"An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." - Arthur Miller

Thursday, June 20, 2013

XBox 180's On DRM

In a blog post Microsoft has reversed course on their universally disliked DRM policy and declared that how things work now on the XBox 360 will carry over to the XBox One. Before the reversal, the policy was that publishers would have absolute control on your ability to loan out games, sell games or buy them used. Even if the publishers allowed you to sell them, they would also have final say on what retailers you could sell too. In other words the days of trading games with friends, giving them away or just making a few quick bucks when done with them would be over. Now some fans would say that it would not be that bad but the reality is if publishers could do it, they would make the used game market illegal. They have zero interest in encouraging it and would have used Microsoft's technical solutions to try and prevent it. On top of that they had a 24 hour check in to homebase to verify your copy of the game was legit. If could not check in, then your system became an attractive piece of furniture until it could.

The result of this decision resulted in a pretty consistent buttwhupping by the gaming press and fans with many wondering if MS knew what they were even doing anymore. This was followed by a so-so E3 Press Conference that showed off the XBox's traditional bread and butter of shoot em ups and sports game that pretty much everyone ignored in light of their DRM policy. The final nail in the coffin is when Sony used their own press conference to use that DRM policy against them while also beating them on price. The resulting consensus is if going to buy a next gen system, skip the XBox One.

Now companies are not in the habit of reversing policy just because of some bad press. If that was the case then they would have done it before E3. What happened was they ran the numbers, did whatever consumer testing companies do and the consensus was the double punch of a $100 cheaper system combined with easy to understand rules of game play resulted in the Playstation 4 absolutely own them at launch and probably for an extended period past that.

So what decisions were reversed?
- No internet connection required for offline play. The 24 hour phone Microsoft rule no longer implemented.
- No limitations on using and sharing games. This doesn't mean that publishers themselves may not create their own hurdles but at least those hurdles are not being centralized by Microsoft and made easier to implement.
- No region locks so a game bought in Japan can be played on a US system. From a software complexity side, I don't know why any company bothers with region locks. Its a stupid old style system that serves no purpose in a world connected by the internet.

Now the decision does come with the sacrifice of claimed functionality (keeping in mind that none of these features were ever proven to exist or to work). The selling of digitally downloaded titles will not be allowed (like today) but Microsoft never explained how this work anyway. Also if running a game from a disc, it has to be in the tray. This removes ability to switch games without having to get up to do it. Again this was a verbal promise that was never demonstrated. I did like what Microsoft had indicated they wanted to do but the reality is that would have never had happened. The publishers would not allow unfettered access to your games at anytime from anywhere. Its just not how they function or ever want to function. Trying to sell you the same game over and over has become part of the business model. Square Enix continues to exist almost completely on it with their multiple re-releases of the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games. Its a nice idea but I believe it was a lie to try and make gamers swallow having big brother ok their purchases each and every time. At some point later, when people had adjusted and worked around the limitations they would have just quietly abandoned the never implemented "feature."

So what does this all mean? for Nintendo, they don't count. They gave up on 2013 with most of their big games not trickling in until Summer 2014 with most for Christmas 2014. Make a decision on the Wii U then. So in effect the differences between the Playstation 4 and the XBox One is now their feature set and that $100 price difference. Feature wise, frankly I don't think it matters. For all the talk of TV this and that, whatever features they are promising are less than what a Roku or similar product provides and those only cost $100 or less. If that is why interested in the system, save yourself a few hundred buck. But if a gamer then the end result is now its all about the games and its too early to know if the promise of E3 will makes its way to the store shelves. Regardless, this next year just got a whole lot more interesting for the video game market.

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