Saturday 22 June 2013

E3 2013 Update - Xbox One DRM Reversal

So... in a flash of blatant common sense Microsoft has had a complete reversal on the Xbox One DRM. Given the thrashing the Xbox One was getting from gamers, and from games journalists, getting rid of the DRM is just so purely logical it’s almost Zen like.

In my post 'E3 2013 - A PC Gamers Perspective' I fell on the side of the PS4 (kind of), stating that if I was to buy either system at launch it would be the Sony console. Has my opinion changed? Read on dear viewer!

But first the DRM reversal itself...

Microsoft..... Complete Idiots? Yes.

To be perfectly honest this whole incident really speaks to how much Microsoft really sucks at understanding gamers and the target market. 

Just about everything about the Xbox One launch has been botched. The reveal event which tried to sell the console as a TV device to a core gamer audience. The middle finger to submariners and other military personnel. And an E3 press conference which said almost nothing about the console itself, the DRM, family sharing of games, indie titles, the cloud processing. Not to mention running the games on show at E3 on high end PCs rather than equivalent Xbox One hardware, and giving the impression that we may have another Aliens: Colonial Marines situation upcoming (Aliens Colonial Marines E3 2012 preview vs the 2013 released product).

Microsoft did the same thing with Windows 8. And again they have had to come out with an apology in the form of the Windows 8.1 service pack which will reintroduce the start button and ability to boot directly to desktop. 

It's almost like Microsoft's marketing and development teams are in a world of their own. Completely disconnected from reality, and without even a little bit of understanding of how the market works or how to communicate to the target audience.

High end Windows 7 PCs masquerading and Xbox One dev kits. Complete with Nvida GTX video cards rather the Xbox One equivalent AMD 7790 (Images from Blended Gaming).

This DRM situation was yet another example of Microsoft completely not getting the point. 

I get the need for these sorts of DRM systems, especially moving into a completely online distribution system as Microsoft is clearly trying to do. And I also think that systems that see developers continue to earn an income from their titles after the initial release period should be explored. But in my post on video game piracy I raised the issue that it is very easy to conceptually devalue a product by taking away features or otherwise negativity impacting the experience. If you take something away then you must give something back if you want the product to retain the same value in the eyes of customers.

This is where Microsoft fucked up. Being able to lend games to your mates, having access to cheap pre-owned games, being able to on sell your games, and not being tied to the internet are features that console gamers very much value. By taking these away Microsoft devalued their product to the point that no one wanted to buy it.

But the thing is Microsoft could have kept the DRM if it had just spent more time explaining the other ways that they would add value back to the system. Being able to access your Xbox Live library from any Xbox system. Being able to share your library with up to 10 people. Cloud processing. Trading digital games. Better indie support. All of these could have given the Xbox huge advantages in the eyes of gamers, and could have blunted the loss of features and freedoms through DRM. But instead Microsoft provided next to no information about how these features were going to work, what the restrictions would be, or what exact benefits they would provide. 

Instead from the point of view of gamers what we saw were the removal of freedoms that console gamers had enjoyed for decades. And fuck all of anything else.
The moment Sony 'won' E3 2013.

To be clear I am very happy with Microsoft dropping the online check in requirement. These systems just aren't ready for prime time yet. Error 37, the Sim City debacle, even Steam is not exactly 100% reliable. If you can't guarantee that your servers will never be down, don't make your console reliant on them. And that's without even getting into the problems faced by people who simply don't have consistent access to the net.

But the status quo is not exactly the greatest answer either. The status quo is games releasing at NZ$120. It's on disk DLC. It's micro transactions. It's generic 6 hour first person shooters. What Microsoft should have done is used this issue to identify and address why pre-owned games are so popular in the first place. Or why piracy exists. And then suggesting solutions. Yes removing the DRM is great from the consumers point of view. But it doesn't do anything to move the industry forward. It doesn't fix the underlying problems. It isn't exciting. Wouldn't it have been great if Microsoft could have kept the DRM, and also have kept all the other features that the DRM allowed, but also have address the issues of overpriced games, and increasingly poor production values? Actually have made gaming better to compensate for the inclusion of DRM. 

But then that would require a certain amount of competence the Microsoft just didn't seem to have.....

Personally I would have been fine with the loss of pre-owned games if Microsoft had announced that new titles would release at half the current price simply because of the extra revenue produced by every single person needing to buy them. Or that pricing would now reflect the length/quality of the game. Likewise having to be online to check in with Microsoft every 24 hours may not have been such a massive deal if it was shown how cloud processing actually provides a massive benefit to gaming. And actually showing us how indie titles were going to benefit from the new self publish systems could have made me at least take a notice.

So, would I buy one?

I own a PS3. I like my PS3. But there are some things that I prefer about Xbox consoles. The controller for example – I have big white man hands. The PS3 controller seems to be made for a Japanese school girl. Long gaming sessions on my PS3 often end up in crampy hands.  Sony also tends to focus on Japanese styled games (for lack of a better term), JRPGs, anime graphics, emo kids, etc...  which I’m just not into. I also own an original Xbox (an Xbox 1.... ?) and a PS2. The Xbox was easily my favourite console of that generation. Really the deciding factor in me getting a PS3 was the blue ray support - that machine is a kick ass blue ray player.

About 40% of my original Xbox Collection.
Does Microsoft’s DRM reversal change my mind in favour of the Xbox One? Yes... I guess.... Ultimately what was pushing me away from the Xbox One in favour of the PS4 was the difficulty in playing games. So in that case this news is a big plus for me in favour of the Xbox.

But both consoles are still very expensive considering that most of the non-gaming content is not available in NZ – and possibly never will be - and the games are about 20-30% more expensive than the same titles on PC at launch.

So you could say that for me the PS4 and the Xbox one are now on a closer to equal footing. Not that that is really a good thing for either manufacturer. Both Sony and Microsoft have yet to provide any compelling arguments for why I, as PC gamer, should buy a console at launch. The Xbox is now just slightly less shit.

PC gaming is still the best option for me, and I’m more than happy to sit back for 6 – 12 months after launch to see how Sony and Microsoft play things out.

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