Xbox One80: Where Do We Go From Here?
So the big news has spread quickly: Microsoft has been dragged around back and bludgeoned into submission in the court of public opinion, and the Xbox One will now be both DRM- and, just for good measure, region-free, making it slightly more consumer friendly than even their current offering, the Xbox 360. We'll get into the implications of the move in a moment, but first of all, as someone who participated in the backlash myself, I just want to take a moment to say how proud I am to be a gamer right now.
The influence of the market has always been somewhat difficult to measure by nature. Sure, there's the concept of voting with your dollar for things you like, against things you don't, but it's really not all that often that you see our influence manifest itself so visibly and tangibly as we've seen here with the Xbox One. In this instance, we as a community banded together almost unanimously in vehement opposition to an unprecedented withdrawal of our consumer rights. Now we have the perfect example, the case study of how much influence we truly have over the direction of the industry. We need to take great pride in that fact, so here's to all of us.
Now, the day after Microsoft completely shifted their entire next-gen strategy in the face of more opposition than it seems they could have even imagined, we can finally sit down and fully digest the implications of the move beyond the simple fact that Microsoft has systematically cleansed the Xbox One of everything that really made it a non-starter as a gaming platform.
E3 is a pretty good place to start, actually. Microsoft's press conference that kicked off the week was dismissed out of hand by many of us, myself included, simply because the realities of the hardware at the time were an outright non-starter. (I may have still begrudgingly committed to one had there been an announcement of an exclusive Legend of Heroes or Grandia title, but the odds of that happening on an Xbox system were nonexistent.) Going back and watching the presser now, with yesterday's developments fresh in mind, puts a whole new, positive atmosphere over their show, a very welcome change.
Even during E3 itself, I was pretty open about the fact that Microsoft's show, if taken simply on a game-by-game basis and completely disassociated from the realities of the Xbox One as we knew them at the time, was actually very strong, and would have probably been enough to win E3. Forza 5? Killer Instinct III? Titanfall? These are showstoppers in and of themselves, put them together and you have a pretty historic show. This becomes even more pronounced when you consider that without the baggage that Xbox One carried into the LA Convention Center, Jack Tretton wouldn't have had the chance to dismantle Microsoft's entire, would-be monumental performance over a three-minute span that ended up defining the entire week. In even simpler terms, move yesterday's news two weeks up the calendar, and suddenly it becomes hard to imagine Microsoft not winning E3.
That didn't happen.
Worse, it didn't happen when there's no good reason why it didn't. Whether it was indecision or misplaced hubris that held off the Xbox One's change of direction until yesterday, let's call it what it is. Microsoft wasted an E3. They wasted the 90-120 minutes of the year where they had the gaming community's complete and undivided attention. In this industry, that has to be taken very seriously.
This year notwithstanding, Don Mattrick has been a very servicable and effective steward of the Xbox brand. He can't work a crowd like a J Allard or a Peter Moore, but they are an unrealistic and unreasonable standard to ask anyone to follow. The problem is that he's the guy all eyes fall on when things go wrong, and if he really is the man behind DRMgate, if this wasn't pushed on him by other elements within Microsoft's games division, then Microsoft needs to part ways with him just as Sony gradually passed Ken "You'll Need A Second Job" Kutaragi through its digestive tract for less than this. If Mattrick doesn't own it, he had better start throwing the guilty parties under the bus post-haste, because his continued presence isn't inspiring any consumer trust, and just as importantly from an operational standpoint, Microsoft needs to purge itself of anyone at fault for wasting what was otherwise an excellent E3 showing.
(Ideally, Mattrick would also have to answer for his flagrant anti-consumer position on backward-compatibility, but that's not nearly so grave an offense as things like the online check-ins.)
Once the family business is taken care of, Microsoft needs to move on to the task of overcoming what was perceived as a disastrous E3 for them. After all, as nice as it would be for them, you can't win E3 retroactively. Perceptions abound even now that Sony stole the show by bringing the people's console to LA, and even a Mattrick-penned blog entry on Xbox.com that nearly broke the internet isn't going to spread word as effectively as E3 will.
The most likely cure is another trade show to build up hype on the final stretch before the launch. Call an X13 event for mid-September if no firm launch date is set by then, or early October if launch details have been locked in over the Summer. Declare a complete launch lineup at the show, have everything playable in near-finished form, and have a keynote speech that starts by driving home the points made by Don Mattrick on paper yesterday, and finish with huge spotlights on Forza Motorsport 5, Killer Instinct III, and Titanfall to send the gaming community into the holidays feeling really positive about the Xbox One and gaming in general.
Now for the trickier part; us, the players. How are we even supposed to react to this? On the basic level, Microsoft's surrender on connection requirements and other DRM is an absolute victory that we should be pleased about. It's easy to still harbor hard feelings, especially considering that Microsoft's forced shift to a more pro-consumer stance was clearly done begrudgingly, and most likely only to salvage their mass-media set-top box goals that have been in place even longer than they've had their Xbox division. The downside to punishing a company into doing what you want them to do is knowing that they aren't complying out of a sincere appreciation for their customers.
I'm not going to come out now and try to paint Sony as a company that has been consistently pro-gamer over the years, but for the last few, they've done little if anything wrong, and we can pretty safely say that the PlayStation 4 as a whole is coming from a solidly gamer-appreciative place. We see it in how Jack Tretton and Shuhei Yoshida address us. We see it in the fact that Mark Cerny has been empowered as the lead system architect and "Designated Miyamoto" of the PS4. We see it in the simple fact that they didn't have to be prodded to aim their console, first and foremost, at us. That's something nobody can change. The PS4 is now the system that was made specifically for us, and nothing can remove that from the backs of our minds whenever we're playing games on either it or the Xbox One. Microsoft is just going to have to live with that distinction.
By the same token, that doesn't mean Xbox One's actual gaming experiences necessarily have to have the stigma of their console's founding ideas stuck to them, either. No matter what was going through the minds of Microsoft's system architects, game development seldom comes from a place of negligence or contempt for the audience (unless you're dealing with Activision, but that's a subject we won't be going into here). With that in mind, I would suggest that the best attitude with which to approach the Xbox One is simply that people who don't really care about gaming, but are now so deathly afraid of us abandoning them that they're walking on eggshells around us, made a console that's really great for gaming and is very-well supported by a host of studios that do care about us and the industry.
Sony appreciates us, Microsoft is terrified of us, and there's a whole legion of outstanding developers who love us and what we're about, who are lining up to support both companies' consoles and bring us the very best that they have to offer. No, it isn't as perfect as it would be if we had reason to believe the Xbox One also came from a very pro-gamer position, but we can now go ahead and feast on both systems' libraries freely over the next several years, with no concerns that how we game or our rights as consumers are being threatened in any way. Compared to 48 hours ago, we'd be foolish to look at this as anything less than a complete victory.
Once again, here's to all of us.