Microsoft just can't win. After responding to criticism and dropping the mandatory Internet connection from the Xbox One, the company faced a new wave of complaints from people who actually liked the original idea of an always-connected game console.
Now, Microsoft is trying to figure out if it can please everyone. In particular, the company is considering whether to bring back "Family Sharing," essentially a digital version of lending to close friends and family. The feature would have allowed people to share their game libraries with up to nine other Xbox Live friends, even on separate consoles.
"If it's something that people are really excited about and want, we're going to make sure that we find the right way to bring it back," Marc Whitten, Microsoft's chief product officer for Xbox One, told IGN.
Microsoft made itself into a punching bag in June, when it revealed that the Xbox One would require an Internet connection at least once every 24 hours to play games, and that restrictions would apply to used games. Players would not be allowed to lend discs to other players, and could only sell their games at certain retail stores if the game's publisher approved.
After weeks of backlash, Microsoft reversed those policies. Games will no longer require an Internet connection to play, and users are free to rent, borrow or sell disc-based games however they want. The Xbox One will only require an Internet connection once, when setting up the console for the first time.
Babies and bathwater
The original restrictions did bring some benefits, though: Under the old system, all disc-based games would have automatically installed onto the console, so players could switch between games without swapping discs. The vaunted Family Sharing feature would have let players share their libraries--though some of the details on how it would have worked remain unclear.
The very nature of these features required some level of online enforcement. A 24-hour online check would ensure that a group of friends couldn't buy one disc and install it on a dozen consoles, or sell the disc back to GameStop immediately after installing the game. For Family Sharing, the check in would ensure that only two people--the original owner and one friend--were playing from the shared game library at any given time. The removal of an online requirement for the Xbox One meant the removal of these features.
Not surprisingly, some people were upset with Microsoft's decision. A petition on Change.org praises Microsoft's original vision as "new wave of gaming where you could buy games digitally, then trade, share or sell those digital licenses." It asks Microsoft to find a compromise and bring back those features. So far, the petition has roughly 25,000 signatures.
Speaking to IGN, Whitten admitted that Microsoft could have been clearer about the benefits of an Internet-centric game console. "The thing that's really gratifying is that people are excited about the types of features that are possible, and it's sort of shame on us that we haven't done as good of a job as we can to make people feel like that's where we're headed," he said.
Whitten didn't offer any time frame for when Family Sharing would return, or how it might work without a required Internet connection. Perhaps the answer is to offer it as an optional feature, for players who are willing to accept check-ins in return.