Jun 192013


Microsoft today reversed their highly-defended position of daily check-ins and severely restrictive used games policies on the Xbox One today. Over the past few weeks, Microsoft has been getting pummeled on several fronts. Probably the most famous among my fellow gamers is the thrashing that was delivered by Sony during E3.  However, mainstream USA got a hint of the various DRM issues courtesy of Jimmy Fallon last night.  Microsoft also earned criticism from United States Naval Flight Officer, Jay Johnson, who said in an article from Gamasutra that “Microsoft has single handedly alienated the entire military, and not just the U.S. military, the militaries of the entire world.”

In response, Microsoft released a statement today saying that they are reversing the incredibly restrictive, draconian functionality that would have been built into the Xbox One:

  • An Internet connection will no longer be required to play offline games. This reverses their original (and highly defended) policy of requiring the console to phone home once every 24 hours or all games (online and offline) would stop working. Instead, the console needs to be connected to the Internet once during the initial setup and that’s it.
  • Disc-based games can now be given, traded, or lent to someone else. This reverses their assault on the used games market that specified that a game could only be traded once, and that’s it.

Those two policies were (rightfully so) critically ravaged by both gamers and the gaming press for being too oppressive and anti-consumer. Also reversed was the original policy that Xbox One consoles would be region-locked, preventing gamers from playing games that were released in a different country.

This reversal was cheered by gamers even though some new functionalities were removed as a result. Sharing games on separate consoles among family members  is no longer going to be available nor will the ability to play a game that was delivered on a physical disc without having the disc in the drive.  (The people who complain about the latter do nothing but highlight their laziness, as far as I’m concerned.  Are you seriously that lazy to get up, and move a disc five feet from the shelf it was on to the disc tray?)

Unfortunately, what people seem to have already forgotten is that Microsoft thought that the now-removed DRM functions were good ideas. They spent countless hours with engineers, managers, public relations, and definitely with corporate heads of companies like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts. There is no way that they could not have known that these policies would set off a fire storm, but they proceeded anyway. Even after their lashing at E3, Microsoft’s Don Mattrick very arrogantly defended the 24-hour check in requirement by saying “we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity and it’s called Xbox 360”.  The smugness in that statement is palpable.

For the record, I own all of the current-gen consoles and by far my 360 is my favorite. My 360 has at least four times as many titles as my PS3. I’ve put in a ridiculous amount of hours on my 360, such as with the entire Assassins Creed series, while my PS3 sat unused. I very much prefer the 360 controller over the Sixaxis. It’s far more comfortable to hold and the concave tops of the analog sticks give me a greater feeling of control than the convex tops of the Sixaxis analog sticks. Finally, I think that the PlayStation interface (XMB) is utterly horrendous and horrible to work with. The 360 interface isn’t perfect, but it’s brighter and easier to navigate. So, in just about all ways that matter I prefer my 360 far more than my PS3. (That said, I prefer my PC over all of them because it’s even more powerful than either the Xbox One or PS4.)

But regardless of how much I prefer Xbox 360, my love for that console cannot counteract my disgust for Microsoft’s in-your-face arrogance and show of disgust for the consumer during the past few weeks.

Everything that Microsoft has done proves that they believe in this draconian DRM. They announced it with a harsh backlash from gamers; they repeatedly attempted to justify the restrictions; they continually whitewashed the horrendous used games policy by trying to push the responsibility on the game publishers;  and they threw the proverbial finger at those without a good Internet connection (like those in the military who are serving overseas) by saying that such people have to “deal with it“.

What happened today is not a victory; it is only a retreat. Microsoft will regroup. When millions of the Xbox Ones are sold to the apologists and the people who hate physical media, only then will Microsoft make an announcement that this type of anti-consumer DRM will return. Surely, it will come in stages and it will be subtle at the beginning. But much like we’re seeing with other freedoms in America the powers that be will keep chipping away so slowly that people won’t see the end result until it’s too late.

Microsoft wants this DRM in ways that they will never admit. They will find ways to bring it back. They will be far more devious in doing it than you think. Anyone who suddenly decides to buy an Xbox One because of this sudden reversal is is a fool, because the DRM will come back as soon as Microsoft thinks that they can get away with it.

(At least those who are dismayed at today’s reversal can take heart that the Kinect can still watch you and listen to you 24/7!)