We’re now approaching the four-year anniversary of Microsoft’s rollout (and subsequent reversal) of a controversial plan to let game publishers limit resale of used, disc-based games. Looking back on that time recently, Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Windows and Devices Yusuf Mehdi acknowledged how that rollout fell flat and discussed how hard it was for the firm to change course even in light of fan complaints at the time.
In a blog post on LinkedIn posted last weekend, Mehdi writes:
“With our initial announcement of Xbox One and our desire to deliver breakthroughs in gaming and entertainment, the team made a few key decisions regarding connectivity requirements and how games would be purchased that didn’t land well with fans. While the intent was good – we imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing and new ways to try and buy games, we didn’t deliver what our fans wanted.
We heard their feedback, and while it required great technical work, we changed Xbox One to work the same way as Xbox 360 for how our customers could play, share, lend, and resell games. This experience was such a powerful reminder that we must always do the right thing for our customers, and since we’ve made that commitment to our Xbox fans, we’ve never looked back.”
It’s an interesting reflection in light of an interview Mehdi gave to Ars Technica at E3 2013, when the executive defended Microsoft’s announced plans for Xbox One game licensing. Mehdi, then serving as Xbox chief marketing and strategy officer, stressed at the time that “this is a big change, consumers don’t always love change, and there’s a lot of education we have to provide to make sure that people understand… We’re trying to do something pretty big in terms of moving the industry forward for console gaming into the digital world. We believe the digital world is the future, and we believe digital is better.”
In that E3 interview, Mehdi also seemed ready to minimize what was already a growing chorus of concerns over Microsoft’s position on used games, suggesting that it was “hard to say” what the larger population of mainstream fans would think of the move. “I think it’s fair to say there’s a segment of consumers at this show in particular who really pay attention, who are very passionate about all aspects of gaming, and that we listen to closely. In a broader set of community, people don’t pay attention to a lot of the details. We’ve seen it in the research, we’ve seen it in a lot of the data points.”
The rest is history
Looking back at Mehdi’s 2013 interview, one can see how Microsoft has grown the Xbox One into a very different device than it was at launch. Back then, Mehdi addressed the possibility of “different licensing models” such as an all-you-can-play, Netflix-style service for Xbox One games. Late last month, Microsoft unveiled just such a service, allowing unlimited downloads of over 100 games for $10 a month. It’s not clear now, if it ever was, why the existence of this kind of experimentation in distribution required limiting the functionality of disc-based games, but I digress…
Mehdi’s E3 2013 interview came just a week before Microsoft pulled a 180 and decided physical games on the Xbox One would work just as they had on every prior game console (a rollback that apparently “required great technical work,” Mehdi now says). Since then, other Microsoft executives have acknowledged the problems with the rollout as well. Microsoft Director of Product Planning Albert Penello told Ars Technica that “we were a little further ahead of this change than our customers were” in a late 2013 interview. Phil Spencer told an SXSW crowd in early 2014 that “our messaging around what we believed in was confused” during the Xbox One rollout.
In his LinkedIn post, though, Mehdi treats the Xbox One’s used game debacle as an important learning experience that refocused Microsoft on features fans actually want. He specifically calls out the excited reaction to 2015’s surprise announcement of Xbox 360 backwards compatibility on the Xbox One as an example of how that philosophy can play out. “You hope to get such cheers from a new release of a game like Halo, but to get this kind of reaction for Xbox Backwards Compatibility reminded me yet again how delivering on the things that your fans really value trumps all,” he writes.