E3 2013 has not been friendly to Microsoft. They announced their game licensing policy a few days before E3, and followed that up with a mediocre press conference. On top of all that negative press, it seems like the Microsoft executives have not been briefed on some core features of Xbox One, leading to much confusion for both the press and consumers.
There is no doubt that Sony had a better showing than Microsoft at E3. They announced that there would be no restrictions to game sharing, nor would a user have to connect to PlayStation Network periodically to play single player games. This announcement was met with a loud applause from the audience. The popularity of the Xbox One is dwindling, and Microsoft needs to come out with an aggressive PR campaign over the next few months to win back fans.
The Xbox One was revealed just a few weeks ago, and their PR has been terrible. Executives had been telling journalists conflicting information about having to connect to Xbox Live to play games, and the DRM built into Xbox One until the policies were announced on Xbox.com. It has taken Microsoft three weeks before this happened, in which an executive explains the licensing policies in a way that a makes sense. Instead of telling people to buy an Xbox 360 if you don’t like Xbox One, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer Yusuf Mehdi does a good job of explaining that the future is all digital, which will change the way things like used games and game swapping with friends will work. Anyone who uses Steam, or any popular video game distributor for PC, knows the advantages of having a digital only service. If Microsoft is embracing the future of digital only, then they need to go all in.
Microsoft has announced that every game released on disc will be able to purchase on Xbox Live the same day. But they need to take it further. If Microsoft wants to push the digital only agenda, they need to do a few things with Xbox Live and digital games. The first thing is allow folks to pre-load games onto the Xbox One. Imagine pre-ordering a game and downloading it to your console a few days before the game is released. At midnight on release day, the game would unlock and you could start playing your game. You wouldn’t have to leave your couch to get a brand new game at midnight. If Microsoft implemented this policy, it would have to do it with every game, not just the big releases. But having the ability to pre-load a game before it is released means that you wouldn’t have to wait for the game to download when the clock strikes midnight.
So we’ve covered pre-loading games, but if Microsoft really wants to push the digital service, they need to be aggressive with their pricing. It could adopt a strategy where games are sold at a reduced price on Xbox Live compared to what someone would pay for when buying the game in a store. From a personal experience, this is why I switched to playing the FIFA series on PC. The price of the game is $40 on Origin, compared to paying $60 for the console version.
People have been upset that Microsoft is implementing measures to block used games on Xbox One. A major factor leading to this dissatisfaction is that video games are expensive. There are some people that mainly purchase used games because of the reduced price. If people saw a digital copy of the game selling for $50 instead of $60, they would immediately go for that deal. Microsoft should also have an annual sale, akin the Steam summer and winter sales. It would be something that folks would look forward to, and everyone involved would make a lot of money. This article states that some developers see a huge increase in sales during the annual Steam sales. These sales would move a lot of units, make publishers and developers happy, and increase the popularity of digital games on Xbox One.
Switching to a digital only model means that the idea of game swapping will be a thing of the past. That is why Microsoft is introducing this “family plan” thing to Xbox Live, which you can read above this paragraph. You will be able to select up to 10 people to share your games library with through Xbox Live. Microsoft has already acknowledged that they know there will be people utilizing this feature that are not related. Think of this as your close friends having access to any of your disc based games.
If you think about this service like trading disc based games with your friends, then it is easy to think of the situation arising if two people try to play the same game at once: they can’t. This is Microsoft’s way of making sure one person doesn’t buy the new Call of Duty and 10 of their friends has access to the game. The wording on the official policy of the family plan makes it sound like only yourself and one friend can be accessing your games library at one time, and there is no mention of you accessing their games library. It is unclear if you can allow a friend access to your library, and they give you access to their library simultaneously.
Microsoft really needs to push this feature over the next few months. A lot of people are being turned away from Xbox One because of their licensing policy. While this feature is not as convenient as just trading disc based games with friends, it will become a decent feature when we move to a digital only world.
If Microsoft wants to move towards a digital only service for their video game consoles, they really need to sell it to the consumer. They need to show consumers that there are advantages to buying digital games, including access to your games library for up to 10 people, and reduced prices for purchasing digital games. Failure to do so will make users continue to feel like Microsoft is punishing them with their DRM measures.
It will be an interesting few months leading up to the November launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Sony is in the driver’s seat right now, with Microsoft being dragged by the car Sony is driving. If Microsoft plays its cards correctly, they can turn this PR nightmare around. Unfortunately I have a feeling Microsoft will rest on their laurels and expect people to flock to the Xbox One just because of the name, and it could be Microsoft’s biggest mistake this generation.