Well, it happened. Microsoft has done what many predicted was the only thing that could save the Xbox One, and has performed a complete turnaround in its controversial online and game ownership policies.
Causing little but controversy and brand hatred for weeks now, Microsoft’s initial Xbox One plans for regular, mandatory online checks, game authentication and restrictions on trading and lending games have gone the way of the dodo. Yes, the Xbox One will no longer require 24-hour online checks (bar an initial setup connection) and you can trade and lend games just as you do now.
Announced by Don Mattrick via the Xbox website (link below), it’s clear that Microsoft has clearly been beaten into submission by the huge backlash it’s taken, which only escalated by many magnitudes after Sony’s PS4 reveal at E3. This is a very good thing for loyal Xbox fans who felt like their gaming brand of choice was biting the hand that feeds it. However, many will now be asking if this move is too little, too late? Has Microsoft already suffered too much damage, and has Sony already hammered in that last nail?
It’s a question that will, of course, only be answered in time, and sales figures will be the only way to really tell, but already gamers around the Internet are divided, with a large portion still sticking to their guns, planning to jump ship to Sony. Is this fair, though, and should Microsoft be given a second chance?
With the new announcement, the battle of the consoles is now where it should have been in the first place, and that’s with the capabilities, features and performance of each unit. The choices made by gamers planning to buy a next gen console will be made by deciding which machine is technically better, and which will have the best games, not whether or not they can trade in games or have to be online all the time. This is good, and Microsoft has certainly restored the balance in that regard, but you can’t ignore the fact that the changed policies weren’t the only thing people were concerned with.
The Xbox One’s reliance on the new Kinect sensor is another major issue people have with the unit, with conspiracy theorists insisting it’s an invasion of privacy and that big brother will be watching, whilst other, more down to Earth minds simply think that forcing people to use Kinect is just plain irritating.
No matter how advanced Kinect may be, there’s going to be no pleasing those that really couldn’t care about the tech. After all, if all you want to do is sit down and play your favourite racer, who cares if Kinect can make your spine into an analog stick? You might just want to relax and play.
Assuming such input is always optional, there’s no real problem with this, and motion control will be a take it or leave it thing for most, as long as Microsoft lays off the Kinect-only titles and gives those who don’t want to waggle their body parts like a loon the option of using a gamepad-only control method. If this is the case, then Kinect becomes more of an added feature, which is what a good portion of serious gamers believe it should be.
The Xbox One’s multimedia focus is another area where Microsoft has taken flak, and it could also be where the console still faces stiff resistance. Sony has been very keen to promote the PS4 as a gaming-centric device, with multimedia capabilities. The Xbox One, on the other hand, is clearly an all-in-one entertainment device, and Microsoft is keen to push it as such. It’s a device for everyone, not just the gamer.
Now, I should make one thing clear, this doesn’t by any means reflect the Xbox One’s gaming performance, and in this regard the system shouldn’t be doubted. Only with time and hands-on experience will we know which of the two consoles is the better gaming platform, but the initial focus on gaming is going to be one of the things potential buyers will consider. It’s unavoidable.
If you’re a full-on gamer looking for a next-gen gaming platform (and would rather stick with consoles) then you’re going to go for the one that appears to embrace the media as a priority. The Xbox One, at this time, isn’t as focused, and many see the PS4 as the most gaming-friendly route. This may or may not be factually correct, but there’s a lot to be said for first impressions, and few could deny that Microsoft’s Xbox One launch could have gone down far better with gamers. Before the troublesome policies were even announced, whole swathes of the gaming community hastily proclaimed their unhappiness with the console’s all-in-one ethos, and that’s not going to magically disappear.
First It Giveth
In attempting to resolve the people’s issues with the Xbox One, Microsoft has also created some new problems. Along with the announcement about policy reversal, it’s also been revealed that features many found attractive have been ditched. For example, the ability to share your games with up to ten family members has been removed, as games are no longer required to be stored online, and you can no longer play games at a friend’s house without the disc.
These are both moves that, to be fair, are understandable, but already critics are calling Microsoft out, saying such measures are sour grapes. If Microsoft didn’t agree with the saying ‘you can’t please everyone’, it most certainly does now, and the debate about the loss of such features, and the ‘real’ reasons for the this will continue in forums all over the web.
In the end the decision will most likely be to recoup some of the lost revenue caused by the policy change, pure and simple. Now that people can trade-in games and lend them, Microsoft benefits very little from the culled features, and once again loses out on some income due to the pre-owned process. So, it makes it economic sense to remove these features. After all, regardless of how much Microsoft may want to provide players with the best possible experience, it’s also a company out to make money, just like Sony and any other.
Of course, speaking of money, another measure Microsoft could take to level things out even more would be to drop the price. This is an area where the PS4 still has a definite, undeniable advantage, and many people commenting around the Internet believe that the price is the only real difference between the platforms now.
Sony, So Far
On the flip side, The PS4 now has more of a battle on its hands, even with the price difference. After E3, Sony must have thought it’d be laughing all the way to the bank, and the pummelling Microsoft suffered was a huge plus point for the PlayStation brand. Now, however, this isn’t so assured. Even with many still claiming that they’re ditching Microsoft, there’s going to be a whole lot that’ll reconsider, and this puts Sony up against a very dangerous competitor once again.
With the controversial policies out of the way, gamers may refocus on other things than just the Xbox One’s potential flaws, such as the need to pay to play online with the PS4, or the fact that third party publishers could still feasibly enforce similar DRM measures on the Sony box. It may be unlikely, but it only further levels the playing field, and the PS4 no longer has the gaping lead it had only a day or two ago.
One thing is eminently clear, things just got a whole lot more interesting, and the run up to both release dates will be very telling. And although I’d really like to say whether or not Microsoft’s change of heart will make a difference, to be honest, that answer lies with the gaming community and those who go out and make that choice. Feedback of the consumer has proven to be a powerful tool in this battle so far, and it’ll continue to decide which console will emerge the victor.
What I will say, however, is that I have the utmost respect for Microsoft in the matter, and regardless of whether it was bullied into changing policies by gamers and Sony, admitting you’re wrong and making such a drastic change is something that deserves the proper acknowledgement. Microsoft isn’t usually a company that gives in to such criticism (look at Windows 8 for a major example), but this time its listened and made the right decision, and that’s quite a rarity these days.
Leave your own thoughts on all of this in the comments below…
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