Microsoft’s flip-flops on Xbox One have gamers confused about what they’ll actually get

When Microsoft unveiled its newest console, gamers reacted harshly to many of the things that the company thought were “cutting edge” — namely a privacy policy that forced always-on checks and a draconian developer program that made it difficult for indie companies to create titles. When the gaming community kicked up dust, Microsoft flip-flopped and reset all of the digital advances that the Xbox One had — even the ones gamers liked. If the community didn’t like every single new feature Microsoft had to offer, then everything would be reset and all the changes (including the convenience of a digital library or online sharing) would erase with it.
But gamers continued to express reservations, namely with the new Kinect. Xbox’s core motion-tracking technology was to remain on connected and in a low-powered state permanently, something that didn’t settle well with a group of privacy-minded gamers. Now those changes have been walked back.
In an interview with IGN, Xbox Corporate VP Mark Whitten confirmed that the Kinect did not need to be connected to the Xbox One to function, but that gamers who choose so will have a “significantly reduced experience” as a result. The Xbox One is designed to be connected to the Kinect, and Microsoft would allow bare bones “core usage” of the system without it, but not much more.
And thus is the push-pull of Microsoft’s interactions with gamers. Once the company introduces something new to mixed results, everything is wiped away, and the “new” device that’s left just looks startlingly like a console most gamers already have plugged in to their living rooms. Many users at Reddit’s /r/xboxone — many of them proud day-one pre-orderers — are reeling from the changes, and concerned that the console they bought for $499 (a hundred dollars more expensive than any competitor) isn’t the console that will arrive in the mail. And they think it’s all the gaming community’s fault.
In truth, what the audience is asking for are advances that deviate from the Xbox 360 experience without dipping into radical questions about ownership, privacy, and development. Is it too much for the Kinect to turn off when the Xbox is off? Or to operate locally instead of constantly transmitting information back to Microsoft via an internet connection? Can users take advantage of digital copies of games and share a gaming library with friends while also allowing the game to be wiped and resold or traded? Microsoft’s stubborn either/or behavior has devalued the console it worked hard to develop, and it’s out of spite to boot.
Imagine you’re a kid who has outgrown his mountain bike. So, for Christmas, you ask your parents for a new bike.
When you see the top-of-the-line, cutting-edge ultra-professional road bike under the tree, you’re stunned. Instead of and upgrade from what you’re used to, you’re now dealing with something that’s more suitable for the Tour De France than riding around the neighborhood with friends.
“It’s nice,” you say. “But I kind of just wanted something a little different from what I already had.”
“Well you know what,” your mom retorts in an offended manner. “We thought you were ready for the next level in bike riding. But if you don’t like this bike, you can just have a new bell to put on your old one, then.”
That, more or less, is what Microsoft has done to its gaming community with the Xbox One.
As a gamer, I’ve come to believe that Microsoft’s decisions reflect its desire to make gamers thirst for more. By forcing them to ride the same old bike with the same features for another long period of time, they’ll know to take the difficult road bike the next time because it’s better than more of the same.