Why Microsoft Never Should Have Backtracked On the Xbox One’s Always Online Functionality

Announcing the Xbox One would require regular internet checks was a big mistake on Microsoft's part, but taking it back later only makes it harder to trust future announcements.

The Xbox One reveal left a lot of questions unanswered, including most of the questions the press actually wanted answers for.  When we finally did have definite answers, gamers were not pleased.  Having to connect to the internet every time a new game is purchased and installed and then once a day in order to play any games at all was, in the eyes of a great many, a step backwards for consoles.

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It was only shortly after E3 that Microsoft did something that very well may have been even worse.  They announced they were going back on the vast majority of their DRM policies with the Xbox One.  The console would not require its internet connection other than a short patching process as it was initially activated.

It is easy to see this as a positive thing.  Clearly it was Microsoft listening to the consumers, right?

Diluted Message

Yes and no.  I doubt Microsoft was listening to what customers want so much as what they were willing to shell out $100 more than the competing console for.  The decision was economic, not ideological.  The very fact that Microsoft seriously made the announcement in the first place shows they did not have any moral quandary or see any reasonable issue with an internet requirement.

This is supported by the actual arguments that arose as a result of the announcement.  Cliff Bleszinski’s conclusions regarding the essential nature of the Xbox One’s DRM, especially in regards to the used game side of it, were easily some of the most apparent and high-profile, but he was hardly alone.  Dozens spoke up to argue a requirement for an internet connection was perfectly reasonable, even expected in the modern age.

Arguments about players being unable to maintain reliable internet did little to sway the argument, while concerns about a console needing to constantly check the legality of its owner were laughed off as paranoid or the ramblings of a would-be pirate.

Yet for all this argument, Microsoft held to its internet requirement until people started asking very awkward questions about deployed soldiers not being able to have a reliable internet connection, people who were clearly not to blame for their inability to meet the requirements of the console.  People could argue capability and willingness all day, but when faced with people who clearly had no option, people whose job was to fight for them, the arguments got a bit shallow.

So why was the Xbox One-Eighty a mistake?

 The internet DRM for the Xbox One was a mistake for a myriad of reasons, but Microsoft still should have kept on with it once they announced it for a couple of reasons.

It damages consumer ability to trust future Microsoft announcements

Microsoft has officially shown a willingness to go back on their publicly announced features and restrictions.  The company clearly believed in the ideas behind its internet DRM, and it is easy to see the potential in it.  What assurance do consumers have that Microsoft will not simply use its formal announcements to test market response in the future?

Put simply, we have no assurance at all.  Microsoft made a bold statement with the Xbox One’s DRM restrictions.  Going back on it will make it far harder to take similar bold announcements in the future seriously, with detractors stating Microsoft will back down if people whine enough.  And Microsoft has proven them correct.

It calls Microsoft’s judgment into question

Obviously Microsoft changed their mind in regards to how well they could sell the Xbox One with its DRM.  Microsoft would not have made the controversial choices they did if they were not certain the market would accept them.  Deciding later the market would not shows that Microsoft does not actually understand the consumer base it is trying to appeal to as well as they thought.  No one wants an out of touch company in charge of anything.

It doesn’t fool the people who were concerned to begin with

The announcement of Xbox One’s DRM being reversed was not even an hour old before skeptics were already pointing out it was easily something Microsoft could reverse back later.  The people who doubted, who saw the negative potential more than the positive, still saw that negative potential because Microsoft had already shown a willingness to do it when they thought they could get away with it.  Those skeptics will be watching like hawks, waiting for the Xbox One to show hints of edging back towards those negative possibilities, no matter how hard Microsoft back pedals.

Any child who has been called out by an authority knows you do not just get to pretend nothing happened.  You have to apologize and learn the lesson.  Microsoft has not apologized, and is not sorry.  They just wish we would have let them get away with their internet verification schemes.

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Writer, gamer, and generally hopeful beneath a veneer of cynicism.