XBox One… Eighty: The DRM U-Turn.

It’s official.

So it’s official. Microsoft have reneged on their DRM plans for the XBox One, their once-a-day online check and games should no longer need to be installed, therefore can be traded freely.

Of course, the comments the past few weeks from inside Microsoft make this U-Turn look a lot more violent and serious than it perhaps needed to be because, well, this was always an inevitable consequence of what Sony and Nintendo have said and done. Microsoft was banking on it not being the sole villain of the piece, however with Nintendo beginning to change it’s digital pricing structure to be more comparable and competitive with retail, and Sony’s frankly bombastic teabagging at E3, Microsoft simply couldn’t continue down the road. It’s like that kid who goes into a haunted house thinking his two best mates are behind him, when actually – they’re not. They simply didn’t even move, and decided instead to go home to waffles and cocoa.

It’s going to make people like Cliff Bleszinski look really foolish, who publicly stood up to defend the policies that Microsoft were introducing. It’s going to stain the reputation of the XBox Support Team, who frankly have done themselves no favours in recent weeks but now look like a discredited team who just got caught out on a drugs test. And it is going to reflect poorly on Don Mattrick and Phil Harrison, the two most public faces of the XBox One mess that has been rolling on for weeks.

I genuinely saw this coming too. One only needs to take a look at the increased share price enjoyed by its rivals as its own plummeted. That Wii U sales increased several times over the day the XBox One was revealed, and again after their E3 show. That PlayStation 4 pre-orders are rampant and unhinged where its own are… well… perhaps not quite so brilliant.

Not only that, but many of the things they were discussing as compromises were hugely expensive examples in trying to appease people. A system where friends can all link to one primary games account and play all the games on it? Sure, Steam does it (in theory, with offline mode), but Microsoft still complicated this with examples of when people could and couldn’t play games. They couldn’t explain why they were going to require installation of a game, then partial installation, then minor installation and now of course no installation. You had people asking why the Polish developers Projekt Red couldn’t even legally play their own damned game in their own country, seeing as it was not on the list of twenty-one countries in which they planned to release it in the first year.

Make no mistake, this is a victory for the little people. Microsoft was attempting to screw around with our rights, our spare time, and there was no forgiveness for that. And even with this U-Turn, I urge caution – these things could still one day return. Microsoft still haven’t talked about ditching the Kinect 2.0 (which would actually make the machine the same price as a PS4 if they did it. Imagine that! COMPETITION!). And of course, the U-Turn is going to have dire consequences for many careers within the XBox Division. I suspect in the coming weeks, many will join Adam Orth in the great DRM/Always Online Cull of 2013. Heads will roll. Questions will be asked, deep inside Microsoft, as to how they could let this get out of control – Microsoft is a company which likes control. In both senses of the term. It likes to be in control of itself, and the past weeks have proven that it simply couldn’t.

It had manoeuvred itself into a position in the market where it simply could no longer hide itself, or its ideas. Left exposed, quite sensibly many investors and the board of chairmen will want to know how Microsoft could have gotten itself into quite suck a pickle in the first place. How could they misjudge the market so dramatically of late? Whose idea was it to push every single piece of anti-consumer arse right from the very start when you desperately need the consumer on your side?

So we will see new faces, new voices and new, brighter comments from inside Microsoft as they run as fast as they can to catch up with the likes of Nintendo and Sony, who skipped almost hand in hand after E3 in the other direction. They do not want to be left behind, they do not want to be seen as the enemy – too much money has been invested in the XBox Division to watch it crumble into the ocean now. They are in so deep that they were being forced to decide between sticking to its DRM principles, or dropping them to appease the market. Wisely, they chose to follow the market. But it won’t shake the question why they felt this was even a good idea in the first place, and who is going to take the fall for all of this terrible PR that they have accumulated so rapidly in such a small space of time.

And we shouldn’t forget. Microsoft wanted to screw you and me, the consumer. That leaves a bitter aftertaste that no amount of sweet dairy goodness or minty-fresh mouthwash will swill away. We should always remember what Microsoft tried to do, so that we can ensure that we do not get rail-roaded into it further down the line. Forgiveness is easy. Anyone can forgive. You just swallow that feeling and suppress it until you get a stomach ulcer (personal experience joke!). To forget is the hard part. I’ve spent years trying to forget some things, family matters that haunt me even more than a decade after they happened. I have forgiven people. I have accepted apologies. But I am no fool, and I still have a restraining order on some members of my family. Even with an apology and a well-meaning one at that, their actions spoke loud and clear. You just don’t get to pretend it never happened. You don’t get to tell someone that it was misinterpreted. It happened. Forgiveness can be granted, but trust… trust. Now there’s something that takes effort to win back. An apology is just the start, actions in the coming weeks and months will speak louder than any carefully worded corporate statement.

My point is that for all the cheering, this is but one victory. There is some way to go until the XBox One launches, and there are still many silly concepts, ideas and decisions to flush out and convince Microsoft are completely without merit. Sure, we can all applaud and admire this huge DRM change – it is huge. And it is important. But if we so casually dismiss it, we could go through this all over again in four or five years, when the machine has sold 40 million machines or so, and then that audience will have to “Deal With It”. And it’ll be a LOT harder to break free of the shackles once you’ve been lured into them.

Admire, applaud, even accept the changes. But this isn’t a kiss and make up situation. They want us, our money, the marketshare. They don’t get to force us to accept it. We accept it on our terms. We get to decide now, and I think people need to be very careful about suddenly doing their own U-Turn in the face of such a motion.

Then we keep an eye on them for the next decade or so to make damned sure they’ve learned their lesson, because fool us once, shame on you Microsoft. Fool us twice…

Be happy. But be careful.

I’ll catch you tomorrow.

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