Don Mattrick’s public reveal of the radical inversion of several of the Xbox One’s policies—ranging from DRM and always-online requirements to used game restrictions—came across as a shock, relief or failure depending on whom you asked. Of course, the official statement advocates that Microsoft’s renewed approach to the Xbox One is their way of responding to fan feedback, of making the Xbox One a better next-gen system as demanded by the public. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, is the testimony of Cliff Bleszinski, creator of the Gears of War series, who claims that “Sony forced Microsoft’s hand, not the internet whining.”
As reported by develop-online, Bleszinski relates the Xbox One’s abrupt turnaround to Sony’s unanimously positive reception following their E3 2013 performance, and believes that because Sony is “just playing on the internet outrage for free PR,” Microsoft had no choice but to respond in force. “At the end of the day, many hardcore dislike what was attempted. You can’t do well in that space with many of your core unhappy,” he continued, asserting that Microsoft’s own backlash had left them crippled in the next-gen race, and that without a turnaround like the one we’ve just recently seen, would likely have fallen irrevocably behind their competitors. “Especially when users have a choice. The nature of capitalism encourages competition and Sony played into that.”
Now is a time of antithesis, it seems: Sony presented the polar opposite of Microsoft’s pre-E3 policies at their own conference; Microsoft has since responded by completely backpedaling on those exact policies, claiming that the change came solely in response to “candid feedback”; and now Bleszinski has presented wide-eyed gamers who felt that their voice had been heard with a far more pragmatic theory of why the Xbox One was changed. Hell, Sony has even turned away from their free-to-play model of multiplayer for the next generation. That so many aspects of the next-gen race are currently pivoting around Microsoft’s actions proves that their decision to reverse their policies was a successful PR ploy if nothing else, and has brought the Xbox One back from its downtrodden grave.
However, a general assessment of the situation also raises another option: Microsoft had this policy inversion planned months beforehand and disseminated objectively horrible policies with the intent of riding their own positive PR wave with just this sort of announcement. Not only would this be incredibly simple to orchestrate, but, as current events show, is an extremely effective way of generating attention. All of gaming journalism has imploded on itself in the wake of Mattrick’s announcement and next-gen pre-order counts are now on shaky ground, so we can safely say that the aptly named Xbox 180 has had a sizeable impact.
Of course, I’m not here to badmouth Microsoft. After all, whatever the reason, in spite of the contrarian minority, the aforementioned policy reversal was a necessary change. If Microsoft was genuinely acting out of interest for their consumers, more power to them. If Bleszinski is right and they were simply responding to a dire situation crafted by Sony, then they’ve made a quantum leap forward in repairing their own standing. However, if, as suggested by a wealth of evidence (most notably: Microsoft’s early refusal to comment on the Xbox One’s policy details and the fact that it is physically impossible to enact such dramatic network changes in a week) Microsoft had this entire Xbox 180 fiasco staged months ago, then there are far more harrowing questions to be asked.
What else do they plan on changing, and how long will these ‘new’ policies last? Apparently, Microsoft can turn the structure of a system—one slated to ship out in a mere four months, and which was already complete enough to demo live games—on its head overnight, so who knows what else they’ll change?