In a statement released on the Xbox website on Wednesday, Don Mattrick, the president of Microsoft's interactive entertainment business, wrote that the company had listened to "candid feedback" from gamers. Before listing the changes, his explanation reads, "You told us how much you loved the flexibility you have today with games delivered on disc. The ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world."
When the new console is released this November, there will be no need to authenticate the system online every 24 hours – a requirement thought to have been introduced as a digital rights management measure. According to the statement, "After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again."
Furthermore, plans to restrict the sales of pre-owned titles, as well as the sharing of games among friends, have also been cancelled. There will now be no limits on gifting, re-selling, sharing or renting Xbox One game titles. In addition to these reversals, Microsoft is also removing regional locks on Xbox One games, which means titles bought in one global territory will work in all others.
The announcement follows a huge backlash against Microsoft which began when the company first revealed the Xbox One console at a press conference in May. Company representatives explained to journalists that all Xbox One games would need to be fully installed onto systems before play and that each copy would then be watermarked to its owner. Attempts to then sell on or give away the boxed copy of the game would be controlled by Microsoft; although the details have always been ambiguous, it appeared that the company would work with selected retail partners for the sale of pre-owned titles, and that publishers may have had the opportunity to charge purchasers of second-hand discs for the right to play.
There were also confusing propositions on sharing games with others. Microsoft informed gamers that they would be able to make their software library available to 10 friends, but that concurrent access to games would not be possible. Considered by industry insiders as an intriguing feature it has now been removed, as have other interesting possibilities. "There is some give and some take," said Brian Blau, a research director at Gartner. "The rules about used games have now been removed but the cool feature where you could go to a friends house and play your games (by signing in and downloading them from your library) has been removed, or at least partially removed."
Some pundits feel that Microsoft's error has been in poorly explaining its vision for a new era of digitally-centered console gaming. The company attempted to push its proposals as a forward-looking approach to games distribution, inspired by iTunes and the PC gaming service Steam. But for a huge number of gamers, the negatives of the restrictions outweighed any positive possibilities. On Wednesday night, high profile games designer Cliff Bleszinski hit Twitter to claim that the original Xbox One infrastructure would have helped to prevent piracy and ensure publishers made money from second-hand sales. "Brace yourselves. More tacked on multiplayer and DLC are coming," he wrote; followed by "I want *developers* who worked their asses off to see money on every copy of their game that is sold instead of Gamestop."
At the major E3 video game conference in June, Sony used the widescale backlash against Microsoft's plans to boost the popularity of its rival PlayStation 4 machine. At Sony's E3 press conference, company executives made it clear that PS4 would place no restrictions on pre-owned sales and wouldn't require daily online authentication – the announcements received a huge applause. Earlier this week, Amazon ran a poll on its website, asking readers to vote for PS4 or Xbox One as the best next-gen console; some US sites are reporting that the results were so overwhelmingly skewed toward the Sony console, the online retailer removed the survey.
"This reversal is a positive move for Microsoft as they need to compete strongly against the PS4," said Blau. "It's a really good sign that Microsoft is listening and providing the functions and features that their core audience is asking for. This has to help improve the overall impression that some may have had about Microsoft being a bully when it comes to video game DRM."
Xbox One is the follow-up to Microsoft's hugely successful Xbox 360 console, launched in 2005. The machine will feature an eight-core CPU, Blu-ray player and a more advanced version of its Kinect motion control device. PlayStation 4 is also set to launch this winter. Both now face a very different fight for the support of the huge global gaming audience.