Right off the bat, let me define DRM. DRM stands for “Digital Rights Management”, it’s the means through which companies protect media from piracy, unauthorized use, and (a big one we’re going to be talking about here) resale. There are many forms of DRM, now lets look at a few in particular.
Why people buy consoles
Consumerism is a very interesting thing, and people buy products for a variety of reasons. I’m not going in depth in Console vs. PC, but I’ll touch up on a few reasons why people buy consoles in the first place. (Possibly over PC)
- Simplicity – Hardware usually comes “as is”, you don’t need to be very technologically inclined to operate them
- (Generally) No upgrading/swapping parts
- No downloading/installing, no software to learn how to operate to play games
- Games are tailor made, requiring little setup or tweaking to play
- Cost and life – Flat rate price for hardware, hardware will last years before needing to be replaced or upgraded
- Flatpack of technology, won’t need upgrading/maintenance to play new games during lifespan
- Collecting and Sharing – Easy ability to trade and borrow games with friends, and buy new games from others
- Physical game for collectors
- Physical game gives larger sense of ownership (vs digital buying)
- Buying/Trading/Selling freely at retailers
- Lending and borrowing games to and with friends
- Camaraderie – Easy and personal gaming among those you want to share your couch with, or online
- Connection – Traditionally you have the ability to play all of your games without requiring an internet connection
The new DRM and the system it’s based off of
Forget everything you know about physical console DRM, just take that knowledge and set it aside for a moment. As Microsoft is completely changing the name of the game with consoles and their DRM. This system of DRM is completely different, and at the least should be seen objectively for what it is, a tweaked PC style DRM system.
The form of DRM that the new Xbox is based off of, should seem very familiar, because it’s based off of a PC digital distribution model for DRM. The most popular of which named Steam, will be used here for comparison. At its heart, the Xbox functions exactly like Steam. You register a game, and viola. You now have the ability to play your game on any console/PC you want, regardless of where you sign in on. Amazing, no? Many perks come with this form of system, perks that are new to console gamers, such as the ability to play your game diskless. The management system for all of your games is very similar to Steam, but they’re not exactly the same. Microsoft took it upon themselves to tweak it just enough, to try to bridge the gap between Console DRM, and PC style/Steam DRM. They accomplished this through a feature that is causing quite a bit of stir throughout the internet, a required internet connection once per 24 hours. This is where the similarities end, and this change impacts both the actual DRM system, and the economics that drive the system.
First a bit of clarification on the connection. The connection is required due to another change Microsoft added to this Steam-esque DRM system, the ability to buy, trade, and sell used games at certified retailers. Until now, this has been an impossibility for a platform such as Steam. However, Microsoft was able to accomplish this feat by implementing the 24h connect requirement and allowing you to deactivate a game on your account to sell back to retailers. The connection itself is required for this system to work, as a way to validate your account so that you no longer have actual access to the games that you may or may not have sold since your last time playing online. Without the connection, someone could amass a great collection of games before selling them all back to a store such as Gamestop, and continue to reap the benefits of the games he sold, albeit, without the ability to play online. The connection as a requirement actually serves a purpose, to a certain capacity. It maintains a crucial job validating accounts and the games you own while you buy/trade/sell in real time. Though, it could do with some relaxing for those who may not be able to upkeep a connection for more than 24 hours.
Publisher Pockets, how the money divvies up
On a platform such as Steam, the market is closed. There is no buying/selling/trading of used games. In fact, it’s wrong to say “used games” in the first place, because it’s not even an applicable concept for something like Steam. That being said, publishers have absolute control over the sales of their games. On a system such as Steam when you purchase a game, the money will mostly go back to the publishers along with a cut for the platform that sold the game.
Now with consoles, it works very similarly. You go into a place such as Gamestop, and purchase a game. The majority of the money goes to the publishers, while a cut goes to the person who sold you the game. However since consoles have (up until now) an open market, when you sell a used game back to a retailer (GameStop), and they go and sell the game again… The publishers get no money, 100% of the profit from that sale goes straight to the retailer. This is why previously EA had enforced Online Passes, so that when their games were sold and resold, they had the ability to turn a profit off of their distribution and support of their games.
The new Xbox works very similarly to this system when walking into a brick-and-mortar establishment like Gamestop to sell your games. There’s a catch though, the ability to resell your game? It’s completely up to the publishers. This way, publishers can see a return on their games and prevent retailers like Gamestop from cashing in.
Steam Sales, and Xbox One Sales
Everyone knows that PC gamers can get phenomenal deals on games, one of the main reasons for this is because there’s no physical media to distribute and maintain. If we’re paying a flat rate for a game, box, instructions, and a physical disk, shouldn’t that price be deducted for us if we’re just digitally buying the game? There’s more to it than just that though, since Steam lacks the capability to buy/sell/trade games, the market is closed. Publishers have the ability to control all sales of their games (Barring piracy, but that’s a different can of worms). That being said, they’re making more profit since there’s no third party market saturated with their products. All sales go through them, and as such, all the profit does as well. Buy a game through Gamestop used? The publishers get nothing (Unless there’s an online pass, or you buy DLC).
Due to this, publishers and the platforms that sell their games, are able to work together to give amazing deals on their products. They have nothing to lose, since it’s all profit by comparison.
Thanks to the new in-between style DRM of the Xbox though, there’s a few things we can learn from this.
1) It’s possible with the new DRM we’ll see some of these sales
2) It will ONLY happen though to games and franchises where the publishers have denied the ability to resell their games.
It’s too early to know for sure, but based on what we can observe it seems to be a likely possibility somewhere down the line.
We could quite possibly get the best of both worlds in a perfect scenario. Free market of buying/selling/trading used games through retailers, and the sales exclusive to publisher controlled gaming. However, things rarely work out perfectly, and the whole system is still bogged down and restricted by a 24h timer.
On the subject of trading games… And smashing the paradigm
So we’ve already addressed how the system works for selling games, and the publishers ability to prevent second hand sales. Now we must bring up something else. Something, that people don’t like, but inherently comes with this PC style of DRM. The lack of borrowing games. With no physical media to handle through digital purchases, there’s no borrowing of games. Now, Steam has a few features to combat this. Such as, free weekends where you can play games, and having giftable timed versions of games to give to your friends when you buy them. There’s much more confusion though with the new Xbox, just because there still is physical media handling despite it being completely unnecessary up front. “If I bought the physical disk, why can I not let someone borrow it?” This is the big question now, it seems that Microsoft is restricting your ability to let your friends borrow games!
The truth: They’re not, well, not exactly anyway.
Gamers are a nostalgic lot, so it comes as no surprise that some of them wouldn’t understand this transition of DRM. Instead of looking at it for what it is, they’re looking at it from what it was. Now, I’m not blaming the gamers at all, this is a drastic change, something that the majority of consoles gamers aren’t ready for. How could they be though, Microsoft is up and changing everything they know about games!
Here’s the deal though, they’re not restricting borrowing of games, quite simply, because the concept of borrowing games is gone. This is based of a PC DRM system, where the concept of “Used games” doesn’t even exist. That being said, in all actuality they can’t be restricting your ability to let your friends borrow games, because you never could in the first place. That is, if we were using Steam. However, we are in fact not using Steam, and we have a whole culture behind consoles that changed in front of us in a blink of an eye.
So disks are essentially now just an artifact of the previous system, though they’re still used to speed up the installing time so you can get right into your game (And still letting you physically collect, though that’s significantly less relevant now). That being said, and since the concept of “Used games” with this system has changed so drastically (essentially destroyed, like with the straight Steam DRM), you can’t just hand your games over to your friends. If you do, they’ll probably have to pay the full price of the game. This is where all the panic set in about the whole “Used game fee” when the Xbox was announced. It’s not that there’s a fee, it’s just that there’s really no such thing as used games anymore in that manner. They still exist for certified retailers, but they no longer exist when it comes to your buddies. It sucks, it really does. It’s such a drastic change, and people are trying to handle it in any way they know how. Mostly through just yelling about new restrictions without fully understanding the system upon which it’s based off of. Which is unfortunate because I’m sure the Xbox would have been received in a much better manner, had Microsoft fully explained the system a bit more instead of dangling bits and pieces of information and misinformation in front of us.
There are some possibilities for possible recourse on this though, trading games. It’s known that you can play all the games of the accounts of other people on the xbox you’re playing, regardless of if they’re signed in or not. That being said, if you actively play at a friends house and you keep your account on their machine, it’s quite possible that they’ll have access to your games as long as that was the last xbox you were signed in on. This is all contingent though on the lack of some sort of feature to tie a specific Xbox to a specific account, though even with that there may be some possibilities. It’s too early to know for sure though, but the wording from the source suggests that the accounts will somehow be tied to consoles.
There is ONE method however, that Microsoft put into this new system as a sure-fire way to let friends have your games, though it can only be done once per game. Publishers can enable you to give your disk-based games to a friend, there are no fees either. However, they must have been on your friends list for at least 30 days. It doesn’t make completely good on the old system (by far), but it’s better than nothing to say the least.
It leads to a lot of confusion, and it’s perfectly understandable. The DRM does exactly what it supposed to do, but since console gamers have never seen this before… What else are they supposed to think? Now, I’m not saying that it’s their fault, far from it. What are they supposed to expect? To just perfectly understand what’s happening, and “deal with it”? No, of course not. Microsoft through all of these changes has single handedly destroyed part of what consoles were founded upon. They changed the name of the game with this console, and it’s going to take a long time for people to get used to it. The concept of ownership of games has completely changed for console gamers, and they’re going to have to learn to adapt to that if Microsoft doesn’t change their mind for the future (Provided, they don’t just jump ship, which I wouldn’t blame them for doing).
This question has yet to really be answered anywhere. Not directly, anyway. People want to know why Microsoft would do this, why they would make such drastic changes. The most obvious reason seems to be simple: Money.
Microsoft can turn a better profit through this style of DRM, than if they kept with the current model. With this system both Microsoft and publishers can directly and effectively increase their profits from controlling the sales of games. What they apparently didn’t realize though, is that gamers would hate the change (Who knew console gamers would completely hate a system they’ve never had to use before!?).
I suppose they thought that the perks of the new system might outweigh the hatred for the change, boy were they wrong about that one.
Now, through all of the hate… Some of the perks of this DRM system have been lost, let me touch up on what they are. However, most of them revolve around diskless gaming.
- Diskless gaming
- Games will always be available (provided you have an internet connection and don’t get banned from Xbox)
- Physical condition of games are no longer a factor
- Games can’t be lost/stolen
- You can instantly download all games online from the second they’re on the market
- Play all of your games on any console you want
- All games must be installed to your hard drive. It’s a fact that you can install and play games at the same time. It’s speculation (and doubtful) that you’ll be able to play and download at the same time though.
- Family members have complete access to all of your games
Now, that last one… Little information is known about this. The information was released in the form of an email by Gamestop, they had a first look at the new details. Since this release of information though, there hasn’t been any form of clarification. Here’s exactly how it reads.
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.
Now, I’m not going to get into what that could possibly mean through the wording and semantics, but let’s just take note of something
If this is true, the best case scenario? Both friends and Family members can save massive amounts of money by sharing games this way, especially if they don’t play on the same consoles. (For instance, I have a brother who lives in another state, and he could play all of my games without having to buy them, or have me mail them to him).
Worst case scenario? Only family members can benefit from this. Even so though, it’s a massive and amazing feature that is going to bring a lot of popularity to the console should people be able to overlook and adapt to such a drastic change in DRM.
There’s no word on how Microsoft will be able to determine who and who isn’t a family member, but in all likelihood it will be ONLY your family that reaps the rewards of this. It would be a nice thought to have the ability to tack on a friend or two to this, but Microsoft would never let that happen for obvious reasons. If I had to throw out a guess as to how this would work, maybe they would tie it back into the Family Plan, but who knows.
Perks that aren’t
Alright, so there’s a few more perks here, but they’re not perks exactly. Objectively they’re perks, because they’re new to this form of DRM. Subjectively though? They’re not, because we were able to do these things on previous generations of consoles, and we were able to do them better.
- Buy/sell/trade games at certified retailers
- No fee for buying used games
- Give games to friends
I’ve touched up on both of these prior to this section, they’re perks to the new system of DRM. Though, it’s nothing new to console gamers.
Making sense of it all
So amongst all the blind hatred I’ve seen online over this new system, I’ve had a few intelligent conversations with people about this new system. Despite Microsoft trying to create an in-between for console and PC DRM, there is no in-between on opinions. Educated or not, the majority hate the changes, and that’s perfectly fine. Microsoft should have seen this coming, so it’s going to be interesting to see where they go from here. We all know they bombed with public relations and revealing this information to the public, and completely bombed at their press release, deciding to show off TV features before games (That’s a whole other story). Anyway! People either love or hate this system, for various reasons. Everyone is entitled to their opinion (though I wish more people would educate themselves before opening their mouths, but this is the internet after all).
So on opinions…. Is it all worth it? Are these changes, are they truly worth the benefits that they give? That is up for personal interpretation, I can’t decide that for you. I’ll tell you my two cents on it though, of course.
It’s not worth it in the short term, but it’s worth it in the long run. There’s going to come a day where digital distribution is going to be infinitely easier than physical. While it already has a lot going for it, the world clearly isn’t ready for this system just based on connections alone. Not everyone who would have access to this console would also have access to the internet to make it work.
However, I believe that should there come a day, where everyone could have access? That day, I think it would all have been worth it. Only though, if gamers were eased into it, with plenty of time to reflect. Not having all of the information dropped on them at one time like what was done here (Though, we’re still months out from the actual release of the console).
For right now though? This change was a horrible choice by Microsoft, and they should have known how the public would react. I personally love this system, but that’s only because I love the perks, and the “restrictions” don’t bother me in the slightest. I’m the minority though, and I’m not daft enough to believe otherwise. Microsoft failed us as gamers, they failed us because they didn’t prepare us, and even if they had, how could they ever expect everyone to make the change so easily?
Maybe there’s something more… Maybe, there’s something they still haven’t told us, something that’s going to change the game forever. I’m not holding my breath though.
The console is far from being dead, but it took a serious beating thanks to Microsoft.
Sony, understands all of this. They’re fueling the fire of the angry masses, they’re counting on people not understanding. Their video about “how to share games”? Marketing genius. They’re acting like class A trolls, and I don’t blame them for taking advantage of the situation, it’s smart.
A lot has been talked about here, over 3,500 words by the end count. I just want to leave anyone who reads this with this:
If you read all of this, and took it to heart. You’ll be able to make an informed decision on if you want to buy this console.
By all means, don’t buy this Xbox if you don’t think you’ll like the changes. Just go support Sony, make it clear you don’t accept what Microsoft is doing to the consoles. Without consumers to buy their products, companies are worthless. Think with your head, and speak loudly with your wallet. If you like the Xbox, buy it. If you don’t, go buy a PS4, it has the same traditional DRM that we’ve all known and loved since we started playing game consoles.
Please though, don’t perpetuate blind hatred over this console. Take the time to look at it all objectively before making a final decision.