It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Xbox One. After being positively trounced by Sony at E3, Microsoft executives committed several high-profile gaffes while talking about the Xbox One’s Digital Rights Management policies, thus further angering gamers who were already threatening to switch from the Xbox to the PlayStation 4. Microsoft abruptly reversed course this week, however, and said that it was changing its policies on Internet connectivity and used games back to the same policies it’s always used for the Xbox 360. What made this so encouraging from my perspective wasn’t just that Microsoft backtracked on its original plans but that it responded to customer feedback in seemingly record time.
In case you haven’t noticed, Microsoft can be a stubborn company that has traditionally taken its time when admitting its mistakes. Recall, for instance, that the company spent $300 million on an ad campaign trying to convince people who Vista was really a great operating system more than a year-and-a-half after its release. Or remember how long it took for Microsoft to finally get rid of Clippy, even though the annoying and invasive virtual assistant was one of the most widely reviled features in the history of software?
In other words, the fact that Microsoft responded to user backlash in the span of mere weeks instead of years is a somewhat remarkable sea change for the company. Some of this is likely because Microsoft simply isn’t as invincible as it used to be — as smartphones and tablets have slowly nibbled away at traditional PC sales, Microsoft has been slow to develop mobile products capable of competing with iOS and Android. Watching how eagerly Sony pounced on Microsoft’s miscues at E3 probably gave executives in Redmond nightmares about future Apple-style “I’m-a-Playstation-4-and-I’m-an-Xbox-One” ads and they decided that they needed to make changes.
None of this is to say that Microsoft should feel timid about innovating new ways to buy, sell and play games, of course. But if the company is going to take away some of the older freedoms that gamers enjoy, it needs to tell them in a clear and concise way how they’ll benefit from these changes over the long haul. As Ars Technica’s Kyle Orland notes, most of the potential benefits from Microsoft’s DRM policies “remained ‘imagined,’ while the benefits that were actually announced were weak tea.”
Given all this, it’s good that Microsoft quickly decided to reconsider its decisions and it’s encouraging to see it listening to its customer base. Hopefully the Xbox One changes and the upcoming Windows 8.1 update are both signs that Microsoft has made responding more quickly to customer feedback a bigger priority than it’s been in the past.