Microsoft's U Turn – Why Now?


Dammit Microsoft. I’d had a piece prepped and ready to go for the site today since E3 last week. It even mentioned shooting themselves in both feet in the title. But now, I’ve had to scrap that and write this. Which isn’t the best of timings, for a number of different reasons. Anyway, on with it.

Microsoft have scrapped their overly complicated, difficult to explain systems for DRM, used games, game sharing, reselling, and everything inbetween. I’ll reiterate that. The company that said their policies were “locked in place” and “not going anywhere” have succumbed to the enormous public backlash and dropped everything, completely reversing their stance on the subject. It is, quite simply, the biggest flip-flop since Andre the Giant decided to pay Blackpool a visit.

I’m sure the decision was not taken lightly, given the rhetoric spouted by Don Mattrick about their “vision of the future of Xbox”, and having the “Infinite power of the cloud” in a huge number of developer statements so far, it seems that Microsoft have an awful lot of pride to swallow. The policy states that the console will not require an internet connection after an initial setup. The size of this U Turn is simply shocking. I didn’t expect this, especially after Microsoft spent the best part of E3 attempting to clear things up with the games press, who then attempted to pass that on to their readers.

Was this a reaction to Sony? Definitely. Was it a reaction to their customers’ outcry? I’m sorry to say but I don’t think it was. I think Microsoft saw the reaction that Sony got from their press conference and immediately had to have a rethink. The thought that Microsoft had in the first place that their original plans could be implemented struck almost everyone as incredibly arrogant, and it was the attitude of a company who didn’t want to listen to their consumers. I would hazard a guess that this decision is a result of muted pre-orders resulting from the fall out of E3. The words of Don Mattrick were not those of a man who was in touch with his users in the immediate aftermath of E3. (The prime quote being “If you want an offline device, buy a 360”. The only logical explanation to my mind is that there is a deep seated financial reason for this to have happened. How have the publishers taken the news? Conflicting sets of rumours had you believe that it was either Microsoft’s decision or the publishers’, with both camps seemingly passing the blame to each other. And of course, there is the “Infinite power of the Cloud” spiel that I referred to earlier. What does this policy mean for those games? My personal view (and call me a cynic if you must) is that this was merely a way of ensuring an online connection even when one wasn’t necessarily needed. I expressed my annoyance with “The Cloud” on this week’s podcast, and it has been the worst buzzword of E3 this year… Aside from “second screen”, maybe.

Of course, this also means that some of the other policies have changed. If you were excited about the (really rather cool) feature of playing games without needing discs in the drive, that’s going away now. If you were looking forward to the (equally cool but never-fully-explained) “Family Sharing” plan, then these have both gone away. It would appear that these are the unfortunate victims of the “24 hour check in” requirement, but frustratingly, these benefits were never made explicitly clear by Microsoft in the first place. There was so much confusion surrounding their policies at E3 that a number of folk took to the internet to attempt to decode them, and it prompted Sony’s “How to share a game on PS4” video to appear online whilst their press conference was on the go. I am absolutely staggered at the timing of this announcement, and really can’t come up with a sensible reason for it other than the one I’ve listed above.

It goes to show that there was a fundamental misunderstanding from Microsoft regarding their audience. The messaging was horrible, and ultimately they made a mistake. Despite not admitting it explicitly, they’ve changed their policies for whatever reason. The Xbox One will be the same as the PS4 with regard to used games, game lending and region-free gaming. After the colossal arrogance and hubris from them, this could well be a humbling experience for the company who appeared to have thrown it all away in one go. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, I’ve seen a lot of comments regarding the trust that Microsoft have lost with a number of gamers. There was a comment from Larry Hryb (Major Nelson) in an interview recently where he said that the online side of the console couldn’t be turned off, and that the console was designed around it. Of course, there’s Mattrick’s outlandish statements as well, which have all contributed to what has to be the most mishandled console launch ever. I don’t think that even Sony were this confused with the PS3’s launch.

This is welcome news, though. It certainly sparks the console war up again, and Microsoft have seemingly snatched something from the jaws of utter capitulation. Personally, I think £429 is too much for launch (The PS3’s £425 price point was much ridiculed, and despite inflation, it’s still very high), and there aren’t enough games to convince me just yet. Titanfall looks to be the best title on the system for now, but I’m half tempted to build a semi-decent PC rig for a similar price and gorge myself on the Steam Sales as well as picking up Respawn’s new epic. Still, the Xbox One has become a more appealing prospect than trapping my hand in a car door, and that’s something that I didn’t think I’d be saying on Wednesday morning.

Has this changed anyone’s decisions on the Xbox One? Are there still any concerns? Has anyone changed their pre-order from a PS4, or has the damage already been done? Let me know below!

Editor-In-Chief - NGB. Started writing for NGB in 2013, 3 years later I was running the show. I love what we do here, if you want to get involved, get in touch! PSN/Xbox LIVE/Steam - Winstano


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