Bleszinski: Microsoft Changed DRM Due to Sony, Not Fans

During E3 2013, I got a chance to meet with Microsoft one-on-one and check out the Xbox One in action behind closed doors. It was basically a rehash of what we already know, with Xbox One Engineering Manager Jeff Henshaw and Producer Mike Mahar leading me through the 40,000 asteroids floating around in the cold void above our heads. This was all powered by the local console and Microsoft's cloud.

Eventually I had to ask what the deal was with the console's need to stay connected, and why the policy over used games is/was so damn muddy. I was already whipped by the sticker shock the company pounded us with during the Xbox Media Briefing that Monday. The technology is great yes, but given its price and the fact I can't play used games (which is required when you have a litter of kids) without a fuss, I found my enthusiasm over Xbox One somewhat lacking.

Microsoft really didn't comment on my questions, only saying that, at the time, Xbox One merely "pinged" the company's servers every 24 hours. That instantly told me the console merely checked in for the latest console news, to see if any game updates are available and whatnot. Hell, it seemingly needed to check in just to keep its asteroid demo up-to-date.

But after Microsoft pulled the plug on its DRM scheme on Wednesday, I felt a little better knowing that I personally voiced my concerns to Microsoft in the name of fans worldwide. But former Epic Games designer Cliff Bleszinski, who was knee deep in Xbox and PlayStation console development for years before he ventured out on his own last year, believes fans had nothing to do with Microsoft's turnabout in policy.

"Sony forced Microsoft's hand, not the internet whining," he said via Twitter. "You're going to see digital versions of your favorite games with added 'features' and content to lure you to digital over disc based."

Later he expanded his opinion via his Clifford Unchained blog on Tumblr. "Microsoft tried to and ultimately couldn’t have it both ways," he added. "You can’t still have discs and then expect everyone to embrace digital. And, fundamentally, if you take something away that a consumer has been used to without some seriously smooth handling they’re naturally going to get upset."

He goes on to talk about how used games is affecting the industry even though he himself sold and bought used games before he became highly successful at Epic Games. He also links to this video which points out that used PC games are hard to find, if at all. As it stands now, most PC titles are tied to Steam, Origin or some other digital distribution platform.

Microsoft tried to do the same with Xbox One, but the combination of Sony's seemingly lack of DRM plans for PlayStation 4 and customer feedback nuked those plans. Honestly the only real fear was the inability to play games without an internet connection, and what the third-party publishers planned to do with the new DRM scheme. Microsoft's policy regarding its first-party titles wasn't all that horrible.

"I’ll admit, the once every 24 hour check was pretty silly," he said. "Customers can smell from a mile away when you’re treating them like children, peeking your head into their bedroom on a regular basis in an attempt to catch them doing something. Here’s the thing about Steam. It doesn’t FORCE you to be online. The ecosystem of Steam is so brilliant, from the community, to the summer sales, to the indie games, that you WANT to get online."

Agreed. Read his full blog here.

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  • Seems like splitting hairs to me. Microsoft realized that fan preference for the Sony approach was going to hurt their product sales, and reacted accordingly. If Sony had offered some other random feature that fans didn't have a preference for, then MS would not have felt that pressure.

    Going a step further, let's say there was no Sony at all. I believe it was only a matter of time before some bug or extended network outage would have resulted in millions of effectively bricked XB1s, even if only temporarily. The resulting outcry and/or class action lawsuits would have undone the policy then.
  • Both Sony and the Fans have nothing on this..

    Its the consumers.. Microsoft thinks that very little interested in buying their console as the pre-order comparison shows ultimately change their opinion on DRM..
  • If you want to lure customers towards digital downloads make it worth their wild. Make digital copies 49.99 instead of 59.99, bundle 6+ moth old games together for savings like 2 titles for 69.99 while bundling year+ old games for even way cheaper like 5 for 49.99 . Have 24 hour sales where people get 20-50% off digital games and throw in a free Xbox live game too. Give a free month of live for every 2 or 3 games people buy online (games released withing the last 3 months). So many ways to lure people to drop disc based sales and go towards digital download rather than having more restrictive disc based policies... Come on Microsoft you pay people to think of things like this....