Why Microsoft Needs to Be Careful Moving Forward

Microsoft has spent the better part of the past few days explaining the Xbox One’s many new features while retailers have thrown pre-orders up to make the most of E3 and make some quick hypothetical bucks.  This gets them some theoretical sales and allows MS and other companies to trumpet “system X has the most amount of pre-orders in history!” without consumers having to actually risk money in the case of some — like Amazon. While checking an e-mail that Amazon sent about there being a Day One 360 and a standard edition, which will just lack the controller branding and ridiculous Day One achievement, I noticed that beyond the hardware itself, first party games, like Ryse, Kinect Sports Rivals, and Forza Motorsport 5 also have Day One versions.

These versions trumpet “collectible box art”, which had sure better be more than the existing art with “Day One Edition” text cluttering things up. Perhaps it’s reversible like Sony has done with many of their first-party games, or will have some shiny effects on it like the black label Kingdom Hearts games on the PS2. You’ll also get “exclusive in-game content that will unlock unique items and experiences”. While I’m sure this content will eventually be released on the Live Marketplace, and basically just change the name of a first-run game being marked “Limited Edition” like EA has done into “Day One”, it really hit me just how much MS is pushing the One name for the system’s branding.

In a way, it’s a smart thing to do since you want to get this new and somewhat confusing name in the public’s mind in as many ways as possible. They started with the Day One push for the console and have continued with that, but have to make sure to not to it so much that it becomes patronizing. If it’s brought up every now and then, it shouldn’t be an issue. However, if MS decides to start mentioning it all the time in press conferences and interviews, to the point of making you want to roll your eyes every time you see or hear it, it would be a huge mistake. It reminds me of something outside of gaming, with WWE presently pushing their app heavily on television. How heavily? It’s brought up in just about every match during WWE’s six hours of weekly programming – and to hype it as being a must-have, they’ll show you guys watching the show you’re watching. Literally just showing you guys watching the show you’re watching.

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So far, Microsoft has handled the Day One stuff just about perfectly. They mentioned the DO version of the system and were upfront about what you’d get with it. They didn’t say “YOU’LL GET ALL SORTS OF EXTRAS” and leave it at that. They said you’ll get a slightly different controller, an achievement, and whatever the hell premium packaging is for a console. I guess when it’s gathering dust in a closet, it will do so with something shiny or holographic being covered in dust as well. At E3, they didn’t say anything about DO versions of games and instead just let retailers list them, but with that came a problem. On Amazon’s Ryse: Day One page,  it says “Some games not transferrable and have no resale value”.

This means that your reward for not only buying first-day hardware (and first-run MS hardware after years of red ring issues at that), is the ability to spend the absolute highest amount for a game and be rewarded with in-game content in exchange for not being able to freely sell it. You can take whatever a participating retailer offers you, but that’s it. If MS really pushes DO game purchases heavily, they can easily alienate consumers already upset about the DRM and turn them away from buying the system. One upside to the DRM, and really the only one I can see is that it will force people to be far more careful about game purchases. Since you can’t resell a game wherever you want to, you can’t just think “well, if I don’t like it, it was only $20 and I can get most of that back on Ebay”. As a result, people will be far less inclined to take chances on a game.

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This means less mainstream games like Crimson Dragon may be unable to work as physical sleeper hits, and would be best-suited for less-expensive download-only affairs for the Xbox One. While that still helps the publishers and developers, it doesn’t do much for consumers since digital-only copies can’t be resold at all. It also isn’t known if buying a game on day one via the marketplace will entitle you to the same day one extras as boxed games.  Boxed copies offer up very few advantages for the Xbox One since everything has to be installed anyway, which brings up hard drive space as a major concern. The PS3 did a lot of things wrong at launch, but one great thing it did was enable you to swap out a stock hard drive for an off the shelf one. This meant that you could get the lowest-end system, save some money by not basically paying Sony to put a bigger drive in for you, and just get a 500 GB one for $50 or so and install it yourself. 500 GB sounds like a lot, but realistically, it isn’t much space when you’re dealing with a library of games intended for Blu-Ray drives that can take up a massive percentage of your storage.

If Microsoft enables you to put in any size hard drive, then they’ll at least do something to get some goodwill their way from consumers feeling like the company is looking out more for itself than for them. With four months to go until the system’s launch, they’ve still got a lot of time to regroup and get some trust back from people. MS was wise to minimize anything involving the Kinect at E3 since that didn’t go over too well before, but they still brought a lot of announcements that are naturally going to be met with skepticism as they take console gaming to a place it really hasn’t been before. The days of buying a game and feeling like it’s yours are pretty much over with this system, as you have limited rights to the product – something folks have gotten used to with downloads, but will likely never get used to, let alone like, when it comes to a physical good. Everyone is used to feeling that anything they hold in their hands is theirs to do what they want with. If you’re running low on space in a game room, you can always clear out C-level stuff and make room.

Microsoft is doing away with that to a large degree and taking a huge chance with their heavily-online next gen system. It’s a shame too because that aspect of it has taken so much focus away from the actual game lineup. When you’ve got exclusive games like Crimson Dragon, Forza Motorsport 5, Ryse, Titanfall, Halo, Dead Rising 3, Sunset Overdrive, and Project Spark that make you want to own the system, you just want to think about how great they’ll be and not the hoops you’ll have to jump through to try and recoup some money if they wind up not living up to the hype. More than any other system, people may find themselves forced to wait for major price drops on games if they feel there’s a chance a game won’t be good. So if you’re someone looking for a reason to not buy a particular game, MS itself has given you a big one — especially if it’s available on other platforms.

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Unless Xbox One versions contain a lot of exclusive content, and not just timed exclusive content, it’s impossible to foresee people choosing an Xbox One version of a game over its PS4 counterpart since that will (in theory) lack DRM and could be resold freely.  That aspect could be a real game-changer for Sony, who has the most powerful hardware along with a lower price point that is only a bit higher than the far less powerful Wii U. The inclusion of a sorta-pack in game with Driveclub getting a reduced-content version with a Plus membership is also more appealing than a reboot of Killer Instinct – itself a niche fighter from nearly two decades ago.

Microsoft has a really tough road ahead of them and the worst part about is they made it hard on themselves. Their arrogance towards people without reliable internet and saying that they’ve got a product for them in the 360 is disgusting, and about on par with how clueless Sony came off in ’06 stating that you could just work a second job to afford the then-$600 PS3.  They’ve got five months to change the minds of players they’ve turned off, and they’d be wise to do the best job possible because if they half-ass it, it could hurt them a lot over the next generation. If that happens and things don’t get better for the Wii U, then that puts Sony back on top and if they feel invincible like they did after the PS2, that could easily lead to them making the same kind of mistakes again that hurt them so badly before — and that doesn’t do anyone any good.