In the wake of rampant criticism of its recently announced Xbox One, Microsoft this week revealed that it would “respond to the feedback” and change key aspects of the entertainment console. But, not surprisingly, the changes have simply set off a new wave of griping from those moaning the loss of several promised features.
“Your feedback matters,” beleaguered Microsoft President Don Mattrick wrote in a job-saving post to the Xbox Wire blog. “Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments, and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.”
That feedback has been rolling in for months, really, since I revealed key aspects about the coming console in various podcasts and on Twitter. (I later collected these bits of information in "Here Comes the Next Xbox.") But over the course of Microsoft's public disclosures about the Xbox One—first at a May “reveal” event, and then at the games-focused E3 press conference earlier this month—the outrage and criticism has mounted.
In "Microsoft vs. Sony in Dueling E3 Presentations," I noted that Sony’s capitalization of key Microsoft missteps with the Xbox One, including its bizarre decision to let game makers optionally charge customers a fee to sell used games, had at least temporarily transformed the usually media-challenged firm into a sudden contender. Sony, clearly, had won the PR battle at E3.
It’s one thing to lose the battle of the E3 press conferences, but Microsoft’s Xbox team couldn’t get anything right last week. (And it’s worth noting that this team had previously never run afoul of its overly loyal user base, which for example accepted a historic $1.1 billion warranty repair program for the Xbox 360 with a collective shrug.) Mr. Mattrick emerged as the key buffoon in this comedy, unable to go off-script when questions about very real customer concerns emerged.
In "Xbox One Launch Missteps Could Cost Microsoft," I noted that Microsoft should own up to and correct its mistakes quickly in order to avoid another Windows 8-style debacle. And days later, in "How Microsoft Can Fix Xbox One," I described some simple fixes Microsoft could make to address the concerns and answer the top complaints.
Microsoft has indeed moved quickly, but it has taken only some of my advice. This week, the firm revealed that it would no longer require the controversial always-on Internet connection and would allow gamers to trade and sell used games. It also took the surprising step of removing the region-locking on Xbox One games, which hadn’t really emerged as a key complaint. You can read about all the changes in "Microsoft Reverses Course on Xbox One Policies."
But each concession Microsoft made this week has also made the Xbox One less elegant in some ways. And the until-now silent fans who were A-OK with the original plans for the Xbox One are starting to rise up in a new wave of outrage, expressed as before in online forums, on Twitter, and the like.
For example, although some had complained that the always-on Internet connection was onerous for users in rural areas and those with other special offline needs, its removal means that a key benefit of the Xbox One—a freewheeling family sharing feature in which an entire family of users could share a single Xbox Live Gold account and all of its associated games—is no longer being offered.
Likewise, the new ability to trade in, lend, resell, gift, and rent Xbox One game discs now means that customers who purchase digital versions of games (as opposed to disc-based versions) can no longer trade in, lend, resell, or gift those games as they could have before; furthermore, now disc-based games will need the disc in the drive to play, as with the Xbox 360. Originally, the disc would only be needed for initial installation.
Put simply, where Microsoft giveth, Microsoft taketh away.
And with these changes, the most futuristic and welcome aspects of this new console are now being stripped away so that the Xbox One can work more like the antiquated Xbox 360 that shipped eight long years ago in 2005. The console of the future is now the console of the past.
In a series of comedic tweets yesterday, I presented my own sardonic take on this backtracking, but one in particular sums up my feelings about these changes: “Xbox One team to users: We wanted to make [the Xbox One] awesome, but apparently you wanted a [PlayStation 4] with an Xbox logo on it. Enjoy.”
Responding to customer complaints is, of course, wise. But in seeking a middle ground with its critics, Microsoft has simply inflamed another group of customers and has removed what many feel were some of the key advantages of the Xbox One over the PlayStation 4. To them, the Xbox One is now just a slightly better Xbox 360.
Maybe they should have just called it the Xbox 360.1.