I'm a time traveler! But I can only go forwards... And only at normal speed... But I'm still traveling through time, damn it!
On a vaguely more serious note, my name's Marcus and Ive been playing video games for more time than I care to admit. By day I work for a popular movie streaming website, which veers between fun and boring on a near constant basis. When that's not happening I can usually be found procrastinating over doing more stimulating things.
As you may be able to tell, I like to write about games, but I also have a background in film, so occasionally I write about that too. If you like what you see here then check out my personal blog for ramblings about things other than games.
Random facts about me:
1. I'm Cornish (and mildly proud of it)
2. I've worked on a number of short films
3. Sometimes I forget how old I am (25... I think)
4. I know quite a lot about very little
5. I once played chess for my county
6. I bloody love the Simpsons
7. I'm a friendly drunk
Quickly! Before the internet explo…. Shiiiiiiiiiiiit! Too late. Yes, Microsoft have finally clarified -- kind of -- how the Xbox One will handle used games, DRM, online connectivity and Kinect. This has made a great number of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a very bad move. Seriously though, I'm here to take a cold, hard, clinical look at Microsoft's policy and give you an opinion that isn't so extreme it feels like being gang raped by a dozen Facehuggers. So please, if you wouldn't mind watching the following relaxing video and then we can begin…
Let's get straight down to business and summarise the main points that Microsoft has addressed. We shall do this through the glorious medium of bullet points!
• Used games are still a thing.
• It isn't always online.
• Kinect can be turned off.
• All games will have simultaneous physical and digital releases.
• You can access all your games on any Xbox One.
• Your family can access your games on any Xbox One.
• How the bloody hell is any of this going to work?!
• Used games actually aren't still a thing.
• It kind of is always online.
• Kinect can't really be turned off.
• Traditional renting is no longer possible.
• Lending games to friends is no longer possible.
• Private sales and independent retailers are going to die.
Yeah, sooooo… Back on track with the critical analysis. The implementation of a BPGD (buy physical get digital) scheme is brilliant news. It doesn't matter how you buy your game, you will always have a digital version available. Combine this with the fact that this digital version can be played on any console and we're looking at Steam-like levels of integrated awesomeness. Going one further than that, though, is the ability for up to ten of your family members also being able to access your game library, again, on any console. Taken in isolation these are unarguably brilliant features, unfortunately they can't be isolated, and that's where the problems begin to arise.
The largest of many Elephants in the room is the issue of used games. Before we go any further I would like to clarify my views on the matter: I am for the sale of used copies of physical games in principal, but strongly dislike the current state of the used games market and the culture it promotes.
As a former employee of Game *shudder* I had to up-sell every customer on used games. If they came to the counter with a new copy I had to offer them used, and, while I'm not going to pull a percentage out of my arse, I am comfortable saying that more often than not they'd take the used copy. If someone did buy the new copy I was required to inform them that the sooner they came back and traded it in the more money they'd get. This is a horrible system; it actively cannibalises new sales and promotes the attitude that games are nothing more than disposable playthings.
For these reasons, I see the biggest problem with the implementation of Microsoft's restrictions, not the fact they are actually trying to enact control of used games. For example, you are only able to sell your used games to "participating retailers," in other words Game, Gamestop, other big chain retailers. Doesn't that pretty much kill independent game retailers? Maybe I'm jumping the gun a bit on that one -- the system could well be available to any retailer, I suppose -- but it almost certainly spells the end of private sales. But hey-ho, at least it isn't always online, right? Well technically no, but it does have a list of online requirements as long as, well, a very long thing.
Firstly the 24 hour connection requirement seems like far too short an amount of time -- Steam gives at least two weeks of offline play. Secondly the fact that the method of control they've chosen is online verification appears incredibly short sighted. To quote a military friend of mine "no soldiers will be buying an Xbox, then". Yeah, that's a pretty big group of people to piss off, and it's not the only one either. When I was a lowly student my University blocked the use of Xbox Live on the hall's network, and that's pretty common practice. Hey, Microsoft, you know who buys a lot of games? Students!
Possibly the biggest problem, however, much bigger than peoples personal internet connections, are Microsofts servers. If these go down, and nobody can play any games, that's really big problem time, as in huge lawsuit problem, not internet complaining problem.
The existence of these often-online controls gives the impression that what Microsoft really wanted was an all-digital ecosystem. Now, I actually sympathise with that because I'd love an all digital system, in fact I already use one, it's called the PC. Regrettably the console market isn't ready for all-digital yet. People simply wouldn't accept it, so instead we've got this weird bastard child, this half-step to digital that provides an annoying compromise.
Because discs are still a thing but Microsoft wants all our games to be on our hard drives and in the cloud, these restrictions were kind of inevitable. If the Xbox One featured a Steam-style two week offline mode people could potentially use one disc to install copies on all their friends Xbox's, and all would have enough time to finish the game. No publisher would ever allow this, and Microsoft needs publishers. Conversely, if Microsoft had opted for an offline verification system -- such as a one-time-use verification code -- this would have entirely killed used sales. No retailer would ever allow this, and Microsoft needs retailers.
Some people have compared the Xbox One to Steam, but this is a foolish comparison. Consoles are closed systems, walled gardens, proprietary boxes or however you want to put it. This means we have to rely on the console manufacturer to provide everything for us, and this will never change. Steam is just one of a growing number of delivery platforms that all work on a somewhat open platform, the PC. Steam has competition, it has alternatives, and ultimately this system provides consumers with choice. Consoles, on the other hand, have always limited choice, and the Xbox One limits it even further.
While we're on the subject of choice, Microsoft have confirmed that the Kinect can be "paused" while you're using the system, and it can be turned off completely when the system is powered down. Of course they have also confirmed that users will have complete control over their privacy and how their data is used -- this was inevitable. The real question here is do we trust Microsoft to abide by these rules? Personally, I'm going to say no, but I'm also going to say I don't care. I have a smartphone on me at all times, I have a laptop with a built in webcam, I use the internet pretty much all day, if someone wants my data there are already plenty of ways they can get it that are all easier than going through a Kinect. If you're really worried about this stuff you shouldn't even be on the internet reading this blog.
This all paints a pretty bleak picture, right? Well yes and no. The main problem is still uncertainty. Before, we were unsure what Microsoft was actually going to do, whereas now we know what they're doing but we don't know how or if it will work. People are scared of the unknown and they're scared of change, the Xbox One embodies both of these fears.
Beyond these fears we also have the issue of trust, and I'm not talking about the data sharing here. The DRM system that they have implemented essentially puts our games in their hands. Do we trust them to keep them safe? Do we trust them to make sure they always work? Do we trust them to keep support going beyond the lifespan of the console? Most people on the internet right now seem to be saying no, but does this really mean anything? Outrage on the internet rarely translates to the real world. How many people buying the Xbox One will even be aware of these policies or the effects they might have? My experience in the retail business would appear to indicate, very few.
Cliff Bleszinski tweeted last week that the games industry was going to go through a period of brutal and bloody change. The Xbox One is part of that change, and I don't think we'll really know what effect it will have for at least another two years. The music, film, and PC game industries have all been through these sorts of changes, now it's console gaming's time. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm pretty excited to see how it all plays out.