With the next generation of console gaming already on the way, there seem to be two top contenders vying for the top spot: Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. Over the course of the announcements of these two consoles, many things have changed, backlash was given, reversals were made, and conferences were won and lost. This is especially the case with the Xbox One. While the main features of the Xbox One are currently more accessible and user-friendly, I feel as though Microsoft has become afraid of innovating and instead are trying desperately to tame their angry, unfed customers instead of offering the benefits their policies were to have, if any were to be had at all.
There are two things I want to get out right now, so as not to draw any confusion. One: this is not going to be bashing on the Xbox One itself and its features, old and new. This is merely me taking about Microsoft’s policies regarding the console. And two: this will not be a console comparison with the PlayStation 4. Sony’s console will have to sit this one out. Now that that’s out of the way, let me get started.
Let’s rewind a bit first. It’s May 21, 2013. The gaming world eagerly anticipates the announcement of Microsoft’s brand new gaming console. During the event, the device is revealed. Named the Xbox One for features that would make this device the main entertainment center of your living room, it quickly drew confused and angry looks from the crowd, both at the event and those watching the live stream online. Restrictive policies regarding used games, needing the Kinect 2.0 in order to simply function, region-locking, and an always-online connection no matter what would become synonymous with the Xbox One. It seemed almost too difficult to believe, considering how consumer-friendly the Xbox 360 was and has been throughout its lifespan.
Yet hope remained for these policies to maybe change with the passing of E3 2013, when games would be shown off and the new features, such as the Cloud and brand new Kinect 2.0 functions, would be given the spotlight. Well, not only were those policies still being implemented (all after showing off interesting game after interesting game), but the price point seemed a bit too much as well. At five-hundred US dollars, it seemed like a steep investment for something so restricting and consumer-unfriendly. Gaming journalists and economists stepped in to say that the Xbox One was going to fail in the face of its competition if these policies stayed, resulting in Microsoft losing its strength in the gaming industry.
Fortunately, people didn’t have to wait long for Microsoft to finally “get it,” as it were. June 19 came around, and what did Microsoft do? Drop everything. No always-online requirement, no used game restrictions, and no region-locking. Months later, the need to always have the Kinect 2.0 on would also be dropped. The internet leaped for joy. The Xbox One was a pure gaming console once again, much like the Xbox 360 was and is.
So why did I remain so…untrusting ever since? Why did these policy reversals do nothing to change my mind about the Xbox One for the longest time? Granted, I’m still going to get an Xbox One down the road, but I will always question Microsoft’s decision making in this whole ordeal. It will always seem to me that they care more about owing something to their customers rather than introducing a product that people should at least give a chance.
I’ve figured out at least two reasons why these policy changes made me skeptical of Microsoft and its new console. One: when Microsoft announced the Xbox One, it was intended to be some sort of gaming evolution. Digital trades through a family sharing plan, Cloud-based computer AI resulting in more intelligent and challenging games, and an upgrade to a subpar motion sensor that proves it can be responsive and add to the gameplay experience rather than hinder it. These things would not function as well without the original policies being implemented in the first place. While I feel the disadvantages far outweigh the benefits, it would’ve been great on Microsoft’s part to keep these features and still maintain that accessibility that gamers were going to lose. Instead, they opted for the safe-route, which was keeping the traditional format of having only those with online capabilities experience these wonderful new features.
This alienates a key demographic for any console and game developer: the non-online, single-player only gamer. Contrary to popular belief, gamers like this still exist. I would know, since I’m one of them. And they, too, yearn for the chance to experience the evolution of gaming that includes more intelligent AI and game sharing. They just do it in a different manner than the rest of the community. In some cases, they opt to share the experience through video of them going through a game while explaining how each section is done. Having to hold these features back from them through the paywall of the Xbox Live system seems like a lost opportunity in my eyes, especially for those who cannot consistently pay for Xbox Live Gold, yearly or otherwise.
The second thing that bothers me about this whole ordeal is Microsoft basically bending to the will of people who could or could not be their customers. As a business, Microsoft has to decide what the future holds for them and their customers while at the same time making sure their product sounds appealing. In other words, sell your product instead of telling people that this product is great and you should try it no matter what.
Now, their initial representation of the Xbox One was by no means great. They did nothing to make their product sound the least bit appealing. The problem here is that instead of finding a better way to market the new, “innovative” features of their console, they decide to reverse their policies and thus become exactly like their competition. Whereas Sony and Nintendo played it safe from the beginning, Microsoft decided to take that huge risk in the hope of gaining some sort of reward in the long run. But what did they do? They reversed their position and decided to play it safe for the sake of not angering anybody.
While a noble act, there were several features that not only sounded appealing, but could’ve helped Microsoft gain a slight edge against the competition, such as digital game sharing and their Cloud AI support. By taking the online features and hiding all of them behind the Xbox Live Gold paywall instead of making it mandatory that the console always remain online, they have limited those with low incomes from experiencing all these new innovations. It’s taking away from that demographic I mentioned earlier, and ignoring some of your customers doesn’t always turn out to be a good thing in the long run.
All the decisions Microsoft has made continue to make me skeptical. Instead of finding a new way of marketing these features and fixing the major issues with them, Microsoft decided to completely remove them and essentially sell a prettier, more stable Xbox 360. Since people already have one of those, what incentive are we given to try out their new console in the first place, if all we’re essentially getting is better graphics and a newer controller? That’s the only thing I ask. Again, I do not hate the new console, as I do plan to get it eventually. I just want people to keep this in mind before making it a purchase priority this holiday season.