Microsoft did not handle the fallout from its Xbox One announcement particularly well. By failing to explain exactly how its new online features would impact gamers, it sparked a wave of comments, anger and, let's face it, hatred, which has now resulted in the company doing a complete 180. Insert 360 joke here. The Xbox One no longer has to connect to the internet once every 24 hours; games can be traded and shared as they are now; the idea of owning 'a licence' has been forgotten about entirely.
It's fair to say that a number of these policies were a little eyebrow raising. Game ownership and the everpressing debate on how to handle trade-ins has been nibbling at the industry's feet for years, a very strict divide being constructed between gamers – who rightly believe they can do as they wish with their bought product – and publishers – who rightly believe subsequent sales of their property should make its way back into the business. In all honesty it's a travesty that the audience should even have to be involved with such an argument, and even if Microsoft hadn't reversed its stance it's unlikely this sore point would have just all-of-a-sudden vanished.
The real problem with this u-turn is what it means for the next-generation of hardware. Along with falling into the same old trap that we now have two boxes that are more or less identical to one another – exclusives notwithstanding – it delays a digital future that may've just worked out for the best.
It's easy to fly the 'Microsoft is trying to control us' flag, but given that the Xbox One hasn't even got an official release date yet means that's nothing more than hearsay. Admittedly the same is true of taking the opposite stance, but there's every chance the ideas Don Mattrick and co. were supporting could actually have benefited us in the long run. Right or wrong, I've been intrigued and interested about the console since it was revealed on 21 May, much as I was at Sony's conference earlier in the year.
In the same way as iTunes did with music, Amazon did with books and, yes, Steam did with games, Microsoft could've installed similar concepts that granted us things we've been hoping for since online become so important. Affordable, cheaper games; the ability to get a fair price on your digital sales; DLC that wasn't overly priced or often hidden on a disc; the death of tacked-on 'we must include this to stop pre-owned sales' multiplayer. There would've been a settling period, sure, and if the last few weeks are anything to go by the Xbox One would've made plenty of mistakes before, hopefully, getting it right. But that's the same story for iTunes, Amazon and, yes, the now untouchable Steam which was once, believe it or not, universally despised.
It's all well and good to believe that Microsoft is the personification of evil, determined to destroy all in its path, but surely at some point you have to take a step back and think whether or not it does, in fact, have some business sense: sense which would’ve served both the company and you, the consumer, for the better. Just take a look at Apple, for example.
It also raises the issue of how other publishers will respond. Despite saying otherwise, I cannot believe that EA just happened to drop its online pass mere days before the Xbox One's announcement, and nothing would surprise me less if new measures were now showcased before the new console era comes into effect. There's every chance these are even more controversial than what, before last night, were already in place.
The saddest thing about this whole debacle is that the sharing functionality has, naturally, now been removed entirely. As questionable as having your console check-in once a day was, it was a feature that could've genuinely moved things forward, if only a tad. Much like sharing a book through Amazon's Kindle service (you can lend it to another reader for 14 days), it embraces the age we're currently living in. Sure, the model we have is serviceable, but if nobody embraces what we are able to do now, then what's the point of it all? Admittedly it may've been too early for most gamers, and a big reason for this switch is largely to do with Microsoft's fear about how sales would match up against Sony's PS4, but there was still a choice for those who weren't ready to accept it. It potentially could've offered something legitimately new and different, a far cry from the stale environment we're currently experiencing.
Ultimately, the decision to merge the physical with the digital seems to be the biggest bugbear. If the company Bill Gates built had a specific, more concise and sympathetic message, more people may've warmed to the proposal, but then doing so would've created a rift as far as retailers are concerned. With a console to sell, Microsoft couldn't cut them out the loop entirely, even if that may've been in the plans a few years after launch. Now, we may never know.
Aside from seriously denting what Microsoft had intended for the next-generation – good or bad it obviously had a strategy it was keen to implement – now that it has categorically changed course it'll be interesting, if not a little worrying, to see where it ends up. Undoubtedly once the dust has settled and the Xbox One has found its way into people's homes the initiatives of old may return, but on many levels flip-flopping again may not work out as well as some think. Personally, it just feels like an ardent stance against moving forward with the times, happy to stay rooted in the same place we have been for seven years, complete with the same problems none of us were happy about in the first place. That doesn't sound like too much fun...
I'm sure many of you may read this and think it's nothing more than click-baiting nonsense but I assure you it isn't. In the same way it winds up a publisher when someone at VideoGamer.com says a game is utter pap, I completely understand why you may feel the same if something you feel so strongly about is questioned. At the same time, I've got to be honest. And I have.