Well it happened, and in record time: Microsoft completely backpedaled on their plans for the Xbox One console. It only took them a little over a week to break under the withering onslaught of criticism.
The internet practically caught fire last week following Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal at E3 last week, and not in a good way: first there was the constantly eavesdropping Kinect camera that came standard with each Xbox One and that could read your vitals like heart rate, then there was the “phone home” once every 24 hour lockout that required your console to be connected to the internet at least once a day or the console would brick itself, followed by the inability to buy, sell, or trade used games in any way. Well thanks to the announcement yesterday, two of these three Xbox One boners (Xboners?) have been rectified, and two out of three ain’t bad.
The walls all came tumbling down yesterday when Don Mattrick, Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business president and chief spin doctor, released a statement on the Xbox website about how Mircosoft was done shooting itself in the foot and had decided to not alienate as many gamers as it possibly could: the console will now allow you to freely loan your games to a friend or trade them in at the local GameStop so someone else can buy it used. More importantly anyone buying an Xbox One will no longer have to have their console connected to the Internet if they don’t want, as Microsoft also changed their minds on requiring the console to be “validated” once every 24 hours – in other words, your Xbox One won’t turn into a giant useless plastic brick if your internet goes down or if you want to take it on vacation with you.
The only bad thing that remains as a black mark against Microsoft at this point is the fact that the Big Brother-esque Kinect camera is still present, and it’s still constantly listening and watching. Sure, now that you don’t have to have a constant internet connection you can always leave your Xbox One disconnected from your router, as this will prevent any of the audio or video being picked up by the Kinect from going anywhere, it still doesn’t change the fact that the Kinect camera is a requirement and must be connected for the console to work – unlike Microsoft’s competitor Sony, which will be selling their own motion-sensing camera as an optional peripheral when the PlayStation 4 launches this holiday season.
Another sticking point for me is the fact that an Xbox Live Gold account is still required to access much of the streaming media capabilities of the Xbox One. As someone who can’t load up Netflix on his television without having to pay for a Gold account on my Xbox 360, I’m already sick of it; with the PS4 many of the multimedia capabilities of the console won’t be hidden behind a pay gate and will be accessible free of charge. Yes it’s true that from now until the end of the year Gold account holders will receive two free games to download every month, but with titles like Fable III it’s not as if Microsoft is giving away any of their frontlist titles any time soon. Honestly I’d rather just get 1600 Microsoft Points a month or something else instead.
All in all, it’s a good step in the right direction on Microsoft’s part, but I’m sure there are a lot of people who will see this as a “too little, too late” backpedal, an imperfect solution that doesn’t change the fact that the damn thing is always watching you – and that it will cost $100 more than the PS4. Let’s not forget that the decision to eliminate their ridiculous digital rights management strategy is just console-wise, and individual developers and publishers can still decide to be jackwagons by instituting their own always-on DRM on a game-by-game basis; with titles like Diablo III coming to consoles this is entirely possible and could prove to be just as frustrating an experience for the consumer.