Microsoft’s all-or-nothing approach is a shot in its other foot

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When Microsoft announced the Xbox One, and later confirmed its draconian policies for dealing with connectivity and games, I wrote a column imploring the big M to change its ways. My voice was one of millions, and last night Microsoft’s president of its interactive entertainment business, Don Mattrick, put the issue to rest with a post entitled, “Your Feedback Matters”.

The internet never forgets.
The internet never forgets.

Concerned about having your console connected all the time? Great, there’s no more online requirement – except for a one-time activation when you set up the console.

Worried about not being able to trade in game discs your paid for? Not to worry, you can now do what you want with those shiny coasters.

In fact, Microsoft’s exact statement on the latter is this: Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today.

That last bit where the company says “just like you do today” sounds a bit spiteful. Almost like somebody at Microsoft said, “Fine, those snivelling twerps want it their way? Let’s give them their way.”

Over at The Verge, David Pierce already pointed out how Microsoft’s given the masses what they wanted, at the expense of progress. He rightfully gripes that the about-face in policy is surprising, because it flies in the face of the connected entertainment dream the company has big hopes for. In the comments, there are readers who are honestly upset that it’s unfolded this way. The convenience offered by the previous policy was huge – Microsoft must be left feeling that it can’t please anybody.

What the executives seemingly fail to realise is that we weren’t against the good things they hoped to introduce with the One. Sharing digital games is awesome. It’s all the restrictions that the company attached to that functionality. With billions of dollars in revenue there are many people – far smarter than internet naysayers – who can propose and engineer clever systems that circumvent the limitations of disc-based and digital games.

Just because the way we trade, sell, and lend games today is good enough doesn’t mean we can do without new ways of dealing with new things. People hold physical media dear, and being told that they cannot do what they like with something they spent a lot of money on is a big mistake. The original plan for the Xbox One proposed artificial limitations.  However, digital games are the future and the limitations they come with, such as being unable to trade them in, are inherent. Microsoft’s job is to find ways around that. In fact, it did. The system of lending digital games to people on your friend list was a very good solution, and something we’d not seen in gaming before. To just snatch that away from us and saying “well you have it our way or not at all” is childish.

Whether or not this all-or-nothing approach is just Microsoft putting out fires in the wake of Sony’s scathing attacks at E3 remains to be seen. There’s still six months to iron out the technicalities, but I honestly believe that it’ll be possible to have offline play for those who want to use discs, and connected play, as will be mandated by any digital-only solution. And if we look at how the Xbox 360 has evolved in its 8 years on the market, I’ll be surprised if some of Microsoft’s original policy – the good parts – aren’t re-introduced over time, in system updates.

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Christo van Gemert

Christo van Gemert

Eleven years ago Christo started writing about technology for one of South Africa's (then) leading computer magazines. His first review? A Samsung LCD monitor. Hey, it was hot news, back then. Nowadays he gets more excited about photography, cars, game consoles, and faster internet connections. He's sort of an Apple fan, but will take any opportunity to remind you about his Windows-powered home theatre PC and desire to own a vanilla Android tablet.   Currently uses: Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display, Apple iPhone 5, Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000, Audiofly AF78 Earphones, Xbox 360, Nikon D50.