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How Microsoft dug its own E3 grave, and how it MIGHT climb out

I’m not going to start this with a drawn-out bashing of Microsoft’s Xbox One policies. You probably know all about that stuff by now. The over-focus on TV. Restrictive control of used games. Draconian online DRM mandates. The death of game ownership. None of it’s good, and I don’t think I need to go over it again. Rather, this editorial is about how simplistically Microsoft tried to side-step all of those issues yesterday, and how Sony’s effortless addressing of them made that side-step all the less effective. 

It seems Microsoft thought that games would be enough to make the problems go away. They’re not. Moreso, the attitude that an hour of flash-bang sparkle and shiny next-gen textures would counter-act the vileness of the systems underpinning the Xbox One’s operation is both arrogant and insulting. Rather than temper its condescending master-and-puppet relationship with its customers, Microsoft’s method of dealing with the issue just compounded it. ‘Give them enough shiny baubles, they’ll forget about the consumer-rights bomb ticking quietly inside away each and every one' I won’t stand for that, and you shouldn’t either. 

It’s not that Microsoft’s games line-up was bad. It wasn’t. It was a decent selection indeed, if you ignore the dearth of third-party exclusives. But games were never the problem. The problem is that having a collection of great games in your house is no big joy if you don’t actually own those games and are being constantly beaten over the head to not-own them in the ‘right’ way. And yesterday Sony found no hardship at all in showing up that problem as one that needn’t even exist. 

Microsoft is now in major trouble. It would have you believe that its excessive invasions of your consumer freedom are necessary; that they make media more secure and will help cut out the pulsating tumours of piracy and profit loss that are slowly killing AAA gaming. But Sony, the platform-holder that has suffered more than any at the hands of hackers during the current generation, doesn’t want any of it. 

At this early stage it’s impossible to quantify the exact amount of goodwill Sony garnered with its gleeful eschewing of all that the Xbox One stands for, just as it’s impossible to quantify the amount of dung Microsoft currently finds itself mired in. But suffice to say, there’s a lot of both. 

It seems now that nothing short of a total policy reboot will turn the Xbox One’s fortunes around. I suspect that MS was hoping for similar announcements of commercial practice from Sony; that the kind of restrictions riddled through every stage of the Xbox One game-playing process would become industry standard, as many have predicted for the last couple of years. Sony blew that notion to pieces yesterday, leaving Microsoft looking not like the first over the parapet of console gaming’s inevitable dark future, but a selfish crank woefully out of step with the real world of gaming and the culture that fuels it. 

Microsoft seems to have hoped, via the distraction of new games and the assumed adoption of its policies elsewhere, that what seemed like problems in the days after the Xbox One’s initial reveal would soon go away, blending into the background of the new games industry to become No Big Deal. That hasn’t happened. It may eventually, of course. As consoles become an increasingly digital environment, the gradual seeping in of online DRM is certainly a possibility. But it’s not happening soon, and it’s not happening anything like as bluntly as Microsoft has pitched its own approach. 

So what can Microsoft do? The only answer surely is humility and a turnaround on the way the Xbox One operates. Given that the Xbox One’s problems are driven by policy and operating system rather than hardware, system updates could fix things, either pre-launch or incrementally afterwards. But I feel that we’re too far down the line for that. I also feel that Microsoft’s evasive, ‘let’s just try to get away with it’ attitude at E3 depicts a company far from that way of thinking. I fear that MS is more likely to stay quiet, releasing the machine 'as is' and relying on the uniformed nature of the less hardcore gamer to see it through the early sales period. But how those less-informed gamers will react when the truth settles in a few months after Christmas is anyone's guess

Whatever happens though, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the shiny bells and whistles of a superficially exciting games line-up, particularly during this starry-eyed period of early next-gen dazzle. That goes for any company you’re looking at. If consoles are being sold as service platforms now, as all the major first-parties are eager to convince us they are, then they must be judged upon the overall service they provide. Keep that your focus, make informed, holistic buying decisions, and you won’t go far wrong. 

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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236 comments

  • Whit - June 18, 2013 4:56 a.m.

    Someone please take the gun away from M$--they have shot themselves in the foot how many times over the last two years? Overpriced their tablet and have less than 3% market share. Came late to the smart phone market and have less than 3% market share. Windows 8 is so bad, market analysts are linking the failure of Windows 8 to huge drop off in PC sales. Office 2013 with its subscription model is over priced for less features than Office 2010. And now we have the M$ latest fiasco. After beating the PS/3 to market and taking "winning" the last console race--M$ is now poised to tank yet again this holiday season. M$ sure does have some great leadership!!
  • BackwaterRifle - June 15, 2013 3:18 p.m.

    Just gonna update my PC, and pick up wii u. Fuck both these consoles.
  • Spectre - June 15, 2013 2:31 p.m.

    Actually there is one major problem with DRM that everyone is overlooking. The American job market is SLOWLY getting back on its feet and more and more people are finally finding work after longs periods of unemployment. Even these jobs are dramatically underpaid to afford a living, so luxury items (like gaming consoles) have to be saved for and the purchase needs to be thought out. Now here comes Micro$oft trying to push out the used game market and as a side effect destroy a retail service that employs tens of thousands. Not to mention across the globe there are dozens of companies specifically modeled on the used game market. By the way, WeediestNugs, Places like Gamestop are VERY overpriced and offer terrible trades. It's why there's a boycott until the prices level out all over America. Although I do have to say the games are $20 and they only gave you $5? It's called profit. It's what fuels companies and makes staying open and employing people worth while. (Never thought I would have to explain getting screwed by a company to a M$ fanboy).
  • WeediestNugs - June 15, 2013 8:55 p.m.

    No need to explain. MS does have its times that they piss on us and call it rain, it's why I modded my 360, however they are progressing the standard of consoles much more for the adult / family oriented customer, which I appreciate. Oh and I understand how profit helps a company, don't pretend you're talking to a child. Lets be honest though 300% mark-ups are unnecessary. Slowing the used game market will not affect the economy the way you believe, will it be an increase? no but that's not where we solve the american job problem anyways, Outsourcing and companies holding all of their money off-shore is the problem we need to solve. But i digress. every company is out for their money, which is why I don't take anything gamestop does personally, I still shop there, doesn't mean I like to, just no other real options that are as easy, but if they were to disappear I wouldn't bat an eye. The idea that DRM will be some detrimental thing to gaming is absurd. Ever heard of steam, same principles.
  • Spectre - June 16, 2013 5:22 a.m.

    Actually, I didn't make my economy argument very clear, so I apologize. What I mean is this is a direct attack on brick-and-mortar. It's a blatant attempt to cut out suppliers and retail locations and favor a direct line of sale through the producer of the item. It sounds great but the fact is they're charging you for a physical copy that they don't supply. Think about it, why do games cost $60? Because they charge to compensate for shipping, distribution, marketing, a whole slew of things that cost money unless it's sold online through digital copy. So, we go full digital and games cost......$60. More money goes to the game producer but other than that there's no change. I say that if they want more money they should produce better titles, better stories, better experiences for the customer. Give them a reason to hand you more. If you think I'm exaggerating the point: FPS, MMORPG, and Micro-charges for the ending to a game (Dead space 3, Mass effect 3, etc.). These things are flooding the market in an attempt to get as much money out of your pocket while offering as little effort as possible. Now, some companies rely on used games as a staple income. This earns the meat a and potatoes of their revenue leaving new games to make up a healthy profit. It's actually a pretty sound system that developed according to need of the industry. Removing that staple makes the entire house of cards come down. I should know I've worked in a lot of these stores in my youth and I did the books. New games only net a 25-50% profit, while used can be anything really. To put this another way though, I own a timepiece and jewelry repair company. I offer $5 battery changes on any watch. My profit on this is actually only about 20% but it gets my foot in the door. You may have a cracked crystal or broken band, maybe your watch is broken and needs an overhaul or you notice my sign detailing my jewelry repair and decide to get your ring worked on. These things net me anywhere from 90-600% profit. To tell the truth I'm actually cheaper than any other watchmaker I've ever met too. Now, I also buy gold. When you drop off a ring you bought for $2,000 and I offer you $275 for it, what would you say? You have to think though, the gold in this ring doesn't determine it's sale price, the style and manufacturer do. If I decide I want to put it in my case rather than melt it down (which I never do but let's just say), I'd look at the current new retail price and deduct what I think is a good discount. Sure, I fix it up and make it look new but it's still second hand. Retail is a funny thing and anything I buy may sit on my shelf for YEARS. I have to calculate this in not only my offer to you, but also my resale price. The perfect balance is a medium buy price from you, and an acceptable markup from me (usually 20-50%) Where Gamestop lost their way is that they realized there were no major contenders so they can do whatever they want and you just have to put up with it. I've heard several similar statements from Micro$oft in the last few weeks that just prove to me they're headed down the same road. Finally I will say that services like Steam really haven't harmed much. On the other hand if I get "banned" from Steam, I can still play my games I just can't access the other features. Now Xbox Live on the other hand...
  • WeediestNugs - June 15, 2013 9:55 a.m.

    Listen, all you who are still spewing this DRM, "Microsoft is killing game ownership" crap need to open you're ears.. They have already stated that not all of it held water. Sure they have the ability to tack on fees and other annoying hoops to jump through and they MIGHT, and I use the term very hesitantly, use that ability. However if you think about it, any company, Sony included technically has the ability to enforce fees and annoyances like this at anytime they feel its necessary. Just how all of a sudden you have to pay for PS+ to play PS4 online, or how MS now offers 2 games a month for free (and no I don't care that they are slightly older and they are chosen by MS, you're going to complain that they gave you free s#!t but not the right free s#!t? C'mon man!) The fact the MS is trying to use the cloud based digital media to prevent piracy, cut the horrible ties that companies like Gamestop have on us and because they can more effectively funnel our money towards the developers, should tell you that they are trying to keep AAA gaming alive, accessible and affordable. NOW, for all of you PS4 fanboys that just dropped a load in their pants from screaming at me through you're monitor, you need to think about this... When you trade games in, how often do you feel like you got what the game was worth? I mean is it really a good deal when you just paid $65 for the new COD that was terrible and you take it back the next day to find you can only get $25 of that back? And the worst part is, after you trade it in for less than half of what you paid yesterday, they put it back out for $55, over double what you got for it. This trend gets worse as games age, for instance, RIGHT NOW if you traded in say COD MW3, you MIGHT get $5 - $7, then you look on the shelf and realize that game is still $20 used. They are marking games up 200-300 percent. Think about PC gaming, you have to enter a serial code to play that game, that in turn makes someone who owns it second hand have to pay the developer a small fee to get it re-licensed, this in turn puts much more money in the pocket of the people tasked with making the games you love, better. If you don't understand the positive revolution that could come from this, you are blind and ignorant. How often do you hear people complaining about the license fees for PC games? You don't hear people complaining about the steam service either, and it's pretty restrictive. The fact that there can be no independent company (i.e. Gamestop, Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon) hoarding all the money from used games will be a blessing to almost all. I'm sure they will still sell used games, and if you buy from them you probably will wind up paying more than you should to play used games, that is why we as gamers need to take back control of second-hand gaming. If you want a used game, check other options first (i.e. Craigslist, friends that have the game you want, or see if it's comparable to buy it new.) because the best side effect of these choices by MS is cheaper new games. With more second-hand profits going to the developer and not gamestop, the original price of games will drop if not plummet. Bottom line is we have to trust each other as the gaming community, not the corporations and developers but the gamers, to keep these companies honest. To me that means, go ahead and buy the system that fits you and you're life, and if that company imposes things that you do not like or that negatively impact the gaming world, that's when we band together as customers and make our point and our concerns known, whether its by changing systems or boycotting one system or dropping console gaming all together. This problem everyone is up in arms about doesn't even exist yet. Rumors and speculation do nothing but cause confusion. Now, that being said, as far as mandatory internet access once a day, I agree it is a bit overboard to restrict my ability to play any of my games because I don't have internet access. That being said, if it allows me to access my games from any console and lets me keep any game I have ever paid for, even after a sell the disc to my friend, then I have no problems with it. If you do, go get internet. On the other hand, if you don't have internet and cant get it where you live, you won't be accessing most of the core features of an XboxOne anyways, so just get a PS4, or stick with the 360 for that matter (far cheaper, and since you can't afford internet why are you even getting a next gen system that cost 400 dollars? pointless) Now to address this "death of third party exclusives". WHAT?!?! XboxOne has plenty of third party exclusives, just because they have more FIRST party exclusives than PS4 doesn't mean that's all they have. XboxOne also has, BY FAR, the better selection of exclusives, and release day games, anyone who says otherwise has NO idea what they are PS4 Fanboys, nothing more.
  • WeediestNugs - June 15, 2013 9:01 p.m.

    No just finally got so sick of listening to all these whining kids talk about, because this company is trying to protect itself and its developers, they are ruining gaming or stealing from us. MS marketing? I only wish I had that well paying of a job. I'm an insulator if you know what that is, if not http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/insulator?s=t (definition number 2, still confused? see : Insulate)
  • gadjo - June 16, 2013 11:12 p.m.

    We're complaining about the concept of ownership being chipped away at. Piracy is a problem, but last I checked, you don't fight pirates by burning all the stuff they're trying to steal and telling your actual customers to suck it.
  • secondhand1 - June 17, 2013 8:59 a.m.

    "What the game was worth"? In Gamestop Land, a game's worth is about inventory and demand, not subjective, juvenile bullshit. Complaining about trade in prices is about the dumbest thing someone can do.
  • bee2005 - June 15, 2013 6:21 a.m.

    Wiser gamer shouldn't go for Xbox1. Whoever loves restrictions at the first place? No one....
  • sleepyMexican45 - June 14, 2013 2:48 p.m.

    Its sad that MS decided to try to forcefully steer the corporate gaming world into their own mould. They seem to forget people dont like change and certainly dont care about the future of gaming as a whole. People will see this as a greed move, wheher right or wrong. its just too early and too sudden to remove used games and brick and mortar sales from the equation, especially as there'll be a huge increase in non-hardcore active gamers over christmas. To put it simply, people cant and wont stand for being told what they can and cant do with their money. Stupid move MS.
  • WeediestNugs - June 15, 2013 10:07 a.m.

    Too early to move to digital media? Do you like that Iphone you have full of digitally DL'ed songs, movies and TV shows? or the Ipad you got? or your netflix watch instantly acct, or your collection of movies DL'ed on your current console? C'mon man! it's past the time for digital media not to soon. Grow up, they are not telling you what you can and can't do with your money,you can go buy a ps4 or a sega saturn for all they care, they are simply trying to keep the industry you claim to love, alive. and just for perspective, I own a modded 360 and have about 60 burned games, but i still support this change to better regulate who profits from our gaming addictions and to see that those addictions continue to be fed with quality games. If i can pay $20 less for a new game because I have to pay a small fee when I buy a used game, so be it. Do you all not realize that you will own these games after you buy the license for them??? if you trade your disc to a friend your license won't disappear. think about that.
  • sleepyMexican45 - June 15, 2013 4:16 p.m.

    wow you completely misunderstood my comment/ didn't read it properly. and the problem isn't about digital media.

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