Examples of Damage Control in Gaming: Debugging

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You’d be hard-pressed to remember the positive features announced for the Xbox One during its reveal, as they were buried among a pile of overwhelming negatives — and for good reason. Despite Microsoft’s greatest attempts to trumpet it as the true console of the future, one capable of more than simply playing video games, the intended audience wasn’t having it. They saw a number of options previously taken for granted being stripped away, and had trouble seeing beyond that. And given how their competition had no intention of doing the same, it was an understandable attitude to have.

But what were those positive qualities? There were plans for the Xbox One to have features no console before it attempted. The Family Sharing feature would have allowed for up to ten family-owned systems to share software, similar to how Valve’s Steam service goes about it. You’ll want to emphasize “were” and “would,” because it was stripped away along with the features people didn’t want. Microsoft never gave a legitimate reason for why it happened, though, as it was done in a “well, I guess you guys just don’t like nice things” manner. The feature is gone, but it’s apparently not forgotten.

There was another nifty feature introduced with the others, one almost completely forgotten these days. The hardware consumers purchased would be able to double as a debugging kit. No longer would developers have to bug Microsoft for one separate from the unit they owned, as they’d already have it when they purchased the system. This wasn’t that big of a deal for developers owned by bigger publishers, but it was great for independent entities without much sway. It was an interesting contrast compared to their other holdover policies from Xbox Live Arcade, where indie developers couldn’t publish a game on the service without a publisher’s backing. Nonsensical and egotistical decisions are what happen when a console manufacturer is a leader for even a short time.

It’s possible this feature was forgotten by more than just the general public: Microsoft hadn’t said anything about it in a while either, despite the Xbox One being on the market (well, some of them) for about eight months. Now we know the reason for that. Martin Fuller, of the Xbox Advanced Technology Group, explained during a Q&A that the company no longer has plans to introduce the feature. Unfortunately, he didn’t go into why. Just when you thought Microsoft ran out of Xbox One-related reversals to make, they made another one no one expected.

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Or did they? After news of Fuller’s statement spread, a Microsoft spokesman told Digital Spy that the aforementioned plans are still on, and that more details will be shared at a later date. This doesn’t make any sense. Why would Fuller so openly say there were no further plans when that’s not the case? Either he wasn’t informed about a more recent decision, or this is a bad attempt at damage control to merely diffuse a sticky situation. There’s a reason why you’re seeing it as part of this ongoing feature.

This development means no one will believe them, and they’ll have to prove it by actually allowing the system to be transformed into a debugging kit. The longer they delay this, the more people there will be that draw their own conclusions. It’s certainly possible that it’s still being working on it, but was put on the backburner to fix other issues the system was having. For instance, they’re working on giving more power to the developers that seriously take advantage of the hardware (aka “AAA” game develpers) to increase the resolution and effects for certain games, power that was previously reserved for Kinect — which is slowly but surely being phased out. It could be something they return to, but the uncertainty here speaks volumes. Given the kind of business they are, they’re far more concerned with pleasing the bigger developers instead of the smaller ones.

Microsoft’s Xbox division is still recovering from their “one PR disaster after another” period from last year, and they don’t need another reversal on their record. If this feature doesn’t materialize, it could be a serious setback in their currently-improving relations with indie developers. This simply being a miscommunication error would be the best case scenario at this point, though it would be evidence that they still can’t keep their story straight.

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