Sorry Cliffy B, but Microsoft wasn't ready to usher in a new digital era

By: Jeff Rivera

Sorry Cliffy B, but Microsoft wasn't ready to usher in a new digital era

Earlier this week Microsoft backed off of their anti-used game and anti-lending policies that they were planning to enact with the Xbox One. With their hand forced by overwhelming negative consumer feedback, retailer pressure, and Sony's PlayStation 4 outpacing the Xbox One significantly in preorder volume, Microsoft announced that game authentication for the Xbox One would be handled exactly as it is with the current generation. Gone are the daily Internet validation checks. Gone are the limits to lending your game discs. Gone are restrictions on when and where you can sell your used games.

With the announcement, Twitter, forums, and other social media networks exploded with excitement. Gamers were calling the move a victory for consumers, but not everybody was happy. A handful of voices in the crowd had to ring out and somehow choose to decry the move, calling it a step backwards. Possibly the most vocal of these voices belonged to Cliff Bleszinski, formerly of Epic Games.

Within minutes of the Microsoft announcement that the Xbox One would no longer restrict used game sales or game lending in any fashion, Cliff Bleszinski was on Twitter complaining about the decision, calling it bad for developers. While there’s nothing wrong with Cliff sharing his opinions, his approach was entirely antagonistic and wrong; and recent studies show that the used game market actually helps new games to generate higher profits at their current price points.

In fact, the study referenced above stated that if used gaming was eliminated by hardware manufacturers that the price of new games would need to drop to $40 in order to make the move actually profitable. If no price adjustment came with the elimination of used games, profits on new game sales would actually drop by 10%, which would be disastrous to the industry.

Even with the facts against him, I still believe that Cliff is entitled to his opinion, but his approach is nothing short of childish. He’s taking to Twitter to whine about whiners. In his blast of tweets, he implies that gamers are complicit in a harmful practice that does nothing but rob game developers of their rightful profits. Essentially, he’s calling gamers entitled, while saying that developers are entitled to a cut of used game sales. The irony is overwhelmingly thick.

Cliff isn’t alone in the pushback against irate gamers who were calling for Microsoft to adjust their policies. Popular writers and hosts in the industry jumped on board, including Jeff Cannata, who made it his mission to re-tweet frustrated publishers and developers speaking out against Microsoft for “caving in” to pressure. They’ve gone on to claim that this was our chance to ditch physical media and have a Steam-like experience on consoles.

Again, facts betray the complaints of those opposed to Microsoft’s decision to back down from heavy-handed DRM.

When I purchase a game on Steam, I’m free to access that game from my desktop or my laptop. If I’m on the go, I can put Steam into offline mode and still play single-player games at my leisure, not having to worry about daily authentication to play my games. Furthermore, if I upgrade my PC from Windows 7 to Windows 8, I will be able to carry my games over as I move from the previous generation to the next. In both the Xbox One’s comparable circumstances, neither would be possible. I often take my Xbox 360 when we go to our cabin, where I don’t have an Internet connection. During downtime and at night, I’ve had some great gaming experiences with family and friends. I’m happy that we now won’t be losing that. Also, as we’re seeing with the 360 to One transition, our digital purchases are not migrating. It’s a real shame, as many XBLA games are classics that I’d love to revisit as I do with older PC games via Steam.

Another thing to consider, and this may be the biggest reason to doubt that Microsoft would be able to deliver a Steam-like experience, is that they’ve yet to prove that they know how to properly price digital content. With a retail presence still available for disc-based versions of their games, Microsoft would be trapped to maintain price parity. If digital content was much cheaper, retailers would be reluctant to push the Xbox One on customers, knowing that disc sales will be weak. Heck, even now Microsoft charges more for many games on the Xbox Marketplace that are sold digitally than they are at retail. Games that are $10-$20 at retail are still going for $40 on Xbox’s Games on Demand service. This hardly makes me optimistic for promotions that come anywhere near the Steam sales that pop up so often.

Finally, publishing works far differently on Steam than Microsoft is planning for the Xbox One. Steam allows for more flexibility in game releases and more controls over pricing. Without the same level of freedom that publishers enjoy on Steam, the consumer would always be left to deal with a more restrictive and less appealing experience in comparison.

So, Cliff, if you want to know why gamers were so resistant to Microsoft’s attempt at going digital, it’s because they were simply going about it the wrong way. We were not going to going to get an experience on par or even near to what Steam provides for PC gamers. We were going to get an experience that was more controlling, less reliable, and less likely to provide value. I don’t know why anybody would want such an experience, and your insistence that we’re wrong just shows how little you understand the consumers who have put you in that Lamborghini you drive around while you complain about how hard it is to make a livable wage as a developer. You’re out of touch, and you’re wrong. Stop telling us that we’re too stupid to understand, because it’s obvious we have very valid and compelling reasons for resisting the Xbox One’s original set of policies. We’ll listen to you when you start talking about stuff that have basis in reality once more.

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