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Xbox One: Microsoft doesn’t care if you can’t share or resell games

The Xbox One will require a constant internet connection and you’ll need to pay a fee to play a game disc that somebody’s already played.

Wait, no that’s not right.

The Xbox One will not require a constant connection, but developers will have the option to utilize cloud processing in their software, meaning a constant connection would be required for those games. Also that re-authorization fee is full retail price. Even if you want to play the game on two separate accounts on the same machine, you’ll need to pay for the game twice.

Wait, no. Sorry, I misspoke.

The Xbox One will require a regular internet connection (not constant but regular, how silly of me) to allow for automatic authentications that ensure you’re the only one playing under the licence you bought. The disc will house the game install only and will be played from the hard drive or the cloud. There will apparently be no fee for the disc to work in another console, but it will be deactivated on the original console. Glad we got that straightened out.

The past few days since the reveal of Microsoft’s new console has seen a huge amount of confusion about how the machine will deal with digital rights management, driven primarily by conflicting statements from Microsoft officials themselves. It’s probably the only time I can remember that wild variation in accepted console specifics has actually increased following a reveal.

A mythic design ... and many tall tales to surround it.
A mythic design … and many tall tales to surround it.

Perhaps Microsoft is unwilling to be wholly upfront about their (potentially unpopular) online plans for Xbox One. Or perhaps they actually haven’t decided yet what the plan will be. Either way their own confusion has done nothing but damage to the gaming community’s perception of their product.

The proposition of Xbox One being an always-online console, which terminology aside is all-but confirmed at this point, carries with it the threat that gamers would no longer be able to buy and play used games, sell their game discs or share them with friends. Luckily, Larry Hryb is here to set the record straight. He said in a blog bost:

The ability to trade in and resell games is important to gamers and to Xbox. Xbox One is designed to support the trade in and resale of games. Reports about our policies for trade in and resale are inaccurate and incomplete. We will disclose more information in the near future.

Now I understand that to some people this is good news. To me however, it sounds an awful lot like reactionism and is probably the most confusing messaging yet.

I fully expected Microsoft to put on a brave face and say “You will not be playing second-hand games on Xbox One. One sale, one licence, it’s the future”. Instead it seems they’re intending to play ball with consumers who want games but want them cheap, and want to be able to get some money back for them after a certain amount of time, just because that’s what they’re accustomed to. These gamers have been all over the web in past few days, sometimes communicating logical and understandable concerns over the Xbox One’s direction, but often just ‘threatening’ to not buy an Xbox One at all.

But here’s the thing. Microsoft does not care about consumers who don’t want to buy games new.

The perception seems to be that by dropping $400 – $600 on a brand new console you’re actually giving money to Microsoft, and that by refusing to do it you’re hurting them in some way. The truth is consoles are almost always sold at a loss. Microsoft will likely lose money with every single Xbox One sold.

The reason they’re okay with this? Because they’ll make a hell of a lot of money every time you buy an Xbox One game. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but if you’re the kind of person who would want to buy an Xbox One and then mostly deal in second-hand games Microsoft does not care about making you happy. They do not care if you post on a message board, in comments or through their official channels that you’re boycotting them if they don’t allow used games. You’re costing them money.

Microsoft’s goal right now should be to ensure there are systems in place that encourage hardware owners to buy games brand new or digitally and hang on to those games. Instead Larry Hryb is seen to be reassuring people that reselling will have a legitimate place on the new platform. This claim, like many of the official comments surrounding the Xbox One’s DRM, must be either intentionally obfuscatory or not the whole truth.

Don't worry. I'm absolutely certain they're still be copies of Blue Dragon to go around.
Don’t worry. I’m absolutely certain they’re still be copies of Blue Dragon to go around.

Maybe resellers like GameStop will be paying a resell fee to the publisher plus a cut of the sale value so Microsoft and the game makers get their money. Maybe we’ll see a new generation of the hideous online pass, or maybe used games will be locked behind an Xbox-gold-type paywall. In any event Microsoft now has the technology — a constantly connected console — to ensure everybody who is playing the game is paying them money, and so regardless of what they say you can bet they’ll enforce that.

Personally I wish they’d dispense with the pretence and flat out say used games are not happening. Allowing the disc to install a free demo on any account or system would be a good way to preserve sharing and still allow for each person to pay the full price if they want the full game. Many new options are available for exploration, but to cut down on confusion you have to make it as clear as possible. One purchase, one licence, one user.

It’s long been my opinion that games are not like cars. Cars degrade over time and if you buy a new one you can sell it before it’s completely dead and get some of your money back. If you want a slightly crappy car you can get one cheap. Digital goods do not degrade. These games will not be played off physical media but off hard drives and out of the cloud. They will be exactly the same the day after launch as five years after launch. Why should some people pay less and some more, some to the publisher and developer and some solely to GameStop?

Whether or not you agree with me on moral or business grounds isn’t really relevant though. Ensuring user accountability is part of what the online system is designed for, and this generation will be the one where the idea of games as personal, tradeable commodities really starts to disappear. Like it or not having a disc that can install the game on your machine but only once it’s made sure you’ve paid is a great way to straddle the line between a wholly digital future and the tied-to-physical-media past.

And threatening or petitioning Microsoft in the name of being able to buy games from people who are not them will do no good. They simply can not care to pander to consumers not prepared to give them and their partners money for the games they play. Isn’t that right Mr Hryb?

12 thoughts on “Xbox One: Microsoft doesn’t care if you can’t share or resell games”

  1. Why does everyone forget about old media, media that’s been around for hundreds of years and always been resold and leant out to friends. That media? Books…. If I buy something it should always be my right to re sell it. (Yes, yes, I know we “license” games. What legalize garbage.) Anything else is nothing but disrespect for the consumer.

    1. Nobody has forgotten about books, but the situation is incredibly different. For one books are material, meaning a material view of ownership is pretty much a given. It would impossible to stop people sharing and reselling books even if you wanted to.

      But what about e-books. You should have the right to delete them off your kindle and get paid by somebody else who wants to read it but who doesn’t give money to the author or the publisher? That’s pretty weird.

      The entire problem with stopping used games is that people are used to feeling as though the own the games. The industry needs to shift its thinking on this too. Digital games should cost less than retail games since the latter is material and digital. The material part should be able to be sold, with the buyer needing to pay for a licence when they insert the disc.

  2. While I do agree that MS does need to come out and just give the details of how this will all work and let the chips fall where they may. There’s just far too few details to make an informed decision regarding their (possible) DRM ideas for the One.

    What I disagree with is your analogy between cars and digital properties. Even if a car were made completely indestructible and always had a perfect paint job 30 years from now as the day it rolled off the factory line, it would still suffer the same fate as a digital game that will always be exactly the same 30 years from now. The problem is relevance to the consumer (besides the fact that we don’t even know if the game will be playable on any system that far into the future). Especially in the games industry, the issue is that new and better come out all the time (certainly faster than the automotive industry). Once that happens, it’s value also decreases. By your analogy, we should still be paying full price for Pong. Having some suit in an office decide how far to finally decrease an older games price, while still trying to maintain as much profitability with it, doesn’t exactly strike me as a better system than the current used game market that eventually makes it to supply and demand.

    Maybe I’m a bit of a strange gamer in that I will go to a game store and pick up some new and used games from when the 360 first came out. Some are rated very low, but I still want to try them out. There’s no way in hell that I would ever have paid full price for them when they first came out, nor would I do so now (If MS current digital pricing structure for their on demand games is any indication as to what I would have to pay even for older games, then no thank you). Often times it’s those purchases that have prompted me to pick up the next numbered version of a game when it’s first released after playing through a cheaper old version (strangely, I do that a lot with books as well, even digital ones). With the current explanation from MS, that would never happen. One lost sale may not mean much, but I doubt that I’m the only one out there that either buys a few used games or borrows one here and there. That could add up to a lot of lost sales. That “wholly digital future” will close a number of companies, in my opinion, before a middle ground can be found that benefits everyone.

    1. I agree with you that MS needs a shake-up in the way it approaches pricing and structure if it’s going to close off used games. Perhaps that’s why they’ve said used games will be allowed, maybe they plan to soak up that lost revenue through fees charged to re-sellers or premium subscription services.

      I don’t think relevance to the consumer is much of a devaluer. Yes MS should permanently discount older games regularly after launch (like Sony is starting to do and like Steam does), but I’d argue most of these pricing restructures will only happen once the plaftform-holders have control of the sales. At the moment it’s impossible to know the exact demand for an older game since more people buy it second hand as it ages. If they ran the whole market they would see how many people were buying and could adjust price accordingly.

      Further I totally get what you’re saying about inexpensive game discovery. It’s very important. But in this day and age I think used games are a poor way to achieve it. Why not have an ‘older game’ section of Xbox Live that allows you to stream parts of the game or download it for a trial period for free? Couple this with some sort of social discussion system to brings old games to light that would usually get lost in the ether. Why not do it digitally?

      1. Quite obviously they would need a shake up in their pricing structure. But, in my opinion again, it’s because they have some guy in an office, or a committee (even worse), deciding on how to price older games. They will want to try and recover what they perceive to be “lost revenue”, but that perception doesn’t hold water in any other business outside of the digital realm. Only time will tell if they decide to continue on this road, and if so, consumers may decide to fight back.

        Relevance to the the consumer would be an extreme devaluer. It’s basic supply and demand. If it has no relevance, it has no demand. It doesn’t matter that digitally they have an unlimited supply, it’s worthless. Charging full price for something that has no value makes no sense.

        And I absolutely do not want the platform holders to be in charge of a pricing structure for the previously mentioned reason of some guy in an office or the committee. Currently, they could just as easily use one of the multiple game stores pricing of older used and new games to get a rough estimate of what that current demand is for those older games. Based on their pricing structure of their on demand digital games, I’d say that’s likely not happening. Though they also have to consider what would happen if their prices were competitive with, or lower than, the brick and mortar places. Those places might not want to continue to carry their product if they create a digital store that pretty much makes them irrelevant. It’s a fine line that likely shouldn’t be crossed.

        Again, I’m going to have to disagree with you…lol. Used games are a great way to get older games a bit more life for a number of reasons. The only one I will mention at the moment is DLC.

        What I will bring up as a different solution has already been written for me by Eric Flint:

        http://www.baen.com/library/intro.asp

        A bit of goodwill can go a long way. Sometimes you just need to counter piracy in ways that cut them completely out of the picture.

  3. The reason I prefer optical media as opposed to digital, is when you digitally download something you are entitled to a copy of the game movie/dvd/dc. When you download something you have a license to use it on a particular set of devices.

    I don’t really care about any sort of sped or efficiency benefits of digital, so I go with disks as there is more consumer benefits to spending them.

    1. I get what you’re saying, but what if the disc functioned like a PC game disc? The game data is all on there but you have to have a licence to access it. A licence is included with purchase obviously. Playing off a disc is then exactly the same as playing from a hard drive. It’s looking like this is how the Xbox One will operate.

      1. Most of these licesne I belive you are speaking of, are the key codes to authenticate. The thing is the reason those are in place are typically for piracy prevention not to stop second hand.

        For example I was recently at a thrift shop and bought a old copy of Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 (with the box and Manuel)
        I installed the game on my windows 7 PC, typed the key in and it worked fine, there was no need to pay again.

        I didn’t mind this at all.

      2. That game’s 11 years old. If you took my disc copy of Dishonored and tried to install it on your PC I’m not sure it would work as smoothly. Especially since it’s activated through Steam.

  4. Honestly your example makes no sense to me.

    1. It is possible for disks/cartridges to deteriorate over time (which could in turn cause the game not to function properly or glitch), there are just not as many variables so no that makes no sense to me.

    2. Monopolies (or MS controlling the entire games market on their system) is ALWAYS anti consumer.

    3. Look up “Fair Use”

    4. If they are going this route, why even make disks? They are essentially useless.

    5. I see no reason that we can’t have both the existing model of disks and digital downloads as well. What is preventing Microsoft from charging say 50 for a digital version and 65 for the an unrestricted disk? If we are truly as close as you believe to digital distribution becoming the predominate form, then this should hardly hurt Microsoft. They keep all existing costumers that care about physical goods happy, while the others will simply opt for the cheaper Digital version.

    1. 1. Xbox One games will be installed from a disc or downloaded, not run from the disc, like PC games.

      2. A monopoly is when one entity controls all access to a particular commodity. Platform holders deciding pricing and distribution on their own platform is a very different thing. There are many platforms. It is not a monopoly.

      3. I don’t have to look it up because I know it refers to the limit to which you can use copyrighted materials without permission. What’s your point?

      4. The discs will be useless like PC discs are useless. Which is to say not useless at all. Not everybody has the capability to download 9GB of data in a timely manner whenever they want a new game. Not to mention Microsoft isn’t in a postion where they can screw retailers out of game sales. They still sell so much hardware and drive awareness.

      5. Nothing is stopping that.

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