One could compare Microsoft’s initial plan for the XBOX ONE to someone throwing buckets of feces at a ceiling fan, but I won’t. Their announcement was more like that one single neutron that crashed into the nucleus of video game culture and then proceeded to break down into shit, spawning more neutrons to perpetuate this shit fission.
First, the whole industry went up in arms against Microsoft’s horrifyingly unclear statements and the simply horrible clear ones. Then they proceeded to try to explain it all to the press by being even more ambiguous in interviews. Finally, they (seemingly) revised their plans and drew up an incredibly forward-thinking model, one which would not only rival Steam, but outright best it. And in the end, after all the apparent effort they put into digging themselves into this hole (I still refuse to think that they simply screwed up, because that implies idiocy of such astronomical magnitudes that is simply unfathomable to me) they put about 10% of that initial effort into advertising what a great solution they have. Obviously after that seemingly purposefully weak attempt to get themselves back on their feet they just gave up, and throwing their hands up in the air proclaimed that they’ll just can all that digital distribution plans and resume with the current model because all the under-informed crybabies on the internet shouted loud enough. Some of you might have been excited by that. Most were, quite likely, but allow me to tell you why Microsoft just unscrewed themselves for the next generation and by doing so, by refusing to be the martyr in the name of progress, outright screwed the rest of the industry for years to come.
The initial reveal by Microsoft was nothing short of horrid; there’s nothing to argue about there. The interviews with Microsoft officials in the next few days revealed nothing at all while somehow managing to contradict their previous interviews. At this point they’ve dug a grave so deep that they might not dig their way out any time soon. And what did they do to counterbalance all the shit weighing them down? Practically the best perceivable distribution model. How did they make sure that everyone understood it and was at ease about it? They didn’t: they issued a single article where they detailed the nooks and crannies of the system, passed it around on the internet for a bit and then just went home feeling that their work was done. It obviously wasn’t, as most people still did not know about it and still perceived it as a horrible system.
At this point, Microsoft was in an unpleasant place, one somehow worse than when Sony’s stock increased by 10% a few hours after the XBOX ONE unveiling. If they kept things the same they would have been destined for complete failure during the next generation, so they had two choices: give up on their masterfully screwed up and misrepresented but brilliant idea, or just nope the fuck out of there and give up on it, reverting back to the current model.
They could have spent a bit more time and money fleshing out the details of the console and making them known to the public. This could have resulted in a console that operates like Steam, but with the ability to share games, lend them, and sell them, paired with top-drawer PC hardware for 500 bucks. It could have been the Steam box, the future of which seems bleaker by the second. It could have pushed Sony to transition to a model more beneficial to consumers and developers, it could have prevented dozens of studios from shutting down if only they bothered more to tell people how awesome it would be. Of course there is the issue of once-a-day check-in but if you’re the kind of person who cannot guarantee that, you could, you know, just not buy the console and get a PS4.
Instead they chose conformity. They threw all hope of innovation down the drain in the name of PR damage control. This ultimately came at the expense of any remaining shreds of respect that anyone had for them completely disappearing. Once again, instead of deciding to stick with their vision a company gave up and let the dumb nerds win. Thanks to Bioware and EA for showing them the ropes.
Of course, the ramblings of fans weren’t the only thing forcing Microsoft’s hand. So was Sony, by offering a more conventional and easy to comprehend model, which Microsoft could actually have blown out of the water by saying that their system will basically be like Steam. They didn’t do that and instead just caved in and let the majority have what they thought they wanted, which is apparently the same goddamn console as we have now with better graphics and more power.
So in the end we ended up looking at another 10 or so years of consoles that will be just the same as they are now, while Steam sells extremely successful games for half price, 2 months after release and has week-long sales multiple times a year where one can stock up on amazing games to last them a year for under 50 bucks. Microsoft will not, most likely, measure up to Sony’s success, at least early on in the generation due to the sour taste in everyone’s mouth, but they could have at least done so while doing something good for the industry as a whole. Personally, the only thing which saddens me is the reluctance to fight or at least explain that Microsoft showed. Nobody should be surprised by them covering their asses, but at the very first sign of opposition that they had enough strength to crush? Come on.
Now the only possible way to push the video game industry forward is by slowly giving more and more incentive to buy games digitally. That way we can slowly start choking the retailers and pushing everyone to at least get digital copies for dirt cheap on sales, thus giving some money to the developers and not having people re-selling or trading them in. In the end the sooner this comes, the sooner everyone will be satisfied with the state of the industry as we’ll be spending a lot less money on games due to digital sales and publishers and developers will be getting the lion’s share of those profits. The day we kill trade-ins and elevate digital sales is the day when the industry will flourish again and if my word isn’t enough, let’s see what Cliff Bleszinski, creator of Unreal and Gears of War has to say about the problem.
Here a developer says that there are plenty more people who have played the game than actually bought it. At first glance it’s kind of expected, but the fact that he called it to attention underlines the severity of this situation. Most people frown upon and outright hate piracy, but are used games not the same as piracy? In both cases the reason for one’s anger would be that the original creator is not getting any money for your enjoyment of the product. Sure, they get money for the initial purchase but from there on as far as the creator is concerned the game might as well have been pirated as they’re not getting a cut from it.
People hate giant companies for making the same games over and over again, trying their best to cater to the widest audience while not making any specific target audience legitimately happy. People get annoyed with tacked-on multiplayer that is supposed to extend the shelf lives of games by using resources that most think would have been used on the single player instead. Third party online passes piss people off because it’s an inconvenience to type a number in when they get a game, or having to buy that number if the game is pre-owned. Everyone rages about these things while not understanding that there would be no need for them if those giant businesses knew that if an excellent single player experience will sell. As it is, people buy them, play them and sell them off right away as they have no incentive to hold on to it.
If this were to happen, then more risky and niche games would be made and finally hipsters would stop yelling about the big budget stuff being crammed down their throats all the time. But it will not happen for the foreseeable future because there’ll still be no way to control used game sales and people will keep on practically pirating games by not giving the developers any money from used game sales. The industry is stuck in this high budget, safe crowd-pleasing loop and it’s all because of the ineptitude that Microsoft showed with their handling of great ideas and the blind rage of dumb nerds. We all got here together, so now we’ll suffer through this together.