What Microsoft Is Doing Right With The Xbox One
I don't believe I'd be exaggerating if I said that Microsoft has fast become the company that everyone loves to hate. Their reveal of the Xbox One was, to put it lightly, a PR disaster; it's been shoving its collective foot deeper and deeper down its throat ever since. In all honesty, it's gotten to the point that no one at Microsoft can say anything without getting at least a little bit of hate for it.
The games industry is very often a fickle mistress.
I'll readily admit that I'm guilty of jumping on the Microsoft hate-wagon on more than one occasion. Perhaps it's too easy to see what the Richmond-based megacorporation is doing wrong; too simple to point out where they're going wrong. Either way, I'd like to look at the other side of the coin today. What is Microsoft doing right with the Xbox One? What's promising and exciting about the console, and what are its redeeming features?
Let's get started.
Playing To The Controversy
A strange thought occurred to me the other day. What if Microsoft actually meant for people to get angry at them in the initial stages of their campaign for the Xbox One? It sounds like an absurd idea doesn't it? Even so, there's a good chance that more people are talking about the new Xbox right now than would be if the reveal had gone off without a hitch. People seem to enjoy complaining more than talking positive, after all.
Of course, there's a much higher chance that Microsoft simply didn't realize how it'd come across.
Whatever the case, Microsoft can definitely use all the controversy it's generated thus far to its advantage, but only if it plays its cards right: it's an extremely risky strategy if it's a conscious one. I'm sure more than one user will be tuning in to E3 to watch Microsoft fail (and many others will be tuning in desperately hoping they don't). If they do as they've promised and blow everyone away at E3, then all the hate they've generated could well work to their advantage.
Support For Indie Games
Either the gaming press's notions that Microsoft isn't supporting independent developers weren't entirely accurate, or Microsoft has recently established itself as the reigning king of the backpedal. Whatever the case, Microsoft's Don Mattrick smartly came forward a few days ago and informed everyone that they fully understand the importance of independent developers, and that there's no way they'll build a box which doesn't support indie gaming. As a matter of fact, said Mattrick, they're taking things one step further, and implementing an "independent creator program." They haven't released the details yet, but it does sound promising.
Smart move on their part, and even smarter that they paid attention to the negative press and nipped it in the bud.
Used Game Sales
I'm of the mind that a game developer complaining about used game sales is akin to car manufacturers complaining about used car sales: it simply doesn't make sense. The used games market is an integral part of console gaming, as not everyone has $60+ to drop on a new title that they may not even enjoy. All attempts to address the issue have taken the form of forced 'online passes,' extra purchases, or invasive DRM: basically, stuff that serves no purpose except to make the situation worse.
Plus, it's hard to be all that sympathetic to people who try to say that the purchasing of used games is worse than piracy.
Personally, I think Microsoft might be onto something with its new initiative, where it collects a small stipend from the sale of used games. I say might because there are so many ways this initiative could go wrong. That used games are registered by retailers when they're traded in is good. That a percentage of the sale goes to the original developer is also good. That a percentage of that sale also goes to Microsoft, well...
Jury's still out on that one.
My concern isn't at all with the initiative itself, which is actually a fairly decent concept on paper. The way it works is as follows: when a game is traded in, it's registered in the retailer's system. That system checks in once in a while - once every 24 hours, most likely - with Microsoft's servers. Basically, it just lets them know that the game's still there. When the game is purchased, it's removed from the database. Retailers can charge whatever they want for the titles.
I've actually got two issues with this initiative. The first is that, as a result of the cuts taken by Microsoft and the developers; retailers might end up charging even more for used games, which could very well defeat the purpose of buying used in the first place. It could kill the market.
A second concern becomes clear when you look at the fact that Microsoft appears willing to implement an identical system for players, as well: when a used game is purchased, it can then be registered to an account. That account checks in every now and then with Microsoft's servers to 'authenticate' the purchases.
In other words....say good-bye to borrowing and lending games, and hello to online DRM. Even though Microsoft has been quick to establish that a constant Internet connection is not required, the Xbox One still needs to check in every now and then...which is a problem in and of itself.
Not Forcing The Always-Online Issue
Always-on DRM has been a touchy subject for gamers ever since the whole concept was introduced. Thankfully, Microsoft isn't going to be utilizing it. It would appear as though they realized that forcing a console to always require an Internet connection would amount to business suicide.
That isn't to say the console doesn't require a periodic Internet connection for Kinect and a number of other features included with the Xbox One. To be honest, the only thing that concerns me is the game authentication. As to the rest, the Internet is pretty widely used in most of the developed world. It's not a huge concern to me.
Perhaps most importantly - and this is a lesson that every inventor, developer, or businessman can learn - Microsoft is listening to what people are saying. Whatever missteps they may be making, they're evidently keeping an ear to the ground regarding how their fans feel. It remains to be seen whether or not they'll make good on the feedback they hear, though: here's hoping that they do.