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.
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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.