People Power

Our voices are more audible than ever, but are we doing more harm than good? Microsoft’s backflip on the Xbox One, oddly similar to Labor’s failed Mining Tax, would indicate yes.

I’ve always been a PC gamer. I never had a console or handheld as a child; the first and only console I’ve ever owned was a Wii. But I don’t live under a rock, I play Xbox/Playstation at friends’ houses and I keep myself reasonably informed in the gaming world. So naturally I’ve heard all about the Xbox One and witnessed the uproar on social media.

I didn’t pay too much attention at first since I don’t plan on buying one. But people’s main issues with it were:

  • No backwards compatibility with old Xbox/360 games
  • Constant/regular internet connection requirements
  • Account-bound gaming to restrict sharing and resale of games
  • “Always on” Kinect mandatory

Account-bound licenses would effectively prevent owners eBaying their disks and stop stores like EB and JB selling preowned games at ridiculously upmarked prices. Game developers make no money from these sales so DRM restrictions would only feed money back into the gaming industry, which I’m completely fine with. Yet the public were not happy. The Xbox One’s “always watching” feature also caused a stir. especially among conspiracy theorists who thought the CIA would monitor everyone’s living rooms using the Kinect’s camera and microphone, or some bullshit like that. The catch-cry “invasion of privacy!” rapidly spread across social media. But seriously, nobody gives a fuck about what you do in your living rooms. I’m sure the CIA has enough on its plate without adding “24/7 Xbox monitoring” to staff job descriptions. Are people worried this might be the start of the slippery slope to Minority Report? I don’t think you’ll need to worry about whispering phrases like “I downloaded the latest Kanye West album” when your Xbox is in the same room.

But regardless, the public outcry was massive. So massive that Microsoft completely backflipped and removed most of these features from their upcoming console. Quite an unprecedented result. The immediate response from gamers was positive, and it was decent of Microsoft to listen so close to public feedback. However articles like Gizmodo’s The Xbox One Just Got Way Worse, And It’s Our Fault quickly started to gain traction and made gamers reanalyze their initial issues with the console. Have they, we, made a big and irreversible mistake? Gizmodo’s Kyle Wagner says, rightly, that account-bound purchasing would have been the next evolutionary step in console gaming, allowing for a Steam-like ecosystem. Steam is basically a gaming iTunes, where games are cheaper and more money goes to the devs so they can in turn make more/better games. These systems also reduce reliance on disks.

Social media is powerful and gives a genuine voice to those who would normally have none. But, in circumstances like the Boston bombings for example, is it better to leave these decisions to the experts?

Microsoft knows more about the gaming industry than you do, armchair warrior. It’s a fact. And while they are undoubtedly a big corporation whose main aim is to make the most money possible, how do you think they achieve that? By designing the best possible console, that’s how. They do have the gamer’s best interests at heart, because a happy gamer is one that will hand over bundles of cash. We should have left this stuff up to the experts instead of thinking we know better.

This struck me as quite similar to the Australian government’s policy backdowns, the main one being the mining tax. I know I rabbit on about the mining tax, but it really was a case of a misinformed public putting pressure on Labor until they backed down from what was ultimately a good thing. Just like Microsoft is an expert in gaming, Labor is an expert on policy. Yes, they want power, just like Microsoft wants money. But the best way to go about that is making people happy, which millions of extra dollars in the budget would’ve done. It’s a shame that both these groups have become scared and abandoned something quite revolutionary, and I wish they’d have had the backbone to weather the storm for the people’s own good.

It would be wrong to place the blame entirely on the shoulders of the public. Of course, there were a few other factors involved in both these circumstances. Microsoft/Labor were planning big reforms and needed the public on their side. Their campaigns were logical but lacked transparency; with a little explanation they could have gained the support of the public and brought about change. However I’m sure they did attempt to explain themselves, the message just didn’t get through to the public, largely due to poor media. The media beat-up of the “Xbone” after the E3 announcement was brutal. Very few news sources bothered to understand and explain Microsoft’s choices, instead opting to hype all the perceived negatives. Shit media in the political sphere has been a problem for years, something I’ve touched on in a few recent posts, particularly here. Bias, bullshit and a failure to report on the real issues is resulting in a misinformed public. But with 22,000,000+ people in Australia alone, our voice on issues holds incredible weight.

We, the public, need to recognize that experts are better educated and at least give them the benefit of trying to understand their point of view. I’m not saying we should assume governments or corporations are always doing the right thing. If a product or policy is genuinely bad news, it is our responsibility to speak up and voice concerns. But we should dig a little deeper and avoid selfish desires (a la borrowing friends’ game disks so we don’t have to buy our own copy) getting in the way of positive progress for the greater good. Advocating the construction of a road because you drive a car is selfish when that money could be spent on a new train line that is greener and transports more people. If the policy or product is still horrible after close inspection (a la Abbott’s Fibre-to-the-Home) then go nuts, take it down! But it’s important to analyse what you are told and come to your own conclusions, because you can’t trust the media to have your best interests at heart.

In the grand scheme of things, DRM on an Xbox is a minor issue. But the same thinking can be applied to a state, national and global scale.

Think before you post, because your words are more powerful than you may realise.