*WARNING, MICROSOFT REVERSING. WARNING, MICROSOFT REVERSING*
Every time I think I’ve got a handle on the situation, they pull the rug out from underneath me! God damn this industry! Microsoft announced late yesterday a seismic shift in policy regarding the Xbox One, completely reversing their position on key points regarding used games, DRM, and the need for a daily check in. To take these steps so close to E3, after spending weeks telling us that these policies were a good thing, is simply mind blowing. I’ll be honest, I wanted this, but I never imagined it would happen. Microsoft seemed too stubborn, too set in their ways, it was the reason I made the decision to abandon their new platform. This is a huge win for consumers, a day of celebration for many. First though, let’s look at what Microsoft actually said.
Microsoft’s statement, which you can read in full here, lays out that upon hearing feedback from fans the need for change became evident. Now, bar the need to connect to the internet during initial set up (a “day one” patch will be required to enact these policy changes), the Xbox One is completely able to be used offline, all the time. No daily check in, no losing access to your games if your internet is down. Access to gaming for serving military personnel and for those living in areas where the internet is… less than great. Gone also is the restrictive DRM that looked to strip away our consumer rights, with the “new policy” being very much the “old policy”, in that it’s now the same model as the Xbox 360. Buy games, sell games, rent games, trade games. Disc based games are once again your property and you can do with them as you please. We can do away with that ugly “license” idea, at least as far as disc based titles go, for now. Finally, the console is now also region free, removing those unfortunate availability issues in places like Portugal, Poland and almost the entirety of Asia.
However, these concessions to the desires of fans do come with some drawbacks. While many will be eager to jump on these, focusing on the negatives in this story, of course these changes had to happen. It’s just not realistic to think that Microsoft would reverse their position on several key policies while retaining everything else, especially given that the policy changes open up the platform to abuse. Gone are the mandatory installs for all games, you can now play from disc. Of course you’ll still be able to install at least some of the data to the HDD, but this will still likely mean we’ll see more load screens than was previously hinted at. You’ll also need the disc in the drive to play any of your disc-based games, so no more accessing your entire library upon signing into your account on a different machine. This also means you’ll be at risk of non-functional discs in the event of damage, but Blu-Ray is a sturdy platform, it’s rare to see problems. Finally, and this one will annoy many, the family sharing that Microsoft had been keen to highlight is gone, at least at launch. Digitally sharing games with up to ten friends or family members, regardless of their location simply couldn’t work if Microsoft stripped out the need for DRM and a daily check, the potential for abuse was far too great.
While the loss of the sharing plan is unfortunate (especially given that it seems a similar feature is coming to Steam soon), as I had previously mentioned it would have actually helped us write more balanced reviews drawing the opinion of multiple writers for major releases especially, I’m fine with these concessions for the most part. The elimination, or at least reduction, of loading screens was something I was hopeful for (I’ve been spoiled gaming on a PC equipped with a large SSD) but I’m guessing most will be willing to take the hit to retain their consumer rights. I don’t see having to take discs with me if I want to play at a friend’s house as a negative if I’m honest, the thought of going over to play and having to wait on a 30GB+ download, especially since not all my friends boast the kind of high end internet connection I do makes me shudder.
We should take time to celebrate what is a tremendous achievement for people power and consumers rights. Hit-Reset was on board the #NoDRM drive from early on, I personally followed the efforts from their inception over on NeoGAF, and special congratulations should be expressed towards famousmortimer, the architect of this entire movement. His organisation of a grass roots Twitter hashtag campaign had a much greater impact than many in the industry thought it would, and to see it bear this much fruit must make him so proud. NeoGAF and it’s users get a lot of stick for the negatives they can bring to the industry but this is an example of just how much good they can do, if properly motivated. Many will claim that the campaign had little to no effect on either Microsoft or Sony, but I call bullshit. At E3, Sony themselves said it directly influenced them, and that in turn has influenced Microsoft, who simply couldn’t ignore the wave upon wave of backlash.
These changes also put me personally in an awkward position. Hit-Reset’s policy towards the Xbox One was a difficult but necessary decision in my opinion, and while yesterday’s events certainly do much to address the issues I talked of, by no means do I think we’ve seen the last of this behaviour. The fact that the console requires a day one patch to address these issues means that, theoretically at least, these changes could be patched out just as easily in the future. Much like how Sony removed the OtherOS functionality in the Playstation 3, what’s to say that Microsoft won’t pull a bait and switch eighteen months in once adoption rates hit a critical mass? Paranoid? Sure, but after the way things have shaken out this generation, I’m extremely skeptical about placing my trust in any of the console manufacturers. So, where do we go from here? Do I jump back on board the Xbox One hype train? I, for one, welcome our new Microsoft overlords? I mean, I saw Titanfall after all! Seriously though, I don’t know. Ignoring a platform seriously impacts our ability to deliver content, as if staying relevant isn’t difficult enough in the first place, but pulling a Microsoft and 180’ing feels a little cheap. I’d be interested in hearing what you guys think, have Microsoft done enough to win us back?