Xbox 180: Thoughts (Extended Cut)

The reversion of the crappy policies announced previously is cool. I still want to get a PS4 more, and that isn’t really because of the price (though that is a great bonus).

There are still concerns with the Kinect and all, but what actually led me to write another post on this topic was seeing some of the articles and comments about how people wish they hadn’t changed the policies back. Just… no.

That argument is incredibly selfish and short-sighted. Many, many more people will have the option of buying and playing games on an Xbox One with the extra DRM tyranny nixed. I guess it’s not surprising people feel that way; after all, Microsoft floated this stuff in the first place, which means a lot of people on the inside must have thought it was a good idea. There had to be some on the outside, too. My hypothesis is that the people who support the previous direction are well-off technophiles who can’t imagine that some people actually live in situations where they don’t have constant broadband access. I’m sure they’d admit such people must exist, but would never be able to agree that a significant portion of the Xbox market could fall under that category.

I understand the lament for the loss of some of the more interesting and cool features of the system: family sharing and gifting. But it’s a bit much to label consumers luddites for the outcry against draconian restrictions. I would say it’s more anti-progress to continue to push DRM, since it’s well-known that it doesn’t fulfill its stated purpose. This debacle shows that there are limits to what people will pay for.

It all boils down to money. The market has been shrinking. Most gamers have grown up and have less time to play. It seems like I don’t get half the games I want and I don’t play through half the games I get anymore. So the industry has taken to trying to extract as much money as possible from its remaining few regular customers. Game publishers have been pushing bigger budgets for fewer titles, and using online passes and DLC to try to extract money from used game sales. But these measures only shrink the market further.

Most wouldn’t say that libraries and secondhand bookstores are harmful to the book industry. Some would, of course, but most understand that they create readers, which can only be good for the industry. Today, piracy is the library-equivalent that creates avid consumers of digital music, movies, and games (and to some extent, books), who will go on to be (or are, concurrently) the biggest customers of those industries. The statistics support this view. And yet the games industry has been waging an escalating war against its customers for years, pointing at things like Steam and saying to themselves, “these fuckers will buy anything.” For some customers they’re right. Interestingly, for the few days before the great 180, I was starting to see articles crop up about the positives of the system. But, for enough of their audience to terrify the execs, they finally went too far.

No, the Xbox One didn’t get “way worse;” Microsoft didn’t “kill a car for a faster horse.” Playing different games without changing discs, sharing game purchases with remote friends, and being able to access your games from anywhere are conveniences afforded by our digital world, but they aren’t worth the price the industry put on them. Microsoft and the industry are the ones who are disallowing those things if we don’t give up the freedom to play without being monitored. These features could all be enabled without any checkin system; see gog.com for proof (and also a nice sale running right now). It wasn’t the consumers who ditched them. Consumers gave Microsoft a choice: us or DRM. Microsoft is the one that decided the extra features had to go, too.

Microsoft went into this with eyes open. They must have expected negative feedback from the people they knew they were excluding. That wouldn’t have caused this change. What they didn’t bank on were the current customers who could meet their requirements balking. This is about more than just having a stable internet connection. It’s about artificial barriers to participation in and enjoyment of human culture.

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