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Xbox One’s Roadmap to Nowhere?

by William Schwartz

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Microsoft is in trouble at the moment.  They are fighting an uphill battle to win back consumers and convince people that the XBox One is a device worthy of purchase.  More importantly they need to convince gamers that they are a company that can be trusted, a company that has gamers best interest at heart.  But are they really in a position to do this?

When the XBox One was announced, one thing was very clear,  Microsoft had a long term plan for this console.  They may not have been particularly willing to share the details of that plan with consumers but it was there.  Forward on a few days from the console reveal and it seemed that you couldn’t open a browser without reading a post or watching a video in which an irate gamer was raving about the horrid policies being implemented by Microsoft in the XBox One.

Microsoft saw the future in the form of a 100% digital game library, 24 hour online check ins and limited game trading.  They wanted you to have the Kinect monitor your every move, to compute your game data in the cloud and to tie all your living room equipment together through one device.  To be fair these ideas are not necessarily bad or evil.  The concept of family sharing, the ability to have up to 10 people play on the one license, was very intriguing.  Being able to play my games on any console simply by logging in was great.

‘We can’t just flip a switch to turn off DRM. The console was built around it’. – Larry Hyrb

Microsoft is a publicly traded company with an estimated worth of over 300 Billion dollars.  Companies like this make decisions years in advance.  So it was no surprise that Xbox One turned up at E3 with all it’s policies intact.  Gamers again flew into tirades of scorn and contempt, and the revealed price of $499 did little but add fuel to the fire.  Surely, gamers thought, surely these policies can and will be reversed.  In an interview with internet blogger Angry Joe, Larry Hyrb aka. Major Nelson was asked directly if the DRM could be removed to which he replied ‘We can’t just flip a switch to turn off DRM. The console was built around it’.  Team Xbox seemed determined to plough forward with their plans no matter what because if you we’re going to change your policies, E3 was the place to do it.

Fast foward about a week and Microsoft announces an almost complete reversal of their DRM and online policies, Xbox One’s long term vision appears to have crumbled.  Whether this was due to dismal pre-orders, Microsoft’s inability to show the benefits of the policies,  fan backlash or Sony’s aggressive anti DRM campaign is unclear.

Microsofts future direction is now extremely uncertain.  They are clearly taking queue’s from the Sony handbook at the moment, even doing a 2nd policy backflip and allowing indie developers to self publish on the XBox One.

How can consumers be expected to understand where the console is going and what the plans are for the future of XBox, if Microsoft themselves only shifted onto this new path a few weeks ago?  How can the system, so tightly built around stringent DRM policies, policies which could not be changed according to Major Nelson, be suddenly reversed in as little as a weeks notice?  How can these newly integrated features hope to compete in quality with those of Sony who built them into their platform from day one?  How can XBox developers harness the power of the cloud, if they can’t guarantee that every console will have access to the internet?

The answer sadly is that consumers cannot have faith in this console or this company at the moment.  They can’t because there is no way Microsoft could have re-formulated a road map for this device in such a short amount of time.  Microsoft will have spent years in talks with partners, programmers and designers to get to their launch point.  Unless their plan is to slowly re-integrate those removed policies, which is not unlikely, then Microsoft is at this point making it all up as they go along.  They are making those changes and announcements that people want to hear in order to move consoles at launch.  Is the day one patch written yet?  Maybe, but probably not.  The OS is apparently so grounded in this concept of DRM that it may take months to finish coding and testing the changes required to make the XBox One into what we are being told it will be.  Will game developers, hoping to tap into this cloud power, now have to scale back or remove game features?  The policy changes raise so many questions, and just like at the XBox One launch, Microsoft isn’t coming up with a whole lot of answers.

It will take many years before the damage is undone for Microsoft.  I have no doubt the Xbox One will still sell out in the USA and Australia, these are major XBox markets.  I think they will struggle in Europe and Japan.  There are people who will buy an XBox because it is an XBox.  Every Halo fan will buy one.  But I cannot see Microsoft enjoying the luxury of the large marketshare percentage that they had in the early days of the XBox 360.

This is my opinion and as always I welcome your feedback and alternative points of view.

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