Since the Xbox One reveal I’ve given Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. Sure, the reveal wasn’t very game-centric, but the company said it wouldn’t be. Sure, the confusing news and contradictory statements made after the event were disconcerting, but much of the subsequent Xbox One bashing was–at the time–based on rumor and speculation.
But now that Microsoft has come out and explained (at least in a very minimal “it can change at any time” kind of way) its system for online connectivity, lending games, and the used game market I can safely say that the company is catering companies over consumers.
When the Xbox One was first revealed it seemed that the biggest affront to the gaming audience would be that it favored entertainment and social options over games. The reveal showed off the Xbox One’s ability to help a person watch television or track their fantasy sports teams over and over again. Despite a brief glimpse at a new game IP (Quantum Break) the vast majority of gaming content at the event was either sports-based or Call of Duty.
Now I like sports, TV, and Call of Duty, but many gamers feel that these options aren’t the best direction for a new game console. The Xbox One looked like a total entertainment center with a side of games rather than a dedicated next generation gaming console experience.
But with the announcement of the way that Microsoft will handle used games and online connectivity, these “entertainment woes” are the least of our concern. Where before we could only speculate, we can now truly see that Microsoft isn’t looking to gamers for success. They’re looking to advertisers and their shareholders.
Let’s break down the key parts of what Microsoft has explained and translate them from Microsoft PR speak into what they really mean for gamers:
“Trade-in and resell your disc-based games: 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. “
What this means is that if the used game market is to continue on the Xbox One it will be completely at the discretion of the publishers. While Microsoft isn’t taking any money from the used game market, it is enabling publishers to tighten the noose as much or as little as they want.
Selling used items to other people has been around for a very long time, but thanks to always-on DRM Microsoft has found a way to circumvent the pesky fact that the license to play a game has always transferred along with the physical media the game is printed on. This essentially renders all of your game disks worthless as soon as you tie it to your account.
“Give your games to friends: 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.”
Basically Microsoft is finding a way to shoehorn in a “lending” system that may not even be “lending” as we know it. The word “give” has a stronger connotation and it isn’t exactly clear if “giving” the game to a friend means you can get it back from them or if you’ve permanently transferred that game to them. The fact that the person needs to be on your friends list for 30 days is insulting given that friendships can have started prior to signing up for Xbox Live. If I can only trade it to one person, it’s going to be my best friend, right?
“In our role as a game publisher, Microsoft Studios will enable you to give your games to friends or trade in your Xbox One games at participating retailers. Third party publishers may opt in or out of supporting game resale and may set up business terms or transfer fees with retailers. Microsoft does not receive any compensation as part of this. In addition, third party publishers can enable you to give games to friends. Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.”
Yikes. This mess of text basically means that Microsoft is committed to giving publishers all the opportunity in the world to screw frugal gamers that rely on the used game market to play on a limited budget. Publishers can block out used game sales and transfers altogether if they want. It means they can hike up fees for used games and take the value out of the used game market. It means Microsoft wants to make sure that its partners have full control over what happens to a game license and the gamers have none.
“As we move into this new generation of games and entertainment, from time to time, 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. We may also cease to offer certain services or products for similar reasons.”
This piece of legal-sounding text basically says that Microsoft can change the rules whenever to suit the needs of its business. While this is not the only time you will ever see text like this (I mean, actually read any set of Terms and Conditions) it does hold significance in that it was abruptly brought up in this particular article.
Microsoft has been backpedaling hard since the reveal event and clearly just added most of these systems, the proof being that game lending won’t be available at launch. This pre-E3 news was supposed to clear the air, but instead it basically confirms Microsoft’s reactionary approach to developing the infrastructure of their next console.
So that solves the used games conundrum. Do you like Microsoft’s solution? Well, hold on one moment, I haven’t finished. I don’t aim to just pick away at Microsoft’s policies; I aim to prove they were made without any sincere consideration of consumers. Let’s see what Microsoft had to say about internet connection.
“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 you get an expensive Blu-Ray player and a fancy cable box overlay if you lose an internet connection for more than 24 hours. While this might not be a huge deal for people with good internet, this does raise an important question: why can’t you at least play games? Well, the answer was actually in the paragraph that preceded this one.
“While a persistent connection is not required, Xbox One is designed to verify if system, application or game updates are needed and to see if you have acquired new games, or resold, traded in, or given your game to a friend. Games that are designed to take advantage of the cloud may require a connection.”
Do you see what Microsoft did there? It justified the constant connection by saying it is needed to fuel the restrictions on used games. Sure the “we want to update your experience” or the “games can be better with the cloud” are also peppered in to soften the blow but Microsoft is saying, outright, that you need to be connected to the internet so that the used game restrictions (put in place for the publishers, not the gamers) can work.
If that isn’t proof positive that Microsoft cares more about fostering relationships with publishers than it does providing a next generation gaming experience for gamers, then I don’t know what is. The system that allows gamers to lend games to one another is a response to massive consumer backlash and was clearly never a part of Microsoft’s original vision for the Xbox One. The specifics of how all this will work remain ambiguous, but it’s clear that Microsoft intends to relinquish a gamer’s control of his own property.
To be fair, Microsoft did announce some cool aspects of the system, including the ability to access any of your games via the cloud on any Xbox One, or the aforementioned ability to share games with up to 10 family members (Microsoft hasn’t explained how that will work, either), but the majority of this information seems staunchly anti-consumer.
All of these restrictions will be figured out in full by the time to console launches, but Microsoft will need to rethink its strategy if they want the Xbox One to be palatable for gamers. The bottom line is that consumers take the back seat for this ride and many won’t like that. This won’t stop me from buying an Xbox One (and I suspect that is the case for many other consumers) but it will definitely hurt sales of the console among gamers if the PlayStation 4 retains traditional policies concerning who owns a game after it is bought.
My reaction to this news is clearly vitriol, but what’s yours? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to check back here for more news about the Xbox One as E3 draws ever closer.