By Jared Cornelius
So Xbox head, Phil Spencer, sent out a press release revealing that Microsoft would be releasing a Kinect-less version of the Xbox One console. For those not in the know, the Kinect is a camera peripheral for the Xbox 360 released in 2010 and included as a "critical" piece of the Xbox One at launch. Spencer touted the Kinect-less version of the Xbox One as giving player, "more choice". But let's call a spade a spade, Microsoft screwed up and I'm upset about it. It's really another example in a long line of Microsoft's ineptitude this current generation and the console hasn't been out a full year. To be fair to Microsoft, (which is less then they're being too early adopters) It makes good business sense to do this. Sony's $100 dollar less PlayStation 4 has become the front runner in this new generation of consoles, and Microsoft has had an awful first year for its Xbox One, its clear change was needed. Perhaps we should start at the beginning and talk about the problems that started before the Xbox One was announced.
Mid 2013 gamers would start hearing whispered tales of Microsoft's plans for the successor to the Xbox 360. Included in those plans was a heavy emphasis on DRM, (Digital Rights Management) meaning that games played on your new generation Xbox would be subject to an internet check in from Microsoft. Fans also heard that Microsoft would be requiring all games to be downloaded onto the console and installed on the hard drive, with the belief that it was in part to curb used game sales. Much of the community was understandably shaken by the idea of DRM being prevalent on a home console. While PC gamers have been used to such things for years, the console crowd, myself included felt a little apprehensive about the limitations. Keep in mind that much of this information had also come out around the EA SimCity debacle, where players who had bought the game were having problems due to connection issues as well as EA not having enough servers for players at launch. Fans waited for a real answer, but more Harbingers would come via social media.
The longer Microsoft went without responding to the DRM rumors, the more anxiety fans felt that the new Xbox would be an always online machine. Curious gamers looked everywhere they could for scraps of news on the matter and took notice of a Twitter profile belonging to Adam Orth. Orth was a creative director working with Microsoft Games Studios presumably on the Xbox One, when he decided to let the internet know his opinion on always online. I'm sure Orth never would have guessed, but the internet took notice when he posted such gems as:
Sorry, I don't get the drama around having an "always on" console. Every device now is "always on". That's the world we live in. #dealwithit
Following a Tweet by @manveerheir [and the following Tweets were afterwards taken down, so here I'm having to quote]:
@adam_orth You've lived in LA, SF, Seattle,… very connected places. Try living in Janesville, WI, or Blacksburg VA.
@manveerheir Why on earth would I live there?
Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not purchase a vacuum cleaner.
The mobile reception in my area is spotty and unreliable. I will not buy a mobile phone.
Orth's reaction to the idea of always online was a huge warning flag for what was to come. Orth may have thought nothing of it, but his opinion on always online seemed to line up with the rumors about the forthcoming Microsoft console, as surely a higher level Microsoft employee would be supporting the company's vision of the next generation. Orth would leave the company shortly after, and Microsoft would issue a statement that only added more speculation to their plans:
We apologize for the inappropriate comments made by an employee on Twitter yesterday. This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views do not reflect the customer centric approach we take to our products or how we would communicate directly with our loyal consumers. We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter.
The ordeal would also be another in a long line of black eyes on Microsoft's public relations who had been dealing with a growing distrust from gamers over the refusal to reveal information on the new console.
Microsoft drew more jeers from gamers when the Xbox One was first revealed in late May of 2013. It was very clear that Microsoft wanted to sell you a set top box, as then Xbox head Don Mattrick said:
Xbox One is designed to deliver a whole new generation of blockbuster games, television and entertainment in a powerful, all-in-one device.
Gamers were expecting a huge slew of games news or some answers had to settle for things like Smart Glass, Skype, Snap, and NFL integration. Admittedly Microsoft did show games like Quantum Break and shared information on a Halo television series, but the whole ordeal left the community resoundingly underwhelmed. The real issue was that the official Microsoft event had gone off without mention of whether or not the console would include DRM or whether games would be tied to one person. Oh course it would help even less when Corporate Vice President Phil Harrison was quoted about how one would lend a game to a friend:
The bits that are on that disc, you can give it to your friend and they can install it on an Xbox One. They would then have to purchase the right to play that game through Xbox Live.
Less than an hour later Xbox Director of Programing Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb had to clarify Harrison's statement:
We know there is some confusion around used games on Xbox One and wanted to provide a bit of clarification on exactly what we've confirmed today. While there have been many potential scenarios discussed, today we have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail.
It would be only a short time before E3 that news came out regarding Microsoft's plans for always online. It turned out that the whispers and rumors would be true, Microsoft would be implementing a mandatory 24 hour check in and games would be tied to player for single use (at publishers discretion). An outpouring of rage and anger erupted from the internet as the console crowd was none too happy for Microsoft's vision of the future. Fans were so outraged and scared that Sony would implement similar policies a huge movement erupted on Twitter with gamers tweeting high level Sony executives and game personalities with the hashtag #PS4NoDRM. The campaign became incredibly popular and spawned a #XBOXONENoDRM hashtag in hopes of reversing Microsoft decision. Gamers wouldn't have to wait long for Sony's reply at the Electronic Entertainment Expo or as its better known E3.
Microsoft held their press conference first and in what would be almost a master's class in how not to win over your audience, Microsoft took the Xbox One out for its second official showing. In the relatively somber E3 press conferences, Microsoft revealed games like Killer Instinct and Project Spark that largely failed to impress, boasted tablet support, and then hit the audience in the face with the $500 price tag.
Microsoft had put all their cards on the table and presented, it was now Sony's turn. Would they have a similar architecture to their system and implement DRM as people were predicting? No, Sony ran in the opposite direction to the cheers of gamers in the audience. Sony's press conference rang with cheers and accolades as they had announced no harsh DRM or game restrictions for the forthcoming console. The whole evening was perfectly encapsulated by Sony's cheeky video on how to share games and was a slap in Microsoft's face. A clearly battered Microsoft now had to answer to the press why their console was so closed off and Sony's was so open, they also had to reckon with Sony's $399 price which made the more powerful PlayStation 4 cheaper as well.
While fans celebrated Sony for a clear concise message, Xbox head Don Mattrick was derided for the Xbox One having a confusing and muddled message with fans unclear on Microsoft's policies. Mattrick even went on to insult gamers who wouldn't be able to upgrade due to the Xbox One's internet check in. Speaking with the Wall Street Journal Mattrick said "If you're backwards compatible, you're really backwards."
Microsoft tried to squash the misinformation surrounding the console and put the Xbox One on message with an FAQ, but all it seemed to do was confuse customers further. Microsoft would continue to take shots from fans and the press for several weeks until the decision was made to remove the DRM check in and the restrictive games ownership from the console. The beleaguered software company had finally raised a white flag in surrender and agreed to give the fans what they had been telling Microsoft they wanted all along. Of course the decision to remove the DRM also came around the same time reports had PlayStation 4's being preordered 2 to 1 a number no rival company who was number one wants to hear.
The Kinect being removed from the Xbox One is just another tacit admission that Microsoft fell victim to the same hubris the PlayStation 3 fell victim to. Gamers didn't want to get a second job to afford Sony's $600 dollar console last generation, and they didn't want to pay an extra $100 for a camera this generation. Microsoft executives sat in their ivory towers thinking that nothing would drive away the Xbox 360's loyal fan base, and yet here we are a year later and Sony has managed to regain the lead in the console race. If Microsoft had listened to the wants of its fan base and consumers Microsoft could've avoided this mess entirely. After the Xbox One had its DRM removed fans wanted Microsoft to remove or make the camera optional as well a move Microsoft wouldn't agree to. In fact in one Microsoft Q&A session, the Kinect was called "essential and integrated" when referring to the Xbox One, well I guess they were lying because with the new version of the Xbox One they've effectively made the Kinect useless. No developer in their right mind will develop something for the Kinect when they don't know how many players have them or not. The Kinect will stand as a vestigial tail of the Xbox One and while I'm sad about it, I'm not surprised.
While the original Kinect had a few fun games like Happy Action Theater, Fruit Ninja, and Gunstringer, fun and interesting games for the Xbox One Kinect are nowhere to be found. Hell, where are the games period! I don't want a multiplayer only shooter so what do you have for me Microsoft, The Fighter Within? Kinect Sports Rivals? Microsoft has done so little with a piece of technology they told us was integral to the experience I can't help but feel cheated being an early adopter. The whole matter with the Kinect proves that Microsoft is flailing at this point, Titanfall was clearly not the mega hit they wanted it to be, and without much on the horizon they've got a whole lot of work to do winning back the trust of gamers.
I realize that this is part of early adoption, you pay more to have the new thing sooner, but less than a year in dropping the price $100 to compete with Sony I get is good business sense, but for the fans like me who feel alienated rest assured I've decided my Xbox One will be what my PlayStation 3 was last generation. I'll buy the games that are exclusive to it and nothing more.
I don't want anyone reading this to think I'm being unfair to Microsoft. All the things I stated happened, and the Xbox 360 was my favorite system of last generation, hell it might be my favorite of all time. We should be critical of things we like, if we stick our heads in the sand and say everything's fine, that's when we end up with restrictive DRM. Microsoft removed the DRM in part because fans were willing to tell them it wasn't what they wanted. We shouldn't be fed crap and then ask for more because we can't do anything about it, let Microsoft know how you feel, let them know your displeasure, tell them you don't want their micro-transactions in $60 dollar games, because if you don't they're just going to keep doing it.
I'm aware Phil Spencer didn't make any of the decisions leading up to the Xbox One's launch, all I can say on the matter is I hope the sacrifice of the Kinect leads to greener pastures for the console. I want the Xbox One to be a great system, I hope it can be a great system, but this has been one of the worst starts to a console ever, and that's in a world where the Wii U had almost nothing released its first year.
That's all for this time, you can check out my regular columns, Live(ish) From The Games Shop, where I go over the weeks new games releases. Typing on The Dead: Bleeding Cool's Walking Dead recap. I also do other articles like Valiant Effort where I recommend Valiant universe comics, and I just did a little piece on Peter David and X-Factor that you can see here.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from New Jersey's coast who should've waited to get and Xbone. If you'd like to tell him about your impulse purchases contact him on Twitter @John_Laryngitis