Don Mattrick has been throwing his oars in and out the boat since the Xbox One announcement.
The controversy that we previously speculated on around the console allowing used games and having backwards compatibility has profoundly ignited.
Used games lose their edge
Microsoft have rather clumsily (or perhaps strategically) avoided the issue of how used games will be handled on the console. From one angle, they are proudly claiming that you will soon be able to resell downloaded games (potentially great), but from another they are suggesting a restriction around the portability of, well, portable disks. At the heat of the debate is the floating implication of paying a ‘fee’ to use a second hand game - something that seems to only benefit the publishers.
Used games remind us of an outstanding VoD issue very close to our heart, namely EST (Electronic Sell Through). This somewhat dirty word in VoD represents what we think consumers might want from ownership of VoD content.
The answer, at the moment, is not ownership. Continued uncertainty around what happens when the service disappears (and disappear they do) gives users little reason to have confidence in paying more to ‘own’ an item of content.
Games have come further in this regard, with Steam proving that if your service is good enough, people will purchase digitally. Where Xbox have slipped up is blurring the line between digital purchases and physical, and challenging conditioned-console users with new business models. It’s a dangerous place to play.
Backwards compatibility, sccchmackwards compatibility
Don Mattrick’s choice quote clearly got some people up in arms. Xbox One won’t be backwards compatible, and Microsoft don’t seem to want to aspire to it. It’s no secret that backwards compatibility on Xbox 360 and PS3 seriously dented Microsoft and Sony's wallets.
If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards
However, with Microsoft being a major proponent of the resurrection of classic games by encouraging publishers to make old console classics available on Xbox Live Arcade, this statement seems slightly alarming. All the good work done to create an extensive library of both new and classic games on the Xbox 360 will ironically be resigned to a time capsule in the form of an Xbox 360.
The constant for movies has been that no matter what new format comes out, you can usually get Citizen Kane on it. Heck, you can even get Citizen Kane on Laserdisc. This persistence of the art irrespective of time period is something that has given cinema and TV a lasting value.
Microsoft’s bet on moving forwards, and forgetting about the past shows how immature the games industry still is. The PC games industry has for a long time seen the value of preservation of older content and continues to do so with sites such as GOG, but this seems to be through a deeper obsession that runs through the PC community. This thinking sadly gets somewhat lost with consoles, and the resurrection of games during the 360 generation was a glimmer of hope that seems to be fading.
There is absolutely no question that Microsoft’s decision is a business decision that makes sense to them. It’s going to cost them less, cause less headaches, and potentially make developers happier. Regardless, it is sad to see that such a rich medium - now actively competing with movies and TV - is sleepwalking into a situation where it can’t even answer back to the argument that it’s just a 'phase' of 'throwaway' entertainment. With games ‘dying’ every generation, can they really argue that the art holds its value like a Citizen Kane on Blu-Ray?
Ultimately the issue isn’t just about games. Movies and TV shows are introducing interactive elements which could eventually blur the lines between the first and second screen. Sure, no-one is too upset that DVD extras might get discarded on the next format, but will they be happy when they find that they can’t enjoy their interactive TV experience because hardware manufacturers just want to 'move on'?.