Was The Backlash Against The Xbox One Fair?
Microsoft suffered considerable backlash as a result of its less-than-stellar showing at E3 this year. To say that people weren't happy with the Richmond-based tech giant would be putting it lightly. For the next month, Microsoft effectively became a whipping boy for virtually everyone else in the industry. I myself hopped on the bandwagon to take a few snipes at the organization.
Much of the ridicule was connected to Microsoft's policies related to online connectivity. Somewhat foolishly, the organization decided that it would be a good idea to require once-a-day, 24-hour authentication. By the time Microsoft saw the writing on the wall and rescinded its policies, the damage had already been done. Microsoft was staring a shattered reputation in the face, and Sony seemed well in position to run gleefully away with this generation of gaming. Even now, as the Xbox One has begun to pick up in popularity, Microsoft is still suffering residual effects.
Today, I'm here to ask a simple question - was this backlash fair? Was it justified? Did Microsoft deserve what it got, or was it simply the victim of a gross overreaction on the part of the games industry; fearful of a future which will ultimately prove inevitable?
Development veteran Peter Molyneux seems to believe the former. In his mind, we've killed an incredible innovation; done away with something great and beautiful.
"It's quite an unfair thought that Microsoft are trying to control our gaming, they're trying to force us to be online all the time." Molyneux mused to Tech Radar. "People really didn't think that through."
"I know Microsoft. I know they were only doing things because they thought they were long-reaching and long-thinking. But the world we live in now is one where you have to realize, especially if you're a big corporation, that if you make one step wrong, the entire world will leap on you, and unfairly, very unfairly, they will judge you."
"Whether as consumers we like it or not, just like every form of technological interaction, there's an inevitability to online. We know that online is so much a part of existence now that we're eventually going to have to be connected all the time."
This, he concluded, simply wasn't good enough for gamers, who demanded more benefits than Microsoft was able to provide. In the process, he feels, the industry lost something valuable and unique; it missed out on something that simply doesn't happen enough in gaming.
Molyneux isn't the only ones who's expressed doubt about the situation involving the Xbox One, either. Development legend John Carmack also weighed in on the matter. Carmack, though he admitted he wasn't really a fan of Microsoft's original policies, explained that he wasn't really a fan of how people reacted to them, either. Again, he feels as though we may well have missed out on something potentially brilliant, implying that Microsoft's ideas for the Xbox One might simply have been a few years ahead of their time.
"There's a couple things that have played into the public consciousness on it. One of the things that was up early before even the major issues with the used games was people being a little freaked out about Kinect being on at all times," said Carmack, speaking in a Quakecon Keynote. "I had a lot of conversations with people that just didn't think that was right - that that feels incorrect. I am completely confident that that's a sort of temporary vision of things. Ten years ago, the idea that we'd all be carrying around mobile phones equipped with GPS's in our pockets would cause a lot of the tinfoil hat crowd to go absolutely crazy."
"I think the witch hunt was a little bit unjustified," he said later, referring to the ire customers directed at Microsoft. "I personally am extremely fond of having all of my digital purchases in a curated garden. All of my iTunes, all of my Amazon stuff, all of my Steam things...it's a positive thing."
Like Molyneux, Carmack believes an era of solely digital purchases is inevitable.
"Yeah, you can have better and worse ways of doing that, but we are very quickly going to be past the age of having a game that you hold in your hands on optical media. It probably won't be many years before we wind up with SKUs that just have the optical drives deleted and everything will just be going through the 'net. The future is obvious right there and it will be good for us in general." As for things like authentication requirements and the dreaded always-on functionality?
"We'll get used to it," he said, "because potential security concerns that come with new technology are inevitable."
I suppose, in a sense, both Carmack and Molyneux are correct. A future where technology is constantly wired is inevitable. Trying to resist this change - trying to pretend as though it isn't going to happen - seems rather ignorant, in light of this. Could it be that Microsoft saw the writing on the wall and was trying to rush gleefully forward into the new era?
Possibly - but they still did it in the most ham-handed way imaginable. The problem, I think (and I've said this before), was less with the technology Microsoft presented, and more with the way the organization marketed it. In much the same way it botched the Windows 8 launch, Microsoft continued happily - ignorantly, even - on its way, handing out poor explanations like candy and ignoring the bulging powder keg it was stoking with every word.
It should not have been surprised to see that keg finally burst, yet it was.
The simple fact is; gamers are a rather passionate bunch. We love our hobby enough that, whenever we see something that we perceive as a threat to it, we often tend to overreact, belching out unrestrained rage in the direction of anyone who'll bother to listen. This tendency, coupled with the raw, unfiltered nature of the Internet, means that even small annoyances are magnified many times over, resulting in even the smallest slight receiving a completely disproportionate reaction.
It's the sort of attitude that leads people to make graphic threats over something as small as the tweaking of a virtual gun. It's an ugly, vile side to our hobby, and it's one we're going to have to deal with if we're to truly move forward. But that's a topic for another day - we're getting off track, as we so often do.
Looking back - with a much clearer head now that all the hype has died down - I won't deny that fans and journalists alike overreacted to Microsoft's plans and policies, but neither will I deny that Microsoft was at least partially to blame. The company approached PR with a sledgehammer where it should have used a drill, and demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of what its audience wanted as it did.
Instead of trying to ease consumers slowly into new and unfamiliar waters, it expected everyone to dive head-first with only poorly-worded explanations to guide them. Worse, it couched its new offerings in DRM. Although the industry took Microsoft's blunders and relentlessly beat them into the ground, the simple fact remains that the organization still made them in the first place, kicking off a sad process which ultimately led to the death of something truly unique and entirely promising.
At the end of the day, neither side is blameless here. The backlash against the Xbox One wasn't entirely justified, but neither was it entirely unfair. The reality, as it so often does, lies somewhere in between.