Xbox One Debacle Redux

So, yesterday, Microsoft did a one-eighty on their consumer-hostile disc-based game DRM policies. All through today, some people have been lamenting the loss of the Xbox One Family Sharing plan as a part of that. As it turns out, they shouldn’t have been. It turns out, it was going to be awful. One of the architects of the Xbox One has (allegedly) posted the following information on PasteBin. It’s got more than its fair share of crazy, and I’m going to respond to it paragraph-by-paragraph.

It’s 4am and I’m still up, some hours ago, we at Microsoft had to basically redact on our Always Online infrastructure and dream. Being part of the team that created the entire infrastructure to include the POS (point of sale) mechanisms I must say that I am extremely sad to see it removed. But the consumer knows what is best, I can place the blame on no one but us here at Microsoft. We didn’t do a good enough job explaining all the benefits that came with this new model. We spent too much of our time fighting against the negative impressions that many people in the media formed. I feel that if we spent less time on them and more time explaining the great features we had lined up and the ones in the pipes gamers and media alike would have aligned to our vision. That stated, we felt the people we would have loss would have been made up by the people we would have gained. We have 48 million Xbox 360 users connected online nearly 24 hours a day. That is much more than any of our closet competitors and vastly more than Steam. The people that we would have left behind I feel would have eventually come around as they saw what advantages the platform had to offer. But as I previously stated we at Microsoft have no one to blame other than ourselves for failing to convince those hesitant to believe in our new system. Microsoft might be a big company, but we at the Xbox division have always been for the gamer. Everything we’ve done has always been for them, we have butt heads with the executives many times on what we’ve wanted to, some times we lost (removing the onboard processor from Kinect 1.0) and other times we’ve won (keeping Gears of War as an exclusive).

Okay, right off the bat he’s off to a bad start, because he just tried to characterise “making Gears of War an Xbox console-exclusive” as being something done for the benefit of gamers. Now, on some level, I’m sure there are Xbox fans who were pleased Gears never went to PlayStation. But, really, nobody but Microsoft benefitted from that.

While publishers have never come right out to us at MS and say “We want you to do something about used gaming” we could hear it in their voices and read it in their numerous public statements. The used gaming industry is slowly killing them and every attempt to slow down the bleeding was met with much resistance from the gaming community. I will admit that online passes were not well received nor were they well implemented, but I felt given time to mature it could have turned into something worth having as a gamer much like DLC (we went from pointless horse armor to amazing season passes like Borderlands 2!). Videogame development is a loss leader by definition and unlike other forms of media videogames only have one revenue stream and that is selling to you the gamer. So when you buy a game used you’re hurting developers much more than say a movie studio. Many gamers fail to realize this when they purchase these preowned games. It is impossible to continue to deliver movie like experiences at the current costs without giving up something in return. It’s what gamers want and expect, the best selling games are blockbusters, the highest rated are blockbusters, the most loved are blockbusters. How can developers continue to create these experiences if consumers refuse to support them? Many will argue the development system is broken, and I disagree. The development system is near broken, it’s used gaming that is broken, but regardless I think more emphasis on this from both us at Microsoft and publishers would have gone a long way in helping educate the gamer, but again it is us who dropped the ball in this regard for that we’re sorry.

Here we have a tired re-tread of the false idea that used gaming is killing the gaming industry. It really isn’t. If it was, used sales would be killing every entertainment industry that has them. Further, there is absolutely zero reason to believe that eliminating the used option would lead to more sales of new games, and every reason to believe it would just mean less sales overall. But you all know this. Hell, even the third party publishers have had to start begrudgingly admitting this. Used sales allow the new game buyers of the future (kids) to develop interest in franchises they will be loyal customers to later. Used sales contribute to the ecosystem. But again, you all know this. Microsoft was fundamentally out of touch with the real world on this.

Next, he suggests Online Passes might have evolved into something positive for consumers. That’s…Certainly dreaming big. I fail to see how that is even conceptually possible myself. Maybe you guys have some idea what the hell he was getting at? I sure don’t.

Anyway, he moves on to blaming consumers for the industry being inefficient and not generating enough money, whilst adamantly refusing to accept the idea that if you can’t afford to produce something you should probably find a cheaper way to produce it. He’s blaming consumers, and then he almost flat out calls consumers stupid, saying that Microsoft needed to ‘educate’ consumers about how unfair it was of them to want to pay less for games, as if seeking the highest possible value is somehow a behaviour unique to gamers and not something any rational consumer does. Frankly, it arguably becomes more insulting as he continues, because no sooner has he implied we’re stupid and Microsoft are a benevolent force seeking to enlighten us, than he tries to walk it back by dropping a quick “but it’s our bad” – without, actually, retracting the implication that consumers are wrong and Microsoft alone knows what’s best.

Going back to Xbox One’s feature set, one of the features I was most proud of was Family Sharing. I’ve browsed many gaming forums and saw that many people were excited about it as well! That made my day the first time I saw gamers start to think of amazing experiences that could come from game sharing. It showed that my work resonated with the group for which I helped create it for. I will admit that I was not happy with how some of my fellow colleagues handled explaining the systems and many times pulled my hair out as I felt I could have done a better job explaining and selling the ideas to the press and public at large. I’m writing this for that reason, to explain to gamers how many of the features would have worked and how many of them will still work.

I find this kind of incredible. He seems to be implying there was absolutely a clearly-defined, succinct set of principles and ideas. If that’s the case, why did employees like himself not simply produce a simple, one-page memo for the likes of Don Mattrick and Phil Harrison to memorise? Anyway, more on this later.

First is family sharing, this feature is near and dear to me and I truly felt it would have helped the industry grow and make both gamers and developers happy. The premise is simple and elegant, when you buy your games for Xbox One, you can set any of them to be part of your shared library. Anyone who you deem to be family had access to these games regardless of where they are in the world. There was never any catch to that, they didn’t have to share the same billing address or physical address it could be anyone. When your family member accesses any of your games, they’re placed into a special demo mode. This demo mode in most cases would be the full game with a 15-45 minute timer and in some cases an hour. This allowed the person to play the game, get familiar with it then make a purchase if they wanted to. When the time limit was up they would automatically be prompted to the Marketplace so that they may order it if liked the game. We were toying around with a limit on the number of times members could access the shared game (as to discourage gamers from simply beating the game by doing multiple playthroughs). but we had not settled on an appropriate way of handling it. One thing we knew is that we wanted the experience to be seamless for both the person sharing and the family member benefiting. There weren’t many models of this system already in the wild other than Sony’s horrendous game sharing implementation, but it was clear their approach (if one could call it that) was not the way to go. Developers complained about the lost sales and gamers complained about overbearing DRM that punished those who didn’t share that implemented by publishers to quell gamers from taking advantage of a poorly thought out system. We wanted our family sharing plan to be something that was talked about and genuinely enjoyed by the masses as a way of inciting gamers to try new games.

And this is where it gets ridiculous.

The way Family Sharing was understood, based on Microsoft’s vague FAQ, people shared to would have full access to the game. Nothing ever implied otherwise. The questions were all about how many people could use how many games at once, and what the prerequisites for being included in someone’s sharing plan were. Now, to be fair, he addressed the latter, and the requirements were indeed at the more positive end of the readings people had of the FAQ.

But here he is, trying to make us believe that Family Sharing was this huge, mind-blowing revolution…And what we find is, it was actually way more limited than the version we were all imagining, which we were still not universally sure was worth the tradeoff. His whole aim in writing this was to convince us the old Xbox One philosophy was better after all, and it turns out it was actually worse than we imagined when we rejected the idea in the first place.

This is stunning. I cannot believe Microsoft actually thought this was going to win people over to their policies. I mean…Look, at PlayStation Meeting 2013 (Sony’s two-hour ‘The Future of PlayStation’ reveal of the PS4), Sony had the CEO of their newly acquired Gaikai service reveal that Sony plans to allow everygame on the PSN Store to be tried before purchase, instantly, by streaming the game. Now, sure, Microsoft was going to let the games run natively and we don’t know if Sony’s option will allow progress to carry over to the full game (It’s unlikely to). But, on the other hand, you don’t need to be in a friend who has the game’s sharing group. That’s one less hoop to jump through. Microsoft’s solution is really not that impressive. Frankly, it’s kind of pathetic. Fifteen minutes? Are you kidding me? It’d take longer to download & install the game!

The motto around the offices for the family plan was “It’s the console gaming equivalent to spotify and pandora” it was a social network within itself! The difference between the family sharing and the typical store demo is that your progress is saved as if it was the full game, and the data that was installed for that shared game doesn’t need to be erased when they purchase the full game! It gave incentive to share your games among your peers, it gave games exposure, it allowed old games to still generate revenue for publishers. At the present time we’re no longer going forward with it, but it is not completely off the table. It is still possible to implement this with the digital downloaded versions of games, and in fact that’s the plan still as far as I’m aware.

No, it’s not even remotely like Spotify or Pandora. OnLive Pass is like those things. PSPlus’s Instant Game Collection is even arguably like those things. The Xbox One Family Sharing Plan was like BlackBerry Messenger Music. BBM Music was a colossal failure. You know why? Because you couldn’t access any music your friends weren’t sharing, which meant there wasn’t a lot of use to it. Twitter’s #Music has the same problem. This kind of “sharing” of content is way too limiting. People prefer discovery where they can passively see what their friends are into and then check it out for themselves. Something like seeing “Sarah Greene earned a Platinum Trophy in Knack” and then going and playing the game. Accessing a gimped version of someone else’s library is like (though still inferior to) being at their house and browsing the shelf. It works, sure, but it’s a much less passive experience for both parties, and that makes it a bigger hassle.

It’s certainly not some major innovation that justifies the DRM policy on disc games. It does nothing that Sony’s PS4 isn’t doing anyway – and as noted above, Sony’s PS4 is arguably doing it better.

Another feature that we didn’t speak out about was the fact we were building a natural social network with Xbox One in itself that didn’t require gamers to open their laptops/tablets to post to their other friends nor did they need to wrestle with keyboard add-ons. Each Xbox Live account would have a full “home space” in which they could post their highest scores, show off their best Game DVR moments, what they’ve watched via Xbox TV and leave messages for others to read and respond to. Kinect 2.0 and Xbox One work together and has robust voice to text capabilities. The entire notion of communicating with friends you met online would have been natural and seamless. No reliance on Facebook, or Twitter (though those are optional for those who want them). Everything is perfectly crafted for the Xbox One controller and Kinect 2.0 and given that shine that only Microsoft can provide.

I’m not going to waste too much time on this, because it ties into the same thing about the feature not being all that unique. Both Wii U and PS4 also feature bespoke social networking features which can show off high scores, screenshots and video. Microsoft guy seems to be implying that the integration of Kinect with this stuff makes it much better, and for some gamers maybe it is. But many of them, myself included, think barking orders across the room and waving hands around like a flight-traffic-controller are crummy ways to control a TV experience, so that really isn’t all that much of a plus.

We at Microsoft have amazing plans for Xbox One that will make it an amazing experience for both gamers and entertainment consumers alike. I stand by the belief that Playstation 4 is Xbox 360 part 2, while Xbox One is trying to revolutionize entertainment consumption. For people who don’t want these amazing additions, like Don said we have a console for that and it’s called Xbox 360.

And he closes things up by being a total dick. As if the rest of his article wasn’t already enough of a pile of shit.

There’s a reason this posting is anonymous. If the name was attached, this guy would be getting the Adam Orth Special. This is the exact same horrendous messaging that Microsoft made the change to get away from. In fact, it’s arguably worse, because this guy genuinely seems to think this is an improvement on the message coming form the likes of Don and Phil Harrison. He explicitly said he was frustrated about how much trouble guys like them were having articulating his “vision”.

Well I got news pal, I liked it better the way they described it, and I hated that shit. What does that tell you about your revolutionary vision?

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