Xbox One: Going down in a blaze of pity

You know that middle school prank where everyone agrees to drop their books on the floor at 2 PM, and when the time comes, that one kid who didn’t know it was a joke throws their books down and gets yelled at by the teacher?

I think that’s pretty much what’s happening to Microsoft right now.

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To be fair, a lot of people DO want to throw the Xbox One on the floor.

The longer the unveiling process for the Xbox One goes on, the less it actually feels like an unveiling. It’s more like a parody of how to release a new console. If this wasn’t actually happening, and I wrote these events down on a piece of paper and tried to sell them as fiction, no one would buy my story because it would seem too unrealistic.

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About a week ago, Microsoft announced some pretty major changes to how the up-and-coming Xbox One operates. To summarize the main highlights of the reversal…

  • No more online babysitting: The once-every-24-hours check-in feature is now gone. You do have to make a one-time connection when you first activate the system, but as I understand it, this is to download a patch that disables the internet nanny cam. (This does not, however, stop individual publishers from requiring internet connections.)
  • No more restrictions on used games: Xbox One will now be able to operate used games in pretty much the same way that the PS4 Xbox 360 does already. Disc-based games will not be tied to a single console, and can be shared with friends as many times as the buyer chooses. However, it seems Microsoft got a bit overzealous in their surrender, because…
  • No more trade-ins for digital games, either: For reasons I still haven’t fathomed, the ability to trade in digital copies of games in exchange for currency toward other digital games has also been nixed. This is the one idea that I thought Microsoft had actually gotten right, because that IS a major flaw with digital gaming, and it could’ve potentially compelled gamers to buy more non-disc games.
  • No more “Family Share Plan”: A lot of people have been upset about this, but a leak from a Microsoft employee revealed that this plan was little more than a glorified demo service.

Possibly even more surprising is what Microsoft didn’t change. Much of the negative feedback has focused around the potential spying capabilities of the Kinect, but even after the U-turn announced last Wednesday, the Kinect’s policies remain untouched.

These changes go against the core design of the console itself, which has been in development for the last four years. Why would a major computer corporation do such a sharp detour away from their plans when the release date is only months away? According to Microsoft, it’s because of the gamers.

Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.

This, however, flies in the face of all available logic.

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It’s important to note that many of the features that the Xbox One has been pushing for, such as online check-ins and restricting game discs to a single console, have been floating around the webberverse for months prior to the console’s official unveiling, and even in those early days there was a lot of recoil. When Microsoft did their reveal conference on 5/21/13, the rumors were substantiated, and the dissent got much louder and more forceful. By the time E3 rolled around, the gaming community had given Microsoft so much resistant feedback that I don’t believe for a second that they didn’t grasp the discontent among their potential buyers. In spite of this, the Xbox One was featured in the E3 showcase with the same game plan as ever — and then a week later, Microsoft announces a grotesque amount of backpedaling.

As much as it’d be nice to think so, I really doubt the fans are the reason for this abrupt change. Microsoft chucked aside the complaints and criticisms of the gaming community for months while they continued to steamroll forward with their plans. They even stuck to the plan in the face of Wii U sales jumping 875% on Amazon UK and Sony’s stock rising 9% following the May unveiling. If that’s not a clear message that customers are dissatisfied and looking to the competition for something better, I don’t know what is, but it still fell on deaf ears.

What changed the game was E3. I began with that analogy about the middle school prank for a reason; my personal hunch is that Microsoft believed that Sony would ultimately be on the same side of the fence as themselves, since the common rhetoric is that used game sales are the demon of the gaming industry. Even if Sony didn’t have similar policies already set up, Microsoft may have believed that they’d institute similar ones later after the road had been paved. With that sort of mindset, why wouldn’t Microsoft keep chugging forward with their designs? If Sony followed suit, the gamers wouldn’t be left with an alternative, everyone would eventually quiet down, and both companies would come out of the situation with the stronghold they desired.

However, Sony didn’t follow suit at all; in fact, they completely hopped the fence all together and cozied up to all of the dissatisfied gamers to poke fun at Microsoft alongside of them. Whatever benefit they may have gained from siding with Microsoft’s new ideas was dwarfed in comparison to the positive PR that would be gained from distancing themselves. By championing the cause of listening to their audience, Sony not only bolstered their own image, but they completely humiliated their competition in the process.

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A parody account of Kaz Hirai, President and CEO of Sony, jokes with gamers about Microsoft’s controversial Kinect policy.

Even Nintendo, who abstained from E3 this year, took a shot at Microsoft’s bad attitude. In what was hopefully a moment of poorly thought-out panic, Microsoft then retaliated by sending employees to Nintendo’s Wii U event at Best Buy to trash talk the competition. Not surprisingly, the only reputation they managed to tarnish was their own, plummeting public opinion even further. Whatever strategy the company was trying to employ backfired horrifically, and Microsoft found themselves facing a PR nightmare over what ought to have been their greatest moment of hype.

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What really leaves a bad taste in my mouth about this is that I don’t necessarily think that Microsoft’s reversal was completely outside of their planning process all along. It reads more as a back-up plan that was kept just in case they couldn’t get away with everything they were pushing for. If they were able to get the changes they wanted in place, and the community complained but still accepted them, then Microsoft wins; however, if they see that the plan isn’t working out, they can then claim that they cared enough about the feedback to make the changes, which (theoretically) would improve their image, and Microsoft still wins.

That having been said, if any of this WAS a back-up plan, I don’t think it’s going at all the way they anticipated. Even if they did keep this plan in their back pocket, I don’t think they ever expected to 1) have to use it so quickly after boasting about how cool and futuristic their ideas are, or 2) have to back off to the extreme extent that they have. To make matters worse, Microsoft’s very own Major Nelson has inadvertently ruined their credibility by vehemently denying that such changes could be made at all, let alone in such a short time, just prior to the company doing exactly that.

It all gives off an overwhelming impression of desperation. Microsoft is basically groveling for forgiveness and begging consumers to buy their console. The problem is, this whole fiasco has all but obliterated the company’s reputation with their audience. I respect a person that realizes they’ve made mistakes and makes amends to correct it, but what I don’t respect is someone that’s only apologizing because they aren’t getting what they want without it. Whether Microsoft’s sentiments are genuine or not, it may not matter at this point, because there are undoubtedly a significant portion of buyers that just simply don’t trust them anymore after everything that’s happened in the last couple of months.

If nothing else, there is one thing gamers seem to be taking to heart as a result of all of this: Microsoft’s advice to stick to Xbox 360.

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Xbox One is © Microsoft, PS4 is © Sony, Wii U is © Nintendo, and the Twitter screenshot is ©… … Twitter, I suppose. Or maybe Kaz Hirai. The point is it’s not mine so don’t assault me with legal documents.

What is mine, however, is this article and my text. No touchy.

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About Leedzie

Leda "Leedzie" Clark is a writer and game designer with a sharp eye for detail and a kooky sense of humor. She's been a nerd as long as she can remember, and always seems to notice the wrong thing first in any given situation.

Posted on June 25, 2013, in Analysis, Consoles, Developers, Feature Articles, Journalism, News, Video Games and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. That’s pretty much the shape of it far as I can see. Microsoft thought their new plan was going to be the standard in the future and assumed Sony and Nintendo were going to be on board, but Sony and Nintendo have more sense. They recognize that the economy is shit and that not all players can afford 24/7 internet connections, that secondhand gaming keeps more players in the market by virtue of extending the hobby to people who otherwise might not be able to shell out $59.99 for every new game (but will sometimes because they saved money on lesser titles that they didn’t want rightright then), and that people just don’t like being spied on in general.

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