How Microsoft Delayed A Wildly Popular Xbox Feature To Clean Up Its Wildly Unpopular Always Online Plans

from the facepalm dept

The Xbox One has been back in the news recently as Microsoft has rolled out an update that makes the system backwards compatible with some original Xbox games. Much as with the backwards compatibility roll out for Xbox 360 games that Microsoft performed in 2015, fans of the system have been cheering this on. It’s something a no-brainer, with this functionality making the system all the more appealing and increasing brand loyalty for the console as gamers will be conditioned to expect that the investments they’ve made in gaming titles won’t go to waste once the shelf-life of a particular generation of systems runs its course.

Which raises the obvious question: why in the world did Microsoft wait until 2015 to put backwards compatibility in place? The answer, it seems, is that Microsoft suddenly became too busy cleaning up after the backlash to its always-online plans for the Xbox One to roll it out.

That nugget comes from a wide-ranging behind-the-scenes look at Microsoft’s backward compatibility efforts posted on IGN this morning. Amid quotes from an array of Microsoft employees involved in the backward-compatibility development and rollout, writer Ryan McCaffrey includes this tidbit (emphasis added):

The fan-first feature has evolved from an experiment conducted by two separate Microsoft Research teams into a service planned for Xbox One’s launch—complete with hardware hooks baked into the Durango silicon—until the well-publicized changes to the Xbox One policies (namely, stripping out the always-online requirement for the console) forced it to be pushed to the back burner.

Another way to put this would be: Microsoft had to spend so much time disabling a “feature” in its console that it should have known pretty much everyone would hate that it delayed enabling a feature it knew everyone would love. If that isn’t a lesson in why companies should put their customer desires first and foremost in their minds, I don’t what is.

If you don’t remember what the console wars of 2013 were like, they were pure pandemonium for the Xbox. The always-online requirement was the headliner for this whole fiasco, but there were also questions about whether or not the Xbox One would allow used games to be played on it at all. Sony, meanwhile, took happy delight in reminding the public that its Playstation console had none of these questions attached to it. The result was a predictable loss for Xbox from a sales perspective, even as Microsoft then had to spend time and money to remove the always-online requirement.

And earlier this year, former Xbox Chief Marketing Officer Yusuf Mehdi reflected in a LinkedIn posthow “it required great technical work” to change course and reverse “a few key decisions regarding connectivity requirements and how games would be purchased that didn’t land well with fans.”

That kind of “great technical work” isn’t free in terms of time or worker attention, and IGN’s reporting suggests that Xbox 360 backward compatibility was an initial victim of that change in focus.

Maybe next time give your customers what they want rather than telling them what they want?

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Companies: microsoft

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Comments on “How Microsoft Delayed A Wildly Popular Xbox Feature To Clean Up Its Wildly Unpopular Always Online Plans”

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Doug D says:

Re: Bizarre

I think you may not be remembering what was going on with that requirement. It was tied into the software licensing on a deep level.

If it didn’t have that confirmation, no games would run. And that’s what they had instead of conventional console DRM, and even instead of checking for optical media for physical installs, so just not invoking that function would essentially mean they were enabling piracy on a massive scale. (If they’d approached it that simplistically, you’d be able to give a copy of every game to all your friends just by lending them the discs long enough for the install.)

Anonymous Coward says:

I've Always Wondered What Always-Online Would've Enabled

Microsoft executives don’t sit around all day dressed in top hats, monocles, and twirling their mustaches trying to figure out how to make our lives worse. Microsoft also publishes very few games and media items themselves so stronger DRM and “always online” features would probably cost them more to maintain than they bring in.

So what was the end goal of always online functions? Especially in comparison to what we have now? What if, just maybe, there’s something that may have been really good we missed out on. I’d love to hear Microsoft mention something like that.

Rekrul says:

Re: I've Always Wondered What Always-Online Would've Enabled

So what was the end goal of always online functions? Especially in comparison to what we have now? What if, just maybe, there’s something that may have been really good we missed out on. I’d love to hear Microsoft mention something like that.

Always online was a DRM scheme. Microsoft has always been obsessed with stamping out piracy. Just like that whole "Windows Genuine Advantage" bullshit. They tried to make it sound like they’re doing you a favor by forcing you to prove that your copy of Windows isn’t pirated before downloading anything. And online activation…

Yakko Warner (profile) says:

What up find troubling is how many people were actually in favor of the original plan and were fine with turning their trading and resale rights over to Microsoft. In fact, many are using this news to make the argument that they should have not listened to the “whiners” and stayed the course, so that we could have had backwards compatibility sooner.

Fortunately, they were enough of am minority that Microsoft backtracked, but I wonder how much longer that will remain true. Seems like more and more people are used to the idea of software being only a non-transferable license (just like on their cell phone that they spend so much time on).

Anonymous Coward says:

it's always the same answer

Whenever a company does something that’s universally misunderstood–a.k.a universally deemed ‘stupid’, it’s always for the same reason: MONEY.

It’s either because the company thinks that they’re going to make more money due to this decision, or the company thinks that they’re loosing potential money because this decision is not yet enacted.


Rekrul says:

I have a PS3 that I was given when the PS4 came out, but I haven’t used it. Recently though, I found a game I wanted to buy for it. Then I ran up against all the crap that has infected gaming today.

I wanted to buy Burnout Paradise. Apparently this game has had a ton of DLC released for it, so that buying a retail copy is like buying half the game. They released an “Ultimate” edition, but it only included a couple of the lesser DLC packs.

So how do you get the rest? Apparently you have to connect the console to the net, sign up for a PSN membership, use a credit card to put money in an online wallet, then use that wallet to buy the DLC which gets downloaded and installed automatically.

So what’s the problem? Well, I’m old fashioned and I believe that if I pay for something, I should own it forever. Unfortunately, you can’t back up DLC in any meaningful way. You can create a so-called backup, but from what I’ve read, it can only be restored to the same system. So if the console dies and you buy a new one, your backup is useless. Can’t let the user just restore it to any machine because PIRACY!!!

I guess you can re-download it, but that assumes that it will still be available at some indeterminate point in the future when I might need it.

I am sitting here ready to buy a complete copy of the game, one that I can keep without needing to rely on downloading half of it, but apparently such a copy doesn’t exist. 🙁

Why am I posting this? Because it perfectly illustrates my disgust with all the current consoles and how they’re all tied to online services. If you’re not willing to connect them to the net and accept system-locked content, you might as well not even bother owning one.

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