Microsoft just officially confirmed the rumor that had been floating around the internet for the better part of this hot quasi-summer afternoon, releasing a completely overhauled policy for the upcoming Xbox One.
The draconian DRM policies that have raised a vocal and almost unanimous protest among gamers have been dropped, scrapped. They melted away under the heat coming from what Microsoft executives went on record calling the “vocal minority” like an abandoned popsicle turns into a puddle and then evaporates under August’s unforgiving sun.
We all know that Microsoft didn’t do that out of generosity, nor because they care. They did it because they saw the competitive edge that they smugly boast about every time NPD release its monthly numbers burn away like an old candle.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter.
The motives that pushed Microsoft to pull one of the most hurried and radical tactical retreats in the history of gaming are completely irrelevant. People will talk, argue and speculate about them for months. It still won’t matter.
The only real, tangible and irrefutable fact we have right in front of our surprised faces is that gamers can push a giant, world-spanning corporation around if they really put their foot down. They did it with Sony before E3, with the #PS4NoDRM campaign (and I don’t believe them for a second when they say that they planned the console to be DRM-free from the very start), and they did it with Microsoft after E3.
While I personally believe in the right of publishers and developers to somehow protect themselves from the arguable bleeding caused by the used games market, Microsoft’s policies were a step (more like a full fledged marathon) in the wrong direction, and they basically flew in the face of consumers by treating them all like potential criminals with a sort of ankle bracelet making sure they didn’t run away with the loot.
Gamers heard it, saw through the marketing bulls*it, they called it with its name (bulls*it), and very clearly threw it all back in Microsoft’s face. They did so not only by vocally speaking against the misguided policies, but they actually pulled out the most determining argument they have. Something that unfortunately is used very rarely: They spoke with their wallet.
They went to GameStop, Amazon or whatever other retailer they normally use, and pre-ordered PS4s in droves, showing Microsoft’s executives that, if they wanted their own healthy share of the next generation money, they had to bow down and take the hit.
And Microsoft bowed down and took the hit.
Even more delightful, the press stood almost fully united side by side with the gaming community. Too often you see journalists trying to play devil’s advocate when there’s really nothing to defend, in order to try and look smarter than everyone else. Some did that in this case, too, and now they’re probably looking at the mirror and feeling quite embarrassed. Luckily, those were the vast minority, and most actually fought the good fight on the side of the gaming community demanding their ownership rights back.
It’s also a good lesson for the corporate executives that think that gamers can be easily pushed around. We will bend and enable only to a point, but this fierce battle against DRM demonstrates that when the rope is pulled too hard, it will break. And when it breaks gamers will speak with their wallet. When that happens, even apparently invulnerable titans fall.
Now that the smoke has cleared and this battle (that wouldn’t have been necessary if the brass at Microsoft actually had the common sense to understand that people would have never accepted their policies without a harsh fight) has been fought and won, we can finally go back to talk about what really matters: the games.
Speaking about games, now Microsoft just needs to heed the second part of the advice I gave in my editorial a week or so ago. They should shave off the mandatory Kinect integration and offer a nice box without it for those that care only about playing games and care not for flailing their arms like idiots in front of a glorified webcam. I even have the ideal price point in mind: $399.
Then we’ll all have a group hug and sing Kumbaya.