In a lot of ways I really don’t care what happens in the video game console world. In the last 2-3 years I have rediscovered computer gaming. Actually, to be more accurate, game publishers have rediscovered computer gaming. I remember in my youth when the best of the best games came out for computers and the consoles were mostly just arcade ports. At some point the pendulum swung the other way and, other than the Civilization and Blizard’s franchises, gaming had mostly died. Whatever games were released on computers were an afterthought and pretty poor quality. I don’t know if it was the unusually long console cycle leading to a lack of graphics innovation or the success of Steam making publishers realize they couldn’t afford to leave money on the table or a combination of the two, but computer gaming is back in a big way. (And, I’ve been saying computer gaming because Apple has seen a resurgence in gaming unlike any it has seen since the early to mid-90s and, thanks to Steam, Linux gaming is finally becoming a thing that doesn’t need WINE) So everything but the console exclusives – Halo, Mario, Uncharted – now come to computers. If I’m going to have a computer anyway (and I will), why ALSO play $300-400 for a gaming console? In the years since I’ve bought my Playstation 3 it’s been used WAY more often for Netflix than anything else. A Roku box serves that purpose a lot cheaper.
But I did buy the PS3 because of Fat Princess and Little Big Planet so I figured there was a possibility I might buy one of the new consoles when they went on sale if there was an exciting exclusive to play. All that came to an end when I heard about the Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) they were rumored to be implementing – especially the onerous terms of the DRM on the Xbox One. In the leadup to E3, Microsoft had a bunch of PR blunders in which they told people to get over it – everyone has internet all the time so who cares if your console has to check in every day? Well, guess what, I lost Internet for about 24 hours this week and I remember thinking, “Well, at least I can play my PS3.” If I wouldn’t have been able to game because of a lack of Internet I would have been quite angry because I would have been bereft of entertainment – everything I do for fun involves the net in some way or another – blogging, video games (if this type of DRM was involved), Netflix, etc I was certain Microsoft would relent, but they did not and Sony RUBBED THAT SALT INTO THEIR WOUNDS. In a great, ballsy move unlike that which is often attempted by the marketing divisions of large companies, Sony took Microsoft to task for this DRM and the inability to swap games or buy used games. All this happened about two weeks ago and you can read some good articles about it here, here, and here.
What strikes me as sour grapes is that Microsoft said, “Remember all the cool stuff we said would happen because of our draconian DRM? Now we’re not gonna do it any more!” It sounds a bit too much like a tactic I’ve seen grownups use with kids – “Activity X would have been SOOOOOOOOOO cool, but we’re not going to do it now that you’ve misbehaved.” Usually it’s something the child hasn’t experienced, so they’re left to imagine that they’ve missed out on something truly amazing. We have no idea how awesome these features would have actually been. All we have is Microsoft’s word that we’ve screwed the pooch. What would have been better would have been for Microsoft to allow opt-out/opt-in for the DRM. That way people who wanted to try these supposedly great features would be able to. And if they really were that great, more people would opt-in. And so on until enough people opted-in that it wouldn’t be an issue next time around – everyone would be used it. What their strategy tells me is that they aren’t as confident in the awesomeness of these features as they were pretending before.