So I figure it will be a hot topic blog issue, and much like the Hot Topic store that means that there will be several articles that are aimed at teenagers with jokes that died in culture years ago, mixed with some references to how amazing Nintendo is. I do not intend to refute the latter. Instead, I just wanted to join in the fray and weigh in on the change with XBox DRM. This is mostly a train of thought, and is going to a rambly bumpy ride. I will admit that I have a Nintendo and Microsoft bias, but for the past 6 months I have spent 95% of my time gaming on a PC, so I like to believe myself pretty far removed from console wars...
There is a phrase at the bottom that I think is incredibly telling of the entire situation:
“While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content.”
Aside - quote formatting looks cool as hell. Sw33t
I know I am in the minority on this, but I think that the online requirement is, for the majority of people, a non issue. I figure if you are reading this now, you have some sort of internet, and it is most likely at home (but I do accept it could be a cell phone, library, or workplace). The fact is, Microsoft knows how many people have XBox Gold Live accounts - they figure that 100% of those people have internet, and a certain amount would convert to a new console. A bit of research at http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2013/04/20/always-on-microsoft-xbox-live-subscriptions-up-to-46m-will-never-be-free/ gives the number of 46 million subscribers, coming in at over 50% of those who own an XBox. So Microsoft knows that they are likely trying to sell to at least 46 million people, which is a healthy install base. In the above quote, and throughout the press release, it seems like they are moderately confused. This is enforced by the Day 1 patch to make the offline mode available.
I think the issue of “can I get online” isn’t nearly as bad as “what happens to my games? Do I own them?” Changing to a new system would wreck that status quo. And as consumers, at this point, we are not comfortable with the already ill defined ownership of our games being changed in a way that makes it seem like we have less ownership of them. So there was an uproar, and XBox seriously looked to be losing the new console war incredibly hard. I’m sure that everyone watching forums and Facebook realized that they hadn’t accounted for this. So what went wrong? My guess is that all the discussion on the console was internal, and they fell victim to group think. Everyone agreed that the cloud features, the game sharing, and other new Live experiences seemed amazing, but they didn’t ask the ‘on the street’ videogamer what they thought about it.
I know this will be unpopular, but real talk. Bro level. I have worked on many projects in my 9 to 5 trying to come up with a solution to a perceived problem. And I have had my fair share of bombs and failures. Often, a designer can have a hard time getting a feel for what the customer ultimately wants. And I believe that Microsoft was trying to cram in bells and whistles into their new XBox to raise it above the competition, and in doing so lost sight of things that really mattered. This happens. They have realized that it has happened, and they are trying to fix it.
Now what does the solution say? It is interesting that they can ‘flip the switch’ this close to release. Was the offline option a backup? For what? This exact situation? I wouldn’t be surprised if they had the disc checks as a backup in case the changes were rejected, but part of my thinks it is just something they know they can get working as they have with the original XBox 360.
I know that it isn’t right to congratulate Microsoft for removing the online requirement for the console, so where does that leave us? I actually think it is in a pretty interesting spot. I think that if there was an E3 mulligan, the XB1 vs PS4 debate would be completely different - they showed what I thought was a pretty good lineup of launch titles. The hardware (much like this gen) is probably similar enough where it isn’t the deciding factor. The controllers have remained more or less the same, and I have a personal preference to the Xbox layout. The price point is different, but I am not sure if the contents of the SKU have been revealed yet. Remember how attractive the Vita’s price point was before you had to buy memory? That is still a possibility, although fairly unlikely, that Sony has hit a price point by removing add ons. Or, you could argue that XB1 is including the next Kinect, but that argument gets shot down by the virtue of “its still a Kinect”. If they have really improved the Kinect though, and implement in in tandem with a controller, I think it could be amazing tech. Imagine a Rainbow Six game where you issue SWAT style commands using the Kinect instead of Left Bumber, then up on the D pad, then left, then A to confirm. That would be tits! But that has long since just been my own fantasy.... It also sounds like Microsoft is trying to adopt a model that gives out rewards to Live members in the form of free games, which is another great stride into “Sony was already doing that”. It does even the playing field a bit, but it is a little late. Long story short, I think that this has made the console wars on even ground..
...If it weren’t for the fact that the PR damage Microsoft has done has been insane. I remember seeing many comments of “if this game weren’t an exclusive, I would want it” on almost all of the exclusives, so I think it can still drive sales via games, but it may be an uphill battle to gain back gamer’s trust. However, every company only exists to make money. To say that Sony or Nintendo isn’ going to do whatever it can to empty your wallets is a little bit misleading. Companies exist to make money, and it is the consumers job to not pay them if we don’t agree with how. We didn’t agree with always online, so they removed it. If I didn’t game exclusively on PC nowadays, I would be pretty interested in the XB1, and I think I would prefer it 60/40 to the Playstation because of reasons. However, I do own a Wii U, so perhaps I have voted.
I guess, overall, this goes back to something that has been a mantra of mine for a while: Reward good advertising, punish bad advertising. I often buy products because I feel like they did a fantastic job of selling me a product. By that same token, if I find an ad offensive or stupid, I will go out of my way to purchase from the competitors. Axe has funny classy commercials. Tag has ‘lol breasts’. Quiznos had those annoying space monkeys. So I buy Subway when I want a sub sandwich. So where does that leave me here? I think that the folks at Microsoft have made enough amends for me. If you list only the current results on paper, the XB1, as it is today, is interesting to me.
More than anything else, I am interested to see the responses to this, and I actually want to see the XB1 recover and succeed at some level. At the end of the day, if Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are all on equal grounds, they all have to pull out all the stops to win us over. This means better games, better services, taking risks, and competitive pricing. These benefit the consumers, the developers, and the industry. So I hope the XB1 does well, for all of us.
I imagine the cycle between Microsoft and us looks something like this, but the analogy escapes me.