Today’s dramatic reversal of Xbox One’s policy from Microsoft was something that most people did not see coming.
Microsoft has been bullish about its policy on the always online and Digital Right Management (DRM) aspects of their new home console Xbox One since the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Justifying its position, Microsoft claimed that “Internet access is readily available now and most devices are always online” so requiring users to check in online once every 24 hours to just have the games to work on the console was no big deal. Don Mattrick, the President of Interactive Entertainment at Microsoft even went further to say that if people want to play offline they can just stick with the 360. And on the DRM front, Microsoft building in a mechanism to allow publishers to restrict the sales of second hand games was widely seen as a betrayal to its loyal customers and a kowtow to corporate greed of big publishers. Microsoft even went further on talking about the concept of game ownership is “morphing” so people should not be stuck with the old concept of owning a game they bought.
Microsoft’s attitude has been widely criticised and from polls among different websites, you could see that people are abandoning the Xbox One as their next generation console of choice – last check on GameSpot before the announcement 80% voted for PS4 as their next console of choice. Facing the wrath of the consumers, Microsoft still stood firm on what they believe in for about a week until today when Don Mattrick dramatically announced through his blog that Microsoft is reversing the policy because they have heard the feedback from gamers “clear and loud”. The change of policy includes:
1. There is no more requirement for checking in once every 24 hours to play games although an initial online connection is required for setting up the console
2. The digital right management for second hand games and rented games are no longer in place
3. Games would not be required to be installed on the console to work
4. Games are no longer regionally locked out
This is something probably a lot of people did not see coming, especially when most people saw Microsoft’s policy on Xbox One is a joint conspiracy to condition consumers to corporate greed. However, what happened here is that when being united and mobilised, even general consumer could shape the market landscape.
In fact, what Microsoft tried to make compulsory for Xbox One are all existing technologies. DRM, game installation, always online devices and regional locks are all things that exist in a lot of current technological gadgets. However, what Microsoft was trying to do is to put all these restrictions together in one device and make them compulsory requirements for the device to work. Individually as separate requirements they are not as taunting, but when being put together in one device and made it a compulsory requirement, Microsoft has effectively alienated most of its customers.
Firstly the always online aspect of Xbox One was not practical especially when you consider that people might go on holiday or may bring their consoles to other localities. Microsoft has the misconception that every localities works like US where broadband connection is readily available. However, if you just think of places like smaller towns in Australia, it is not surprising to find that broadband is not a standard way of life for some. This immediately limited the marketability for the console, as the Navy Times pointed out, if staff are on remote duties on out on the sea, that means their console would not work. In that case, there is no point for acquiring the console for entertainment purpose at all.
Then we have the digital right management aspect that requires games to be installed to work and the option of publishers to restrict reselling of game discs. The issue of second hand sales has been in the press for a very long time. It is a looming beast at the back of every gamer’s backyard. However, Microsoft’s move to implement restrictive DRM on Xbox One had brought the beast into the light as a full scale attack on its consumers. For consumers, when they bought a game for like $60 (in Australia, it costs AUD$100 for a AAA title), they would want to see this as their own property, not something they “rent” from the publishers, or they need to seek the publishers’ approval for transfer of ownership. Microsoft, though trying to not commit outright had shown that they are on the side of the publisher when they built that DRM functionality into Xbox One. During the week, both Sony and Nintendo have come out to talk about their stand on second hand trading and showed that they are on side of the gamers. Nintendo even went further to state that if publishers and developers do not want people to trade in their games, they should just make games people don’t want to trade in. Nintendo backed their statements with figures about the low trade in rate for their own first party games. Both Sony and Nintendo’s view have earned accolades from gamers and garnered further support, which directly alienated Microsoft further in this area.
Regional lock is something that has been around for a long time. PS3 is the first console to do away with it allowing gamers to import games from any region without restriction (apart from DLCs, which only work for games of designated regions because of the picture system it uses e.g. PAL vs NTSC). Wii U still has regional lock, which, in most gamers’ view is ridiculous but PS4 doesn’t have it. So, why regional lock became an issue with Xbox One? This is probably due to the fact that it is competing directly with PS4 (to be honest most gamers, even Nintendo, do not see Wii U as a competing console against PS4 or Xbox One). So when PS4 maintains a no region restriction on its console, this restriction unfortunately became oil on fire for Xbox One.
All in all, it is a very positive move for Microsoft to announce these changes after all the backfires they received from their bullish publicity in the last week or so. However, what I see is crucial in this whole saga is that consumer could definitely change the market landscape if they unite and move forward against corporate greed. This is not a storm in a teacup but a major win from general consumers who have been wrestled by force by major corporations for years, especially in the area of digital entertainment. Hopefully corporations would learn from this lesson to not take their bread and butter customers for granted, and consumers would learn that if they unite together and post a strong front, they could win battles against big corporations.