Thursday, June 20, 2013

Microsoft Backpedals on Xbox One DRM Policies

Backpedal (verb): to retreat or move backward.

Last night the internet saw Microsoft go into full backpedal mode on their DRM practices for the upcoming Xbox One in a post on their site titled“Your Feedback Matters – Update on Xbox One.”  The post was courtesy Don Mattrick, the President of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business unit, and seemed to address a score of concerns gamers had following the product launch event and E3.  Citing that his people had heard directly from many fans (read:  pages upon pages of ASCII middle fingers on their Facebook page), he announced that DRM practices for the Xbox One would be somewhat rolled back to how they are for the Xbox 360.  Here were the main hits:

An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360

Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.

This means that if I want to lend my friend a game I just need to give them the disc.  Things will mostly roll on like it currently does for the Xbox 360 generation.  It’s a good thing that Mattrick and his crew rolled these back if for no one’s sake than their own too, because things were starting to look pretty grim for team Microsoft on the gaming front.  Their licensing model was convoluted and strange for borrowing discs and game rentals.  Military personnel were calling it “a sin against all service members.”  And then there was Sony, their main competition for the last couple generations of gaming consoles, absolutely drilling them on their policies with not only their own business practices but veiled commercials targeting Microsoft to the delight of all watching.  I mean we all remember this video on sharing games from PlayStation’s YouTube channel, right?

Did anyone else get a very thumbs up / thumbs down Gladiator vibe from that whole thing?  I sure did, and it was hilarity that won in the arena.

Sony had the pole position in the console press conferences, showing off the PS4 hours after Microsoft was shilling the One.  After the disappointment of many after the Xbox One show, Sony had the opportunity to say “Hey guys, don’t worry!  We’re still here to save you!”  And it worked.  Like gangbusters, kids.  Sony offered a unit that cost less, had better hardware specs, nixed the DRM, had no requirement for an always on, always listening camera, and didn’t charge $60 a year for online services.  How can you lose with that kind of show?

So was it Sony putting pressure on Microsoft by just being themselves or was it truly the Xbox team listening to their fans.  “We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds,” Mattrick said on the Xbox Wire.  Maybe it should have read “Pleas guys, don’t leave us for Sony.”  It was probably a combination of both.  And that’s what’s awesome about the whole thing.  What this showed was that the gaming industry can still be affected by competition and vox populi – even though companies run on margin and greed, that they can shift gears when they previously said they can’t when their dollars are threatened.  It’s the beauty of the system – a company can shift gears once they realize that consumers aren’t going for what they’ve got.  And to the conspiracy theorists, no, I don’t think this was a planned stunt from the get go to come off harsh then pick up the image of “listening to the fans.”  That strategy would have only worked if they had a PS4-killer level function in the Xbox One, which they didn’t.  In all I’m glad they rolled back the DRM, but I think the damage is still done.

And that’s my opinion regardless of the borderline insane ramblings of Cliffy B, who claims that it was Sony alone, and not the “whiny internet” that forced Microsoft’s hand.

Sony still has a lot of those advantages listed above going for them.  The price of the PS4 is still about $100 less than the One, and that also comes with no yearly payments for online services.  And money is always a factor.  It was part of the reason for the success of Nintendo’s first Wii console after all.  But the other disadvantage they still maintain is the Kinect requirement.  The Kinect still has to be plugged in and powered on for the console to function, keeping my privacy concerns right where they are.  Enough to make the fact that they rolled back the DRM, while fundamentally good, also completely moot.  I still need more than “I promise Nene, I’m not listening” to make it happen for me.

Final verdict: Sony still has the upper hand.


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