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Opinion: New Xbox One policy news… win?

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The problems here are many: Microsoft’s poor effort at explaining the compromise between disc DRM and game sharing with friends and family; Sony’s championing of the status quo; the fact that disc-DRM and sharing was an everything or nothing approach; and the Internet.

It did seem heavy handed to essentially box out folks who realistically couldn’t abide by the check-in rules, specifically service-men and -women, or people who travel for work. In order to do away with check-ins would also mean that it is necessary to remove those sharing features, and this is where we are today. Its the right move to make these systems accessible to anyone that wants to play them, but I sort of feel like MS decided they were taking their ball and going home today.

I’d hoped that there will be a better answer in next-gen than, “Same as it ever was!” For example, the Xbone could differentiate between digital downloads and disc games. You’d still be able to share with family and travel with your digital library, as planned, meanwhile disc based games can function just as they do today. Even now, there are rumors of Steam toying with the idea of sharing games… digital games that you cannot currently trade or sell.

I really don’t believe that we will be buying disc based games by the end of this console generation’s life-cycle. So I feel like focusing on disc-based policies is a short-term “win” at best. And the concept of having to put a disc in a machine, after its contents are installed to a hard drive, seems so technology backwards. Its an old school way to handle a new school problem, DRM.

It also seems as if a large majority of these next-gen games require the cloud anyhow. That is to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if some next-gen single player games required Internet connectivity just to power the game’s AI (for example). Maybe not this holiday, but I’m confident it will happen eventually.

Both of these companies ultimately want you to stay connected, use the console to consume media, and buy your games digitally, no matter how hard they pander to angry crowds at press events. Show me where used discs and offline play occur in this alleged PS4 UI video:

Dude is so eager to play that he buys the game on the spot and nukes a burrito instead of driving to his local game store. That is no accident in the video’s creation.

I tried to see the pros and cons of each approach, and was warming up to transitioning to a completely digital library, one that I could share with friends. While I’m not really sure that one side’s approach was better than the other, they were at least different options. What I am sure of now is that they’re exactly the same as one another, and exactly the same as it is now. Win?

Scott

Hi, I’m one of the founders of Nerd Appropriate and the Rated NA podcast. I like good and bad sci-fi films and tv, pho, and the retrofuture. I am primarily an Xbox gamer, but also do some PC and Wii U gaming as well. By day, I am a research scientist, mostly in topics related to human-computer interaction and user experience. Before all this, fellow NA co-founder Matt and I played music together in various bands. I also used to make "comedy" videos for my high school morning news program before there was a place to post them online. Favorite Star Wars character? Admiral Ackbar. Best Bond era? Timothy Dalton (Craig a close second). Game of all time? Maybe System Shock 2. Thanks for being a part of this labor of nerdy love with us.
  • Ryan Clark

    If that commercial shows us anything it’s that all the cool kids will be playing PS4 and its metro-influenced UI while you’re trying to figure out how to get out of your locker, Xbox Nerd.

    I think this whole decision was bad; I feel like the internet check-in problem could have been resolved by only requiring this for Xbox Live subscribers, but the DRM backlash was a case of people reading headlines and not articles. Time and time again I read things being stated as fact on other blogs (SORRY!) that Microsoft never said or, worse yet, had already refuted. Now Internet Rage(tm) has ruined it for the rest of us grown ups that were looking forward to these cool new features.

    Internet Rage(tm) stemming from a group of people complaining online about an internet requirement via single-license social media apps linked directly to their phones or tablets. SWEET IRONY.

  • Ryan Clark

    I also liked the immediate mockery of Microsoft for reversing their policy by the very same people who bullied them into changing the policy to begin with. That’s like having your lunch money stolen, then having to watch the bully eat.

    THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS, INTERNET.

  • Ash

    The video linked in this article is comedy gold. I don’t think that’s what Sony was going for.

    • Derek Baker

      It was a translation error.

  • Chris Jenkins

    I’m someone who was pretty well sold on the PS4 over the XBone, but as I keep seeing these stories coming in tonight I just keep feeling worse about the whole thing. Still just super disappointed that Microsoft didn’t do a better job from the start of talking about how revolutionary some of their features had the potential to be. This feels knee-jerk in the worst way possible, and I’m stunned that their about face seems as total as it does, especially after such a short period of time since their “drubbing” last week at E3. The competing features of the XBoxOne and the PS4 had the makings of some competition that would have inevitably led to innovations that would spell a win for gamers everywhere. Ash is right in his earlier article when he says that the biggest winner now just seems to be GameStop.

  • mattna

    I understand the feeling that this is XBox taking their ball and going home, but the reality is that without a checkin, DRM can’t exist, which means XBox can’t verify that you are still the owner of this content. It’s unfortunate because this was the most lenient use of DRM that I have seen and felt like a real win as far as Digital licensing goes. I’m just disappointed. This was an over reaction to a fickle internet that most likely would have mellowed by November if MS had just held their ground.

    Stumbles like telling people to buy an XBox 360 if they don’t have internet are ridiculous, and the inability to explain the 24 hour check in (from what I understood it was 24 hours of use not 24 hours of time), and their seeming unwillingness to promote the benefits of what DRM can do for digital management was just sad. We keep saying that MS can’t market their way out of a paper bag and now we are seeing the fallout.

    • shockwaver

      Microsoft needed to be out there explaining how this was going to be good. And maybe they were and the only thing the big game sites were promoting were the twitter conversations that said you would lose your entire library if you got banned from Xbox Live. There was a ton of things that were too ambiguous for such a large change.

      I already buy tons of games online via Steam, and even via Xbox Live and PSN – I’m happy with how it works and with not having to put a disk in to play. I recognize there are potential downfalls to it as well – but by and large I’m happy to not have to leave my house to get a game.

      One thing that worried me most was Microsoft’s infrastructure surrounding the check-ins and their control over it. If launch day comes and Microsoft gets slammed, or hit with a massive DDOS attack (which it will, because the internet is nothing if not full of people who are assholes) and they can’t handle it you are going to get a ton of really pissed off people. When PSN went down for a month, it sucked because I couldn’t play multiplayer in Assassins Creed, but I was still able to play single player – if the same things happened to XBL you can’t play anything.

  • Dibol

    Scott, there’s one thing you need to take into account. Basing the entire gaming library on an internet server is not going to last forever, period. Halo 2 for the XBox only lasted for eight years until Microsoft pulled the plug for the original XBox Live service. How about those instances where the server upkeep just isn’t worth the cost anymore, much less the periodical downtimes for maintenance and updates? Had Microsoft kept those features, Halo 5 and 6 will only be relevant for a VERY LIMITED amount of time (Oh, good luck playing the game five years later if Microsoft/343 Industries decided to can the services because of financial issues by year three after release).

    The thing with physical copies of the games is they stick with you until the end of time, unless you happened to FUBAR your CD. For a service like Steam or whatnot, you’re still required to log into the internet to access your library. CDProjektRed’s GOG.com is more lenient with allowing back-up copies of the twenty-year old PC games sure, but that won’t stick around forever either.

    • I agree, the companies want to turn games into services, and services do not come with the promise of indefinite support. I think about what will happen when Steam decides to close up shop. I also think about what will happen to my 360 game collection, should I decide to retire the console. I’d probably wished I’d purchased more games from GoG.

      In the shorter term, it didn’t look like too many of the next-gen games that were revealed were intended as completely offline, isolated experiences. It seemed like many single player games will benefit from the could in some way anyhow. Whether it be connected single player experiences , or things like “driveatar”. I don’t know too much about next-gen cloud functionality, but I’ve “heard” that virtual on-demand servers may be spawned from the cloud, reducing the need to dedicated servers, and therefore reducing the chance that a online functionality will be retired after a few years.

      The only analogue I can think of now are MP3s, which started as DRM and now are mostly DRM Free. Movies, when purchased digitally, usually reside with the company that sold the media (itunes, amazon, vudu, etc.), although there is some digital copy, I’m not sure how portable that is. How we think about games and game ownership will be a real conversation as we progress toward digital downloads, and ultimately toward games hosted entirely by the cloud (i.e, no local storage media).

      Thanks for your feedback, it really got me thinking about these concepts.

      • Dibol

        Something I wanted to add on the Cloud technology: The OnLive console was barely functional as it is now that I’m thinking about it. Based on what I saw on YouTube’s DSPGaming let’s plays back in 2010 (lo and behold, the dude had problems despite having the best possible internet connection in Connecticut) all of the games he demoed were unplayable. I honestly don’t think Microsoft’s version is going to be much better either, especially when the U.S. Internet infrastructure is mediocre/poor right now. IIRC, I remember reading an article in 2011 (http://www.techspot.com/news/45566-us-ranked-26th-in-global-internet-speed-south-korea-number-one.html ) that we are #26 in terms of having high-speed internet.

        As it is, it’s already an uphill battle especially when as consumers, no one is willing to drop $500 on a console with an artificial time limit involved.

        • I myself am quite skeptical of completely cloud based games given the current state of the infrastructure. And to that point I was also referring in part of PS4’s plans to offer their back catalogue in this fashion. Would you be willing to drop $400 on a console with an artificial time limit involved? GoG seems to be very palatable, given these concerns.

          • Dibol

            Having heard about the back catalog last month or so, I still was, and still am skeptical about the functionality as well. As it is, I’ve kept my older systems for the sake of being able to play my older titles until that inevitable event my consoles die out. I shouldn’t have to re-buy games I already personally own just to make it work for my current gen console/current operating system.

            To answer your question about my willingness to drop $400: If I were trying to get a next-gen system, and was told that the only way to play my retro games is through the Cloud system, no, I wouldn’t do so.

          • I think that’s fair. Its you’re right as a consumer to buy or not buy as a show of support. I still have many of my old consoles, and dont really care to rebuy certain games.

  • shifteleven

    In addtion to marketing, the market is also the issue. Why do people not go bananas that Steam has DRM? I tend to think it’s because people can see the value of getting the game from Steam over going to GameStop: the price!

    If you want the internet to cool off and win, offer choice. Offer a more expensive, DRM free disc, but also serve up a cheaper digital download with DRM. I know which one I would choose. But right now, the games are the same price, so wouldn’t I want the version with more “freedom”. This would prove to gamers that you’re on their side; that you want to bring down the cost of games and that using this model helps with that. Obviously, that’s a big change before going to November, and clearly it’s a binary decision…for now.

    • mattna

      I think the problem here is that the ridiculous rage of the short sighted internet never gave a freaking chance for the cost to go down. No one was saying that MS couldn’t put DA3 out digitally and do a sale 2 weeks in, or offer better deals because the own the purchase stream. It probably would have happened, we will now never know.

      My problem still isn’t that people were mad at the policies, it’s that the ability to scream on twitter or post dumb memes on reddit make it sound like the loud majority no matter what. They haven’t even come within 10,000 feet of this damn thing yet, but they’ve already levied judgement at it to the point that it probably terrified the board of MS that they were going to tank it’s machine. Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. There was no one with a gun to their head to purchase this console. The idea that they were somehow trampling consumer choice is nothing more than an entitlement notion. I didn’t get to play Metal Gear 4 on release because the PS3 was out of my price range, I didn’t go online and scream obscenities at Sony about it. I just didn’t buy it, because they are allowed to price the machine at whatever they want and I am allowed to vote by not purchasing it. That’s what we call capitalism.

      • shifteleven

        So, the rage and hoopla, the only thing not capitalist about it is that maybe it overshadowed the poor delivery from MS; but other than that, no one prevented others from buying/not buying anything. It still was a choice of the consumer to decide. What we’re not looking at are pre-sales, and that may be the voice MS heard when it decided to make its change.

      • Dibol

        Matt: Plain and simple, had Microsoft maintained its policies, your gaming library will vanish whenever Microsoft feels it’s too inconvenient to keep those services running when they create their next new systems. I’ve avoided multiplayer-focused games like the plague because of artificial time limits involved with the multiplayer. I’ve seen nothing but dead communities when I tried to play Tom Clancy franchises in the $20 range. Then you also have situations like Halo 2. That game’s multiplayer only lasted for 8 years by the time Microsoft pulled the plug for the original Xbox Live. “Want to play Halo 5 and 6’s campaigns ten years from now. We already shut down the servers by then, so fuck you!” Seriously. Would you waste $500 on a console that loses all access to your entire gaming library when the manufacturer decides to shut down the servers? Servers cost money, and knowing EA’s practices of not supporting older titles, Microsoft could easily copy them.

        That’s pretty much why everyone was up in arms about the mandatory internet connection. You have ISP problems with data caps and/or maintenance downtime, your local geographical locations may not permit 24/7 internet connection (especially military personnel).

      • shockwaver

        I preordered the Xbox on day one, and the PS4 too – so my objections were always more of an academic thing then “I hate this so much you won’t get my money”. I was really hoping for digital download sales – especially of older games as the console life cycle went on (like Steam). Games I wouldn’t pick up for $60, but would be happy to drop $20 on.

        I’m hoping that they will give the disk based games the same treatment as they get now – but give the digital download games the treatment they were offering before.

  • mattna

    I also would like to point out that he has an eye hooked up watching him game. Which means his console cost $500. SO MUCH CHOICE THIS GENERATION.

  • Derek Baker

    Thanks for the indirect shout out in your article Scott.

    This may come as a shock to some of the NA crew that I have texted extensively in the past few weeks about the Xbox One, but this doesn’t really seem like a win. Sure, I hate DRM and am of the opinion that the fight against piracy is akin to the war on drugs. I also had the concerns regarding my entire digital library of games being rendered useless if servers were shutdown or that inability to use the product I purchased if there was an internet outage. I am also afraid of change. Change is what the gaming industry needs and
    most of my personal argument against the Xbox One was based on my situation. Microsoft wants to change the way we use our consoles and how we interact in our living rooms. I get it, but I also only have access to my living room 6 months of the year. I still want to see
    the Xbox One teams vision of the future. Sony offered what I wanted/needed out of a console to continue traveling with a gaming system and that’s great but it just feels too much like a rehashing of the current gen with a bigger engine and knobby tires. I do hope
    that as the next gen cycle continues Microsoft spoon feeds the mob the vision they had for our living rooms. I also hope that the one lesson Microsoft learns from this console cycle is to have the entire team up to standards and sell a unified positive message for their vision of the future. But what do I know, I’m just a dumb pilot.