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Microsoft Chews Off the Leg to Get Out of the Trap
By David Nieves

RAW_956_Photo_090Were Microsoft’s 180 degree announcements, on used games and always online, due to the PR clinic Sony put on at E3 last week? Yes, that goes without saying. Xbox One was whipped like a government mule and the pre order numbers along with gamer reaction supported that. But in doing so Sony may have inadvertently brought Microsoft back from the dead.

When the May 21st Xbox One reveal happened it left everyone with more worries than excitement. Will I need a cable TV and Internet bill every month? Will I be able to sell games I don’t like to Gamestop? The Internet was on fire with backlash and underwhelm. Then a week before E3 Microsoft made it abundantly clear they would dictate what you could and could not do with the games you bought. Fans were outraged and everyone in the media expected Sony to follow similar policies. After all, no third party developer wants to put their game on a platform that would let money get taken out of their pockets while another protected it.

Then E3 came around, we watched as the Xbox One laid down the gaming gauntlet to the PlayStation 4. Ryse, Killer Instinct, and TitanFall all showed Xbox had some real games for hardcore gamers up its sleeve. When I saw Kojima on the Microsoft stage showing Metal Gear I found myself dumbfounded. After that I feared the worst for Sony, too nervous to go to any other press conferences I talked with my buddy Jamaal for hours about how worried I was Xbox had won E3. He kept the faith as we eagerly waited and ate free food at the LA Sports Arena in anticipation of the Sony door’s opening. Sony won me over and solidified my own faith in PlayStation that night. They broke Microsoft in half, going against their DRM policy, welcoming used games, and showing true next-gen experiences like Infamous: Second Son and Killzone: Shadow Fall. Then the $399 price came up and the figurative mic dropped. The entire week of E3, both gaming and mainstream media were ready to give the war to the PlayStation 4. We all knew Microsoft had to do something to get off its back but no one could have anticipated what they would do next.

Today the empire known as Xbox struck back. Microsoft’s Don Mattrick said Xbox One would abandon its policy on used games and always online. You have to hand it to Microsoft, with PS3’s latest update problems and them needing to abandon their unpopular stances; Don Mattrick could not have picked a better time for this announcement. Sure we see how transparent their statement was to the public. I don’t think anyone can deny it was made because they were essentially the one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest and in danger losing the fight before it even begins. Even still, we as consumers are also partially responsible because we united our voice and protected ourselves by voting with our money, what a concept. The Xbox learned the real power of the fickle gaming masses and how quickly they can turn on you.

IMG_6513This didn’t come without a price; some of the features such as library sharing on the Xbox One are also gone. Which is a shame because despite the dictator like policy, the ability to share my game library with chosen friends was one of the better ideas of the Xbox One. The Kinect is still the main focus of the experience and won’t be dropped in favor of a lower price point anytime soon. Xbox One can now really push its solid line up of games, which include Quantum Break and a new Halo. The higher price point still prevents the playing field from being completely level for Microsoft, but Sony has its serious competition again.

In a way Sony caused this comeback. Had they not trounced all over the Xbox One policies and made their announcements we wouldn’t be having this conversation. In hindsight this could not have played out any other way because you can’t fault Sony PlayStation for attacking when they smelled blood. They ran a successful press campaign that got them a landslide victory, which was obviously their goal from the start. The Microsoft comeback is both good and bad for Sony. Bad, because it gives Xbox faithful a legitimate reason to consider staying with Microsoft in the next-gen console race. Good, because it raises a question in consumers minds; how strong is the Microsoft vision of next-gen gaming if they’re willing to abandon the foundations Xbox One was built around at the drop of a hat? Is Microsoft Xbox a gaming company dedicated to creating experiences or simply suits reacting to numbers? That’s for the fans to decide.

IMG_6523It’s hard to imagine Sony doesn’t have more aces up its sleeve, after all we know every Sony owned studio is working on the PS4. That includes Naughty Dog, who just released the critically acclaimed Last Of US. I think we’ll get at least one more surprise announcement by the time Gaming trade shows come around in Japan and Europe. Both companies face a serious PR battle ahead of them, though most of the pressure still rest in the Xbox camp. They still have the $499 price and today’s announcement undoubtedly questions the company’s vision. Personally, I’d love to see Sony’s Jack Tretton live debate with Microsoft’s Don Mattrick. Because in the short term, after console release, Sony will still have the edge because they got the post E3 boom and Xbox still needs to give the casual gamers a reason to abandon their Madden and Call of Duty on 360 to invest in Xbox One.

Ultimately the big win for gamers, consumers, and the media is now we get to focus on the heart of gaming, great games. Those virtual experiences that get us rushing to preorder when we know no one ever sells out of major games this day in age. No longer will discussions be dominated by used games and if the camera connected to my game system is broadcasting me eating cereal in my underwear. Instead we get to focus on how the next generation of video games will immerse people in story and adventure like no other time before.

Follow @daveynieves on twitter as he talks about what soda is most like a playstation and xbox. And sound off about how this affects your view of either Xbox One or PS4.