Microsoft (MSFT) has backed away from used-game restrictions for its next-generation console, changing course Wednesday on its plan to require that users connect the Xbox One to the Internet once each day to verify their rights to the games played on the device. The reversal comes less than two weeks after the company initially explained how the technology would work, and it effectively matches the rules announced for Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation 4, the main competition when both products go on sale later this year.
“While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds,” wrote Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business, in a post on a company blog.
The requirement for Internet connectivity has been a sore spot among gamers, many of whom saw the measure as a way to restrict access to used and rented games or as a heavy-handed way to prevent piracy. There was a massive showing of anger directed at Electronic Arts (EA) when the new version of Sim City required a persistent Internet connection, and the blowback was made worse when the company’s servers couldn’t handle the traffic. Both Microsoft and Sony fended off similar anger as they danced around whether their new consoles would require Internet connections. Sony’s decision to forgo the requirement made it very popular at E3, a prominent gaming trade show.
For some reason Microsoft ignored the complaints and went ahead with plans for required connectivity, but the criticism apparently became too much to bear. “The Steve Jobs thing, where the customers don’t tell you what they want, you tell them what they want—you can do that when you’re Steve Jobs,” says Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities. “You can’t do that when you’re Microsoft.” The company’s reluctance to bend to popular will on this was odd, considering that the core functions of the device will not change. If people want to use any of the features that require the Internet, they’ll have to connect. “They’re going to connect anyway, they just didn’t want to be told they had to,” says Pachter.
The main difference between the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 is now the price. Sony’s device is $100 cheaper, primarily because it lacks many of the non-gaming features of the Xbox, especially those centered on Kinect, a motion-activated interface. With the visceral issue of used-game restrictions off the table, all Microsoft has to do now is convince people the Xbox is worth the extra money.