Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Xbox 180

   The recent 180 that Microsoft has done regarding its restrictive Xbox One console features and policies has taken many by surprise, not only because no one (including myself) believed they would revise their standpoint, but simply because they seemed to dig their heels in and refuse to listen or budge on the matter in the face of overwhelming opposition and anger. But under pressure, and facing commercial annihilation, Microsoft finally relented and dropped their very controversial restrictions they had so vehemently defended over the past several weeks.

   Gone are the restrictions placed on lending/selling/trading your games, where games were tied to an account and nothing more than pay-to-play licences. Now consumer ownership seems to be restored, leaving consumers to do with their games what they wish, as the system for game ownership and used games will work as it does currently. Gone is the dreaded 24h mandatory software validation, as the console no longer needs the internet to function, though an internet connection is required upon first time setup of the Xbox One console, swings and roundabouts people! The region locking has also gone up in smoke as the console will be region free, good news for importers, that’s if there is anything worth importing on the system that is.

   While this story has a good ending in that gamers have brought about a good meaningful change, just like in the case of the Mass Effect 3 ending, for Microsoft at least, it was a simple business decision born out by simple financial fact: if they didn’t drop the console restrictions and recant, the Xbox One would turn into a financial disaster, one that would only add to the Windows 8 debacle. Microsoft still want to block used games, have an always on machine and have a controlled eco system, but seeing how little pre-orders were being placed for their console, and little interest in it outside of the controversy, they had little choice but to change tack.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Microsoft’s Xbox One: Army of None

   Cast your minds back folks to the launch of the Xbox 360, it had a spectacular launch with a bunch of great games. It sold well, and it would go on to do very well over the years, even in the face of the RROD debacle, with many gamers considering their gaming experience on the console so good, they would part with their hard earned cash for a second, third and umpteenth 360 after the one previous overheated and died. Though some publishers have been sadly doing their uttermost to sour that great experience in the latter half of the consoles lifespan, with all kinds of malign practises to bleed wallets dry from what were (up until that point at least) loyal customers. It’s a shame that Microsoft (MS) has had such a hands off approach to these practises been implemented through software on its platform, when discontent about such things have been growing since their inception into the marketplace. But then after recent events surrounding MS Xbox One, a hands off approach was probably for the best when all’s said and done.

   Anyone thinking that MS has all of a sudden dropped the ball with its new console is much mistaken, for in the hallowed halls deep within the company, all has not been well for a long time, the ball was proverbally dropped many moons ago. To see just where they went awry you have to look at the Xbox 360 and a lifespan that can essentially be split up into two half’s: pre-Kinnect and post-Kinnect. Pre-Kinnect MS was pushing gaming first and foremost and making sure that the 360 delivered the best gaming experience the ‘hardcore’ gaming crowd could want. Sony was on the back foot, 360 exclusives were plentiful, XBLA was coming into its own, indie games were to add another dimension and XBL was generally the place to be for hanging out, co-op and multiplayer. Its not like the whole all-in-one media box idea appeared out of nowhere with the Xbox One either, as MS wanted to bring the media side of online computing (films, TV, music) to its console by having the 360 be the best media streaming box out there. But of course, the media streaming side of the 360 was always a healthy distant second to gaming, which is the way it should have stayed.

   Things would change however when Nintendo’s Wii console really started to take off, so much so Nintendo’s machine was vastly outselling all competition, and supply couldn’t keep up with demand. The buzz words were definitely in, and they meant money, lots of money, ‘motion controls’ were now where all the action seemed to be, and MS and Sony both decided they needed to show up to the party. The only problem was, they both showed up late, to a party they were not invited to, and to one which their friends and supporters were trying to reason that they had no business even being present at let alone considering going to. But some companys in the gaming industry are adamant they know best, even when their target audience and loyal customers say otherwise and show evidence to the contrary (Mega CD, 32X anyone?)

   In the end Sony’s motion control aluminous vibrator shaped sex toy inspired ‘Move’ for its PS3 moved about as much as the PS2’s EyeToy. In the end with gamers on the platform showing little to no interest in it, Sony quietly let it slide away to the back-burner rather than keeping it going with a dose of Viagra and pushing it upon everyone, right move Sony! MS twat inspired Kinnect made for wealthy sized living rooms, that wouldn’t actually work in anything less than a grand hall faired much the same fate, as gamers the world over gave the unwanted add-on the two fingered salute and opted not to swirl their hips in front of TV’s and look like tits in front of their mates. The only difference here is that MS refused to acknowledge one of gaming’s most sacred commandments that never ceases to be proved wrong, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy console with add-ons,’ as they refused to let the Kinnect die off with some dignity still etched to it. The company has done less than stellar for the 360 and its loyal user base post-Kinnect, and has choose to neglect the consoles core experience (gaming,) in favour of continually flogging a dead horse (the Kinnect,) and concentrating merely on its media and social capability’s above all else.

   While the Kinnect may have proved a hit in technology and science labs the world over for its practical uses and implementation in new and forward thinking technology, for 360 owners, there was just no point in owning one. There were and still are no games for it that make it a must have worthy of owning, and further more it never worked as well as MS would have had everyone believe. Besides that, the motion control bubble was ready to burst, and burst it did as people realised that the technology in use was less than precise on any of the consoles than the big three would have us all believe, as well as developers poorly implementing and tacking on dreary control mechanics to games. The motion control bubble was brief and rose-up quickly, but like a night out of too much beer and merry making, once it was all over, the sobering realization dawned that it wasn’t all that great and practical for gaming after all. So with the Move and Kinnect arriving so late, gamers realized that adding these add-ons to their consoles was not in their best interests as they added nothing to their systems but a wasteful expense that they could do without.

   Now fast forward to today, after years of complacency and a heavy media focused strategy, MS have come out fighting with the Xbox One, with a console reveal of, well, a much meatier media focused strategy, oh and Kinnect 2.0, yay… anyone? But some would say that MS complacency of the last several years has now morphed into outright arrogance, as many loyal Xbox users that have been around since the original Xbox now feel rightly angered. We all know that they have announced 15 exclusive games for their new system, but does anyone care in the face of having draconian restrictive features built into the Xbox Ones hardware to limit and control our gaming experience at the end of an iron first? Well it would seem not if the massive backlash that erupted after MS conference is anything to go by.

   Many companies today listen less to their consumer base, if at all, and instead try and bend and mould their customers to their will, even when it’s contrary to everything their customers want, it’s like the New Coke debacle of the 80’s never even happened. Yet these same companies scratch their heads with confusion at any backlash and failures that inevitably head their way as a result, and no more so than those companies that are in the gaming industry. From EA and Activision wondering why they are hated so much, to Capcom and Square Enix wondering why they are beset with poor sales performances. Hell, even MS with Windows 8, the OS that nobody wants, and the soul reason why PC and Laptop sales have dropped off the map and into oblivion as soon as every PC came packaged with their Metro OS. MS fundamental problem at the moment is that they are not listening to customers, hence much of the backlash over Windows 8 and the Xbox One. In the end, they have a certain vision, and to them it matters not that people don’t want or understand their vision and products, because they are banking on being able to bend consumers to their will and consumers giving in without a fight. So it comes to pass that rather than reject any and all notion and implementation of much of the shallow practices that have plagued many games of this generation on the PS3 and 360, much of which has angered gamers over the years, they instead choose to embrace it with open arms, much to the sinister delight of EA.

   With the Xbox One, there will be no such thing as game ownership as we have always traditionally had it, that’s something that will be consigned to the past, replaced instead by licences that will last only as long as the console does or the publisher sees fit to support them. The disks you will pay £40-£50 or more for will be nothing more than licences to play games and in no way will the consumer be paying to actually have any ownership rights over them. A physical disk and case will be nothing more than a delivery system, worthless and useless bin material after a game has had its mandatory hdd installation. The disk cannot be used afterwards to resell or to lend out to friends and family, it will be an empty vessel, and the licenced game will now reside on your hdd and locked down to your account. To lend the game out to others would mean giving others access and or control over your account.

   Since the disastrous conference however, MS have been busy doing its utmost to save-face, backtrack and allegedly pay companies to work damage control limitation on their behalf after the massive backlash its received. So now its emerged that they are shifting the heat onto publishers by saying that the no used games restriction is an optional opt in/out scheme, and its up to publisher whether to restrict the re-sale of their games or not. But at the end of the day they are still building that feature into their console, and the games are still licence to play games. They have also said you can play a game licenced to you on another Xbox One console when signed in with your account, but will only be able to play for one hour and that’s your lot. If the thought of that wasn’t enough to excite you, then how about the console needing to connect to the internet once every 24 hours to scan and verify the console and software, and no connection means no gaming at all.

   The reasons MS have given for doing this are the same old bullshit publishers such as EA tried to rational the practise of locking out parts of game content stored on disks. Where by a game bought brand new would need to be registered, meaning access to all content on the disk was available to the first time buyer. However if the game was then sold or lent out, the second-hand buyer or lender of the game would have to pay a fee to unlock a segment of the content on the disk, which in this publishers case was typically the multiplayer part of the game, but other publishers have worryingly started to lock out parts of the singleplayer portions of games. These practises, we are told, are to give publishers and developers a cut from any used game sales, as the used games market is supposedly crippling the industry in ways we just cant imagine, as well as the fact that many companies in the gaming industry today believe they have a right to take a percentage made from any used game sales. The former has been well and truly disproved over the years, just the fact alone that the used games market has always been around since the inception of gaming just proves its less harmful to the industry than the big publishers would have us believe. The latter really comes down to content/software ownership, if you pay for it does that mean you own it and can lend or sell it, or does it just mean you are temporarily licencing it, this is an issue that has only heavily come to the fore over the last 4-5 years and was never such an huge issue in the past as it is today.

   The problem here is that this is the clashing point were publishers/developers and consumers meet in gaming, and things look set for a showdown with the Xbox One being the defining battleground for the future of console gaming. Gamers/customers want to own what they pay a lot of hard earned money for, as apposed to paying loads of money for something they don’t (a licence to just play a game.) They also feel it is their right as consumers to then be able to do what they wish with their games afterwards (sell, lend and trade,) much as they have always done with video games and any other worldly goods since the passage of time. Some (not all) publisher/developers want games to be nothing more than a temporary paid for licence, to be pulled at a later date or at their convenience. In this way they would force everyone to buy a new game (or licence) at full price as the used games market would effectively be wiped out; this way they will have ultimate control over what they at this present moment do not. MS obviously shares in this licencing dream held preciously by the likes of EA, who recently abolished its hated practise of content blocking licences, claiming it had listened to feedback. Funny then how they went on to pull out of making games for the Wii U completely, and that such an announcement coincided with the Xbox One reveal. But no ones really that fooled, as everyone and their mother knows it’s because they can’t force their no used games market dream on the Wii U or current gen consoles. If publishers and certain console manufacturers such as MS can ultimately control the whole facet of the market place, it would freeze out consumer freedom and market competitiveness, and the big companies would be in a position to monopolise and control price, delivery and freedom at their whim.

   I don’t know about you, but this prospect doesn’t sit well with me, and I have never been so unenthusiastic and discouraged about an impending new generation of console ever. MS dream of an ideal console future in their eyes is an oppressive Orwellian one in mine, and one I won’t support. Every facet of the Xbox One that MS are championing is a restriction and an obstacle, and every carefully worded statement and press release by them won’t hide that fact. Console gaming has always been about simplicity, ease of use and fun, all three things that the Xbox One is definitely not. It’s a shame MS have messed everything up so bad, but that’s what happens when you don’t listen to your own customers, the Xbox One is DOA (to me at least,) and now Nintendo and Sony have everything to play for.


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