The yearly Electronic Entertainment Expo has become a chore for many of us. Long a festival for corporate back slapping and justifying unjustifiable corporate practices, sprinkled with a few completely unrepresentative trailers for video games. It has once again descended upon us, but after watching Xbox’s presentation this year, I can’t help but feeling that, while I don’t care who is the “Best of E3 “, Microsoft and Xbox deserve “Most Improved”. While I haven’t forgotten what happened on the E3 stage in 2013, I also have to give them credit for how far they have come since then. Before we get to the good, though, there are probably people reading who have no idea about E3 2013.
Microsoft’s Xbox division’s E3 2013 press conference, where the DRM hardcoded into the Xbox One was revealed. While Don Mattrick tried desperately to spin this as a positive, the consumers backlashed in a way rarely seen before or since. The console was initially set to have to have a constant, stable internet connection to be able to even be used to play games. If the internet went out, your Xbox One would have kicked the user from their current game, and locked access to all of the games in their library. In response to this backlash, Microsoft was initially dismissive, with Mattrick clarifying “fortunately, we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity, it’s called Xbox 360.”. On top of all of this, the console was evidently designed to directly attack the used games market, with functionality built in to allow the console to block a user from playing a used game. This dismissal quickly changed, however, as the outrage grew far beyond what Microsoft had predicted. The company replaced Mattrick with Phil Spencer to head Xbox, and backpedaled on nearly everything that the outrage was centered on. After weathering a rocky release year, the company really set about rebuilding trust in gamers, and unlike Konami, they meant it.
At E3 2015, Phil Spencer announced that the Xbox One would feature backward compatibility with the Xbox 360. This was something that many observers thought should have been a feature from the start, but this announcement was very positively received. Since then, Xbox has added hundreds of games to this list, and today, at time of writing, on the E3 stage, Spencer once again delivered some exciting news: backward compatibility with the original Xbox was announced. Several commentators also noted how focused Xbox’s presentation was on the games coming to it’s console in the near future, showing a vast blend of games from different genres, developers, and budgets. There was almost guaranteed to be a game shown this year that could appeal to nearly every possible taste. This is the most recent event that has finally caused even a hardened cynic to do a double take. Very often a corporation will take to the stage with commitments and pledges about how they will change to more respect their customers, but these are rarely followed through on. Xbox is, therefore, almost unique among companies that made these promises and really meant what it was saying. While there is absolutely a profit motive in doing this, Xbox is making this profit by expanding what it offers to the consumer, rather than charging for what used to be free. This is a pro-consumer move from a platform holder who was sincere in their promises.
The other big reveal today was for the Xbox One X, which is increasingly resembling a teenage idiot’s forum username. With recent leaks, the console’s hardware was revealed weeks before. It is being billed as an addition to the “Xbox One Family”, which implies that Microsoft may be changing their business model somewhat to focus on incremental changes, something that was decried by Spencer himself, saying he wanted to move forward in big steps. All of this being said, however, working to keep both the One and the One X relevant will be a monumental undertaking because it necessarily splits the audience, but there are some relatively simple workarounds for it.
At the end of the day, it is always important to remember that E3 is a marketing event first and foremost, and marketing departments will tell you anything if you buy their game. Insincerity rings out from the stage with each alternate word, and it generally takes months to try to desperate the reality from the hype. There has been reason to be skeptical and cynical over the past few years, but Xbox has worked to build trust with consumers. I remain cautiously optimistic for this console.