Post E3 Thoughts 2013

A little late, but I figured it was time to share my thoughts of what happened at this year’s E3 and shortly thereafter. Obviously it was kind of a big year with both Sony & Microsoft showing off their new hardware. Yet I’ll be honest in saying I wasn’t really blown away by either. The only game that I thought looked somewhat better than current gen games was Final Fantasy XV on the PS4. Overall, graphics-wise I felt both consoles looked like more of the same of what we already have with a price increase.

Be that as it may, I do feel like Sony stole the show just because they showed new things and came out saying they weren’t going to do what Microsoft did. Really that last bit is the main reason why they won, they just said they weren’t being idiots. Overall I wasn’t overly interested in Sony’s offerings though I admit Final Fantasy XV looks cool even though it isn’t remotely an RPG anymore, and I was pretty excited to see a new Kingdom Hearts game.

Microsoft was the show stealer, but not in a good way. The entire show all anyone was talking about was how terrible it was. So let me give you a break down of the X-Box One… It has slightly worse hardware than the PS4, it costs $100 more than the PS4, it requires the Kinect to be connected if you want to use it even if what you are using it for has nothing to do with the Kinect, it is substantially larger than the PS4, you had to connect to the internet every 24 hours to play games, you couldn’t resell your games at all, you couldn’t take games to a friend’s house without bringing your own X-Box with, and many games require online connection at all times in order to play (you know, like that game SimCity which everyone hates).

You’ll notice I did in fact use past tense for a couple of those “features.” That is because a week after the announcement Microsoft retracted their requirements for internet connection every 24 hours, reselling games, and lending games.

It is actually kind of interesting to watch the evolution of the X-Box One’s crappy policies. Rumor had it that the X-Box would have the DRM requirements that everyone hated earlier than January, there were also some for the PS4. And my guess is that Microsoft expected Sony to have similar policies and that’s why they stuck with it. They figured that if both Sony & Microsoft held onto those policies, that gamers would have no choice and thus they would not be affected by the decision. I think they were blindsided by Sony coming out and saying specifically that they were not going to do that.

I highly suggest reading this article over at Kotaku. This article occurred a day or two later after their initial press conference with Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s head of Game Development. In it, he talks about the decisions for always online, 24 hour check-ins and not allowing resale of games. It is actually an interesting read to see where Microsoft is coming fact and shows that even at that time they had no plans for allowing sharing of games, which they would announce just a few days after this interview was done.

One thing I thought was interesting about the above article was how they would compare the X-Box One to the iPod where you buy songs for it and were only limited to using it on a few devices and never would you be able to resell it. The problem with this analogy is that the ipod, and most music these days, is actually DRM free. For most types of music, it is fairly easy to get the raw MP3 versions of musics that are yours to keep. Sure you can’t resell these, but is reselling a big deal when it is only $1 you spend in the first place? It is a bigger deal when you shell out $60.

Another analogy he made was how useless the iPad would be if you didn’t have internet connection for the app store. And while this is certainly true, you can’t buy physical media for the iPad either and if you did I would hope you wouldn’t need to confirm that purchase on the app store. And when you did buy something on the app store, you only had to connect to the internet for the initial purchase. Not every 24 hours after the purchase as well. This is actually the method that the Wii, PS3, X-Box 360 and Wii U currently use. You can buy stuff on the app store and never connect again. So this analogy also fails.

I feel like the true analogy that he was trying to make was with Steam. Steam also has some steep DRM requirements that also require you to connect to the internet from time to time. Again, you don’t have the option for reselling either, yet Steam is insanely popular right now and many people are clamoring for a Steam Box, something I feel Microsoft was trying to fulfill… they saw what people wanted with Steam and were trying to give it to them. But the problem here is that Steam compensates these limitations with deals. They often sell games at 75% and even 80% off. As an example, Scribblenauts Unlimited is currently on sale for $7.49, a game that retails for PC currently at $29.99 and on the Wii U it is $49.99. This is a pretty deep discount. And it is not unusual for Steam to do this, in fact this is the whole reason people like Steam. You can buy games at really good prices if you are willing to wait.

To be honest, I hate steam, yet I own over 100 titles currently on steam via Steam, Humble Bundle, and a few other sales on other sites. The reason I buy it on Steam is because it is nice to see my entire library, to see my friend’s libraries, to see what my friends are playing, to play with them easily, to update my games easily, and to mod my games easily. But the main reason is that many of the games are just so cheap it is hard to say no. And THIS last bit is what Microsoft was missing (well and the mod ability but that is a console for you). In fact, there was a quick rumor that the cost of games on the X-Box One would actually go up again with this generation, not down.

I feel like X-Box very well could have squelched some of the DRM issues by having a sale on the X-Box Arcade. IF they put 4 or 5 games on a deep 75% sale for the week of E3, a different one every day. The same way that Steam does. And announce that they were going to do at their conference and with it say “This is what the new X-Box Arcade is going to be like. Yes we will have DRM, but you will also have ways to view what your friends do and to communicate with friends and update your games easily, but most of all we will have sales frequently that give you $60 games for $10 and sometimes even less.” With this statement, they would have squelched any discontent with the DRM, they may have also instantly halted physical media purchases and pissed off Gamestop and Best Buy, but they seemed to be going there anyway.

Microsoft has since vowed not to have DRM as they announced it, and will allow you to share physical media with friends and sell your games to others. They have not retracted the requirement to have kinect at all times despite privacy concerns, and many games (such as the touted Project Spark and Forza) will be always online games, which is worse than a 24 hour check in. This stopped many people from worrying but for me it is still disconcerting the steps they ARE taking and the steps they WANT to take and for that I will never buy an X-Box One… at least not from a store. 1

Show 1 footnote

  1. As an aside, it is worth noting that the sharing they had intended is also gone with the loss of DRM. This seemed like a good feature, however even that had issues. The sharing was only going to allow you to share 30-60 minutes of playtime with others for a demo in an attempt to get people to buy the game, so that wasn’t even wroth considering.