Eric Johnson

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Microsoft: We Had to Wait Until After E3 to Change Our DRM Policies

xbox closeup

At E3 last week, Microsoft packed a basketball arena full of journalists and fans to talk about its next-generation console, the Xbox One. That’s why today’s announcement that the company is reversing its DRM policies for the One was a bit puzzling.

The question: Why couldn’t it say this then?

Because, apparently, it was a very recent decision. Xbox chief product officer Mark Whitten told AllThingsD that the company had been listening to consumer feedback since the product’s unveiling in May, but that the E3 presentation was “the first time we had a chance to really lay out our program.”

“E3 was the first time when we felt like we’d had a chance to tell our complete story and have people see what they liked and what they didn’t like,” Whitten said.

Put another way: Despite all the non-gaming home media features baked into the Xbox One, Microsoft knows that gamers still butter its bread. That E3 presentation was actually less “complete” than the unveiling event because it was all about games, games, games.

Microsoft catered to gamers and ignored big features like the bundled Kinect and TV integration in its onstage E3 presentation, but the fans were still angry. Today’s announcement doesn’t make Redmond look good in the short term, but it cuts its losses before those fans have a chance to sway publishers’ minds or avoid the Xbox One on store shelves.

In other words, if this policy change had to happen at some point, it’s probably smarter for Microsoft to pull the trigger and take the hit now, rather than endangering the One’s launch by dawdling as the anti-DRM winds consistently blew in its face.

Whitten promised that both new DRM policies — the removal of online “check-ins” every 24 hours and the restrictions on physical disc sharing — will not change again. However, third-party developers will still have to choose for themselves if and how much their games will require constant Internet connectivity.

Interestingly, an anonymous (and unverified) forum post, allegedly by an Xbox engineer, predicted a policy change last week. Mandatory online check-ins, the supposed engineer wrote, were “the PoR (plan of record), but I expect it to change after the e3 clusterfuck.”

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