Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Xbox One Eighty - an opinion.

The cynical opinion of a gamer who don't forgive that easy.

"Your feedback matters," reads the headline on today's Xbox Wire update, in which Microsoft backpedaled on every anti-consumer pro-DRM policy they've spent the last month vehemently defending in their new box.    As if the company did indeed pour through message boards and twitter feeds paying close attention to what Joe Average had to say about the One. 

Let's not kid ourselves.  Porn aside, the internet is primarily a means of communication - and in that capacity, it is primarily a hate machine.  People on the internet complain about everything that has ever happened and could happen - but nobody listens.  This is not representative of anyone listening, least of all Microsoft. 

This had absolutely nothing to do with what you, I or anyone said about the Xbox One, and was entirely driven by what we did.  Or, more precisely, that we didn't preorder the Xbox One in droves. 

This decision was entirely based on disappointing sales numbers and crashing expectations for Microsoft's next-gen console.  If Sony hadn't stepped forward and chosen to maintain the status quo, if Microsoft had no other competitor in this market to which it could have lost customers due to its profoundly arrogant and anti-consumer policies, they would have gone right ahead and redefined ownership of physical media regardless of what anyone had to say about it.

But here we are.  Microsoft had a clear vision of the future - a Steam Box, essentially - and they've backed right off it.  We - or anyone who was paying attention, armed with a working cranium - knew all the crap they were spouting at E3 on this topic was bullshit.  The only difference is, now, it's  known bullshit because they've pointed it out themselves.  

"No, our console didn't actually need that 24-hour check-in to do anything you want.  No, disc-based DRM is totally unnecessary, and yes, you'll be able to enjoy awesome next-gen games without the benefit of our ethereal "cloud" which we tried to convince you was a rainbow wizard of infinite and unknowable omnipotence.  Turns out that was all just lies*, 'cause we just felt like messin' with ya!"

*or stupidity.

"Sorry, our bad.  But we've changed our ways, and we'll do everything the way you like it from now on!"

You guys are just full of shit.  That being said... this was the only move you could've made.  Kudos to you for hitting the breaks just before that car you pushed up to speed rolled off the cliff.  You're still idiots.  The fact that you also backpedaled on the one aspect of your super-connected system that was actually of benefit to consumers (digital sharing) highlights this. 

There's somethin' that kinda' gnaws at me, after all this, though. 
"Microsoft may change its policies, terms, products and services to reflect modifications and improvements to our services, feedback from customers and our business partners or changes in our business priorities and business models or for other reasons. We may also cease to offer certain services or products for similar reasons."
Mmhm.  That's the problem, Microsoft.  I just bet you will.   You've more than proven that today, and I have little doubt you'll prove it again the instant you feel certain that you can get away with it, regardless of any "feedback" from the consumers who fill your coffers. 

It's worth pointing out that Sony, Steam and Nintendo all have similar statements in their EULAs - but with Microsoft, it seems especially ominous, in light of recent events.  

Remember Titanfall.  Titanfall still looks awesome.

While I can't help but see Microsoft's initial plans and their subsequent one-eighty as anything but the desperate actions of a fool, the genuine, immediate implications are good for us - good for gamers. 

The Xbox One is once again at the top of Amazon's bestseller list, followed closely by four different PS4 SKUs.  The assistant manager of my EB was already aware of the announcement when I stopped in a half-hour after it went live (I went in to preorder Time and Eternity), but he doesn't believe it will have a major impact on the preorder numbers they're seeing.  He thinks Sony will stay definitively on top.

I disagree.  I'm quite partial to Sony platforms.  I like to think it's due to the reasonable and thoughtful conclusion that they have the largest and most accomplished stable of first-party developers in the world, but there's no denying brand loyalty plays a large part.  I like the DualShock, I like the XMB - I like my PlayStations. I like Sony.  

I like the way Jack Tretton came onstage in 2011 and publicly apologized to the entire gaming community for the PSN hacks, acknowledge that trust had been broken and promised to earn it back.  It was classy.

I've zero doubt there are many folks out there who feel the same way about their Xboxes.  It's the gaming environment they feel most comfortable in, and - with the two restrictions that did most damage to the Xbox One's value removed - I have no doubt they'll go back.  Which is, let me reiterate, a good thing for gamers who make their home on either next-gen platform (or both).

I suspect we'll go into November 2011 with both consoles on relatively even footing, or with the Xbox One enjoying a reasonable lead over the PS4 in North America, where it has dominated the high-end console market for the past half-decade.  I expect brand loyalty to be a bit forgiving of this fiasco, and for several hundred thousand gamers who've made their home on an Xbox for the past seven years to happily pick up the big thick controller again. 

I also expect this newly equal footing will precipitate a claws-out, vicious battle for gamer wallets between Microsoft and Sony - which will lead to more bought exclusives, sure - but more competition.  More one-upsmanship, more pushing the envelope, more, bigger, better games.  

So yes, I feel like Microsoft folded for completely different reasons than they'd admit to our faces, that nearly everything they have to say about their platform is either misdirection or a flat-out lie, and I feel their trustworthiness is somewhere above a scorpion who insists he won't sting you if you carry him across that river - but at least they've set the stage for a next-gen in which two giants actually do battle, and perhaps push things further than we imagined.

But... on the off-chance they actually are listening to feedback?  Listen to this: 

No one wants Kinect.

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