Earlier today, Microsoft announced that they were revising many of their planned restrictions for Xbox One. 24-hour authentication through Microsoft's servers? Gone. Region-locking? Gone. Restrictions on game trading? Gone. It was a stunning 180 from the company, but will it help them in the console war?
In a word: yeah. I think the original policies behind Xbox One were so restrictive that gamers who might otherwise have bought the console simply couldn't. Their options became PlayStation 4 or nothing. I was one of these gamers.
I bought my Xbox 360 way back in 2007 because of Mass Effect. Though I did eventually end up picking up a PS3 to play inFamous and a few other exclusives on the "other side of the wall," I didn't regret going 360 first. It's my primary gaming console to this day, if only because it's got HBO Go and comfortable trigger buttons. I assumed that the next Xbox would be my first purchase.
The authentication requirement for games, though? Fuck that noise. Being forced to connect to servers in order to play even off-line or single-player games is something I can't abide. Xbox One wasn't going to require a persistent connection like SimCity or Diablo 3, but the negative experiences I had with both games weigh heavily on me. An authentication requirement, whether it's once a day or persistent, makes the gamer dependent on someone else's servers. I live in an area with reliable Internet but I'm only part of the equation. If Microsoft's servers went down, I'd be unable to play a game disc sitting in my Xbox One. That's absurd.
The ban on loaning or renting games would've affected my gaming less but it still rankled me. It's the principle of the thing. I wouldn't want to financially support a company that thinks it's a good idea to foist this sort of restriction on its paying customers. Microsoft needed to know that that sort of thing isn't okay. So, I didn't pre-order an Xbox One.
Even though Microsoft has removed these restrictions, I'm sure that some Xbox gamers won't be wooed back. The fact that Microsoft thought these policies were a good idea in the first place casts doubt on their judgment. That's a big deal because a console is an investment. If I'm going to throw down money on a new console, I want to have confidence that it's going to be a reliable source of entertainment for years. If Microsoft's stupid enough to develop a console with DRM, who knows what else they're stupid enough to dream up?
Still, the conversation has changed. Sony was able to be the white knight up until now, the company with the console built for the consumer. Now that DRM is no longer an issue, though, the consoles will be compared in other ways. Instead, it's now about which console offers the best games and services. Microsoft's not the clear winner there but at least they're competing on a more level playing field. They could win an argument about Halo 5 versus Killzone: Shadowfall or Titanfall versus inFamous Second Son, but they weren't going to win a debate between DRM and no DRM.
This console war almost felt like it was over before it began. I'm glad Microsoft decided to do an about-face, though. It'll make this generation a lot more interesting for me as both a journalist and a gamer. It's going to take a lot longer to figure out what console I buy.