We cut through the PR speak to offer a true appraisal of Microsoft’s new strategy.
After weeks of stalling and confusion, last night Microsoft finally unveiled their used game and digital rights management (DRM) strategy for the Xbox One. And boy it was as bad as we all pretty much feared. Let’s take a look at each of the new policy statements in turn, which you can find here in Microsoft’s statement titled ‘Xbox One: Details on Connectivity, Licensing and Privacy Features‘, and try and cut through the marketing hyperbole. It’s going to be a bumpy ride…
1. PR speak: “With Xbox One you can game offline for up to 24 hours on your primary console, or one hour if you are logged on to a separate console accessing your library. Offline gaming is not possible after these prescribed times until you re-establish a connection, but you can still watch live TV and enjoy Blu-ray and DVD movies.”
Reality: While signed into Xbox Live with an active internet connection you can play Xbox One games forever. If you happen to log-off or your internet connection goes down, you can only play said game for 24 hours until some mechanism kicks in where you can no longer play the game, as it waits for you to get online and have your game verified once again. Microsoft is going to need a massive datafarm to handle these transactions and their history isn’t too hot on this issue. Remember Xbox Live’s downtime around Christmas every single previous year due to the number of new consoles hitting their network for the first time? Or the problems that occupy every single Call of Duty launch, simply because Microsoft can’t accurately anticipate demand. Yeah, excuse us if we don’t have faith in Microsoft implementing this system without any issues. They have pointed out that they have 300,000 servers to drive their cloud gaming and authentication strategy, but with Diablo III, SimCity and other high profile games suffering terrible launches due to their always-on DRM we’re skeptical of the viability of Microsoft’s strategy.
2. PR Speak: “You’ll be able to buy disc-based games at traditional retailers or online through Xbox Live, on day of release. Discs will continue to be a great way to install your games quickly.”
Reality: Game ownership will be tied to a code, not a disc as was the case for the Xbox 360.
3. PR Speak: “Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One. Just like today, a family member can play your copy of Forza Motorsport at a friend’s house. Only now, they will see not just Forza, but all of your shared games. You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time.”
Reality: Family members, and they specifically say family members, can share games across accounts and play them via other Xbox One consoles. How will this work? We have no idea, will you have to send in your birth certificate to Microsoft or will you have to submit your DNA to have some kind of Jeremy Kyle-like DNA verification in front of a live TV audience? Who knows but Microsoft will want to actively work against the idea of ten gamers chipping in to buy games and share them across multiple Xbox One machines. We suspect Microsoft will limit the number of active versions playable at any one time in accordance with how many licenses those ten machines hold. There’s no way ten accounts will be able to play Forza with one game purchase.
4. PR Speak: “Today, some gamers choose to sell their old disc-based games back for cash and credit. We designed Xbox One so game publishers can enable you to trade in your games at participating retailers. Microsoft does not charge a platform fee to retailers, publishers, or consumers for enabling transfer of these games.”
Reality: Okay this is the biggie and frankly what Microsoft has said is, “We don’t know how to deal with the percieved pre-owned problem, publishers you figure it out.” That policy itself is fine, but the fact that Microsoft will only allow trade-ins with certain retailers, we suspect it’ll be the big boys like GameStop (North America) or GAME (UK), will inevitably squeeze out the small independent retailers from the lucrative pre-owned market. What is absolutely clear is that the pre-owned system we know today is going to change due to game disc functionality altering from a means of offline authentication to simply a way to store installation data. When you trade in that disc to your local retailer you won’t be trading in a copy of that game or the license to play it, you’ll simply be passing on a disc to aid the installation process. Say goodbye to any chances to loan games to friends or rent them from retailers.
5. PR Speak: “Xbox One is designed so game publishers can enable you to give your disc-based games to your friends. There are no fees charged as part of these transfers. There are two requirements: you can only give them to people who have been on your friends list for at least 30 days and each game can only be given once.”
Reality :Now this is where Microsoft has given every gamer a potential ‘get out’ from this restrictive licensing system, except really it isn’t. Game publishers will be able to decide whether to allow players the option to permanently give one of their games to a friend on their Xbox Live friend list. This isn’t a mandatory requirement for a game to be on Xbox One, it’s something the publishers themselves have to clear. This idea of selling games onto friends is a great idea, but the 30-day friend requirement means that you’ll have to know the person you’re selling to rather well. That means no more selling games on forums, selling games on eBay or basically selling games to anyone other than an Xbox Live friend. Oddly this means that games will become traded more than before, as why would we buy a brand new copy of say Halo 5 when our friend Billy, who was looking to get rid of that game anyway, can sell it to me for a low price as he doesn’t have many friends (poor Billy). He won’t be able to eBay that copy anymore or trade it in easily, so I can quickly chuck him a tenner and he’ll happily accept – driving down the price of a game which in store would cost store £59.99. What about all of Billy’s DLC, does that transfer over too? We suspect not…
Now that Microsoft has properly revealed their unique vision for the future of console gaming, one thing is clear; the idea of console game ownership is set to be eroded in the same way as music and the PC has experienced suffer before it. The difference is however that music and PC are affectively open-platforms, if you don’t like Valve’s Steam service or Apple’s iStore there are a multitude of other retailers to go for, but if you want to play the Xbox One console you have two choices; like these changes or don’t.
If you don’t mind these changes by all means buy the Xbox One, but if you find these aggressive DRM practices restrictive don’t buy Microsoft’s next console and tell them of your plans via Twitter, official forums and online petitions if needs be. If you care about the Xbox brand apply pressure and things may change. We have no doubt that right know certain individuals within Microsoft will be looking at the rage today’s news of DRM has caused and they won’t worry too much.
They’ll say, “Oh well they’ll buy the console anyway, they’re already invested” or, “This is the way the industry is going, deal with it.” The truth is we don’t have to deal with it, us as consumers have the power and we can get things changed. If nothing else the hullabaloo associated with Microsoft’s DRM policy might just give Sony pause for thought when they announce their approach for the PlayStation 4. Gamers power this industry just as much as console makers, publishers and developers and if you have a problem with Microsoft’s new policies make your complaints heard loud and proud.
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