narrow-minded. The mainstream doesn’t live in a bubble isolated from core gamers. This is 2013 – an era of social media, of sharing articles on Facebook, of witnessing outrage and protest from fringe groups we’d never actively be part of yet we can still hear their voices on Twitter.
The amount of coverage about Microsoft’s used game policies and online restrictions would have been harder for mainstream gamers to completely ignore than it would have been for them to pick up on some of the noise being made.
The proof, again, is there in those pre-order numbers.
Can anyone really suggest that the anti-Microsoft movement that started on forums and crossed over to social media wasn’t a big part of this?
Xbox One – What Now?
Microsoft’s reversal puts Xbox One in an interesting position. Sony is no longer winning by default and the battle for next-gen will take place on the more traditional battlegrounds of games and price – perhaps what the battle for next-gen should have been about to begin with.
But while Microsoft is steering Xbox One in the right direction again, its image has taken a huge hit thanks to the entire circus act over used games and online requirements. Make no mistake – Microsoft was committed to it and wanted to force it through. It had just spent valuable time and money over three days at E3 – the biggest games event of the year – defending its DRM restrictions and talking up always online.
Hell, just last week at E3, Major Nelson mocked Angry Joe for suggesting it was ‘simple’ to turn the 24-hour online check-in off. Skip to 11:35 of this interview:
The reaction to Sony’s E3 conference, the continued pressure from gamers, the early pre-order data – those are the things that suddenly make it ‘simple’ for Microsoft to reverse its stance on the most unpopular console policies we have ever seen.
On Twitter, we asked if this changes anyone’s opinions on Xbox One vs PS4. The responses were overwhelmingly in favour of PS4, the main theme of the answers being that Microsoft had burned its bridges and it’s too late to go back. There is a long way to go in the next-gen battle and Microsoft still has a lot of work to do.
But regardless of how it plays out from this point forward, last night was important because it showed that for all its pomp and bluster, Microsoft would be wise not to underestimate the power of the crowd.