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Microsoft's Marc Whitten Talks Xbox One's Big Policy Changes

Xbox's chief product officer explains why the company is reversing course just days after E3.

In a surprise move, Microsoft today ditched many of the new policies for how Xbox One treats used games, always-on connectivity, and the role of physical discs.

You can read about that here. It's big news, and places Xbox One much closer to PlayStation 4 on a policy level.

After announcing the changes, Microsoft put me in touch with Xbox chief product officer Marc Whitten, and we had a whopping five minutes to talk with one another. We ended up talking for almost eight!

Here's our full conversation.

Giant Bomb: You guys spent last week talking a lot about the policies that were already in place. Clearly, these were things you had thought about for months, if not years, and were building for it. And just several days after E3, to reverse a lot of these big, bold choices about the machine...why does this come just days after E3 closed?

Marc Whitten: This was our first opportunity, frankly, if you look over the last month, from the Xbox One unveil to E3, to actually lay out what our program is, and to talk about it. We’ve been working on it for a very long time, and this is our first time to start getting feedback. By the end of E3, we’ve given a view across our entire program of how the system works, [from] the amazing line-up of games and how those games take unique advantage of Xbox One and the cloud and what they can do. We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback. It was the time where we heard from everybody and what they loved about our games, what they loved about our vision--but they also wanted more choice. They wanted the flexibility to use your console offline, and they wanted the flexibility to be able to use physical discs the way they've always used them. Frankly, we just listened. We wanted to take that feedback and make changes.

Giant Bomb: You characterize this as responding to feedback from customers, and this being your first chance to respond. But couldn't you have anticipated some of this backlash in the first place? Why do you think consumers were so upset and so vocal about the original policies put in place for the machine?

Whitten: We believe a lot in this digital future, and we think most people will be using Xbox One connected, and they're going to be taking advantage of the cloud with games like Titanfall or with Forza and how it uses drivatars. And, frankly, just to stream content online with video or to play multiplayer. So much of what we believe in that vision, frankly, I do think that people have responded in a really, really deep and rich way--that they love that vision, they love the experience. They love what they saw about how the NFL experience could be changed, for instance. But we clearly heard that there were times that they needed the box to work in an offline state, whether they just wanted to use it offline or were going on vacation or they were in a low connectivity area, and, frankly, that they loved the familiarity of physical discs and really wanted it. So, we just responded to that.

Giant Bomb: Right after this news broke, GameStop's stock went up 6%. Do you think that's related?

Whitten: [pause] [laughs] Uh, I don't know. I'm not a good person to ask about stock market prices.

Giant Bomb: Along with this, a lot of these were related to policy changes in regard to DRM and an always-on connection. Has there been any discussion about addressing any of the privacy concerns in terms of the Kinect, and that being on all the time and also being a requirement for turning on the box?

Whitten: We're really focused on how Kinect can change the experience, and the importance of having Kinect be a deep part of the architecture, so that game creators [and] experience creators can always take advantage of it. As a user, you can rely on it always being able to work. That said, we're also focused on making sure that you're in control, that you understand what Kinect's doing, and that you have great privacy controls around them. We've put some information there on how that's going to work on Xbox One. Of course, I'll also just say that you have the choice to have your console work offline. We're here to give you control over that experience.

Giant Bomb: The machine does require a connection at least once when a user purchases it. Why is that?

Whitten: It was always part of the plan for Xbox One. It's as simple as the difference between our manufacturing schedules and our software schedules. There was always going to be a day-one update when we launched it.

Giant Bomb: Regardless of these policy changes, you guys had built in that there was going to be a day-one update to the machine, even if when these policies were announced, everyone was honky dory?

Whitten: Oh, yeah. It's always been the plan.

Giant Bomb: You guys have mentioned that this essentially kills, at least for launch, some of the more progressive, interesting policies, such as the family sharing and lending policies. Are those killed permanently or are they things that can come back in future software updates for the operating system?

Whitten: Part of it's a mix because of the reality of how you're changing the experience. Let me give you an example. Before, one of the things that's exciting about a digital ecosystem, is if I go to any Xbox and I see all my games, they show up in my games library? Well, obviously, if you're gonna use physical discs, those games wouldn't show up because it's only showing the content that's in the cloud--that's in your online library. That wouldn't change. The difference is the choice you have of using physical discs or having purchased things online. That said, so much of how we built the program is really built on that digital infrastructure. You get a ton of the advantage of that at launch, and we're going to continue to invest in that. Examples are, obviously, things like day-and-date [digital purchases], and I can choose to buy either of them online or physical--it's my choice. Similarly, if I went to your house with my physical-based game, and we played and I left and took my disc with me, you could instantly purchase that game with no download because it's all built on that same functionality. You're going to see us continue to really invest in that. We believe a lot in that cloud powered future.

Giant Bomb: Does that mean, specifically, the family sharing and stuff like that is not off the table, or just something we're not talking about for launch?

Whitten: We're talking about where we are at launch, and we'll continue to invest and deliver interesting, cool, new scenarios. We'll see where we go.

Giant Bomb: Some of the games you mentioned--Titanfall is one, Foza is another--are games that are investing in the cloud infrastructure to enhance the gameplay experience. Obviously, third-parties have a little more leverage in terms of how they handle those policies, but Forza is a first-party game. What happens for the consumer that chooses to just be offline, and purchases a copy of Forza? Does that impact their singleplayer experience, or only start to cut them off from things that require the cloud, such as drivatar?

Whitten: It's really up to the game creators. Either in first-party or third-party, we don't have any specific policies around that. We want to give them access to a ton of capabilities in the cloud, we think most people will probably be playing connected to the live service and to our cloud servers. We think it can really change the experience in a whole bunch of ways, and, frankly, we hope we see game creators come up with amazing things that could only happen when you're connected to the cloud because they're using that power. If that's single player, multiplayer, whatever--that's their choice.

Giant Bomb: Last question, and I'll let you go. How do you think Sony feels today?

Whitten: [laughs] You know, I don't know. I focus on listening to our customers and our fans. I love the fact that they tell us what they love, and they tell us what they don't love. Frankly, that's what we've always been doing around here--to deliver what they love, and make changes when they don't like things. That's our focus.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
319 Comments
Posted by Tarsier

reading these words causes me a sickness

bluhghhhhhh

Posted by Slam_Squatthrust

Good on them for doing the right thing. Bad on them for insulting their customers for the last month. They can kiss my ass and I'll hold on to my $500.

Posted by eccentrix

Frankly, we're really listening to all of our fan's feedback and improving on the things they love to create exciting and innovative experiences, be it the creative new drivatar system of Forza or playing against friends in Titanfall, or even sitting back and watching some classic TV. Xbox One will always be simple, instant and complete, which is what we aim for with all of our products.

Posted by Blueblur1

Good interview. I'm disappointed danced around the Kinect requirement question though. That shit needs to go.

Posted by darkdragonmage99

Honestly I don't feel like Microsoft wasn't listening to us at all more along the lines of they seen the pre sales figures and listens to that.

I don't think this was about their consumers it was about their bottom line.

Posted by Wandrecanada

A lot of real non-answers, here. I appreciate all the questions asked, but it still kind of bugs me that some things weren't answered explicitly, such as offline functionality. Sure, people will probably be connected, and the cloudhas some cool stuff, but he didn't answer the question of offline. I live in an area with terrible Internet connectivity and play single-player games; I desperately wanted to know the answer to how this connectivity malarkey affects that experience.

I'd be cool giving you money, Microsoft, but you're not doing much to make me feel like giving you money. :(

I think if you read the Xbox website on the matter it makes it very clear. The Xbox One will use the internet once when you start up the machine for a firmware/software update. After that if you want to go offline you can do it whenever you like.

If you cannot go online then games requiring the internet (ie: tapping into cloud computing, multiplayer game hosting/playing) then it's up to the publisher making the game if they want to use those features. Microsoft has no control over what game makers make.

So basically it's the same as it was only now you can download games on release day and never need a disk in drive to play (if you never bought a disk).

Posted by Trilogy

DRIVATARS!

I'm sorry, I know this is a serious thing, but DRIVATARS!

Let's get Drivatarded in here.

Posted by PillClinton

What a fucking PR robot this guy is...

Politicians and business execs. They all speak the exact same way.

Posted by InternetDetective

Next doofus to point out the "amazon" typo gets punched in the taint.

Posted by GaspoweR

@harabec said:

It's amazing not amazon!

Where's the proof-checking!?!?!

Wait, isn't that supposed to be proofreading?

Posted by Twisted_Scot

Yeah, well done Patrick. Gotta feel real good to go on the Chicago move with this bombshell under your belt! Great interview and good luck back home. As for the story im actually kind of bummed out about a lot of it. Have to guess that most people complaining either would but the console anyway or not buy it at all, feel like we lost some possibly cool stuff. Got to give it MS either way for sucking it up answering the masses even at the cost of other things. Pissed I now have to get off my ass to change discs still tho.

Posted by dezvous

@krakn3dfx: What else? He could be a human being. People love it the most when you give it to them straight.

Posted by MichaelBach

Scoops is on fire today!

Edited by Vrikk

Buzz word, buzz word, phrase of the day, non-answer. Yup - just like a company man. Doesn't say a damn thing. I hate PR crap.

Posted by Deranged

A lot of real non-answers, here. I appreciate all the questions asked, but it still kind of bugs me that some things weren't answered explicitly, such as offline functionality. Sure, people will probably be connected, and the cloudhas some cool stuff, but he didn't answer the question of offline. I live in an area with terrible Internet connectivity and play single-player games; I desperately wanted to know the answer to how this connectivity malarkey affects that experience.

I'd be cool giving you money, Microsoft, but you're not doing much to make me feel like giving you money. :(

This is from the official update from Microsoft:

After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.

In addition to buying a disc from a retailer, you can also download games from Xbox Live on day of release. If you choose to download your games, you will be able to play them offline just like you do today. Xbox One games will be playable on any Xbox One console -- there will be no regional restrictions.

Hope this answers your question mate.

Posted by kerse

Next doofus to point out the "amazon" typo gets punched in the taint.

Hey guys did you notice it says amazon instead of amazing?

Posted by outerabiz

What a fucking PR robot this guy is...

Politicians and business execs. They all speak the exact same way.

it's straight up disgusting, someone should update this dudes drivers and add some realtalk to that programming.

Edited by utamaru
@internetdetective said:

Next doofus to point out the "amazon" typo gets punched in the taint.

does this mean It's still cool to point out the "Foza" error in the second last question? Not that I care but since we're all nitpicking I find it fascinating how everyone of you picked up on a typo I just glanced by and apparently my highly advanced brain found a better, more rare spelling error.

Edited by TurboMan

Thank God that Drivatar is unharmed.

Posted by Korwin

So much of what Microsoft have been saying up until now reminds me of something...

Oh Yeah!

Posted by Paindamnation

Good on them for doing the right thing. Bad on them for insulting their customers for the last month. They can kiss my ass and I'll hold on to my $500.

I don't think you even have $500 dollars. And Microsoft never "insulted" it's customers. It tried something new, and unlike all the comparisons to Steam when it launched, it didn't stick to it's guns. If Microsoft said the 24 hour check in is to combat piracy and help game manufacturers and it's only for online play", or better verbiage, not as many people would backlash. All Microsoft did was implement the cloud, which is coming, whether people like it or not, and try to push it. Essentially M+ pulled a Qwikster, the thing that nearly bankrupt Netflix because they wanted to push online, but Netflix had to pull out. Steam on the other hand spent years sticking to their policies and constantly changing and providing feedback, but never compromising on it's infrastructure that it set to create. Most companies will not put in that effort to get the huge reward. Which is why Steam is one of the most used gaming services around, and Sony forced Microsoft's hand. I'll get both consoles, just not at launch.

Edited by chose

Another employee well trained into not saying shit, but the talking points. Fuck him, and his drive-retard.

By the way, how is this a 8 minutes interview? It barely takes 5 to read.

Edited by Rotnac

It's good that they're doing damage control but I'm still not sold just yet.

I want to be able to access my digital downloads purchased on my 360 (XBLA, GoD) on the XONE. I don't want "Xbox One Edition"s of the exact same shit I already own. There's certainly room for both to happen if they can do a 180 on this DRM stuff... Right?

Edited by TruthTellah

Giant Bomb: Last question, and I'll let you go. How do you think Sony feels today?

http://i.imgur.com/NkQ5PpJ.gif

Sony: You nearly made it too easy... but I'll get you next time, Microsoft! Next time!

Edited by North6

@slam_squatthrust said:

Good on them for doing the right thing. Bad on them for insulting their customers for the last month. They can kiss my ass and I'll hold on to my $500.

I don't think you even have $500 dollars.

Yea fuck poor people. I'm with you moneyhat.

Edited by wait

Hey Patrick, awesome questions on what we really wanted to know; too bad Marc Whitten is like a PR ninja . I might not be the brightest light bulb in the hall but the only thing I really got out of that was maybe that family sharing might make a comeback and this whole DRM incident might have hit them in the wallet a lot harder than they thought it would. EITHER way great work today!

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

Great job with the questions Patrick, it's too bad the answers seem to me to be a lot of PR spin.

Edited by mhd420

@rotnac: They are completely different architectures, you can't just magically provide backwards compatibility for that.

Posted by Dryker

@utamaru said:
@internetdetective said:

Next doofus to point out the "amazon" typo gets punched in the taint.

does this mean It's still cool to point out the "Foza" error in the second last question? Not that I care but since we're all nitpicking I find it fascinating how everyone of you picked up on a typo I just glanced by and apparently my highly advanced brain found a better, more rare spelling error.

I love Scoops, but since we're on the subject, the first paragraph/sentence isn't a complete thought ( or a sentence for that matter). It's all subject and no predicate. Just sayin'.

Edited by cool8man

Giant Bomb: Does that mean, specifically, the family sharing and stuff like that is not off the table, or just something we're not talking about for launch?

Whitten: We're talking about where we are at launch, and we'll continue to invest and deliver interesting, cool, new scenarios. We'll see where we go.

In other words, forget we ever mentioned digital game sharing and giving. You will never hear of these features ever again.

Posted by Dagbiker

@rotnac said:

It's good that they're doing damage control but I'm still not sold just yet.

I want to be able to access my digital downloads purchased on my 360 (XBLA, GoD) on the XONE. I don't want "Xbox One Edition"s of the exact same shit I already own. There's certainly room for both to happen if they can do a 180 on this DRM stuff... Right?

They could... But they would make so much more money if you just bought it again.

Edited by Shingro

Great! Now the PS4 is only cheaper, stronger, has indie self publishing, less certification red tape, no mandatory motion control bullshit and a superior online pay service! It's almost within view of a fight now!

c_c


Posted by Dryker

@north6 said:

@paindamnation said:

@slam_squatthrust said:

Good on them for doing the right thing. Bad on them for insulting their customers for the last month. They can kiss my ass and I'll hold on to my $500.

I don't think you even have $500 dollars.

Yea fuck poor people. I'm with you moneyhat.

Yeah puck four people. I'm with you honeymat.

Posted by chose

The gaming press should gather and decide to remove PR talk like that from their "publications".

Per example, this guy should have been shut down by the press after his first interview and none of his word published on any gaming website. "You speak shit, we silence you." Microsoft and others need that stage, and so you should remove it from under their feet when they blatantly use this website and others for their manipulative hypocritical bullshit. On top of that you could put M$ on a 1 week boycott, next PR bullshit interview, 1 month, next one, 1 year, let's see how they manage to get their message out then. Someone needs to show who's the boss in this relation, just like consumers did with their DRM.

Edited by Dryker

I'm totally stoked that Scoops is moving to Chicago on this high. It'll make for a good buffer for being parted from the Bomb Crew.

Posted by zFUBARz

Hot damn Hot Scoops!

Online
Posted by Paindamnation

@dryker said:

@north6 said:

@paindamnation said:

@slam_squatthrust said:

Good on them for doing the right thing. Bad on them for insulting their customers for the last month. They can kiss my ass and I'll hold on to my $500.

I don't think you even have $500 dollars.

Yea fuck poor people. I'm with you moneyhat.

Yeah puck four people. I'm with you honeymat.

Ballin' like a star.

Posted by hellforce

I can't wait to drivatar my caratar.

Posted by Benmo316

Great interview Patrick, even though it was kind of what I expected to hear from Marc. My only issue was Marc saying, "drivatars." Maybe if it's said enough, like, "the cloud," I'll just submit to it.

Posted by Stepside

NFL!!

Edited by doomsder

you can tell how "frank" they were by the amount they used the damn word >.> whatever… A good thing for gamers ever regardless!

Posted by ConduitFourSale

I am serious, and don't call me Frankly

Edited by YOU_DIED

Who's Frank?

Edited by Mystyr_E

that's one thing I always get from Microsoft employees: a lot of PR-ready language and the least offensive phrases possible filled with buzzwords. The Sony guy came across as just natural and willing to share info and holding back without it sounding rehearsed.

Remember when he was talking about the GoT finale for season 2 and commented how expensive that last shot was? Awkwarrrrdd!

Edited by StriderNo9

Good job, Patrick, well you tried.

Edited by golguin

They can still do "family sharing" with digital copies of games since those will be tied to your account. I wonder why they don't want to do that anymore. It couldn't have been a form of damage control for their anti consumer policies that they decided to pull since there is no longer a need to control that damage.

Posted by hooberschmit

By doing amazon things that only the cloud could let you do, do you think he means shooting 30 arrows in a circle around you with one bow string pull? Or perhaps he meant that you could find 30 foot giant anacondas slithering out of your television and into your living room.

Posted by Tupacalypse

@cool8man: dont think that means that at all

Posted by UnsolvedParadox

Great interview Patrick, on top of breaking this scorching hot story to begin with. Safe travels to Chicago!