Microsoft has done something unthinkable. The Xbox One has become a divisive thing among its community. People loathe it, or people love it. And it’s all started because of one thing – Microsoft’s recently reversed DRM policies.
The Xbox One is indeed a great console. So is the PlayStation 4 (The Wii U, not so much – you can read more here). They are both powerful consoles with graphics that make your mouth drool with excitement.
And you would have expected the fanboys to be jumping and parading their consoles over which one is better. PlayStation fanboys have done that, but not so much from the Xbox fanboys. They have been largely critical of the new console. And people who are against it are calling supporters of the Xbox One biased.
Let’s have a look at the Rooster Teeth community – which no doubt has a large amount of Xbox fanboys (if you don’t know who they are, they make a very popular Halo-based machinma series called Red vs Blue). Many are calling them “sell outs” for supporting the Xbox One. I think they see a good console, not because Microsoft is largely the reason they have become an internet success story.
Let’s get this out of the way: I wasn’t a fan with Microsoft’s previous DRM policies – especially restrictions on the disc. However, this was purely based on the belief that I should be able to do whatever I want with something I buy from a store, like a DVD. I have the ability to resell and give the DVD away without any restrictions.
I wasn’t much a fan with their internet connectivity policies either – but after careful consideration, it wasn’t that bad. In some cases, it was an improvement – if you’re playing games on another console that is not yours, you now have one hour to check in as opposed to every ten minutes. Both sides had good reasons why the 24-hour check-in was good/bad.
The complaints usually was around broadband. It is expensive in Australia and the United States, and not everyone has a broadband connection. You could theoretically use 3G or 4G, but that is even more expensive than having a home broadband connection (again, especially in Australia). It also didn’t help when the ‘suggested’ option for those who didn’t have some form of internet connection was the Xbox 360.
One of the good reasons was security. As my friend, MMGN’s Tom Robinson has noted, “Security is a pivotal issue in today’s cyber lifestyle… this is where your first check comes in: the need for the 24-hour check-in. Ensure that your customers are valid customers, and you can deliver them a digital product hassle-free.”
But then I had a rethink. I wanted to know why Microsoft would go for those policies.
It wasn’t purely for digital rights reasons. It wasn’t Microsoft being an arsehole to its fans and giving a big middle finger to them. It was because Microsoft had a vision for the future of gaming (just like it had a vision of the future of PCs with Windows 8) – and it was digital.
There is a reason why they are pushing day-one digital downloads and why they are adding over 300,000 Xbox Live servers – they want to get rid of the disc altogether (or make it an alternative in acquiring a game). The addition of discs was to accommodate the existing business model, but the main goal was to slowly move everyone away.
Everything is moving in that direction. Music, television, movies, news, and even our software is now being delivered digitally. Instead of going to physical retailers, we use services like Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, Netflix and iTunes to consume our media. Software companies like Adobe, Apple and Microsoft are re-engineering how they deliver software – some have launched app stores, while others have launched subscription services (e.g. Creative Cloud, Office 365) that will keep users up-to-date with the latest versions for a monthly price.
Gaming is already on that path. The PlayStation Store has it for some games, while the Xbox Marketplace is currently offering existing titles (again, they’re moving to day-one downloads when Xbox One launches).
But the biggest shift from retail to digital has been with the PC gaming market. Look at the success of Valve’s Steam and EA’s Origin. You don’t have to buy a disc to play the game and type in some long activation code. You simply log-on, click “purchase” and wait for it to download and install – all within seconds (except the downloading and installing – it depends on your computer).
And there’s the problem.
The game itself is a digital file. It can be moved, deleted and copied in a single click. How do you stop people from acquiring the game without paying for it? Regardless what you may think about piracy, developers should be paid for the months (even years) of work they put in the games. Steam have gone for the most simplest approach – it doesn’t let you resell the downloaded games after purchase – and many people haven’t responded with pitchforks. Microsoft has pretty much adopted the same idea.
But like all ideas for the future from Redmond, there will be two camps. One who are for the changes, and one for those against. Microsoft has recently tried to move away from the old – as seen with the radical Windows 8 redesign.
But with the Xbox One, it tried to accommodate both with the idea to push them towards digital.
Why? Because of the gamers. While Steam and Origin have been successful – it doesn’t mean that all digital delivery systems work. The PSP Go from Sony dumped the UMD physical disc in favour of digital delivery through the PlayStation Go. Gamers didn’t react well to that since they were so used to playing with physical media.
When you’re balancing between the old with the new – you have to make some compromises. Restricting the sales of the physical copy is just one of those compromises in its push a digital delivery system. But was it right? Probably not. I would have done something differently – I would have used what is happening with PC games now. I would just keep both (with the disc having no or some minor restrictions). I would end the physical disc once the digital marketplace found its feet and became popular with its customer base.
Microsoft is still trying to balance between the old and the new. While it is great that it is now region-free, they had to dump several things such as the family cloud library of games. You now have to play with the disc inside even after installing the game onto the hard drive.
People are still not satisfied, however. One of the podcasts I listened to discussed this very matter, and the most vocal critic of it still wasn’t satisfied. The DRM was gone, the 24-hour internet connectivity was gone, but they dumped the cloud library system. And he hates the Xbox One even more.
But what did you expect? They have to go back to the drawing board after making such a massive backflip to accommodate the vocal opinions of one side. The cloud library will never work when the disc is now a fundamental part of the console, unless Microsoft restricts the sales. It opens it for a potential abuse: buy, download, and then return or sell.
Plus, the purpose of it was to be for the family (which can easily be done with the physical copy now – with some limitations, for example if your brother is in London and you were stuck in Melbourne). If you were planning to use it to have a shared library with friends instead – well, tough luck. You’re not using it as it was supposed to be used, and Microsoft should not feel sorry about that.
But I suppose, the haters (even within the Xbox community) will find a way to hate it – much to the delight of Sony. And trust me, there are plenty of things about it they could use to justify their hate. For instance, the Kinect being always-on. It doesn’t help when it was announced just so close before the PRISM scandal erupted, and MIcrosoft being named as giving backdoor access to the NSA (Microsoft has denied those claims).
The only explanation why I can see the Xbox One-hating faction still continues to spout hatred on the console is that people just don’t like change. Even the slightest change on Facebook causes a massive outrage online.
However, we must have change, regardless if you like it or not. Change is necessary for innovation – good and bad. Imagine a world without iTunes? That change forced record labels to start paying attention to digital. They could no longer sue their way and keep things the way they were.
Digital is the future of entertainment. We are going to embrace it one day, regardless of its challenges. Whether that is today or not is up to so many people – the content creators who create the entertainment you love; the politicians who have the power to change our copyright laws and decide whether to continue or tear up the NBN; and ultimately, you the consumer.
So, are you ready?
(Personally, I’m half-way over the line.)