Backpedaling on Xbox One DRM Policies Is Precisely the Right Move by Microsoft

Welcome back to the game, Xbox One.

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And just like that, with the punch of a publish button and a note from Microsoft biz honcho Don Mattrick, the company has deep-sixed two of the most reviled corporate positions concerning your rights as a consumer in years.

I wondered if this wasn’t inevitable back when I first read about Microsoft‘s plans for the Xbox One just before E3 — plans to force gamers online every 24 hours and banish used gaming and game lending to fringe scenarios involving hard-to-explain, tortured rules. You’d have to check in once every 24 hours to play offline games, said Microsoft. Why? It wasn’t clear. Something-something about ensuring you had all the updates, even if that was more likely code for thwarting piracy and collecting reams of unspecified data about user behavior.

You could also lend disc-based games to a friend, said Microsoft, but only once per game, and then only if said person had been on your Xbox LIVE list of friendlies for a month. This was especially galling: a policy with no discernible benefit to consumers, and if anything, a nakedly aggressive move by Microsoft to eliminate game lending and thereby increase revenues. Microsoft was up in everyone’s business, in other words, for reasons that seemed more about business than doing right by buyers.

No more, because Microsoft has seen the light. Take a bow, Internet — you won! Here’s Microsoft’s Mattrick with the good news (emphasis his):

An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.

Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.

In addition to buying a disc from a retailer, you can also download games from Xbox Live on day of release. If you choose to download your games, you will be able to play them offline just like you do today. Xbox One games will be playable on any Xbox One console — there will be no regional restrictions.

These changes will impact some of the scenarios we previously announced for Xbox One. The sharing of games will work as it does today, you will simply share the disc. Downloaded titles cannot be shared or resold. Also, similar to today, playing disc based games will require that the disc be in the tray.

Make that a full reversal, then, bringing Microsoft into alignment with Sony’s PlayStation 4 concerning DRM. That’s great news, and not, as some have quipped, because the Internet got its way: popular opinion isn’t valid on its face. It was wrong and embarrassing, for instance, to watch a vocal minority of players go beyond validly critiquing BioWare’s Mass Effect 3 denouement to demanding the developer rewrite the game’s ending. Sometimes legitimate displeasure that should have ended at critical dismissal (and lessons learned) boils over into selfish entitlement.

I’ve been careful to point out, for instance, that requiring an Internet connection in 2013 is hardly a radical notion. Yes, as we’ve heard, people serving on submarines would have been shut out, nor did it help that Mattrick’s initial reaction was to posit the Xbox 360 as Microsoft’s official game system for the disconnected (whether he meant it dismissively or not, that’s how it came across). But people on far-flung submersibles also can’t, as far as I know, use cellphones or play games like World of Warcraft. If an always-online system offers legitimate benefits to always being online, there’s no need to structure your system to accommodate every outlier (the corollary being that you’d best have those benefits laid out like ducks in a row).

That said, even if you accept that always-online is a valid model for a game console in 2013, Microsoft could have introduced a version of it that made the transition (whether psychologically or literally) easier for buyers. This wasn’t an all or nothing scenario. Steam, Valve’s digital gaming service, has a workable way of letting you circumvent its online requirements by allowing you to “unlock” offline play for single-player games, so long as you’ve logged in, at some point, while connected online. Once you switch to offline play, you’re good to go.

In any case, there’s still reason to be cautious here: Xbox One will still watch you when it’s on. It’s still gathering information, collating and storing that information for who knows how long, with Microsoft using that data to improve its services, but also to scrutinize your tastes and habits in an effort to sell you (or help others sell you) more stuff. We also don’t know anything about the system’s security safeguards. As I wrote in my “5 Questions for Microsoft” about privacy, “Don’t patronize us in your upcoming Xbox One privacy FAQ, and don’t assume the only thing we care about when it comes to data aggregation and transmission is anonymity (or that that’s a sufficient definition of privacy and security).” We deserve to know more about what sort of information Microsoft’s collecting and what it’s actually doing with that information. When a company elevates a product’s level of consumer scrutiny, the burden of transparency goes up, and I’d argue that’s way up when you’re talking about cameras in living rooms.

Looking back, Microsoft’s been pretty consistent in ignoring criticism about the Xbox 360. When people griped about the company’s extortionately priced, proprietary Xbox 360 hard drives, Microsoft spun a dubious tale about drive imaging costs. When people griped about the company sequestering multiplayer behind Xbox LIVE’s paywall, Microsoft blamed its matchmaking “service” (when people further asked why Netflix and Hulu were behind the paywall — services Xbox LIVE adds no value to — Microsoft was reticent). When people griped about the company’s $100 Xbox 360 USB wireless adapter (in a market where functionally identical adapters could be had for less than half that price), Microsoft just dodged the criticism.

That makes this Xbox One reversal monumental — the first time Microsoft’s made a U-turn on what would have been, by any measure, major gaming-related policy shifts. To be fair, they also happen to be safe, future-proof shifts. While they’ll probably impact Microsoft’s bottom line on some level, by depriving the company of revenue it might have gained in forcing more people to pay for games outright, there’s nothing backward-looking about these choices. People arguing otherwise have that part wrong. This whimsical notion that games in a pre-reversal scenario might have been cheaper is magical thinking (games on Steam aren’t cheaper, incidentally, and both Microsoft and Sony already run comparable game promotions on Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Store).

The Xbox One post-reversal is essentially the Xbox One pre-reversal with wiser, friendlier, more market-aware DRM. It can still be an always-online machine if you like — no one’s forcing you to disconnect or turn the system off. You can still buy all your games digitally and say farewell to the used market if that’s your pleasure. Options, in this case, are our friends, not stumbling blocks on the road to some utopian future paradise where we’re in full doublespeak mode, heralding protectionist policies as “trailblazing.” And remember, Microsoft can shift these policies as it likes. Mattrick’s note applies to the Xbox One at launch, not necessarily the Xbox One in a year or three or five. Mark my words, we’ll be circling back and having this conversation again soon: always-online is coming, and the shift from disc-based to digital-only software — as well as the question of whether we ought to be able to resell the latter in some form — is inevitable.

But today, we’re back to choices, and kudos to Microsoft for having the nerve to reverse itself. It couldn’t have been easy, and the company deserves our respect for making it happen.

10 comments
ninja_nyc
ninja_nyc

Many security experts and media reports claim Windows contains a National Security Agency key. You can find these reports by searching for "NSA key Windows". I'm not a terrorist, pirate or any other kind of criminal. I just don't want Microsoft or the government to have an internet connected camera and microphone in my bedroom. Software settings are not a reliable way to disable the camera and microphone because all software has bugs and can be hacked. I'm very happy Don Mattrick decided to get rid of the requirement for an internet check-in every 24 hours. What still concerns me is that Microsoft is apparently clueless enough to have ever thought this was a good idea.

Claustric
Claustric

Remember when people actually did research on things before judging it? Remember when people waited until they actually bought or at least demoed a system before calling it out for "problems"? Yeah, this whole Xbox One fiasco is an example of neither of those. What it is, on the other hand, is people overreacting over something they didn't understand and immediately crying because they can't get what they want.

The features that Microsoft offered in place of the used games DRM, and the system that could have been possible with the always online, cloud storage device were simply unprecedented ideas that was shut down simply because people don't want change. Who needs used games when you can have shared games? Too bad Microsoft is taking back the whole "circle" functionality. And you know, games that can continually expand and grow with the cloud storage when they're all always online, games that could endlessly receive updates and reworks to make them balanced and enjoyable? Yeah, too bad that won't exist anymore either since everybody had to complain about the always online despite the fact that everyone that was complaining were people who were, ironically enough, always online just to complain about it.

Enjoy your PS3 v2.0 and your Xbox 360 v2.0. There was so much potential in Microsoft actually making a revolutionary next-gen console, but I guess nobody wants change, so we're just going to have the same console with better hardware, except that it can't play the games from their predecessors.

ShannonWard
ShannonWard like.author.displayName 1 Like

Been with Xbox since the first Xbox. I have been basically a fan boy but after Don Mattricks stupid comment about having a product for people with no internet that lived in submarines its called xbox 360 My blood boiled. They could scrap Xbox one and announce Xbox Two tomorrow without a NSA  spycamera heartbeat sensor, no DRM, and with the ability to physically go to gamestop for me to pick up my preorders and bring them to me, promise a reboot of Eternal Champions and a new forza game with two McLearans, a Call of doodie DLC exclusive with pink guns plus also announce that they not only fired but hung Don Mattricks and they would give me 500 dollars just to take it and all the launch titles I swear I would say no thanks. I'm turning Japanese I think I'm turning Japanese I really think so. Domo Arigato My Japanese heros MS you are part of the reason America is failing. If the question was, How do we make a lot of our loyal customers in our own country buy a Japanese gaming console? You got your answer Xbox Done

cjh2nd
cjh2nd like.author.displayName 1 Like

fu.ck microsoft. i don't care how crappy sony's new console is, i'll go with it. at least (as of now anyway) they care about their consumers enough to not try to see ifthey can get away with bending them over and forcing it home

n7specops
n7specops

I'm personally gonna wait to buy either system anyway. I had commented on other articles about how any service member who goes on deployment and takes their console with them whether they get stationed at a forward operating base in the middle-east or on a ship, there is no internet for PC or console gaming or any type of social media due to risks to operational security; "loose lips sink ships" is the term we used before I got out of the Navy just a couple of years ago. So, Microsoft getting rid of the always online policy just re-opened it's market to the active duty and reserve military community (thank you Microsoft) for what ever reasons you did it. The DRM and used games policies just wouldn't have been popular. People are saying Microsoft got saved by Sony because it made them look so bad since they did take advantage of PR in order to keep Microsoft in the market as it's major competition, which may be true, but I think Microsoft might have finally given in to angry critics and fans as well to some extent. Whatever the reason, I kind of don't care, it does make me feel better that Microsoft might have listened to it's customer base instead of being forced by Sony's PR stunt at E-3, because both are corporations, which usually or always are heartless and only care about the $$$. But people do like the idea of a corporation with heart and soul, so Microsoft, if anyone works or talks to them reads this, take away this one thing. Listen to your customer base and you won't fail, you might lose a percentage of your money right at first, but your sales will gain momentum you gain the public's trust. I am a Xbox fan who has had plan to ultimately get a PS4 because of the policies that you had before about being always online and the whole used game b.s. but now that  Microsoft has pulled a 180 on all that stuff, I will still wait, and if all really really has changed for the better with Microsoft I'll most likely buy the Xbox One. And Matt Peckham, I agree that requiring internet in 2013 isn't a radical notion, but as stated above, more than just people on submarines have to go without internet. And besides, what if I go out to the boonies to my cabin in the woods (which does have electricity) and wanna play games because its a rainy day or what about people who get stationed in Antarctica or go abroad on missionary trips, the situations are endless and vary for reasons of not wanting or needing to be always online . I know, I know LOL, its over, we don't have to be connected its already been officially stated, but that's my point. sometimes people just want to be disconnected. 

MichaelScesny
MichaelScesny

@SocketSeven

get over it and sorry if i don't have money for a bad ass computer and that i like my XBL friends

SocketSeven
SocketSeven

@MichaelScesny  

You are welcome to your opinion that an Xbox One will cost you less long term. 

Just remember, when you complain your Xbox One is broken, or their DRM policies change again in a manner you don't like; I get to say "I told you so."

SocketSeven
SocketSeven like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Quite simply. This is to little, to late.  After a botched press conference where nobody was able to answer any questions, A confirmation of every single gamers concerns was confirmed. The fact microsoft wants a camera and microphone listening and watching your room at all times for the console to even work at all. 24 hour call home lockouts, region restrictions.  The slaughter of the used game market.

Now a week later, everything is peaches and cream and cherries with sugar on top. Now, I was born at night, but not last night, and this strikes me as what we adults call "A bold faced lie."

All I have learned is that Microsoft is willing to change their entire DRM policy on a whim. Which means there is no reason they won't change it back once people have bought Xbox One.  Of course, you have no recourse if they do, because if you read the Xbox EULA, you'll find that they are allowed to alter the deal at any time; All you can do is reject the EULA, and lose all your games and the use of your console.  You could fight that, with mandatory binding arbitration, paid for by Microsoft, but who's favor will they rule in? The favor of the person paying them? Or some moron who won't drink the Microsoft Kool Aid.

The only way to get around mandatory binding arbitration is an act of congress, approved by the senate, and signed by the president...

Or just don't buy an Xbox. for the price of 2 Xbox ones (and you'll need 2, because they break every 16 months. Remember your last red ring of death?) you could buy a gaming PC that would out-power all the current consoles for their entire lifespans. And that PC, baring a hard drive swap and maybe a fan or two, will still be working 20 years later.  The XboxOne will be in a landfill the moment MS brings down their activation servers for them.

ericread81
ericread81

Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on <strike>Xbox 360</strike> PS4