Two weeks ago, when Microsoft launched its next entry into the “gaming” console market with the reveal of Xbox One, there were many questions that came up that were left hanging. This lead to conflicting statements, rumors and speculation regarding a possible always online DRM, cancellation of used games and inability to share game you own.
Yesterday, in a press release called “Xbox One: Details on Connectivity, Licensing and Privacy features”, Microsoft confirmed every gamer’s worst fears; about the DRM, used games, sharing bought titles and everything in between.
Here is a bulleted summary of the points of concern:
- 10 “members of family” can be authorized to play these games on a different Xbox One.
- Publishers decide whether you can trade in your games and may charge for this.
- Publishers decide whether you can give a game you own to someone
- This only works if they have been on your friends list for 30 days.
- Regardless of that, each game can only be shared once.
- Xbox One has to connect to the internet every 24 hours to keep playing games.
- When playing on another Xbox One with your account, the time is reduced to one hour.
- Live TV, Blu-ray and DVD movies are exempt from these internet requirements.
- Loaning and renting games will not be possible at launch, but Microsoft is “exploring the possibilities”.
- Microsoft may change these policies or discontinue them at any point.
Now why would Microsoft introduce these restrictive policies? Do any of these stand to benefit the aspect of gaming for consumers in ways that they couldn’t before or is this just an effort to please the game publishers?
Let’s start with the one many gamers are enraged about; the restriction of used games and game sharing.
Now while Microsoft seemingly allows game sharing across consoles to 10 family members, it does not specify how the console will identify their identities? Would it be via Kinect, through user profiles or some other application? What are the requirements of this sharing methodology?
On the other hand, while they announce that Xbox One is capable of sharing and playing used games, however publishers can decide whether the customer can trade in their games and they are also the ones which decide whether they can share that game with a friend. However, that can only be done to a person who has been in their friends list for more than 30 days and with can be only done once per game, so the friend cannot return the game back to the original buyer.
And at the end of it all, Microsoft tries to pass the bill to the third party publishers by proclaiming:
“Third party publishers may opt in or out of supporting game resale and may set up business terms or transfer fees with retailers.”
Are we to forget that it is because of Microsoft’s policies and how Xbox One operates that these publishers have the means to restrict game sharing and resale?
With publishers like EA being quite vocal about putting an end to game resale, there is virtual inevitability that most of these game publishers will not allow consumers to resell their games.
This comes off as a very short sighted strategy that is designed to recover a percentage of lost revenue of possible return on investment, by driving thousands, if not millions, of consumers away from them.
These companies forget that profitability is not just attained from increased revenue generation but also through a little something called streamlining costs.
Publishers like THQ are going out of business because of financial mishandling and because companies like Square-Enix that do not know how to budget their titles so that their titles like Tomb Raider; that have created 3.5 million sales is still considered unprofitable.
They also forget that the biggest and longest lasting entertainment business of movies has several avenues of consumer purchase through Box Office, Rentals, Netflix, DVD and Bluray copies.
Why have they not limited sale of DVDs and Blurays? Because smart companies realize that while used titles take some potential revenue away in short term, the sale of a used title creates additional disposable income for the potential customer that can and used to purchase new titles.
These sets of policies are certainly not consumer friendly. So while the company takes money from its customers, it serves the needs of the publishers.
While the console is gearing up to provide unprecedented ease to TV viewers in such crucial tasks as changing channels and browsing the internet, the set seems to be doing the exact opposite for people who want to play games.
Microsoft goes out of its way to make this point crystal clear as day when they say that:
“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.”
So while gamers will have to connect to internet every 24 hours to play their games, and every hour if they are playing on someone else’s console, the Live TV, Blu-ray and DVD movies are exempt from these internet requirements.
This requirement of demanding an internet connection for offline gameplay is completely absurd. Even Steam, a purely online game distribution service allows players to play games in offline mode. However it seems the publishers and console manufacturers have not learned from the backlash that was generated by the use of something similar by SimCity and Diablo III.
This 24 hours virtual “handshake” requirement is detrimental for games because it disenfranchises majority of people around the world who don’t have stable and reliable broadband internets. Even US alone, majority of people do not have access to reliable internet facilities.
According to a report by the Federal Communications Commission stated that 19 million Americans don’t have broadband connections and a survey, sponsored by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and conducted by the Census Bureau, revealed that 40% of US citizens reported to have no broadband or high speed internet and 30% had no internet access at all.
That is the situation in Microsoft’s largest market, and it gets much worse for potential customers in other countries all around the world.
It is easy to think of many scenarios where this DRM hampers the gaming consumer’s lifestyle. For example, if one is running or participating in a tournament like EVO and the system does not get to do the daily or hourly authentication process online then the whole tournament gets disrupted because of this lovely gem of a feature.
There are countless scenarios that make this a bad idea not just because it leaves gaming at the mercy of additional set of factors ranging from servers to internet providers but primarily due to the fact that it is an additional restriction that brings no benefit whatsoever to the end consumer.
So apparently Microsoft is focused on making Xbox One into a TV box and perhaps they have decided that they do not need business of the gamers. Can any number of game announcements change the usability constraints brought on through heaps and heaps of restrictions and the distrust amplified by empty promises of “infinite power of the cloud”
Now the real question is whether Sony, who has kept itself out of the fire till date, is going for the same strategy as Microsoft? Will it also sacrifice consumer rights to cater to the publishers’ whims?
Is this an inevitable industry standard in the making? No. These restrictions in the gaming industry won’t take shape unless customers themselves accept the limitations laid upon them.
As much as the corporations like console manufacturers and publishers might want this to be a supply driven business, gaming is a service industry and by nature, it is a demand driven industry.
Those that think that there is no escape from these policies, just remember that while Nintendo’s “next gen” hardware is not technically as impressive as the ones displayed by Sony and Microsoft, at least the company is not trying its best to restrict gamers and treat them like felons.
Companies like Microsoft should realize that no matter how much they cater to the third party publishers, in an event of gamer exodus, the publishers will always flock to a console with the largest user base willing to buy their product.
So let us, as gamers and paying consumers, not bow down and surrender to these potential overlords with their “savvy” marketing and hollow promises, let us chose to invest our money in the company that does right by our wants.
Perhaps that would force these companies to change these unfriendly user policies and might even make Microsoft’s statement “Microsoft may change its policies, terms, products and services to reflect modifications and improvements to our services, feedback from customers and our business partners or changes in our business priorities and business models or for other reasons” mean something positive for us gamers.