Xbox One: When your customers become your enemy

I finished an appointment, had dinner, came into my office and saw Microsoft’s latest batch of scummy half-answers on the Xbox One. Then I almost threw up my otherwise excellent dinner in disgust. I’ve re-read the article several times just to make sure I’m not hallucinating but it appears I’m not. Microsoft has nearly reached the height of hubris with the Xbox One, shy only from the very peak by not requiring a 100% constant Internet connection. The highlights are:

  • Your console has to check-in with Microsoft servers once every 24 hours or you can’t play any games.
  • Trading in or reselling your retail games will be at the publisher’s discretion and publishers will get to set if fees are charged for this and what they’ll be.
  • You can only give or sell your games to friends at the publisher’s discretion and even then, the friend has to have been on your friends list for a month and you can only do this once ever.
  • The ability to loan games or rent them will not be available at launch and may become available later but no promises.

Aside from the hilarity that this is the company behind Games for Windows Live and the Red Ring of Death asking us to trust them that our consoles will always be able to reach their servers, what this policy is essentially saying is that this box isn’t designed for consumers first but publishers first. Don’t believe me? Go look up how many times “so game publishers can” or some variant thereof appears in that article. This is a box designed to assure that publishers clinging to a business model that is no longer sustainable can continue to for a little while longer before gamers as a whole just say “Fuck it, I’ve had enough!” Everything about these policies screams that you, the customer, the person who buys the consoles and the game are not a valuable asset to the industry, you are the enemy.

I’m a person who is fortunate enough to have a lot of disposable income. I buy a lot of games, far more than the average consumer, I am without a doubt a “whale” as the video game industry likes to call us. But you know what I also do? I rent games. I have a membership and I use that to rent titles that I’m either not sure I’ll like or which I know are things like Call of Duty, which has a short single-player campaign and multiplayer I don’t care about. What often happens is if I rent a game and end up liking it, I’ll usually buy it. If you take rentals away from me, I will just skip those games entirely. If you take rentals away, I will play less games and that’s not what the industry needs. I know a number of people who make decent money but rent most of their games because games are expensive and they simply can’t afford to buy everything they want to play. Once again, if the ability to rent is taken away, those people will just stop playing as many games or worse, stop gaming altogether. This is not how an industry that’s rapidly bleeding to death solves it’s problems.

The music industry, the movie industry, the television industry, how many more examples do we need that treating your customers like potential criminals just drives them away? Are the CEOs of these big publishers and the moronic, terrified, next-quarter-only-everything-else-be-damned stock market investors they report to honestly that clueless? Would they rather just drive themselves into the ground rather than institute broad change that benefits everyone? It certainly seems it. Between SimCity, Diablo III, the numerous Xbox Live outages over the years and oh yeah, the massive PlayStation Network hack and outage, the industry has demonstrated time and again that it’s simply not ready for this kind of future. They have given us no reason to trust them, yet not only expect it but demand it. Why the Hell should we?

I know what a lot of people are asking is since I’m a big PC gamer, what’s the big deal when I’ve spend thousands of dollars on hundreds of games on Steam? Aren’t I just being a hypocrite? Perhaps but I don’t think so and here’s why: Steam and Valve are both far from perfect but they’ve consistently demonstrated that customers come first. Steam has DRM but I can take it offline, they have crazy sales and lower prices overall, the software has tons of free added value and they’ve said (albeit in an unofficial manner) that they hope to be able to give people the means to unlock all their downloaded Steam games from the DRM in the event the service goes away. Microsoft and Sony have done none of these things and have given no indication that they will. When Xbox One stops being profitable, it’s servers will go away and with them, every game and the value contained within them. In addition, there is competition on PC and if you don’t like Steam, you have alternatives. On Xbox One and PS4, you only have one place your can buy your games from. Even if you buy them on a retail disc, the console makers still get to decide how you use it so they have total monopoly power. Monopolies are never good for consumers.

Microsoft’s non-answers today only spoke of how this was good for publishers. I accept Steam’s way of doing things because they make it worth my while. Microsoft isn’t even talking about how this could be good for me, only how it can be good for them and their partners. Why the Hell do I give a damn about that? If I put my money down for a game I want that’s of good quality, I’ve already shown my support for the industry. That’s all they’re entitled to. If they want more than that, they better give me more in exchange. I was sceptical about Xbox One before but honestly, these policies have pissed me off so much that I don’t know if any amount of amazing exclusives at E3 will be enough to sell me one. All I’m seeing here is a box designed to satisfy publisher paranoia before providing consumer value. That’s not a box I want to pay for and I’m quite certain I’m not the only one who thinks that.

If you are designing your box with anyone but the paying consumers at the front of your mind, you’re doing it fucking wrong. The publishers don’t know what they want. They’re terrified, flailing around spending more and more money to make games full of features no one wants, devoid of creativity and innovation and turning into an indistinct sludge of “broader appeal.” Rather than realise they need to overhaul the way games are made and sold, they’re just trying to stamp out their latest excuse for why they can’t turn a profit. When used games are gone and they’re still losing money, they’ll just find something else to blame. Anything that avoids them having to admit that maybe they just don’t know what they’re doing any more. I love big, triple-A games. I’ve trumpeted that on this blog many times, how I think this type of big production game is both good and vital to an overall interesting gaming ecosystem. But honestly, I never thought they’d go this far.

There has to be a line somewhere and I figured that by now, they surely must understand that there’s only so far you can go before even clueless mainstream consumer sheep see that you just don’t consider them valuable any more. But they clearly haven’t learned yet. The triple-A industry is on the precipice of another crash and I seriously wonder not only if this is what will cause it but if they don’t have it coming. If this is seriously the price we are expected to pay (over and above our $60), just let the triple-A industry burn itself to the ground. If you aren’t in this to service the players, you don’t deserve to be in it at all.

Sony, in the last couple of weeks and especially today, Microsoft has given you all the ammunition you need to completely own the next generation. PlayStation still has a ton of clout, particularly in Europe. I know you’re hurting right now but please, take a stand for consumers, tell these clueless publishers to fuck off and grow a brain, come out and say you will allow used games without check-ins and then market the shit out of that. You have the means to pitch PS4 as a “gamers first” machine and make Microsoft out to be the kind of arrogant, tone deaf company that you’ve all but admitted you were before the PS3. You are too important for the publishers to ignore. Some will probably say they’re done with you. Let them do it, they’ll quickly learn their mistake and come crawling back. Side with the gamers rather than the industry first and I guarantee you they will make it worth your while. Right now, I don’t want an Xbox One but I’m willing to pre-order a PS4 this second if you do the right thing. I love games to death but I love my principals more and if skipping this generation is what I’ll have to do to stick to them, so be it. The triple-A industry can only keep going the way it is for so long before they collapse under their own idiocy and that time is approaching fast. Game consoles and the titles they are largely about are important and should survive. If they do this, I’m more convinced than ever that this will be the last generation. And if they do this, I hope it is because a hobby that’s run this way is not one I want to be a part of.

Your consumers are speaking game industry, listen to them.

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3 Responses to Xbox One: When your customers become your enemy

  1. Pingback: Xbox One is Xboned, or How I Grew Up and Learned to love Consumer Activism | Punch, Kick, It's All in the Mind

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