One of the great questions when Microsoft announced the Xbox One was the question about its online requirements. Referred to as an “always-on” console, consumers wondered how strict the company would be about keeping the console connected. What implications would it have for playing games and the sale of used games? Microsoft cleared some of that up finally, and it’s not great.
The Xbox One must be connected to the internet once every 24 hours. If it goes more than a day without a connection, DRM disables the console’s ability to play games. Even if you are playing a single player game, this is required. If you have a good internet connection, this is not a hard requirement to meet, but many customers still buy their consoles without any intention of connecting it to the internet. They’re not into online gaming, they just want a good gaming experience. I have many friends who keep their console’s offline either because they have no interest, or because they cannot afford broadband connections.
At my university, console owners cannot connect to the internet because we use 802.1X networks, which neither Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo support on their machines. There are… solutions, but these are not institution endorsed. In a school of 20,000, this makes the Xbox One essentially an impossibility without some effort. It turns a significant percentage of the possible market into dissuaded consumers.
Now yes, a very large majority of Xbox users in the past have had their console connected to the internet. Microsoft found that massive amounts of its customers use the Xbox 360 for Netflix and other video services. They surely want to capitalize on that but those consumers will connect regardless. Forcing everyone else to do the same is foolish. The company stated for those without broadband connections can use mobile broadband from cellular networks, but if you know the costs of hotspots and data caps, that is hardly an ideal selection.
The used game market has been a hallmark of gaming since the days of the Atari. It allowed gamers to save money on old titles, friends to trade their experiences, and for game stores to create a secondary market based on value. Publishers were never happy about it though, since the used game market doesn’t bring them profits. Game stores that sell and trade in used games keep the profits themselves.
Microsoft seems to have buckled to publisher pressure. While Xbox One games purchased on a disk can be traded in at stores, the game is still linked to your account. You will have to go through an as-of-yet unexplained process to de-register the game from your Live account so that it can be given to another user. This process is free, but can only be done a limited amount of times: once it seems. You can give a game to a friend and transfer the license, but only if they’ve been a Live friend for more than a month. This can only be done once.
The process is arbitrary in its restrictions. It makes temporary lending of games impossible between friends. You can bring a game over and download your profile to play on their console, but if you want to even give a friend a taste of the experience, you’re SOL.
Game rentals, by the way, are gone. Completely. Microsoft says they are not supporting that at launch but will “explore future options.” I’d like to give a heart-felt apology to GameFly ahead of time, because their model is essentially done.
Third party games? They are opt-in to these restrictions. If they want, they can deny any resale or license transfer. Seeing as how that forces everyone to buy their own copy, and with the online verification DRM, they stand to be making more money. But they are killing a major way that gamers educate themselves to make purchases: game discovery.
Trading games between players is part of the social experience of console gaming. Friends swap games overtime, sharing in the experiences of different titles. You discover games this way, learn about the types of games you like and then become a more informed purchaser. This is something that cannot be replicated by a demo. It is the experience of a friend bringing over their copy of a game, letting you start your own file and having them guide through the game. This social experience is community building as well as a better way to learn about the titles you want. I never would have discovered the addicting world of Borderlands or Far Cry 3 or Dishonored and literally dozens of other games if it was not for this ritual.
For that, the Xbox One is a major let down. A lack of backwards compatibility compounds the issue, meaning that the old mode of playing games is long gone. I weep for the simple days when a game console was about just playing the software and not letting any extortionist policies control our experience.
Plus, the Kinect has to be on at all times, and given the news today that Microsoft is participating in the largest domestic surveillance in U.S History, I don’t think I want a camera on me at all times.
Microsoft: you must reverse this policy. It will hurt your image. It will hurt sales. It will ruin the community that is 40 years in the making.