Microsoft’s (Reluctant) Changes to Xbox One Could Save It

By now, you’ve heard that Microsoft has relented on the absurd prohibition against Indie developers who lack a major publisher. After a growing number of complaints about the restriction that led more than one high profile indie developer to angrily denounce Xbox One (never mind constantly looking bad compared to Sony, its chief console rival), the company has finally seen reason. Xbox One will be a home for indie developers after all.

But that it had to see reason at all is a problem, and it provokes a serious question. Just what the hell was Microsoft using for guidance as it developed the Xbox One?

It’s unlikely we’ll ever know for certain, but we can effectively rule out market research or consumer feedback of any kind. From the beginning, Xbox One seems to have been designed to be precisely the opposite of what its potential customers would actually want to purchase.

Today’s news is only the latest about-face for Microsoft in a summer filled with PR disasters and intense criticism. As none of you have forgotten, the company previously backed down entirely on Xbox One’s onerous DRM and user restrictions. But that only happened after a series of needless humiliations it could have avoided.

First, Adam Orth’s painfully obtuse “deal with it” response to complaints about rumors – which later turned out to be true – that the console would be a crummy deal for consumers led to Orth’s (almost certainly forced) resignation. Next was Sony’s truly entertaining face-slap to Microsoft at E3 2013. Sony announced that PS4 would have no DRM and no restrictions on the ability to freely trade games. This was immediately followed by an absolutely brutal mockery of Xbox One.

If that wasn’t bad enough, former President of the Interactive Business Don Mattrick offered a tone-deaf response when asked what people who could not access the Internet, such as overseas military personnel, were supposed to do if they bought an Xbox One. “Fortunately, we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity” Mattrick’s glib response went. “It’s called Xbox 360.” That response prompted The Navy Times to blast Microsoft for committing “a sin” against armed forces members. Mattrick’s departure from Microsoft has been presented by all parties as amicable and inevitable, though one can be forgiven for assuming, as I do, that it was related to that serious PR blunder. But whatever the reasons behind it, Xbox One’s problems were probably bigger than the Xbox division itself.

Consider that after reversing course on DRM and user restrictions, Microsoft also said it was forced to remove some of Xbox One’s more interesting features, among them the ability to access your games from any Xbox One console, and the ability to digitally share your titles. This kind of one step forward, two steps back approach continues today, as it was also confirmed that the dev kit functionality won’t be available at launch.

Cynical observers might assume this is petulance on Microsoft’s part. That it only deactivated the digital sharing features to spite the people who complained about DRM so loudly it had no choice to listen, that any delay in making Xbox One a self-publishing forum for indie devs is similarly bitter. But that sounds exactly wrong to me. What I think we’re seeing isn’t the actions of a company locked in its bedroom, listening to Smiths albums at top volume. It suggests that Microsoft, from the beginning, had no idea at all that any of these features, or lack thereof, would present a problem of any kind.

By all appearances, Microsoft is a company whose industry dominance at this point is probably a matter of size and precedent, rather than actual power. (I’ll leave it to you to compare this to real world nation-state analogues.) The latest stock report provides particularly brutal evidence of that. The company has for almost a decade chased desperately after its competitors, while at the same time, making particularly odd decisions that seem designed to ensure it will do so forever. Take its decision to kill the highly buzzed-about Courier tablet. That tablet was in development well before Apple unveiled its iPad, and could have positioned the company to dominate in the mobile friendly era. Instead, they’re scrambling to sell Surface tablets, and failing.

A company that big tends to have a culture dominated by its past, and by people who are intimately connected to it. And Microsoft has that in abundance. The new head of the Xbox Division, Julie Larson-Green, has been with the company for 20 years. And current CEO Steve Ballmer has been with the company since 1980. These are people with colossal achievements on their resume, but who have really only ever known what Microsoft does, not necessarily what it should do.

Maybe that’s why every reversal of Xbox One-related policies has the feeling of a company that is only slowly, and grudgingly, accepting that it cannot yell at its customers until they do what it would like.

We might be annoyed by Microsoft’s laughable claim, when confirming the switch on indie developers, that “Our vision is that every person can be a creator. That every Xbox One can be used for development.” We know this isn’t true, or else this functionality would have been built into the console from the start. But we can, at least, observe that we’re seeing, in real time, the company paying attention to its consumers for the first time in over a decade.

Which means we can probably look forward to the announcement of a Kinect-free Xbox One before November, no matter how strongly the company denies it.

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15 Comments on Microsoft’s (Reluctant) Changes to Xbox One Could Save It

R.J.

On July 24, 2013 at 5:21 pm

It is pretty obvious that MS is slowly realizing that it can’t rely on past success to result in future success. It’s at least good that they seem to finally realize they can’t shrug off companies like Apple or Sony anymore. The company is slowly changing it’s completely stupid ideas regarding things like DRM for the Xbox because it was pretty clear that things like that piled on top of the price difference were going to make things rough when the system launches. I’ll be curious to see if they end up dropping the price down as well since they can’t completely rely on people to automatically get a One just because they have a 360.

Sharkey

On July 24, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Yep, totally expecting the Kinect-free announcement in the coming weeks, that’s the big one for me to even consider getting an Xbox One. I’m still getting a PS4 at launch as Sony has clearly shown they know what they’re doing, while MS is simply following in their footsteps to right their many, MANY wrongs…

fethski

On July 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm

My guess is they were banking on brand loyalty when this all started and when they saw the initial preorder numbers they realized maybe the brand loyalty wasn’t as strong as they thought. MS was so gung-ho when the XB1 was first announced, but after seeing all the backtracking they’ve done their policies I just wonder how could they be so wrong about what the consumers wanted and were willing to accept? Does anyone know of any kind of launch that was as big a cluster as the XB1 has been?

At this point MS now as to come out with a Kinect-free version before I even consider getting oen.

Swcloud99

On July 24, 2013 at 6:59 pm

What they need to do is to change the name.
Xbox One is now affiliated in the minds of a lot of people who don’t follow gaming sites like we do with a lot of the negative publicity it got.
Call it something else and re-announce it as a new product and some people won’t know better.

quicktooth

On July 24, 2013 at 9:20 pm

The fascinating thing for me, is that Microsoft IS backpedaling on all these issues at all. I’m sort of impressed that among all the various maniacs in this world (not least of whom must surely be the United States with it’s constant threats to the world to commit global suicide), Microsoft is *actually* starting to do things that aren’t self-defeating. It might just be in technology, but at least there’s *some* ray of hope. Maybe even the US will seek some kind of society-wide therapy someday? One can only hope. In the mean time, this console generation is looking better all the time :) .

Mr Flibble

On July 24, 2013 at 10:08 pm

The Window for Microsoft to strike a chord with their consumers is long gone. Back peddling on every single decision they made, knowing full well how their consumers felt about them, doesn’t show a concern for our interests but instead shows a concern for their financial stability. The only way the XBone is going to save itself is by going back in time and undoing the bonehead decision they made in the past.

Microsoft programming backdoors into existing chat programs to provide certain government agencies unhindered access to all public communications carried out through that medium basically guarantees that any consumer even remotely conscious of the current reality of the world will not buy an XBone unless the Kinect is no longer mandatory.

Ricky Merchant

On July 25, 2013 at 2:51 am

Microsoft, much like BioWare with ME3 and Treyarch with the Nuketown map, were banking on the majority of the fanbase being completely impassive, relenting, obedient punchbags who would be ‘grateful’ for anything they paid for even if it wasn’t in their best interests or wasn’t what they were told they’d receive and attack those who actually felt like they shouldn’t be treated like the lowest level of unthinking spastics in the entire universe. As with the other two examples, they quickly realised that they had grossly exaggerated the audience’s desire to be screwed up the rear end with a splintered broom while being charged for the privilege. There’s only so long you can hide behind your cheerleaders in the mainstream outlets, eventually you have to answer to the people who are actually expected to pay to play your games.

Do NOT forget how Microsoft tried to rape us with this. These changes are NOT consumer-based any more than those of BioWare or Treyarch last year. They are damage limitation from a company so far removed from what people actually want that it’s frightening they still have any authority in the industry.

Axetwin

On July 25, 2013 at 7:53 am

@ Ricky – As much as Bioware might deny it (mainly because they have to), everyone knows EA was behind the dumbing down of the ME franchise.

Kosten07

On July 25, 2013 at 9:17 am

Hey Ross,

I too have wondered what’s going on with Microsoft and just WHO is making the decisions there. I’m surprised haven’t heard anyone who’s talking about the XBone bring up the fiasco Windows 8 has been. Microsoft was forced to patch Windows 8 to try to salvage it’s very poor sales. It seemed that Microsoft had to be drug kicking and screaming to do so. This same scenario seems eerily similar. What IS going on over at Microsoft? Personally I believe it’s a sort of arrogance that comes with big companies that think “we know whats right” (I’m looking at you to EA) and this sort of arrogance has backed fired. It also seems grossly out of touch.

I would love to read a book from an insiders perspective to find out just who or groups of who at Microsoft seem to be destroying the company.

Ricky Merchant

On July 25, 2013 at 9:22 am

@Axetwin – but it was still Hudson and Walters who made the call to write the ending themselves with no input from the rest of the team, and it was them along with Merizan and Gamble who spent months trying to make out the majority enjoyed it and that it was the audience’s fault for not understanding nuance rather than a blatant consumer failure. Not to mention there was never any apology for it or for the From Ashes DLC which was obviously held off the disk for no reason other than to make more money on top of a full-priced, unfinished game.

Even if EA was behind the dumbing down of the series as a whole, members of BioWare’s staff have tried to pass the buck onto the customer, so it’s not fair to suggest it’s entirely EA’s fault. BioWare has been compliant in its own downfall.

Judge

On July 25, 2013 at 10:17 am

Ross, why didn’t you just label this article “I hate Microsoft” and then write nothing. In the future please follow this template so no one has to waste 15 minutes reading poorly worded, horribly planned dribble that sums up to nothing but contempt of one man for one company.

Matt

On July 25, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Analogously, I’m filled with glee the few times a year I’m at the Mall of America and walk by the Microsoft store, which is literally across the walkway from the Apple store. MS made that bold move a few years ago, and despite the fact that this strip of mall looks like a cartoon in which a rival business has customers pouring out of its doors, they refuse to break lease. They would rather defend their positions, which seem to be based on the desires of a few people in the company rather than actual market research. So, if nothing else, we can at least get a good laugh out of them while this whole thing continues to unravel.

gggggggggggg

On July 25, 2013 at 10:15 pm

They arnt going to remove one of the best things about the console. Kinect is Xbox One, and Xbox One is Kinect. Get over it. This is an extremely stupid and biased report.

Clock Face

On July 26, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Oh dear, the trolls are out in force this evening.

The irony is that Judge actually has half a point since Ross’s neo-liberal bias and unearned sense of self-importance in everything he posts (including ‘news’ reports, where it’s simply not justifiable at all) have become common criticisms lately on this site, but on this occasion it’s labelled as an opinion piece so he’s within his right to give his opinion. And no, he doesn’t hate Microsoft – in fact, if anything, he’s being far too lenient on them by suggesting that they’ve done an effective job of damage limitation.

As for ‘gggggggg’s instructions to “get over it,” there’s no response necessary other than the overwhelmingly negative response of the consumer base. It’s already resulted in Microsoft removing their asinine always-online, DRM, and anti-indie development policies. It may not result in the removal of Kinect but to say it’s not a distinct possibility is pretty short-sighted. Not to mention he claims it’s synonymous with Xbox One but doesn’t explain why, and I’ve certainly seen and heard nothing to back this up at all. Xbox One was also synonymous with all of the aforementioned things I’ve mentioned that Microsoft has already backtracked on.

Sorry fantoys, you’re going to have to do better than this. It is, counter-intuitively, the people forcing Microsoft to change their ways and holding them to account that are actually giving them half a chance of staying competitive with Sony in the next cycle.

geter

On July 27, 2013 at 11:59 pm

i think play station 4 is better than xbox one….
this is sth