Give me back my DRM. No, for real
Hey, Max, are you more excited for the Xbox One now that it supports offline play and shared games and all those other things you know and love?
Nope, nope, nope. A week ago I, like many of you, was part of the torch mob that stormed Microsoft’s castle when the story of always-on/DRM/Kinect/TV/blegh was all confirmed; and I fully regret it. I (like many of you) took Sony’s news of “We will maintain the status quo,” put my little fist in the air, and declared that gamers had won. And you know what?
We screwed up, guys. I mean, Microsoft screwed up worse with their utterly tone-deaf marketing (yep, being stationed on a nuclear sub is probably a bit of a challenge!), but no one is innocent.
Here’s the thing: consoles have run on a consistent “buy it, own it, play it” model since the beginning of (relevant) time. It works, kind of, but carries a fair amount of overhead. The result is the fixed $60 price point that you see for games today. Steam, meanwhile broke that model by providing an always-on (but you can play offline), DRM-laden (but it’s damn near invisible to the user). And we didn’t always love it. But now it’s the standard for PCs, and as consumers, we’re finally reaping rewards in the form of deep discounts and Humble Bundles.
With its attempted foray into the future, Microsoft created the potential to slide consoles into that model -- deliver digitally, cover their money-butts with a little DRM, and watch as the cost to the end user plummets. It was a bold move. Unfortunately, this Brave New World was messaged terribly, with those potential discounts never entering the conversation, and the comparison to Steam never coming up. In fact, none of the long vision ever came to light, so we were left to trust in Microsoft, or not, which for most consumers... well, you get the point.
Instead, we heard about DRM, Kinect, and a bunch of non-gaming accouterments -- all conversational closet-monsters. So we rioted, and in rioting successfully secured that neither new console would make any effective change to our industry and pastimes.
Food for thought: it’s a very different story if Microsoft pairs those announcements with, “...and as a show of good faith that we’re doing the right thing for everyone, all first-party titles for Xbox One will be released at $45!”
Will there ever be a new, universally successful-and-beloved model for console games? Maybe. But Microsoft jumped too far, too fast, and didn’t bring any of the potential benefits into the fray. Sony, seeing a golden opportunity to do nothing, loudly announced they were doing nothing. And we all rejoiced.
We rejoiced because we’re skeptical, and impatient, and frankly, because Microsoft included nothing of those silver linings in their marketing. So am I being a massive hindsight-apologist for a made-up, long-term strategy that may never have existed? Totally. And is it naive to think that a company who has their core gaming products anchored at $60 would ever, ever reduce that price? Absolutely. But maybe we could have pushed them there. After all, in the backpedal from DRM, one thing became obvious: you can scare a giant into bending to your will (*cough*Reddit*cough*).
So maybe this one’s on us for imposing a short-sighted, backwards-looking will, and maybe there is a Brave New World out there for console games... but whatever it is, we now officially have to wait for the next generation to find out what it looks like. Or play PC games. Or just watch for Nintendo’s next move, because they consistently lead innovation in gaming, but that’s a topic for another time.