Somehow, saying "that didn't take long" is almost an understatement when it comes to Microsoft's just-announced reversal on Xbox One game policies. In a post on the company's website late Wednesday afternoon, interactive entertainment business president Don Mattrick said he had heard gamers' complaints, which is why he has decided to abandon some previously announced features on the upcoming game console.
The Xbox One, launching in November, will no longer need to check-in and authenticate games online once a day. Perhaps more importantly, players will be able to sell, trade or rent disc-based games as they currently do, with no limitations.
"We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content," Mr. Mattrick wrote.
"We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds."
Microsoft deserves kudos for listening to consumers, who had objected strenuously and often. Those rules, announced two weeks ago, would have given publishers the ability to block used games and limited players to selling their discs to approved retailers, or giving them to people they'd only been friends with online for at least 30 days.
Last week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, rival Sony received a thunderous ovation for rejecting all of those ideas and promising gamers the status quo with its upcoming PlayStation 4, wherein they'll be able to do with their games as they please.
The upcoming holiday season – the real beginning of the next-generation console battle – was looking like it'd be a one-sided affair as a result, unless Microsoft budged. Now, the Xbox One has only its $100 premium working against it, which is likely the result of the mandatory Kinect gesture and voice sensor that will come bundled with the console.
Microsoft says the new-and-improved peripheral is much better than its first-generation progenitor, and that it will become central to how users will control all of their living-room entertainment. Core gamers, however, see the device as optional – if not a nuisance – so the company still has much work to do in convincing them otherwise.
Despite the amazingly fast U-turn – which prompted Twitter users to dub the new console the Xbox 180 – the damage may already be done. As technology companies are quickly learning thanks to the National Security Agency PRISM scandal, consumer trust is an incredibly valuable commodity that, once lost, may never be regained. Many gamers are sure to view the reversal as Microsoft trying to preventing a clobbering this Christmas, rather than as a genuinely consumer friendly move.
Gamers have seen the company's vision of the future – one where publishers and not consumers have total power over games – and that Microsoft is only too keen to enable it. Will they ever trust that the company won't again reverse course and re-institute its policies once it has sold a comfortable number of consoles?
Sony, despite its current pro-consumer image, could very well do the same, but the company seems more genuine in trying to please gamers. That may be because of hard lessons learned – the company took much heat a few years ago for locking down the PlayStation 3 and then suing people who tried to tinker with it, so much so that in reaction its entire online network was hacked and brought down for a prolonged period.
Microsoft, on the other hand, has always wanted the Xbox console to be its Trojan horse into the living room – a mere conveyance for all of the other software and digital content it wants to serve up to people.
In the early days of the Xbox 360, I did in fact use it as such – the console was the intermediary for streaming media from my computer to my television. But a few years ago, Microsoft issued a mandatory update to the console that made it impossible to do that without going through its media interfaces, which were laden with various rights-management restrictions. Sony's PlayStation 3, meanwhile, continues to automatically detect all playable files on my computer without making me jump through hoops, which is why I've been using it as my media centre ever since.
Microsoft's move is a welcome one and will probably save the Xbox 180… er, the Xbox One from being a flop this holiday season. But with the company showing a glimpse of its true intentions, it's understandable if gamers – a quick-to-anger and generally mistrusting lot – continue to be wary of the new console. Microsoft still has much work to do to win back that damaged trust.