May 12, 2014 was a sea change for Microsoft as a gaming company. After nearly one year of being in the doghouse due to stubborn Xbox One policies that they slowly backed away from, they announced the end of the mandatory Kinect for the Xbox One console. This move put the core system at $400 – on par with the PS4’s pricing. In theory, being equal with Sony is a good thing. They’ve been viewed as being behind them for the entirety of the next-gen lifecycle so inching closer to that goal is better than nothing. The problem is that they need to aim for things to be better than Sony right now.
They’ve got a less-powerful console, and a key part of its hardware is now reduce to an accessory. They beg a lot on DRM and lost heavily there. Consumers weren’t just upset at MS for wanting to go digital – many have done so already on PC without issue. The problem lied in just how they did it. Instead of listening to what people wanted, the company tried to dictate what people wanted and folks simply didn’t want it. The idea of being limited to where you could trade in physical copies of games was appalling, and the mandatory check-in didn’t account for things like long-term outages or simply living in an area with spotty internet.
Still, they have shown a willingness to adapt to some degree and their Games With Gold program was one way they proved that with action. Sony kicked their ass with PS+ on the PS3 and Vita, so MS announced Games With Gold and as a bonus, all games obtained with it would be tied to your account forever. Keeping the Gold account active wasn’t needed to keep the games. Today, they announced the June games – an impressive array of stuff on both the 360 and Xbox One, but Xbox One games will now be tied to the Gold account just like on PS+. It stands to reason that this is due to the games already having a more restricted fanbase, so you don’t want to piss off developers or publishers by putting their games out there to a sizeable chunk of people without some kind of restriction in place. In that sense, it’s quite a reasonable change.
However, this one move puts them now on equal footing with PS+ – and in a bad way. They had the leg up without that restriction, but now offer up pretty much the same service, only with a much older game selection on the 360. Still, the Games With Gold program should entice people to keep their Gold accounts active. If a subscription lapses during a month with an A+-level game, people are going to be more likely to renew. My biggest fear with this step back is that it continues the trend of “two steps forward, one step back” for the company. They’ve got enough working against them with the hardware not selling like they want it to even with a Titanfall bundle to entice people. They’re taking steps to improve things, but those steps don’t seem like they’ll be enough to change their fortunes. After doing so many things right with the 360, it’s astounding to see them make so many wrong ones with the Xbox One. Hopefully this policy change for Gold games is just something that was forced upon Microsoft.
Microsoft has made some fantastic strides as far as being able to admit when they’ve screwed up and fixing the problems, and it sucks to see them take any steps back. It’s better for the industry as a whole to have as many strong companies making hardware in it as possible. That way, the industry has a stronger foundation to stand on, and we all win. MS has engendered a lot of goodwill thanks to the Games With Gold program so far, even if the games offered on the 360 are a bit older than some would like. The big key with the Xbox One version is going to be doing a better job than Sony is doing with PS+ and that’s nearly impossible to fathom – but not impossible to do. Microsoft simply needs to be willing to sacrifice some big-name games, and get third-parties in on that as well, to make it happen.