Examples of Damage Control in Gaming: Kinect with Big Brother

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Though many of us have been upset about Microsoft’s policies for the Xbox One (or “Xbone,” if you prefer) for the past few weeks, we’ve had some dismissing them as simply rumors. Though word of them came right from high-ranking executives in the company, Microsoft was quick to try and dispel any news that could be portrayed as negative right after the system’s reveal nearly three weeks ago, dismissing them as “potential scenarios.” But they weren’t fooling anyone; we all knew they were true. There was no reason for general manager Phil Spencer and corporate vice president Phil Harrison to lie to the press; Microsoft was simply attempting -- and failing -- to do damage control. Not to mention they were corroborating rumors we’d been hearing for months.

 

(The fact that both executives have the first name “Phil” is pretty funny, though.)

 

Microsoft finally knew the cat was out of the bag, and decided to clarify the situation themselves through a dedicated page on their website. On it, they detail the system’s used game policies, showing what you can do with games purchased with your money, and not going into what you can’t do. But there was information there we didn’t know about before. You can sell your games after all! But only to anyone who’s been on your friends list for at least 30 days. And after you sell it to them, they can’t do the same to that particular game; it’s theirs for good. That misses the point of selling games.

 

You’ll also be able to trade in games! But only at selected retailers that Microsoft is willing to work with. It’s likely going to be GAME in Europe, and Gamestop for North America. This also means there will be less competition for the trade-in process, so you can count on trade-in prices being lower than the current rates -- which are already pathetically low, unless there’s a special promotion happening. Every time good news about the Xbox One pops up, you read further and realize it’s yet another feature that screws the consumer out of options they previously took for granted. If you’re the kind that likes to sell your physical copies privately or through online marketplaces, well, too bad. “Deal with it,” as former Microsoft game director Adam Orth would say. You also can’t lend your games to someone, or bring a game over to someone else’s place without uploading your account to their system. And boy is this not going to be good for rental places and Mom & Pop stores that sell used games.


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The system’s policies won’t affect every console owner out there, but a significant portion of them should have a problem with this...provided they’ll know about it in advance. And that’s why you’ve been seeing a bunch of articles from mainstream press outlets warning people about how Microsoft wants to “Big Brother” their way into your living room, and that’s not even getting into the always-on Kinect. Very little of this benefits the consumer. Much of it is being done for big corporations, the ones who complain about used games, rentals, and piracy equaling lost sales -- despite ample evidence suggesting that’s not the case. We know that people sell games to get enough money to buy new games. We have mathematical proof that restricting used games will result in less people buying new games because they’ll lack the ability to sell their previously-purchased ones. It’s not the consumers’ fault that development costs are too bloated for even the biggest companies to handle, and shifting part of that burden onto the consumer sure as hell isn’t the right answer.

 

And it’s worse when you have normal consumers defending Microsoft’s actions. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the issues and understanding why some have a serious problem with them, but realizing they won’t affect you. There is something wrong with telling anyone who doesn’t like it to, in so many words “shut up and take it, idiot.” While some of the defense is likely the result of astroturfing, some of them definitely aren’t being paid off. And that’s even more depressing.

 

The Xbox One seems like a system that wants to be all about digital distribution in a market still heavily reliant on physical goods, and the response to that sure as hell shouldn’t be treating physical games like digital ones. That is, unless, they’re lowering the price of new software along with it. And given the number of publishers complaining about how they’ve been losing profits thanks to these “freeloaders,” don’t expect that to happen.


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So now the ball is in Sony’s court, with everyone waiting to see whether they’ll pull the same stunts. Even if they don’t, they likely won’t lose third-party support due to how expensive it is to make games these days, and the need for publishers to make their product available to as big of an audience as possible. We’ll hopefully learn what they’re planning at E3 later this week -- maybe even tomorrow! But don’t be surprised if the week passes by without a definitive answer.

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