In a recent interview with The Guardian, Phil Spencer of Microsoft said, “We’re committed to the digital ecosystem that we talked about at the beginning of Xbox One.”
To me, that immediately rings alarm bells in my head about what the future of next generation could hold for those that dip their toes into the Microsoft ecosystem. Ever since watching the initial announcement, I was slamming the announcement livestream, and at the same time absolutely dreading the product that we would end up seeing later in the year. Even if Microsoft was massively screwing up with their then always online DRM policies, it wouldn’t be good for the industry as a whole. To me, the idea of Microsoft potentially doing this could lead other publishers and console manufacturers to following in their steps if it ended up working out well, which would be an awful look for an industry I love and care about.
Which is why I was so surprised when they had ended up reversing their policies. I was on vacation back in June when the initial reversal of the Xbox One occurred: When they went against the idea of requiring you to always be online to use your Xbox One. Back at that moment, it felt absolutely insane, and only being able to occasionally get updates from friends on Twitter due to Wi-Fi being average at best and NeoGAF being down, I almost thought it was some sort of joke. Microsoft had pushed the “positives” of an always online, always connected Xbox One with the force of a battering ram, why would they go against it now?
Was it a decision to help aid all of the gamers that were against always online DRM? Did Microsoft finally realize the error of their ways and how requiring the internet for their console was an incredibly dumb move? No, they probably didn’t. In reality, it was all more than likely a response to bad PR and incredibly low pre-orders for the Xbox One. It seems rather obvious to say that Microsoft most likely did all of this to save their own hides as opposed to any face turns or changes of heart; they had a product that was ailing about a half a year before it would be released—and had no indication that the outcome would improve, so the idea of the first reversal seemed like a no brainer in a way. Although I was interested, in a strange sick and twisted way, to see an Xbox One launch with always online required, it was much more of a relief to know that they had gotten rid of that. It was a positive for gamers worldwide, without a doubt.
Of course, this kind of quote and these kinds of attitudes completely frighten me in regards to the Xbox One. Although, in a sense, I am interested in getting it to a degree (though at the moment the console being bundled with Kinect and it being much more expensive than the other next generation consoles turn me off of buying it at the moment—though that’s another story altogether), but at the moment, it feels like Microsoft can’t exactly be trusted with goodwill towards their customers. Not saying in the slightest that the other console manufacturers have been paragons, but Microsoft even less so. Microsoft’s sudden decision to reverse their initial policies all in hopes of gaining back some favor with gamers and the media, while nice, rubbed me the wrong way in a sense. It wasn’t exactly done out of the goodness of their hearts, but all in an attempt to gain back some favor with the market. While, obviously understandable due to Microsoft being a business, it still shows the idea that Microsoft doesn’t exactly care about the customer—the people who built up their brand, and only about the wallets that the customers are holding.
There’s been a voice in the back of my mind since the reversal was unveiled that warned me not to forgive Microsoft and not to buy an Xbox One anytime within the first year or so of the console’s release. Because, in all honesty, slightly paranoid or not, I have the feeling that Microsoft could go back on their reversal; a re-reversal, so to speak. With enough people now pre-ordering the Xbox One, and assuming that within one to two years they have a sizeable user base, there’s always the chance that Microsoft could try and stealthily implement these changes. Considering, if I recall correctly, that all of the online DRM policies are to be removed with a Day One patch for the console, there would be very little stopping them from releasing a patch for the console later on that would just implement it all.
Is this line of thought just a worst-case scenario? Maybe it is. I hope it is. I hope that none of the possibilities I’m discussing come true and that all of the next generation consoles remain as they are now (or, if possible, improve).
But at the same time, I still feel like it could be a very real threat looming over head. In a sense it makes me glad that I’ve never been in Microsoft’s ecosystem, nor have I had friends in their ecosystem that have pushed me towards it. But at the same time, that’s a very real scenario for a lot of people. A lot of people are already in the Xbox 360 ecosystem, or have friends in that ecosystem that’ll be moving onto the Xbox One and will be more encouraged to move to that console as well. And then, again, there runs that risk of Microsoft just re-implementing that DRM a few years down the line once the user base is big enough.
I won’t be getting an Xbox one at launch and after this (alongside my already wanting to sit back and wait) I probably won’t get one for a few years, if at all. Some of the games, admittedly, do interest me, but I don’t want to potentially support this type of DRM for these games. So I’m just going to sit back, wait, and see.
And hopefully we won’t be seeing this happen a year or two down the line.