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Microsoft says it's sorry employee told users to "deal with" always on Xbox, but won't promise change

Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) next generation console hasn't even been officially announced yet, but things already took a very ugly turn, with an engineer blasting critical fans.  Now one of the top Xbox executives has backpedaled, apologizing for those remarks, although he would not say whether Microsoft was renouncing the anti-consumer digital rights management (DRM) that started the spat.

I. Next Generation Xbox Suffers PR Trainwreck

While it's still too early to say who will win the eight generation of console wars, Microsoft certainly appears the biggest loser in terms of publicity.

Things started off uneventfully in January with the leak of hardware specs, which reportedly is similar to the hardware driving Sony Corp.'s (TYO:6758officially-announced PlayStation 4.  But Microsoft's PR troubles began soon after when top gaming blogs in February cited complaints from anonymous developers that's Microsoft's early SDKs/dev. kits were clunkier and harder to develop for than Sony's PS4 dev. kits.

Microsoft also dealt with a tell-all exposé by former Windows Sales VP and 20-year veteran, Joachim Kempin.  Mr. Kempin claimed to IGN that the Xbox has made almost no money for his former employer.  His comments were followed up by critical remarks from another former employee -- this time from the man who named the Xbox, Nat Brown.  In a blog entitled "Stupid, Stupid Xbox" the former Xbox team member lambasted the company's console as "creaky, slow, and full-of-s***."

Xbox 720
The Xbox 720 has been a PR mess for Microsoft.  [Image Source: Explosion]

But the company's biggest headache has been controversy over its rumored DRM scheme for the Xbox 720.  In February, various gaming blogs reported that the Xbox 720 would ban all used games via always-on DRM -- similar to the much loathed DRM scheme used by Electronic Arts Inc. (EA). A Sony executive added fuel to the fire, saying his company had no plans for used game bans with the PS4.  

While the company has refused to confirm or deny the existence of the next-generation console, much less the always-on DRM rumor, a firestorm of criticism has been mounting over the rumor.  

II. Microsoft Studios Director to Customers: Deal With It

What about users with slow rural internet connections?  Or what if you temporarily had an internet service outage?  

Customers have taken to Twitter and other social media outlets to voice their frustration and encourage Microsoft to rethink the rumored decision.  That's where things became even uglier when late last week Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orthy took to Twitter blasting Xbox fans that were criticizing the always on DRM.

Channeling his inner Charlie Sheen he told the fans to "deal with it" via a Twitter hashtag and said he didn't understand why they were upset.  He then implied that Microsoft doesn't care about rural users, suggesting that he "[wouldn't] want to live there":

Adam Orth comments
Those remarks led to more hatred and backlash in the social media sphere.  NeoWin user Siah1214 wrote, "This guy should be fired. I hope he's fired. He's an idiot."

III. Major Nelson: We're Sorry we Derailed And Said Wrong Things

Now Microsoft has gone on the defensive.  Microsoft's Xbox Live Director, Larry Hryb (who goes by "Major Nelson" online) posted an awkward apology to his Major Nelson website commenting:

We apologize for the inappropriate comments made by an employee on Twitter yesterday. This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views do not reflect the customer centric approach we take to our products or how we would communicate directly with our loyal consumers.  We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter.

That response did little placate the growing crowd of angry cusomters and retailers, who have issued strongly worded statements about the potential ban on used games.

Xbox always-on DRM
Major Nelson would not deny that the next-gen Xbox will have always-on DRM and ban used games. [Image Source: Xbox 720 Guide]

On Major Nelson's blog, Xbox Live user "Peter Bauer" writes, "XBOX720 online the whole time= no buy for me, never" and "GoingPostal13" chides Major Nelson, "What you should have done is said: we are not implementing an always online console."

IV. Retails Also Jump Onboard the Microsoft Hate Train

The comments from retailers weren't much friendlier.

An interview roundup by UK gaming blog MCV carried such several criticisms.  Dixons Retail Plc (LON:DXNS) gaming category manager Christopher Rogers complained, "I do not think the UK broadband infrastructure is robust/fast enough for this to be a prerequisite.  Surely last month’s teething troubles with SimCity are a warning for this?"

Games Centre managing director Robert Lindsay complains:

If Microsoft incorporates the tech to lock out pre-owned games and Sony doesn’t then there is going to be only one winner in the next generation of consoles – and it won’t be Microsoft.

The publishers are completely out of touch with their consumers if they don’t understand how important pre-owned is in helping them fund new releases. It’s not rocket science to see that a £39.99 new release with no sell-on value will put a massive hole in consumers’ spending budgets.

And Games Dojo Manager Stephen Doyle warned that a ban on used games would "kill the Xbox."

Retailers say a ban on used games would "kill the Xbox". [Image Source: Flickr]

So while Microsoft works to be less offensive on the PR front, it's done precious little to quell the underlying source of criticism.  Will Microsoft indeed lock out offline users and ban used games?  It's too early to say, but if it's not planning that, it might be wise to issue an official clarification before the Xbox unit suffers more damage to its image.

Sources: Major Nelson, MCV

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By Da W on 4/8/2013 2:59:49 PM , Rating: 2
It's done before it even began, PS4 will win this bout. Nintendo is dead and a ban on used games will do it for Microsoft.

I wrote a piece in 1999 on the economics of piracy, saying that if you ban piracy people won't have anymore money than they have now to buy your software and they will just buy less, or you will have to drop your prices. Look at PC games with steam? Everybody is waiting for the big summer sale to buy games at 5.99$ cause they are stucked with them and can,t resell them. I know people who bught at least one Xbox game a week, because they resold them the next week and their total cost of usage was about 10$. They WILL NOT continue to buy new games for 59.99$ if you ban used games. Period.

I own a Surface Pro, got the first Windows phone in Canada 3 years ago, pay my 10$ a month for Xbox music and own Windows 8 on my 2 other computers. I sold my Microsoft stock last week cause with Xbox, i am now sure they just lost their touch. They behave like a Monopoly when in fact they aren't anymore.

It's a shame cause i HATE sony's controllers.

By inighthawki on 4/8/2013 4:07:47 PM , Rating: 2
I sold my Microsoft stock last week cause with Xbox, i am now sure they just lost their touch. They behave like a Monopoly when in fact they aren't anymore.

While I agree that MS seems to be losing some of their touch, I can't help but think that sounds like an over-the-top decision for something that is nothing more than pure speculation.

People get up in arms about rumor and speculation and MS has made no official statement regarding whether it's even true. For all we know this could be completely untrue, and people are whining just because some guy who worked at MS is a total d*ck.

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