Second Thoughts: As Microsoft desperately rewrites vision to support Xbox One, the PS4 is still the console to beat

  • Posted June 30th, 2013 at 22:17 EDT by Steve Chaffin

In mid-July, some friends and I will be participating in The Zombie Run. This 5K run is placed in an area that has been completely redesigned to replicate the desolate image of a zombie apocalypse, and those interested can participate as either a zombie or a human. As humans, my friends and I will be forced to abandon one another as we try to evade the flesh-eating interests of the hungry undead. Our team name? Microsoft.

Okay, our team name isn't Microsoft. But it should be: throughout the month of June, Microsoft has illustrated itself as disjointed and disoriented, one moment tirelessly defending DRM policies and the next revoking them completely. These are policies which might have actually worked well had MS held the line, but, while everyone is heralding the removal of 24-hour online verification and restrictive DRM policies and forecasting a much closer console war, I'm here to tell you that those reports are false. Leaving behind the month of June, the PlayStation 4 is in even better shape than it was exiting a Sony-praising E3.

Confidence and Concession

Companies should not bow to every whim of its consumers, and I mean that. Occasionally, a company has a breakthrough idea that initially sounds irrational and inconvenient, but later it evolves into something we look back and ask "how did we ever do without ____?" As an Apple fan, I frequently remind people of how skeptical everyone was before the iPad released, and the widespread popularity it garnered shortly thereafter. We didn't know why we'd ever use a tablet, but Apple sure gave the industry and consumers its answer.

An engineer for Microsoft discusses the reasoning behind the company's Xbox One DRM policies in a much clearer fashion than his employer:

“The whole point of the DRM switch from disc-based to cloud-based is to kill disc swapping, scratched discs, bringing discs to a friend’s house, trade-ins for [little] value with nothing going back to developers, and high game costs,” the engineer said. “If you want games cheaper than 59.99, you have to limit used games somehow.”

“GameStop, Walmart, Target, [and] Amazon are kind of entrenched in the industry. They have a lot of power, and the shift has to be gradual. Long-term goal is Steam for consoles [...] We’re trying to move the industry forward towards digital distribution,” he added.

Nothing about the above explanation sounds particularly threatening. Nowhere did he tell gamers that don't like the Xbox One to stick with the Xbox 360 or make some idiotic remark about nuclear submarines. The engineer gave some simple details and created a logical argument for why consumers should want DRM policies to be more restrictive than previously. Instead, Microsoft executives (I don't want to mention Don Mattrick by name) painted their company as greedy and acting purely in its own interests. I've never seen such a horrible pitch to consumers. I could do better. Really. And for significantly less pay.

Because of its disastrous crisis control, Microsoft stepped back and revoked all restrictions on used-game sharing and digital rights in order to ward off imminent doom. The internet burst out with joy. But what do these concessions really mean? It means that Microsoft is now extremely behind in terms of publisher agreements. Taking into account the impact the new DRM restrictions would have had on publishers, a number of agreements were undoubtedly forged to ensure that this new system would be beneficial for both parties. The overnight disappearance of any restrictions, of restrictions that were deemed fundamental to the Xbox One experience, certainly must have put all of those arrangements into question.

That isn't all. If a company has no confidence in itself, it's likely that consumers won't have much confidence in it either. Microsoft initially seemed prepare to fight the public on with its Xbox One policies. They were passionate about it. This is the future, they said, and it's time we man up and embrace it. But it was all a bluff. When the numbers started to reveal an unfavorable tip of the hat, Microsoft jumped off its own bandwagon and underwent a complete turnaround.

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Steven is a contributor for PlayStation Universe studying Journalism and Economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
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