Xbox One and PS4 price, specs, release date and game titles -- the whole shebang -- were revealed this week at E3 2013 press conferences but sadly, despite the 13 exclusive titles coming to Microsoft's next-gen console, it looks like DRM, and daily Internet connection requirement are going to be the determining factors in this year's PS4 vs. Xbox One battle. For the first time ever, the console battle between Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PS4 won't actually be won by superior specs and game choices, but rather policy. Digital Rights Management (DRM)and the daily online log-in requirement for the Xbox One have been equivalent to a slap in the face or Microsoft giving the finger to gamers who have enjoyed their console and game offerings for years now. Adding insult to injury, however, has been the limp response of Microsoft Game Studio's Phil Spencer with regards to the controversial policies.
Phil Spencer on Xbox One's Daily Internet Connection Requirement
Now, up to this point, I've seriously tried to leave the Xbox One alone, give it a little faith and say, "Maybe the entertainment elements, exclusive games and quality controller will be enough to pull in the masses." This was in spite of the fact that Sony is offering users a machine at 20 percent less than the Xbox One's $500 retail price, while also allowing users to play games on the PS4 without having to ever connect online, and maintaining the same policy for disc-based games -- yours to play, yours to sell and yours to lend. Not confusing DRM policies there, just cut and dry. But after hearing Spencer's comeback to disgruntled gamers regarding Microsoft's DRM policies, I have to say I'm feeling less and less forgiving.
Microsoft could have let potential buyers know that their complaints had been heard and that the company would look for solutions or compromises for the Xbox One DRM policies and other issues. But instead, the solution offered by Phil Spencer was basically, "if you don't like it, don't buy it, buy the older 360 model." Here's how Spencer put it to Destructoid:
"I mean the analogy, and I don't know if it's a great analogy... let's say I live in an area that doesn't have cell service. I wouldn't go buy a cell phone. Now, I might roam in different areas where my cellphone becomes active ...The 360 ecosystem is a great ecosystem for somebody that's in a purely disconnected state for long periods of time. We have built a natively connected device with Xbox One and we think the experiences are moving in that direction."
An incredulous Geoff Keighley of Spike asked, "Stick with 360? That's your message if you don't like it?"
Spencer responded by continuing to drive the dagger into Xbox One's future sales by saying, "If you have zero access to the internet, that is an offline device."
Yeah sorry Phil, that was not a great analogy. I'm still cringing after that smack.
You see, what it's really more like is this: Most users have laptops and smartphones these days, and by and large, more users are using smartphones to browse the web and check email -- but not everyone. What if your cell phone company, as part of your contract, required you log-in to the internet each day, browse and check your email? And then it told you if you couldn't promise to do that then maybe you should just stick to the basic cell phone, because obviously you're not a power user? Sorry, that might not be the greatest analogy -- but I think it's a bit closer to the truth than Spencer's.
Xbox One vs. PS4 DRM Policies: Why The Customer Is Always Right
What it comes down to is not that those who don't want to be bound to a daily internet log-in on the Xbox One are "not the target market," but rather, if a business cannot remember "the customer is always right" or at least make them feel that they are, then the product that business offers better be so dang superior people will forget what an a**hole you are.
And for Microsoft, I would say that in years past this has been the case. Xbox 360 offers plenty that users are looking for, and customer satisfaction has been high. Xbox One, however, is competing against a powerful rival. Sony, in offering the PS4, is serious about providing gamers a console that is powerful and enjoyable to use while at the same time listening to its users and weighing the cost of doing things their own way as opposed to bending a little to customers' fancies. Sorry, but the idea of "if you don't like it, stick to the older model" seems so entirely contrary to the message a new product should bring, I really have a hard time seeing Microsoft profiting from this revised business plan. Though I'm sure no harm was meant, Phil Spencer's statement may have inadvertently sealed the deal on the PS4 vs. Xbox One battle.
Xbox One: Microsoft's Promising New Direction Rained on By Rigid DRM and Internet Connection Policy
By no means do I want to make this a huge Xbox One bash session. In fact, up to this point I've seen Microsoft was trying to do something really different here -- take some risks, offer an all-in-one entertainment solution. But I think the fact that the Xbox One was seeking to offer the ultimate entertainment gig, presumed to bring high customer satisfaction, greatly conflicts with this approach of rigid policies and deaf ears to the community that has supported them so long.
Of course, the simple solution seemly would involve Microsoft reconsidering their policies on DRM and daily online log-in for the Xbox One if they hope to have any chance against the Sony PS, but at this point, I think there is no going back.
Microsoft Xbox Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer Yusuf Mehdi put things a little more tactfully, saying that the new Xbox One requirements are "a big change [and] consumers don't always love change, and there's a lot of education we have to provide to make sure that people understand." But what it seems like is not the customer needing to be educated, but rather the company might need to get back to the basics of how to customer satisfaction works.
For those who don't know all the ins an outs of the Xbox One DRM and daily internet log-in requirements, here is an overview of what to expect with the Xbox One.
Xbox One DRM: Used Games and Licensing
"Today, some gamers choose to sell their old disc-based games back for cash and credit ...we designed Xbox One so game publishers can enable you to trade in your games at participating retailers. Microsoft does not charge a platform fee to retailers, publishers, or consumers for enabling transfer of these games." Microsoft wrote in a recent blog post.
So basically, users will be able to trade in old games and get credit for new ones, but the key here is "participating" retailers. Because you see, another part of that loaded statement says "games publishers CAN enable you to trade in games." This basically hints that not everyone will be offering this option. In fact, Microsoft confirmed the implication with this statement: "Third-party publishers may opt in or out of supporting game resale and may set up business terms or transfer fees with retailers."
However this opting-in strategy significantly reduces user choice in how to manage the games they have purchased. Not only will you be confined to a select group of retailers, but you will also have limited freedom to independently sell, trade or give your games away to friends or other fellow gamers. Per the policy:
"Xbox One is designed so game publishers can enable you to give your disc-based games to your friends. There are no fees charged as part of these transfers. There are two requirements: you can only give them to people who have been on your friends list for at least 30 days and each game can only be given once."
Wow, talk about a major rigmarole just to give away a game! Imagine if the clothing industry could get away with a similar requirement! Thankfully family hand-me-downs will still be allowed, as Xbox One users can register up to 10 family members for "sharing," and I suppose some of those could be your friends instead.
In addition, Xbox One licensing policies also kill the game rental industry currently. According to Microsoft,
"Loaning or renting games won't be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners."
This is a far cry from the simple mantra of Sony concerning the PS4. If you own the disk, it's yours. Loan it, sell it, give it away. We don't care, it's yours.
XBox One Daily Online Log-in and Kinect "Always Listening"
Like I've mentioned above, the need for a persistent broadband Internet connection and daily check-in has been a huge reason for customer concern. Microsoft sought to make the issue appear to be something good for the user by saying that "because every Xbox One owner has a broadband connection, developers can create massive, persistent worlds that evolve even when you're not playing"
According to Microsoft the next-gen Xbox One console is "designed to verify if system, application, or game updates are needed and to see if you have acquired new games, or resold, traded in, or given your game to a friend."
You can go without a connection for up to 24 hours, but if a new day hits and you haven't logged in, game play ability is disabled. Microsoft's "reasoning" is that "games that are designed to take advantage of the cloud may require a connection," but seriously, this really just sounds like a nice way to micromanage users yet again, on the devices for which they have paid dearly.
Now, I may be paranoid, but a slightly creepy aspect of this Kinect component, which is now thrown into the Xbox One ensemble, is its ability to be "always listening." Sure Microsoft says users are in control of Kinect with settings for sensing like On, Off or Paused. But even when the system is off, it's still listening. Microsoft says it's only listening for the key phrase, "Xbox On" and that this feature can be turned off, but nonetheless it's disconcerting.
In an age where privacy concerns are hotly being debated, it's difficult to accept the idea that your privacy is not being violated at all, nor will it be in the near future as a result of this constant listening.
The Xbox One release date is set for November of 2013 and will retail for $500 US, with an included Kinect system. While the new Xbox system is innovative, and Microsoft is working to pioneer a new direction in entertainment, the bottom line is that some serious policy points still need to be hammered out. Let's hope the pressure from consumers will be enough to get Microsoft to reconsider some of their stances on DRM and the online log-in requirement and have a chance in the PS4 vs. Xbox One battle.