Microsoft’s Changing Policies Show Lack of Xbox One Conviction

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It’s been a season of reversals for Microsoft and the Xbox One. As the company struggles with negative fan reaction to policies and features on its next-gen machine, a number of the more problematic issues with the Xbox One have been rolled back — much to many potential players’ delight.

And yet, this past week at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, Sony took the opportunity to jab at Microsoft yet again. “While others have shifted their message, and changed their story, we were consistent in maintaining policies, and a model that is fair, and in tune with consumer desires,” Sony Computer Entertainment President and CEO Andrew House said during Sony’s huge press conference.

Sony has taken the opportunity to rag on Microsoft quite a few times since both next-generation consoles were announced months ago. First, it was picking on Microsoft for its consumer-unfriendly policies like taking away the ability to share games, and there have been subtle responses throughout that time in which Sony acts as if policies adopted by Microsoft have been the ideas of crazy people. But Microsoft has rolled back all of the most restrictive, painful issues with the Xbox One: Its online requirement is gone; its Kinect requirement is gone; its account-locked, anti-lending, anti-resale DRM is gone.

Those are all extremely positive changes born out of player reaction to policies they didn’t like. Of course, Sony is going to take whatever jabs it can, whenever it can, but I can’t help but have some feeling stirred up by House’s quote. Microsoft has taken flack about everything it’s done with the Xbox One, and now it’s taking flack for fixing stuff, too?

But yes, it is, and maybe Microsoft deserves it. Ever since the abandoning of the Kinect as a requirement for the Xbox One’s hardware to work, I’ve had a strange sinking feeling about the console. As a player, I had serious misgivings about all of the policies mentioned above, and Microsoft has changed literally everything that gave me pause about its console (except maybe the price). I should be thrilled. Elated. Ecstatic. As a fan of Xbox since its first inception, this is all great news for me.

But all these fast-shifting policies have to make one wonder about all the things Microsoft has said about its console and its plans for the future. They certainly show a serious lack of conviction on Microsoft’s part.

A Spiffed-Up Xbox 360, with a New Name

The reason House was able to poke fun at its rival despite it making positive changes in response to consumer feedback is because those changes come off as waffling, cowardly retreats, not reasoned alterations made to make sure Microsoft puts players first

The trouble with Microsoft isn’t that it reversed its irksome policies — that’s actually great. But the atmosphere surrounding those changes has been rather worrisome for anyone seriously interested in the next generation of game consoles, and in Xbox One in particular. The reason House was able to poke fun at its rival despite it making positive changes in response to consumer feedback is because those changes come off as waffling, cowardly retreats, not reasoned alterations made to make sure Microsoft puts players first.

Think back to the original Xbox One announcement, and you’ll likely remember broad, sweeping statements from Microsoft executives about the future of gaming, and the importance and power of the features that went into the console. Despite its problems, it excelled in being clearly different than the Playstation 4, and Microsoft had something that was intoxicating: vision. A plan for what it wanted Xbox One to be, where it saw games going, and how it was going to push technology, design and function to get there.

But when we left E3 2013 this year, Sony had come out of its corner swinging away at Xbox One’s less-friendly policies. It was, truly, a devastating attack on Sony’s part, and even if you believe the company when it says its plans had been firmly in place long before Xbox One’s announcement, Sony still had only to not do what Microsoft did in order to come out looking like a champion.

At the time, I expected Microsoft would be reversing its unpopular policies, but not until after a few months had passed, during which time I expected the company to shore up its message and make a push to explain why those policies were important to its vision. I was wrong, though — Microsoft barely waited a week to start backing off the things people hated. It was shockingly fast, and since then, Microsoft hasn’t relented in quickly undoing the things that it started out by saying were absolutely essential to the console it wanted to create, and the experience it was meaning to sell to players.

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7 Comments on Microsoft’s Changing Policies Show Lack of Xbox One Conviction


On August 28, 2013 at 7:31 pm

It makes you wonder if anyone actually planned this out or prepared for the disagreements, or they just winged it the entire time.


On August 28, 2013 at 8:41 pm

I think Phil has a point. If MS truly believed that what it was doing was somehow beneficial to the future of gaming in some meaningful way, it would have carried on with the policies and attempted to explain the reasoning behind unpopular policies. However, telling the potential customers to “deal with it” and changing only after it was clear that Sony was making major leaps in public opinion makes it pretty obvious the company was primarily focused on increasing its own control over gamers rather than providing benefit to the customers.

Speaking strictly from my own experience so far, it seems like the damage is done, anyway. Some of my friends were devout 360 players, but now they plan on getting PS4s, even though they are well awar of the changes MS has made. I don’t think that blind loyalty is nearly as pervasive as MS, or people like Cliffy B, believe.


On August 29, 2013 at 2:56 am

Agree completely with Phil and RJ. Microsoft claims to have been 100% behind what they were doing and how it was going to force gaming into the present. Major Nelson also admitted they knew they’d take a hit at launch but knew they had enough loyal supporters who’d just accept and buy anything they put out and that after a few months or maybe years the people left behind would either realise how good it was, or would relent and get one anyway at a lower price point.

This does not sound like a company that gives a damn what its customers want – it sounds like a company that actually has a deep-seated contempt for its own audience and was going to try to MAKE people like it. So it’s amazing how readily they’ve been willing to renege on these supposedly crucial, sophisticated policies that are so important to the industry and far beyond the comprehension of the plebs. It’s almost as if their whole marketing was completely passionless PR spin to disguise the fact that they just wanted to make as much money as possible however they could. It says a lot that there is actually a pretty strong contingent now of people who thing Microsoft engineered this deliberately knowing they’d have to reverse many of their choices so that they’d look like they cared about customer satisfaction while Sony didn’t, but I think that’s giving Microsoft way too much credit. They’re just spineless, out-of-touch suits with no idea of what their audience wants.

See, the people advocating Microsoft’s bullishness seem to be ignoring that many of us aren’t opposed to online play, downloadable titles, Kinect, or even DRM in some cases. What we don’t want is to have no options and no alternatives. Download media should never be a REPLACEMENT for physical media, it should compliment it. Gamers shouldn’t be FORCED to go online every single day, nor should it be assumed that everyone with an Xbox One has internet functionality that can even practically support daily use. Gamers want to be able to sell their games when they’ve finished them or take them round a friend’s house without having to piss about with convoluted copyright bullmuck. Not everyone wants to use Kinect, or at least not be bound to it. But more than any of this, it’s been Microsoft’s phenomenally conceited stance that gamers who oppose their policies are just too ill-educated and too immature to understand them that has alienated people, same as BioWare in the last few years and same as Microsoft themselves with the criticism of Windows 8.

Nobody’s suggesting that Microsoft should cater to everything people suggest (it would be almost impossible to separate signal from noise and the final product would be a compromised vision), but when you’re promoting is as universally reviled as Xbox One has been since its announcement, and the same set of very focused points are being raised again and again, that’s a clear message that your product is failing to deliver on the desires and the requirements of your core audience – and that is NOT, and never has been, the audience’s fault. It’s yours.


On August 29, 2013 at 7:54 am

This is what happens when a company in the games industry is run by CEO’s that do not actually play games.

Taking the best financial solution before practical is a sure fire way of creating a product no one wants. They can backtrack all they want, but it is too late now.


On August 29, 2013 at 9:35 am

I don’t even know what the Xbox One will be at this point when it comes out. MS originally said they didn’t aim for the highest performance hardware because it was meant to be a media center, no one liked what they were saying, so the last few months they’ve been trying to spin up the hardware power angle again (using a Hot Chips panel as PR to try and spin up your customer base seems especially disingenuous).

Add to that the fact that launch has been scaled back to 13 countries due to “localization issues” and now they’ve said that only 5 of those countries will have voice localization. I get the feeling the XBO is looking at a shorter lifespan than the 360 at this point from a technology standpoint, the shortcuts they’ve taken to get the system out at $500 with a CPU driven Kinect in the box is going to really start rearing it’s head 2-3 years from now.


On August 29, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Phil, looking back at E3 with the benefit of hindsight, it looks like MS had already decided to reverse its online policies before the press conference. Notice how they canceled the exec interviews: there was no point in explaining their policies because they were finalizing their changes at that very minute.

As for “conviction,” you’ve no doubt seen the vitriol on the internet. In addition to what I suspect to be differences in views among the execs regarding online policies, you also have to account for what the higher ups think of the bad publicity, and (of course) the customers. With that in perspective, I really don’t think conviction plays much of a role. While I don’t think it would have been figurative suicide for them to stick with original plans (I actually liked them, mostly), it would’ve been a long road for the Xbox execs to fight their bosses as well as public opinion, and I really do think the Xbox team wants to provide a great experience. If reverting to the status quo is really want the public wants (and sadly, it appears it does), well, I don’t blame them for doing so.


On September 1, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Lack of creative vision, mercenary sensibility. Yep. Sounds like typical corporate bull to me.