Xbox One: It’s For Publishers, Not For You
It’s finally happened.
Most suspected as much when Microsoft revealed Xbox One to a backdrop of TV, TV, TV, TV, sports, sports, TV, Halo! (no wait, still TV), TV, TV, Call Of Duty. Last night, when Microsoft unleashed full details of its draconian Xbox One plans, its priorities became transparently clear.
Xbox One is a console made for publishers. Not for you.
You don’t matter to Microsoft anymore. Microsoft has shrugged its dedicated audience off and targetted the mass market, making a console that targets both them (NFL! Star Trek! FIFA! Skype!) and panders for the publishers (No loaning! The death of used games! Online check-ins!).
Nothing that emerged last night was good news for Xbox One.
The Death Of Games Ownership
So here’s the breakdown of exactly what Microsoft announced:
- You don’t own the games you buy, only the license to play them
- Physical discs are used to install games on your machine, at which point they will fall under the same restrictions and DRM measures as games bought digitally
- Publishers decide whether games can be traded in or not and even then, it will only be possible with “participating retailers”
- You can’t loan or rent games at launch, though Microsoft is working on this
- You have to connect online every 24 hours – fail to do so and you can’t play your games at all
- This is reduced to one hour if you’re accessing your content from another console
- You can sell games to those on your Friends List but only if you’ve been friends with them for 30 days
- Up to 10 people in your Xbox One ‘family’ can use your licensed content, regardless of what console they access it from
What publisher will allow their games to be traded in? Publishers have been fiercely fighting the second-hand market for years – hence the emphasis on DLC, pre-order bonuses and especially the dreaded online pass – and there’s no evidence to suggest a change of heart is due.
Instead, this seems like Microsoft pushing responsibility for restricted trade-ins towards individual publishers, rather than taking the blame. The one thing we can say with certainty is that it’s a step backwards from what we have now with Xbox 360.
The ‘participating retailers’ bit means no more trading games with friends, lending games to friends, game rentals, indie stores, buying through eBay and so on. So there will be less choice when it comes to buying used games, which means trade-in credit will likely go down due to the lack of competition, which means an increased reliance on Microsoft (or the publisher) offering a fairer price for its games.
That’s unlikely to happen. We’ll explain why further down.
But It’s 2013! Everyone Has Internet!
It’s a fair assumption that the majority of those wanting to buy Xbox One will have an internet connection and to most, that is a reasonable defence for why having to connect your Xbox One online every 24 hours is a minor inconvenience at worst. There are are still three pertinent issues here.
First, it ignores that not everyone has internet that is reliable or consistent. Army bases won’t have internet. Rural areas have unreliable internet. University dorms have unreliable internet. This also ignores those times there are internet outages or the temporary downtime when moving house.
Are these minor issues or extremely specific circumstances? Perhaps. But it’s an unnecessary restriction, and in those same circumstances, you’d be able to play Xbox 360 offline. You can say it doesn’t matter and maybe to you, it doesn’t. It’s still a clear step backwards.
(Also, how will this online check-in work? Is it constant, giving you a 24 hours countdown from the moment your console goes offline? Or is it a specific time? What if your console goes offline 15 minutes before the 24-hour time comes up?)
Secondly, this gives Xbox One a limited lifespan. It might be five years, 10 years or 20 years but at some point, Microsoft will pull the plug on its Xbox One servers. When that happens, and there’s no way you can check-in online with your console, what then? Dead console?
Finally, it’s continued erosion of consumer rights. Why does there need to be an online check-in at all? What benefit does it provide? It could be argued that it’s a pre-emptive strike against piracy, which is the commonly heard rally cry from publishers for DRM measures that have some form of always online requirements, but for the law-abiding customer that’s still a restriction. There are no benefits.
It’s a move that alienates consumers and shows distrust. PS4 isn’t doing it. Why is Xbox One?
It’s also worth noting that Microsoft has been extremely evasive and deceptive with how it has handled the issue up until this point. Phil Harrison – a Microsoft executive, no less – initially confirmed the 24-hour window to Kotaku back in May 21st and then flat out denied it the next day to Wired.
That’s no slight against the Xbox One and what it’s capable of, because high-level execs can dribble on about whatever they want and that won’t change what the actual machine can do. But the inconsistency and the evasive nature of the PR campaign thus far adds to the general atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion of Microsoft’s motives.
But Steam Does The Same! And You Can’t Trade iOS Games!
These two ridiculous counter-arguments have popped up in defence of Xbox One not allowing you to trade in or gift games, etc etc. It’s not a 1-to-1 example, so it doesn’t work as a counter-argument.
The main factor is price. Steam sales are more frequent and more flexible than anything we’ve seen on console and that feels like a fair compromise for not being able to trade used games (as an example).
It’s not that gamers will sell-out their ethics for the right price. It’s a value proposition. It’s the same reason no-one asks to trade iOS games – they’re so cheap to begin with, there isn’t a huge outlay you want to make back via trading in.
So what can we expect from Microsoft on the pricefront? Let’s have a look at five random Games On Demand prices:
SoulCalibur IV – £19.99 (£4.19 used from Amazon)
Mini Ninjas – £14.99 (£10.95 used from Amazon)
Dead Space – £14.99 (£4.37 used from Amazon)
Sonic Free Riders – £14.99 (£4.35 used from Amazon)
The Outfit – £11.99 (£1.97 used from Amazon)
Now those prices are for Xbox 360 and with Xbox One taking a huge chunk out of the used games market, Microsoft could argue that this will be reflected in flexible and reasonable prices for Xbox One titles.
But why should we believe that? There’s been zero evidence so far to suggest this will happen and history points to inflated prices versus competitors. All we have is Microsoft is saying something might happen (prices go down) at the expense of something that will happen (you lose game ownership rights). That’s about as flimsy as it gets.
Furthermore, Steam has mods. Steam has offline play. Steam has alternatives.
This is the problem with Xbox One. Microsoft will use EA’s partnership to bully its way towards mass market success – if Respawn’s TitanFall becomes the new Call Of Duty (doubtful but certainly possible) then Microsoft will have EA support for that alongside FIFA and Madden. Throw in the heavy push for TV and dream to conquer the living room and where does that leave us?
There is no alternative in Microsoft’s walled garden – only outside of it.
Xbox One – The End Of The Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?
As with anything that has a comments section, there’s a chance we’ll be called Sony fanboys, told that we’re stupid, that Xbox One isn’t as bad as we’re making out and so on. That’s entirely fine – that’s why we have comment sections and it’s only fair that if I have my opinion, you have yours too.
But if you’re going to defend Xbox One, think about exactly what it is that you’re defending.
You’re defending the right of publishers to kill games ownership.
You’re defending the right for publishers to dictate to you how and when you play your games.
You’re defending the right for publishers to dictate prices rather than the market.
You’re defending the right for next-gen to be more restrictive and prohibitive than this gen.
Microsoft wants to chip away at our power with Xbox One but the one thing it can’t touch is our power to vote with our wallets. Unless Microsoft pulls off the biggest U-turn we’ve ever seen at E3 – and Microsoft needs exactly that given the position it’s in and the reaction Xbox One has had since its reveal – then I sincerely hope it’s a power we all have the strength to exercise.