I’m not the most coordinated guy in the world, but since this past Christmas I’ve tried to make a conscience effort to eat healthy and stay active. My Fitbit has been my fitness tracker of choice since December 2014, and I keep track of my progress through their iOS app. Other fans of “wearables” may prefer brands like Jawbone, Nike, or Garmin.
Until a few days ago, however, those who sought to do their workouts in the comfort of their own home could utilize a videogame console and its camera/mic accessory to train alongside some of the world’s most famous fitness gurus. Xbox Fitness, a game/app published by Microsoft Studios, allowed users to follow fitness and training videos on their televisions and receive personalized feedback on their performance through the Xbox One’s Kinect hardware. They could also purchase individual workouts through the Xbox store, in addition to the 30 free workouts that Xbox Live Gold members earned.
I own both an Xbox One and a Kinect, but I never took advantage of Fitness. And the Kinect itself wasn’t as big a hit as Microsoft had hoped when the console launched in November 2013. Over the past 2 ½ years, the company has pulled support for several of the device’s features (included its IR sensor and hand gesture controls, which felt like a real-life Minority Report computer interface). Fewer and fewer games included features that utilized the Kinect, and those that did only took advantage of the mic for gamers to verbally issue commands that the game could register. One game, Battlefield 4, used the camera to allow gamers to lean left and right so that their character would look around objects that they were hiding behind.
The main game that took full advantage of the full power and potential of the Kinect was Xbox Fitness, and it had a loyal following of users who purchased hundreds of dollars’ worth of workout videos through the store. And this made it all the more painful when Microsoft pulled the plug on the Fitness program [link no longer accessible] on June 27th (a process known as “sunsetting,” where a product is intentionally phased out when a company decides that it is either no longer profitable or they want to shift their focus elsewhere).
In their official announcement, Microsoft laid out the timeline for how the sunset of Xbox Fitness will play out. As of right now, no new content can be purchased for Fitness through the Xbox Store. In about six months, the offer for 30 free workouts for Xbox Live Gold owners will no longer exist. In a year, on July 1st, 2017, both Xbox Fitness and any workouts associated with it will no longer work (including the workouts that people purchased). Erica Bell, the community manager for Xbox Fitness, closed the announcement with a brief “thanks” to the users:
“We know that many of you have used Xbox Fitness to begin your fitness journey, to supplement it, or as a way to redefine your own fitness story…We’ve seen Xbox Fitness fans take what they’ve gained with Xbox Fitness and share it with their own communities to encourage others to find their fitness and their own path to a healthier life. We thank you for sharing your story and your life with us. It’s been a fantastic, fun, and fit journey to share with you all.”
Public reactions to the news were great! And by great, I mean incredibly disappointed and pissed off. Here are a few comments from various reddit threads on the topic.
“I added up my total on workouts that I’ve bought through Xbox Fitness: $245. I use it regularly. 3-4 times a week. This is not okay with me. I really feel that MS is screwing people over by removing Xbox Fitness and revoking PAID CONTENT that people bought. I see no reason why I can’t keep those videos that I paid for.”
“I want to keep the content that I paid for, and be able to play it anytime I feel like it. I’ve always assumed if something like this was to happen, they would have the decency to patch the service up in order to keep the content usable offline. I guess I expected too much.”
“I am still terrified of having 163 digital games. One day I could lose them all and all the money along with them. In a digital age there 100% should be something in place to make sure anything you purchase should work on your device no matter what.”
You can scroll through the comments on Microsoft’s announcement in the link above, but the general consensus is that Microsoft has wronged the consumer in a number of ways.
- The announcement came out of left field, and by shutting down the ability to purchase workouts on the day of the announcement, users had no time to purchase workouts that they could then use for the last year of Xbox Fitness’ existence.
- The product was one of the launch games/apps that was released alongside the Xbox One, and it was designed specifically with the Xbox One in mind. While Microsoft may not want to continue adding content to Fitness, they should not abandon support altogether. Especially since…
- …Microsoft introduced the “Backwards Compatibility” program that allows gamers to play Xbox 360 games on their Xbox One consoles. Many, if not most, of these games are no longer supported by their original developers, yet they have received new life through the BC program. If a game from ten years ago can still function on the Xbox One, so can Xbox Fitness in some way, shape, or form.
- The total value of the Xbox Fitness workout programs and videos exceeds several hundred dollars. Users who were particularly dedicated to Fitness pumped a ton of money into Microsoft’s wallet, but the products they purchased will be worthless in less than a year. Many were immediately calling for full refunds on any Fitness-related purchases, and as of today Microsoft has been granting some form of credit for users who contacted their support teams about the issue.
While the current focus is on Microsoft Fitness, its demise isn’t the only reason I’m concerned. I’ve known for quite some time that it’s a risky move to go all-digital on a platform like Xbox One. I do it because it’s convenient, I don’t need to worry about scratched game disks, and I can download my games onto any Xbox that I’m using (as long as I’m signed in). If Xbox Live goes down, however, so do all of the digital Xbox 360/One purchases I’ve made over the last decade. If you’re using an app like Xbox Video to stream movies you purchased on your Xbox, and Microsoft decides to shut that app down, the precedent set by Xbox Fitness suggests that you could lose access to all of the digital movies you bought. This applies to music services as well. And for those who think that there’s no way that they could just eliminate access to purchases, take a look at what happens to a user when his/her Gamertag is banned or removed on Xbox Live (spoiler: you can no longer play any digital games that were purchased on that account).
Note that this issue isn’t the same as having a streaming service like Netflix or Spotify close its doors. I use both (and my entire music experience is through Spotify), but if they were to shut down, the impact it would have on you is that you’re no longer paying a monthly fee (unless you’re mooching off of a friend, family member, or ex).
Microsoft’s decision to sunset Xbox Fitness sets a dangerous precedent for future games and apps on not only the Xbox One, but any service that offers digital (intangible) goods. With Fitness, the workouts that users had already purchased specifically stated that “you can use this app for now or buy it to own forever.” Last time I checked, “forever” didn’t mean a timeframe between November 2013 and July 2017. But because they develop the platform, Microsoft is able to discontinue their support for the platform without being responsible for the content that users purchased from vendors within the app (the makers of the individual and packs of workout videos). Keep in mind that individual videos were often $19.99 and packs could exceed $60.
Right now there is a petition calling for Microsoft to make Xbox Fitness’ workout videos accessible to users until the end of the Xbox One’s life cycle. In addition, the /r/XboxFitness subreddit is experiencing feelings of mourning, outrage, and determination in the wake of the news. There is a stickied thread directing users to various resources to let their voices be heard, and there’s a bittersweet thread titled “Friends till the End FitList” for users who are going to make the next 12 months “the fittest year of their lives.” Plus, a popular brand of fitness videos that produced content for the Xbox Fitness platform will be exploring ways to navigate around the closure by finding alternative ways of providing their content for users, so more Fitness alternatives/spinoffs could follow.
I’m well aware that you probably don’t give a hoot about Xbox Fitness, and you most likely don’t even own an Xbox One console. Like I said earlier, I never used the app or its workout programs. But if I were you, I’d take a long, hard look at some of the digital media services you use on a day-to-day basis and figure out what will happen to your content in the event of a Fitness-style closure. Use Microsoft’s decision as a cautionary tale when it comes to buying digital content through a host that has made no specific indication that the content will be guaranteed for any specific duration of time. This is a 21st century problem that we’ve created for ourselves by becoming comfortable with the convenience and ease of access of digital goods, and the only solution is to be as informed as possible instead of blindly accepting “Terms & Conditions” forms and smashing “Buy” buttons as fast as we can.
Trust me, that digital download of Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 Season 1 can wait.