Where did Microsoft go wrong? And could it have been prevented?
If you haven’t heard – in which case, welcome back to the land of the living – Microsoft has done a complete about-turn regarding its policies for used games sales, game sharing, connectivity and region-locking for the Xbox One. The company originally announced when the Xbox One was revealed in May that there would be a host of restrictions for those willing to take the next generation leap.
These included 24 hour authentication of the console via internet connection; the ability to lend games to friends but only once, with selling left up to the publishers as to whether a fee would be charged; the Family Policy, which allowed up to 10 individuals to access the game library off a single Xbox One console from apparently anywhere (concurrent use was never explained however); region locking, with an Xbox One from the United States only authenticating with the US Xbox Live servers (forget playing games and whatnot); and other such unrelated but troubling issues such as an always-on Kinect.
Microsoft recently announced that it was doing away with these policies – except the always-on Kinect though. That means no region-locking, no restrictions on used games, and absolute freedom to do what you want with your game library. However, it seems that certain pockets still aren’t satisfied. Why is that? For one thing…
1. We Want Change But Don’t Want to Invest in it
It was initially revealed via a Pastebin from an anonymous individual working at Microsoft that the Xbox One was aiming to mimic Steam’s model of digital downloads. Microsoft never explicitly stated that same, however. Meanwhile, most of the paying public forgot that even Steam itself wasn’t widely accepted when it was first introduced.
It took amazing deals on games and loads of content to finally convince the vast swathe of PC gamers – and even then, Steam is more restrictive about sharing games than the Xbox One was (though that appears to be changing with a recent update).
So here’s the problem: We implicitly understand that the Xbox One was supposed to help usher in a new age of digital downloads and gaming for consoles, eventually making purchases cheaper while returning money to the developers. However, putting down $499 and not even having a choice in the matter? At least PC gamers can choose whether or not they want to stick with AAA titles like Tomb Raider and Metro: Last Light without needing Steam.
But some people still pick up their games from Steam itself. That’s because…
2. We Want Change But Not Right Now
Given enough time, digital downloads of even regular PC games are cheaper on Steam compared to purchasing them at retail. You’ll have far better chances getting a great deal off of a popular PC title on Steam than you would at retail (unless it’s Call of Duty, and honestly, that’s no big loss).
Steam also fosters a small developer and indie community that is consistently bringing out excellent titles on a regular basis. This isn’t counting all the great deals that exist already. The problem is the Xbox One has neither the strong push for indies as Steam (or even on
Sony’s PlayStation Network for the PS4) does or have a ton of great deals to start off with. So while we understand, somewhat, just why Microsoft wants to go with forcing a digital download-based console onto gamers, they have neither the gaming line-up nor push that Steam brought.
A bigger problem is that Microsoft never stated that digital downloads of games would be cheaper than retail copies. It did state that you’d be able to download a digital version of the game and purchase a retail disc on the same day of release. But one being cheaper than the other? This leads to our third problem…
3. We Want Change But You’re Not Telling Us What You’re Changing
Probably the most damning hurdle that the Xbox One faced was Microsoft’s own marketing and PR department shooting itself in the foot repeatedly when revealing information about it. The reason for a 24 hour authentication being in place was to update your games library whenever you had lent out or gifted titles to your friends.
However, there was a restriction placed on lending games as is. Would gamers really be lending out games on a 24 hour basis? For that matter, why did it have to be 24 hours? Why not weekly? Why not bi-daily? Why daily? Not even Steam needs you to authenticate your library every 24 hours.
This was presumably done to close a loophole that exists in Steam in which you can download games on someone else’s PC from your own Steam account, and the other person could enjoy said games offline for as long as they wanted while you could access it online just fine through your own system. However, not one single person – not Don Mattrick, not Phil Spencer and not Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb – stated that this was the case.
That’s probably because…
4. We Want Change But Do You Know What the Hell You’re Talking About?
“Family Policy allowing up to 10 individuals to share a single Xbox One game library? Sounds awesome! What if we want to play it concurrently, like me playing Halo 5 and my buddy enjoying Dead Rising 3 on another Xbox One, but accessing the library? What’s that? You don’t know? You’ll provide more information in the coming months? Well, alright.”
That would seem like a typical conversation one has with Xbox Support (and in fact, several people have received the same answers). But when it’s Microsoft Games Studios head Phil Spencer saying it, well, then what do you do? Over the past two months, Microsoft has been unable to present a single unified front in its message for the Xbox One’s policies. It could’ve simply gone with “We’re trying to be Steam for consoles”, but no.
Thus we got Don Mattrick saying offline users should stick with an Xbox 360 even as Major Nelson revealed that even mobile internet will work fine and that bandwidth requirements will be ridiculously low. We got Phil Spencer saying the console was “x” number of times powerful and then changing the statement 3 times within the span of 24 hours.
If no one knows what the hell they’re talking about, then can you blame your consumers for not knowing what the hell to think? Or rather, can you really backtrack on all your policies and expect to be forgiven? This leads to the final reason we’ll never be satisfied…
5. We Want Change But We Also Have Alternatives
Microsoft could’ve presented the Xbox One as something more. It could’ve appealed to TV viewers, sports fans, social networkers and gamers alike. It might’ve caught the attention of the first three groups but completely floundered on its key audience, the fourth. There are some people who just want to get to the games. Yes, it’s nice to talk about the future and how we can have an ecosystem like Steam. Yes, it’s great that you’re investing so much into unique and new IPs.
But why do you need to restrict people?
Why do you not want to launch your console in countries like India, Poland and the entirety of Asia until one entire year later? Why do you want to tell people who don’t have an internet connection to effectively “f**k off”, especially when they’ve been so loyal to you for so many years even through calamities like the Red Ring of Death? Why do you think people will just swallow whatever you give them, based on good faith and a “we’ll wait and see when the consoles are released” approach?
It’s because you think we don’t have alternatives, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Even those who can’t pick up a PlayStation 4 will stick with gaming on PCs and their Xbox 360s before dropping $499 on a new console that they may or may not be getting anyway.
Even if Microsoft had soldiers on and done everything perfectly, even if it gave us the Steam Box we so desperately wanted, one wrong move is all it takes for any consumer to trade in an Xbox One for something else.
So change is great and all. It really is, even if we’ll never be satisfied with things in the beginning. But there is a right way and wrong way to go about it. Steam was the right way, even with its multitudes of problems. Hopefully, the next time a console manufacturer tries this approach, it’ll just outright tell us what they’re doing rather than sticking with the “wait and see…maybe?” approach that Microsoft took.