An Optimist’s and a Cynic’s Opinions on the Xbox One DRM Reversal

They’ve actually gone and done it.  Microsoft have reversed their DRM policies. The Xbox One now only needs to connect to the Internet once, for your initial set-up of the console, then never again if you just want to play single-player games.  And you can now trade games and play used games on the console without having to deal with licences and the fees that may or may not have arisen from this.  This is big news, probably the biggest gaming news of the year if you’re an optimist and believe in good, truth, justice and puppies.  If you’re a cynic, however, then all this news has done is make you go “OK… what’s the catch?”  Now, I’m more of an optimist when it comes to gaming news stories like these, but I’m a cynic at heart so, as such, I can see both sides’ viewpoints here.  That’s what this article is about.  One half will list the pair of optimistic reasons as to why Microsoft have set this precedent and the other half will explain why everything is awful and Microsoft are still the devil… or something.

OK, optimistic first!

1] Microsoft have admitted that they got it wrong

Oh, sure, they haven’t outright said it, the resulting press release parrots the usual bullsh*t line of “we have listened to your feedback” that companies usually drop whenever they reverse course on anything.  They’ll never openly admit that they were wrong because that’s a death sentence for a major corporation to do, but them reversing course is them pretty much admitting that their mandatory online connections and attempts to rob you of your rights for games ownership were wrong.  That such policies wouldn’t work and that, even if they did, they were not worth the level of backlash that they were getting.

Because, make no mistake, Microsoft were pretty much on the receiving end of a blood bath ever since this news got out two weeks ago.  The press were having none of it.  Gamers were having none of it.  Sony scored massive PR points at E3 simply by doing nothing.  They have been mercilessly beaten ever since announcing these… I hesitate to use the word “features” because, last I checked, pissing all over your consumer rights is not something you should proudly trumpet on the back of your box.  In any case, it’s been a miserable few weeks to be a Microsoft stockholder, not helped when Don Mattrick went on television and said stupid sh*t like this.

By reversing course, Microsoft have done everything except openly admit that they were wrong and that their policies were stupid and that, consequently, they have now fixed those problems.  I honestly don’t think that this has ever happened before.  I don’t think that a major corporation has ever had to reverse its policies, policies that they had pretty much built their entire upcoming console around, because of extreme public outcry against them.  Which leads me to the other reason why this is a huge thing…

2] You did this.

Yes, you, dear reader.  Or, at least, those of you who have spoken out against these policies since they were announced just over 2 weeks ago.  Here is a simple fact for you to digest: Microsoft announced these DRM policies and expected you to shut up, take it and love it.  They expected that you might complain for a few hours before eventually just shrugging it off with a “Well, that’s just how it is, I guess” and then placing your pre-order regardless.  They expected that you would still turn up on launch day to buy a new console because your principles are about the same price as Call of Duty: Ghosts.

The average person’s response to Microsoft’s initial DRM plans.

And what you did, dear reader, was prove them wrong.  You stood up and complained.  You complained and campaigned and you did it to such an extent that they had no choice but to listen and change tack.  The so-called “vocal minority” (again, that’s the typical PR line trotted out whenever responding to online criticism) gave a major corporation no choice but to sit up and listen and, ultimately, respond.  Oh sure, we had Jimmy Fallon’s help (more on that shortly) but that was just the killer blow.  Between this and EA scrapping Online Passes, the act of consumers being able to demand change by complaining loud enough appears to be beginning and proves that we can make a difference!  There is no reason for us gamers to be apathetic towards the industry’s attempts to f*ck us over anymore because we can force change and we can make them listen to us if we cry “BULLSH*T!” loud enough!  These are exciting times, my friends, and we are leading the charge.

(Incidentally and though it’s mostly unrelated, I feel that it’s worth mentioning here, anyway: in response to the reversal of Microsoft’s DRM features, EA have announced that they’re still not bringing back the Online Pass system.  Proof, again, that the system works if you make your voice loud enough.)

With that boundless optimism out of the way, let’s instead look at two more cynical reasons as to why Microsoft have reversed course.

1] Sony were trouncing Microsoft completely so, consequently, this is a business move and nothing more.

Watch this official Sony video for the PS4 again.

That, my friends, is a damn effective advert.  It is short, it is simple and its message is clear, effective and one shared by the majority of the people.  That message being: “Fuck you, Microsoft”.  It’s a sentiment shared throughout the entirety of Sony’s E3 presser, where Sony was “One Punch Machine Gun” Mickey and Microsoft was Bomber Harris.  To say that Microsoft lost to Sony would be a drastic understatement.  They were humiliated as Sony beat them in all of the areas that mattered: games, price and their console not treating consumer’s rights like a piece of toilet paper.  Their stock kept dropping, consumers got angry and PS4 pre-orders were out-pacing the Xbox One’s by a considerable margin.  That last one will have been the stern wake-up call Microsoft needed seeing as, like it or not, pre-orders and the number of pre-orders placed are how a company is able to measure the possible success of its product.

Well, it doesn’t completely destroy the PS4 marketing campaign…

So, MS dropped their DRM restrictions and they did so with the intention of trying to win back the crowd from Sony and, much more importantly, to kneecap their PS4 advertising campaign before it had a chance to get into full swing.  After all, what’s a more effective marketing campaign than open brand warfare?  It works for supermarkets.  Now, both companies have to focus their advertising on the strength of their games which, again like it or not, is something that Microsoft have the upper hand on thanks to their close ties to Call Of Duty and now Battlefield which, as I’ve depressingly predicted before, is almost all that the mainstream gamer is going to care about.

As for the short term, the here and now?  This move is already working wonders.  Microsoft’s stock has risen, gamer opinion has been pretty positive and, most importantly, the Xbox One is now beating the PS4 in the pre-order race.  Simply put, this move has put Microsoft right back in contention in the next gen console war (which is like The Cold War except with a higher chance of both sides coming to blows at some point).  This is the best possible business move that MS could have made which significantly raises the chances of it being purely a shrewd business move.

The other cynical reason?

2] This is all Jimmy Fallon’s fault.

For those who don’t know, Jimmy Fallon hosts The Late Show on NBC in America.  It is very, very popular, especially in the realms of late-night talk shows.  Fallon himself is an avid gamer and, once every year, he devotes a week of the show to gaming, essentially dragging the medium into the mainstream eye for at least one week a year.  Consequently, when Jimmy Fallon notes this issue on network TV… you had better believe that news of Microsoft’s DRM policies had just been brought to mainstream attention and the accompanying round of applause for the PS4 being able to play used games – even if Fallon, like most everyone else on the planet, appears to have forgotten that the WiiU exists – is the sound of the mainstream public throwing their money at Sony.  Microsoft can’t let that happen and so they reversed course.

At least now I can play some of Xbox One’s killer looking exclusives like… err… sh*t.

See, cynical people would have you believe that Microsoft were willing to keep these draconian DRM measures as long as no-one in the mainstream got a whiff of them.  The second that the people who would only buy the console for Call Of Duty or Battlefield or Madden/FIFA heard about them and started running for the hills would be the second that MS would switch their policies.  But if the mainstream didn’t find out, at least not until it was too late to do anything about it (like, oh I don’t know, launch weekend), then MS would have continued sticking their fingers in their ears and calling the overwhelming majority of dissenting voices “a vocal minority”.  Fallon made that tactic no longer feasible and so Microsoft had to implement their back-up plan and reverse course.

Now, whilst I agree on the whole idea that “now that it’s a mainstream problem, Microsoft have no choice but to reverse course,” I seriously doubt that Jimmy Fallon of all f*cking people is the sole person responsible.  After all, the announcement came just over 12 hours after the episode aired and I highly, highly doubt that Microsoft would fast-track such a major design decision because the guy who does those History Of Rap segments with Justin Timberlake happened to casually mention a feature of the PS4 on TV that got a round of applause from his studio audience.  Again, though, a part of me does worryingly believe that MS were intent on riding this out if it didn’t go mainstream, but it did and so they back-peddled.

In any case, the news is important either way.  And whilst I believe that we shouldn’t go around applauding Microsoft’s decision to be a decent f*cking human being and do the right thing like they’re Rosa Parks or something, I still believe that we shouldn’t be giving them a tonne of sh*t for this either.  They’ve listened.  To who, I’m not sure and it’s not really important, but they listened to something and they switched tracks.  They removed the DRM.  We should at least give them props for doing so; maybe a begrudging mark of respect, at most.  After all, remember, they tried to force this DRM on us in the first place and we caught them in the act and we did not shut up about it.  Perhaps if we do this with more of the industry’s attempts to screw us over, this kind of thing can become the norm instead of an amazing anomaly.

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