Microsoft has a bit of a problem on their hands, one that has exposed the flaws inherent with the “always online, cloud-based services” future that companies have spent so much time extolling the virtues of. On June 27, Microsoft announced that they were discontinuing Xbox Fitness, a feature that launched with the console back in November of 2013. With zero warning beforehand, Xbox Fitness content suddenly became unavailable for purchase, and the content that had been purchased by Xbox Fitness customers now carried an end-of-life date of June 30, 2017. At the time of this writing, people who paid for content will no longer be able to access this content after that date.
This highlights the very real problems with cloud-based content systems and monetizing products through them, and it also capitalizes on the very real fears that many consumers originally expressed when Microsoft first revealed the system in May of 2013. Due to the mixed reception to the Xbox One’s “always online, always connected” ethos — and in response to a potentially damning policy on used, borrowed or otherwise secondhand games — Microsoft assured customers that their product would serve the interests and demands of their userbase before the desires of the corporation that made the system. Then, fast forward a mere three years later, and the cancellation of Xbox Fitness serves as a cautionary tale against spending money on things with no tangible product to own, which was the very concept they seemed so adamant about dispelling three years prior.
On the page that details the official announcement, Microsoft customers are sounding off with plenty of fire to spare. Xbox owner TriDawg writes:
“And you wonder why so many people freaked out when you said the Xbox One would be always online, and would have all kinds of features for digital games. This is not the way to instill trust in your digital product, or in your gaming system.“
When Xbox staff attempted to direct customers to Xbox Support to air grievances, user SteelFungus8119 flipped the table:
“(MS Staff), please don’t mislead people, support won’t do anything, unless you’ve bought your XBOX Fitness content within last 30 days. There is a huge thread on reddit about it. Multiple people (including me) tried to contact MS support to see what other options are regarding purchased content for XBOX Fitness and only recently acquired content was refunded as a huge one time courtesy. Shame, I should have just bought Beachbody workouts on DVD and used them forever, but I trusted MS and invested into XBOX/Kinect/XBOX Fitness hype and (useless) paid content.“
User scH4MMER kept it short and sweet:
“My worst fears about buying into digital or cloud-dependent content are realized. Basically the message is: if you buy something on the cloud, plan on having it taken away from you before you’re done with it, and don’t expect a refund.“
This is the takeaway: the all-digital future isn’t worth much when you can’t have reliable, limitless access to that content. This is precisely why I’ve been a major proponent of physical media, because you OWN that, and as a customer, ownership is everything. It keeps the power in the hands of the consumer, the one who purchased the media and can keep it and play it and use it as much as they like. Once that balance of power is shifted to a company that has the right to deny access to content that’s already been paid for, customers pay for nothing but access, and that access is entirely dependent on the whim of the provider. This practice is about as anti-consumer as it gets, and yet very few seem to understand that until (surprise, surprise) the customer gets bit.
I truly hope Microsoft finds a solution that benefits these customers — THEIR customers — and I’d like to think this will act as a “how-not-to-do” for similar companies in the future. The customer needs to demand that their investment be taken seriously enough to have fallback options provided to them in cases such as this, and the content providers need to treat their customers’ investments with a little more tact and consideration than what went on display here. In a time where streaming is king and digital distribution is the preferred method of acquiring and consuming media, these companies should hold themselves to a higher ethical standard, one that falls in line with the immense amount of trust undertaken by a customerbase handing over hard-earned money for something they’re only allowed to view, but never truly hold.
All digital media companies need to take a good, long look at this and learn well. And furthermore, Microsoft needs to figure out how to listen to the people who pay them money. Between this quite legendary ball drop and finding new and more devious ways of forcing people to adopt Windows 10, they’re trying to make sure people don’t want their products. Reliability is crucial, and you’d think the “Red Ring of Death” ghost would still haunt them enough to realize this.