Microsoft responded to the long standing rumors, and speculation about it’s DRM schemes in the upcoming Xbox One. It’s now confirmed that several of the biggest worries players have had will come to fruition. The two biggest being that the system does require a 24 hour internet connection. It will run for one hour if a customer’s ISP goes down, but beyond that it will essentially cease to function until the ISP comes up again.
The second concern, is that Microsoft is replacing the practice of selling games with the practice of selling licenses. The games will be tied to players’ Live accounts, and as such aren’t truly able to be sold second hand. While the system will let individual fans sell a game privately it’s restricted to only friends or relatives who have both used the service for over a month or so. Alternatively “Select” retailers will be able to de-authorize/reauthorize game keys. This will likely mean that in order to keep the doors open these stores will have to give customers even less store credit to cover the cost of the transfer license they’ll need to get from Microsoft.
The second issue should be cause for alarm because it truly means the end (In the case of Microsoft consoles) of private property rights. By going the license right, buyers are going to be severely limited in what they can or can’t do, in effect operating under the assumption that as customers you don’t actually get to own anything you pay for. This is going to rub many console gamers the wrong way, as well as a lot of the general public who have always been able to pawn unwanted games, or yard sale them, or even take them into a store.
This will also seriously hurt small businesses who provide games in small towns, or provide competition to Gamestop, and big box retailers. These stores will probably find themselves unable to get the reactivation software Microsoft will be selling, and even if they do, they will feel the same pinch that the giant corporate stores will.
It still remains to be seen if Sony will take the same approach with it’s Playstation IV. So far they’ve only hinted that they won’t, and instead leave it up to the individual publishers. But there’s always the chance that they too, will chase after the license train rather than continue allowing it’s customers to do what they want with whatever they purchase.
Should that happen, then like the Xbox One, Sony’s system will in effect become a low rent PC. Ironically, this could have the unintended consequence of gamers flocking back to the PC as the license situation on the PC varies from publisher to publisher, and storefront to storefront. PC gaming can in many ways be much more centered around personal freedom. Many independent publishers don’t put in DRM restrictions, and have licenses that do allow buyers to resell them, or give them away. Because there are so many storefronts online, even games tied to a storefront can be had cheaply due to the competition leading to sales. Some of these storefronts do try to allow gamers some wiggle room by being playable offline.
For all of the flack it gets for the botched launch of the Wii U, it’s lower specs, and anemic support, Nintendo is still giving gamers what they want. At least in terms of consumer rights. The system doesn’t require internet connections at all hours. The system doesn’t lock out used discs. If the upcoming Microsoft, and Sony offerings fail to set the world on fire because of the backlash, some of those parties reluctant to sell to Nintendo’s customers may find themselves with no other choice.
Admittedly, some of this is speculation on my part. I could be proven wrong, and nobody will care about their right of first sale doctrine because Halo 5 is out. For some that may prove ultimately true. But I still believe that most people aren’t that keen on being told what they’re purchasing isn’t their property. As much as I like a lot of their products, Microsoft has really stirred the proverbial pot here. I really don’t see very many people buying into such a restrictive ecosystem. Neither does Joe.