If Microsoft wasn’t already feeling the heat under its toes after being thoroughly dominated by Sony at E3 last week, then the latest consumer polls from Amazon will probably do the job; almost 95% of those polled said that they would be buying a PlayStation 4 instead of an Xbox One, and the Game Rant poll reflected similar numbers.
In brief, the negativity surrounding the Xbox One can be attributed to four aspects of its policies: each game must be authenticated online and the console must check in with Microsoft’s servers at least once every day in order to function; pre-owned games cannot automatically be traded, but must instead obtain permission from publishers, who can choose not to allow trading at all; the Xbox One will only function in a very limited number of countries at launch; finally, the Kinect sensor will be constantly on and listening, and may even be used to implement further DRM measures.
The last thing that Microsoft needs right now is more bad press, but that’s not going to keep bad press from finding it. Interactive entertainment research firm DFC has filed a report forecasting the future sales of both video games and consoles, and a summary put together by MCV states that DFC’s expectations for the Xbox One are already fairly low, and likely to fall even further:
“Microsoft’s overall strategy for entertainment devices is deeply flawed… So far this has not had a major negative impact on the Xbox business but that is likely to change with the Xbox One launch. Right now the entire future of Microsoft’s consumer entertainment business is in question and that is likely to have a major impact on the game industry.”
It’s worth noting that MCV’s quotes are taken from a DFC Intelligence report titled: “Worldwide Market Forecasts for the Video Game and Interactive Entertainment Industry.” Since this report was published on June 3, 2013, it presumably does not take into account the extra negative press that emerged surrounding the Xbox One at E3, including the reveal that Xbox One demos were actually being run on Windows 7 PCs with graphics cards carrying many times the actual power of the Xbox One, and the announcement that the console would only be functional in 21 countries at launch.
The latter fact was bound to cause a stir a stir, not only because the Xbox One won’t be available anywhere in Asia until at least 2014, but also because many military service members have reported using the Xbox 360 as a valuable method of relaxing and reducing stress during their downtime. For troops who find themselves stationed in countries where the Xbox One won’t be supported, or in any area without a consistent Internet connection for the Xbox One’s daily check-in requirements, Microsoft’s policies have effectively barred them from owning the new console.
US Navy aviator Jay Johnson expressed the feelings of disappointment and resentment that he and his peers have experienced in a blog post over at Gamasutra. This is by no means an official statement from the US military on the matter, but it eloquently captures the frustration felt by a military Microsoft consumer who has been coldly cut out of the Xbox One’s user base:
“For almost eight years I have served my country in the United States Navy. Initially, I enlisted as an Operations Specialist, but after two years I was picked up for a commissioning program and the Naval Aviation training pipeline to become a Naval Flight Officer (NFO — think Goose from TOPGUN, but a different aircraft). In that time I’ve served on three Nimitz class Aircraft Carriers, been on two combat deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan, and been on countless other detachments away from home for training and exercises. In the last two and a half years I have either been deployed or detached for a total of 18 months…
“My Xbox 360 has accompanied [me] around the world, its steady (okay loud) hum and green ring offering a temporary lull in my otherwise chaotic day-to-day. In fact, I have been a dedicated Microsoft fan before the 360 launch… I clocked over 250 hours in Skyrim because, for an entire deployment, it was my sanctuary…
The reason that I am so infuriated about [Microsoft’s policies] is that I, and my brothers and sisters in arms, will not ever be able to play Xbox One when deployed or on detachment… Those days are now firmly behind us. Microsoft has single handedly alienated the entire military, and not just the U.S. military, the militaries of the entire world.”
Don Mattrick, the President of Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, addressed the complaints of those who lived outside of the authorized regions, as well as consumers who lack a reliable internet connection, in an E3 interview with Game Trailers. Unfortunately, his response came across as more than a little patronizing:
“Fortunately we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity, it’s called Xbox 360. If you have zero access to the Internet, that is an offline device.
“When I read the blogs and thought about who’s really the most impacted, there was a person who said, ‘Hey, I’m on a nuclear sub.’ I don’t even know what it means to be on a nuclear sub, but I’ve got to imagine that it’s not easy to get an Internet connection. Hey, I can empathize. If I was on a sub, I’d be disappointed.”
Mattrick’s reminder that service members can continue using the Xbox 360 isn’t going to be a very big comfort to those who, like Johnson, were looking forward to playing the many new games coming out exclusively for next-generation consoles. Johnson describes himself as a “die-hard Halo fan,” and says that he will only resort to buying the Xbox One when the next installment in the Halo franchise arrives. Until then, he intends to buy a PS4 at launch and use it to enjoy the Killzone series as well as other next-generation games and PS4 exclusives.
Some people might criticize Johnson for his impassioned post, but it must be quite devastating for a gamer who is heavily invested in their hobby, as a means of winding down from an extremely taxing job, to find out that the console they were looking forward to buying will be unusable due to an unnecessary piece of DRM. When Sony has demonstrated that it’s possible to release a next-gen console without online requirements, many of Microsoft’s excuses for this disaffecting policy are starting to fall flat.
It’s still possible that Microsoft will use the next five months to backtrack from its current position. After all, Mattrick is quite right to “empathize” with military service members, when it’s his own company that will end up losing sales. So far, however, Microsoft appears to be clinging steadfastly to the policies that have already been laid out, with no apparent intention of revising them.
The Xbox One will be on sale in November 2013, and the PlayStation 4 is also expected to launch during the 2013 holiday season.