Rumours can be a terrible thing, damaging reputations with or without a shred of truth to their support their existence. This can be made even worse however, when the mouthpiece expected to clarify things simply offers a prescribed marketing spiel at every turn, neither confirming nor denying the gossip. This has most certainly been the case with the Xbox One’s digital rights management (DRM) system, and so Electronic Theatre has endeavoured to do that which Microsoft Studios won’t: explain how the system works, for better or worse.
What follows below is a breakdown of each of the major points of the Xbox One’s DRM system, extrapolated from the reams and reams of PR spiel that Microsoft Studios has offered since that unveiling of the Xbox One console in May and through it’s presentation at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Of course, Microsoft Studios is still in a position to change their policy prior to launch of the Xbox One – and indeed after, given the regularity in which firmware updates are expected in the next-generation – but for now one thing is clear: Xbox One’s DRM isn’t as draconian as some will happily have you believe.
The Xbox One console will not allow gamers to swap, trade or lend retail discs, we are lead to believe. However, this simply isn’t the case. The console is designed is such a fashion that the retail package is simply a method of transferring data to the console’s harddisk drive (HDD) in the exact same manner as digital purchases. This means that all videogames will be available to play without the disc being used inside the system. What you do with the disc beyond this point is up to you, but should you choose to keep it Microsoft Studios is keen to ensure you understand the flexibility of the product you own.
“Give your family access to your entire games library anytime, anywhere: Xbox One will enable new forms of access for families. Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One. Just like today, a family member can play your copy of Forza Motorsport at a friend’s house. Only now, they will see not just Forza, but all of your shared games. You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time.” Reads a statement made on Xbox.com.
What this essentially means is that players can nominate up to ten friends to share their content, regardless of which Xbox One unit they may be using. This works in a similar fashion to retails discs at present in that only one player may use the software at any one time, however they needn’t necessarily meet to hand over anything. This is a modernisation of sharing: you can allow your brother, sister, parent or friend to borrow your videogame for as long as they want, even if they live fifty miles from you. This, it has recently been confirmed, applies to downloadable content (DLC) also.
From lending software to trading it: this is still an option in all respects, though it may be considerably more limited than what you have previously experienced. For example, it’s unlikely you’ll find anyone willing to purchase the videogame from you at a boot sale, but your favourite high street retailer will most likely continue to offer a trade-in system.
“Trade-in and resell your disc-based games: Today, some gamers choose to sell their old disc-based games back for cash and credit. We designed Xbox One so game publishers can enable you to trade in your games at participating retailers. Microsoft does not charge a platform fee to retailers, publishers, or consumers for enabling transfer of these games.” Reads Xbox.com.
From this and other announcements made by Microsoft Studios representatives we learn that trade-ins will be no different for consumers than they are right now. Where the difference lies is in that of the retailer participation. Microsoft Studios will be establishing a partnership scheme that requires retailers to acquire a new redemption code (which up to this point is assumed to be similar in fashion to that of a PC title) at a cost to them. Microsoft Studios has already confirmed that there will be no applicable fee for first-party titles, however third-parties are allowed to charge whatever fee they so wish.
This, of course, applies online to disc based products. All retail titles on Xbox One will also be available digitally, and purchase of the digital version will be limited in the same fashion as on current-generation with the exception of the above sharing policy, meaning that digital copies have more flexibility than they do at present.
Games as Gifts
So when you’re finished with your videogame and you no longer wish to keep hold of it, what can you do? You could trade it in via one of the slightly rarer retailers or you can give it to a friend. Yes, the permanent exchange of software between friends will be allowed. The limitation is that they have to have been on your Friends List for at least thirty days.
This, quite obviously, is a method invented to remove eBay and other online private resellers from the equation. This is a free service but may only be done once per retail disc, and it is entirely possible for third-parties not to offer this as part of their product. Such details will likely be presented in the End User Licence Agreement (EULA) of each product individually.
This is arguably one of the areas of the Xbox One that needs clarifying the most. It is, after all, the most peculiar requirement of a videogames console. This DRM effort is clearly an effort to ensure that the above sharing policy is not abused, but it could prove frustratingly restrictive in the most extreme cases, such as moving home or living in areas which don’t yet offer a reliable internet infrastructure. It’s highly possible that Microsoft Studios could establish a system in which videogames can be played with offline if a disc is detected in the system – akin to many PC titles over the past decade – though the hardware manufacturer has seemed reluctant to clarify these issues at present, let alone lessen their severity.
The upshot of all of this information is simply that the Xbox One console is moving towards a digital-only future, and these new DRM methods are in place to make digital content more flexible as opposed to restricting retail purchases. A debate continues to rage as to whether or not the PlayStation 4 will present similar DRM, and given that Microsoft Studios has already stated that their own software will not be limited by many of these barriers it’s highly likely that Sony Computer Entertainment will present the same DRM opportunities to their third-party partners also. Electronic Theatre will of course keep you updated should any further measures or adjustments to next-generation digital policies be announced.