No, Xbox One’s DRM Reversal Didn’t Doom the Industry
So What Have We Learned?
Again and again, we’ve been told that the all-digital future is inevitable; Microsoft’s entire public justification for the features gamers hated so much is to facilitate that transition. And this view is almost certainly correct, at least in part. Music streaming services like Spotify have become standard in how people consume music (Youtube views are even counted in determining if a song is a hit), and movie streaming services are a huge part of how people watch film, to the point that Netflix is now in the business of original television programming. It is obvious based on the success of Steam that gamers will trend similarly.
But something people keep forgetting is that you can still buy records. You can still by MP3s. You can still by DvDs and Blu-Rays. People have embraced streaming for its convenience, but when they want to shell out real money for the movies and music they love, they spend it on media they can actually own and do with as they please. Presumably no one thinks this is crazy. And yet the future of gaming is widely assumed to be the total abandonment of physical media, a move completely unsupported by past observable consumer behavior.
Honestly, if music and film are any guide, people are still going to want to at least have the option of full ownership. Gamers don’t like digital games because they care about clutter or wish they had more space on their media shelves for books or something. The only thing that makes the digital future sound so cool is the promise of convenience. Instant – or near instant – access to games with an easy point of purchase to facilitate playing the game you want as quickly as possible. Or put another way, record stores aren’t dying because people stopped giving a crap about music, they’re dying because it’s so much easier to visit iTunes or eMusic, where you have limitless ability to search and preview albums before purchase, and can buy the second you feel like it with no lines.
Microsoft didn’t offer any of that, and consumers knew it. What it offered instead was a bum deal in which consumers were forced to surrender their rights in exchange for a slew of bitter inconveniences, inconveniences that were offered up in tones that suggested outright contempt for consumers. People tend not to enjoy signing on for something that looks like it’s going to suck, but they especially tend not to enjoy it when they’re also being mocked and insulted by the people asking them to do it.
Honestly, Microsoft introduced a product with features that everyone hated, and then, when it was made painfully clear that this was going to hurt its bottom line, the company changed course. You might think this dooms the industry, but I happen to think a business that gives the consumers what they want will do just fine. Especially when that industry consistently out-earns the film industry.
We’ll get to that digital future, eventually. And hopefully, when we do, it won’t be something simply imposed on us, but the result of dialogues like the one that just played out with Xbox One. Considering that core gamers are among the earliest adopters of multiple technologies, we needn’t insult them by suggesting they’re afraid of change. They aren’t. They simply did not want what Microsoft was selling. The company therefore made the precisely correct decision and deferred to its customers.
You want to save the industry? That’s the only way to do it.