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Opinion: Xbox One didn't need the pushy DRM to further the medium Exclusive
Opinion: Xbox One didn't need the pushy DRM to further the medium
June 20, 2013 | By Mike Rose

June 20, 2013 | By Mike Rose
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    43 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive



Although there's been huge amounts of pressure placed on Microsoft the last couple of months regarding its various DRM efforts for the Xbox One, it's fair to say that no one could have seen this U-turn coming.

Last night, Microsoft updated its Xbox One policies, removing the touted 24-hour connection requirement, removing used game limitations, and killing the regional restrictions. The internet exploded, with the majority of people welcoming the news.

Of course, whenever an event such as this occurs, you always get people arguing the other side of the story -- it's only healthy to explore all possibilities, after all.

Notably, there are now numerous features of the Xbox One that have been removed during the cull, that could have potentially been a positive move for the industry as a whole.

But let's put this as candidly as possible: It was down to Microsoft, and Microsoft alone, to decide what stayed and what went. For whatever reason the company chose to make the announcements yesterday -- be it pressure from players, pressure from publishers, competitors' strategies or a mix of everything -- Microsoft chose to remove each of these features, and blaming the people who demanded a strategy change would be a remarkably misdirected thing to do.

What's gone, and why?

A new way to share your games

The main sticking point that a lot of people appear to have is that the friends and family sharing system -- by which players can purchase a game, and then share it with nine other people -- has now been removed.

It was clearly a great feature, there's no doubt about that. Not only would it mean that you could potentially buy games jointly with friends, paying just once for you all to play on your individual consoles, but it also made the act of sharing games with friends so much easier. No longer would you have to give the game physically to a friend, and then wonder when they're going to give it back -- it had all been streamlined in a rather lovely way.

But here's the thing: Ask yourself why Microsoft included this functionality in the first place, and why they have now removed it. You could arguably say that it was a bargaining chip. The DRM system had been put in place for the aid of publishers, not players, and this sharing option was Microsoft attempting to provide a happy medium, by which the pushiness was balanced out with some potential good.

If you need proof of this, consider the following: Why has Microsoft removed this functionality now? How exactly is sharing your game with friends connected to a 24-hour connection requirement? Does it really have to be?

When the PlayStation 3 first launched, you were able to share any purchased PSN game with up to four friends, simply by logging in on their PS3, downloading the game, and then logging back in as them -- voila, they had the game too now. This is essentially the exact same system that Microsoft was touting, albeit with a smaller number of potential sharers (although realistically, how many people need to share a game with nine other people?)

Then, in 2011 the number of people you could share your games with dropped from five to two. Although Sony never explained why this change was made, it's not difficult to conclude that publishers (or at least sales figures) will have been involved in the decision.

What we can take away from this, is that you don't need a pushy DRM system in place to offer this sharing system, as Sony has so kindly demonstrated. Rather, Microsoft has removed this functionality for the purposes of sales, rather than as a direct result of people complaining about the DRM. It's no one's fault other than Microsoft's that this sharing functionality is no more.

And if you want to argue that Sony's system was for digitally-downloaded games, while Microsoft was offering a system for sharing retail games: Why isn't the company still allowing people to share digital games with nine friends? Surely that would be the very same thing, and would still be a welcome addition, without the need for the pushy DRM?

No need for the disc

Microsoft has removed the ability to play retail games without having the retail disc in the system, which also means that when you visit a friend, you'll have to take the discs with you to play.

This is as a direct result of removing the 24-hour connection check: If there's no way to check whether a person owns a retail game, then Microsoft can't exactly be handing out digital versions willy nilly for people to play while visiting a friend, simply because they claim that they still own the disc.

But there's clearly a middle-ground that Microsoft is refusing to acknowledge here. Surely some other form of authentication could be put in place, that wasn't as ridiculously intrusive as checking I'm online all the time, yet still allowed me to prove that I owned a game when I visited a friend? Simply cutting the feature altogether doesn't exactly show that Microsoft is aiming to push the medium.

And there's another rather important element to consider too - that the vast majority of games are now increasingly going digital, and within the next decade (i.e. the lifetime of the Xbox One), we're no doubt going to see retail games fading out even more so that they already are.

Therefore, the majority of the games that you'll want to take to your friends' house will be digital anyway, and in turn you'll be able to log in to your Xbox One account on a friend's console, download a game, and play it with minimal fuss.

We should be striving to advance the digital sector of the video game industry, not putting regulatory systems in place that impede all players, simply to make the retail game business sustainable.

And for those people who rely on retail games, and aren't in the position to download games, or perhaps don't have good enough internet speeds to delve into digital so much -- this 24-hour connection checking system wasn't exactly going to be their cup of tea in the first place, so they aren't exactly going to be mourning the loss of this disc-removal system.

Trade-off

The other big talking point is the removal of the used games system, and digital trade-ins. Players can no longer trade in their games online, nor will publishers be getting a cut from used game sales.

Let's make this abundantly clear: Microsoft had not given any concrete information regarding how any of this was going to work. The company had said that systems were in place to allow for this functionality to occur, but had been extremely tight-lipped about what was actually going on.

We can stop mourning the death of digital trade-ins as well. Why exactly would we want a resale system that was tightly controlled by publishers, in favor of the simple act of selling your own property however you choose, as we've been accustomed to for generations, and as is our legal right?

As for publishers and developers missing out of a piece of the resale pie, there's absolutely no evidence to suggest that getting rid of used games would lead to bigger profits for these companies. In fact, a recent study into the matter suggested that eliminating used game sales and keeping current pricing models might actually lead to a 10 percent overall drop in profits.

At the end of the day, if you're upset about some of the features that Microsoft has removed from its Xbox One console, then you have every right to be upset -- but if you're directing anger at those people who complained about the console's DRM efforts, then you're aiming at the wrong group.

Microsoft had the final say in all of these decisions, and if the company has cut features which could potentially have been great for the industry, that's down to Microsoft, not players. To lay the blame on ourselves would be to let Microsoft off the hook, and then some.


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