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Microsoft's Vision Of A Digital Future Is Delayed, But Still Alive

Yesterday was the first big news day of the next generation. Sure, the PlayStation 4 reveal was exciting. Yes, the internet exploded (many times) as the Xbox One came into focus. Of course, E3 2013 was a monumental event. Yesterday was still bigger.

When a report on Giant Bomb first disclosed that we'd be seeing sweeping changes to the Xbox One DRM and online connection policies, social media channels erupted (largely) in applause. The optimists believe Microsoft executives were listening to consumers. The pessimists are certain that it was financial motivations that forced the change. The realists know that it doesn't matter.

With the good news comes one major, unfortunate development. The down side of Microsoft's reversal is that all game sharing has been eliminated. This includes digital purchases that shouldn't necessarily be affected by the change to retail games. Xbox chief product officer Marc Whitten explained to us that prior to the switch, all media was viewed the same way. This shift to an environment in which retail and digital are different has left Microsoft with no choice but to abandon game sharing.

Yesterday's big story isn't the change in tactics. It's that Microsoft finally realized that it couldn't force the digital future it so desperately wants. Despite the delay, the company hasn't abandoned its plan. Far from it.

No, Microsoft has gotten smart. The vision of a digital future spearheaded by Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft's interactive entertainment division, is still alive. I have no doubt that plans are already underway to lure gamers away from physical media. All is not lost for Microsoft. The Xbox One's original endgame is still something the company very much believes in, and here's how I think they are going to get there:

  1. Discounts. One of the big concerns about a purely digital future is that Microsoft has not given gamers great hope. Games on Demand, the digital versions of retail games, often are priced higher than used (and sometimes new) disc copies. Microsoft needs to work with publishers to come closer to the insidious, wallet draining Steam sales.
    Additionally, day and date digital releases should be discounted significantly. At least 10 percent (which is less than packaging, wholesale, retailer, and inventory costs for physical media) should be considered.  
  2. Bonuses. Gamers have shown great interest for in-game items. If Microsoft were to tie unique benefits to the digital versions of games (soundtracks, XP boosts, items, etc.), consumers would have more reason to jump on the digital bandwagon.
  3. Reinstate family sharing for digital purchases. If Microsoft were to offer users a choice between owning a physical disc and being able to share games with friends family, I expect we'd see people gleefully fill up their hard drives with games that couldn't be sold or traded.

The difference is in the communication. Change is scary, and the knee jerk reaction is often one of revulsion. Microsoft attempted to force sweeping alterations to how consumers view ownership in the console space without fully considering perception.

The company can still achieve its goals of a digital future. Now, it can get there with gamers saying, "thank you" instead of "screw you."

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