Sunday, 30 June 2013

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: Microsoft Edition

If you're even remotely interested in gaming and technology then you'll no doubt be aware that Microsoft have been working very hard at ruining their reputation lately. Back in May they unveiled the Xbox One, the successor to the company's second Xbox console - the 360. Unfortunately, for Microsoft at least, the console was about as well received as an Ed Gein range of Lampshades sold in IKEA - due to their insistence on transforming the concept of ownership into something entirely Orwellian, bogged down by their inane rules and regulations which aimed to strip the consumer of their rights and force them to dance along to Microsoft's tune. Adding to the whole 1984 vibe was the announcement that the Kinnect Sensor would be returning, only this time it'd be a mandatory requirement and always active; cue rampant fears that Microsoft would be watching people furiously beat it like it's Joffrey Baratheon's smug little face. 

The whole anti-used games DRM and always online shtick was rightly called out by the collective internet with a level of vitriol usually used against those criticising Firefly. Everything about the proposed DRM was a massive misstep. It portrayed the Xbox One as a console for hipster dickheads (presumably named Xander, or similar), with the company's claims that 'everyone has the internet,' and those without should 'deal with it.' And from the point of view of someone who believes games to have as much cultural merit of books and films, I felt ill at the very thought that one day, when Microsoft inevitably shut down the mandatory servers, all Xbox One games would be rendered as useless as a degree in music. This backlash continued for weeks: jokes were made, memes created and shared, and then a pivotal moment came at E3 when, let's say, Sony managed to recreate a certain scene from Deliverance (with Microsoft in the role of Bobby) by virtue of not being as shit as Microsoft. Squeal like a pig indeed.

So it was hardly surprising when Microsoft announced that they were abolishing all of the DRM 'innovations' that they had so rigorously defended. The thing is though, the damage is already done. Microsoft have already showing the consumers what they think of them - that unbridled greed is more important to them than valuing their customers. They are perfectly happy to let you play with their toys, just as long as you have their expressed permission, have jumped through all the right hoops and do it their way - lest they fly off the handle like Rachel Weisz's spoilt kid in About a Boy. I knew a kid like this in primary school - Stuart was his name, I believe. Stuart was perfectly happy for me to come over to his house and watch him interactive with his ludicrously expensive toys, but the moment I tried to get in all the action he went all Talat Pasha on me. 

And you though Matt Smith gave fezzes a bad name...
Now, I don't begrudge Microsoft attempting to force gamers into the future kicking and screaming - Henry Ford was correct when he affirmed: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Some innovations need to be forced onto society, like drunken colleagues at the office Christmas party. But - and it's a big J-Lo sized one - unlike Ford's auto-mobile, Microsoft's draconian Steam-like (but without its benefits) DRM, isn't a great innovation. It is essentially tantamount to taking away the consumers' control over their games, whilst telling them it's all necessary for the super-awesome magic of the Cloud - another bullshit industry buzzword with no clear definition - to work. Surely the First Sale Doctrine prevents Microsoft doing such things? I'm not sure, because, unlike the rest of the entertainment industry, the existence of used games remains a grey area that's widely disputed and lacks a true 'safety net'.

Regardless of the legalities, Microsoft have demonstrated an almost self-destructive level of disdain toward their customers - that's what must be taken from this experience. Does it matter if you're indifferent about used games? No. And does it matter that the always-online requirements wouldn't have affected you? No. Just because it doesn't negatively you now, this may not be the case later down the road. Microsoft have shown what they are capable of, and a temporary setback for their nefarious machinations doesn't necessarily mean they won't try similar ideas in the future. And besides, the whole "it doesn't affect me, so I'm okay with it," argument is positively ludicrous; it's like discovering that your best friend is a serial killer, but deciding to maintain your friendship when you learn he exclusively kills morbidly obese people.  

The Xbox One may have made such a dramatic U-turn that it looks like a genuinely attractive opinion for next gen gaming, but we should really remember the attitudes of those at Microsoft. From Adam Orth's 'deal with it' remarks, to Don Mattrick telling those without internet access to stick with the 360, they have shown a sickening lack of regard for the needs of their customers. They expect YOU to bend to their will, not the other way around. They want the days of when you bought the game, you owned it - and not simply 'licensed' it - to be over. If they had their way they'd remove any benefit to owning a console - no DRM, plug-in and play - just so they could yield ever more control over the products they produced. Sony and Nintendo are the currently the best hopes for gaming's future, but I'd remain wary of even them. Sony's tactic of remaining virtually silent on their own policies - giving only brief snippets here and there - and playing off the hatred for their closest rival is deliciously devious. Ultimately, it's like a knife fight between a child molester and Nigel Farage; you don't really want either of them to win, but if you had to choose it'd be the one who just wanted to fuck kids rather than his country.

It was in that moment Adam Orth realised he was a massive twat.
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