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Xbox One: Will DRM Shorten its Life?


Xbox One: Will DRM Shorten its Life?

What does the Xbox One mean for the future of gaming? This is the kind of question you find yourself asking a lot whenever a new console is born. Usually, you are thinking about the power of the new machine's processor and how deftly it can juggle polygons. Or the kind of strange new games that its controller will allow developers to come up with.

There is all of that to look forward to with the Xbox One, but what about the specific future of that console’s games? The choices that Microsoft has made - and they are choices - could mean that the Xbox One's lifetime is very different to that of its predecessors. They could mean that you could find yourself unable to play games that you have paid for.

A new sort of future

At E3, Microsoft confirmed two rumours that have dogged the Xbox One. First, it will require an always-on internet connection and second, playing used games is going to be restricted. Both of these choices might seem reasonable at first blush, but both have implications for the Xbox One as it approaches the end of its product cycle.

Now, at this point some of you will probably be shouting at the screen - no, it doesn't! No they won't! And indeed, technically, the connection does not need to be up 24/7 and restricting used games is going to be at publisher's discretion. But let’s look at both of these pitfalls in turn.

Going on About Always-on

First up - the need for an internet connection.

Microsoft has confirmed that you will not need to have the console online at all times as had been the pre-launch rumour. However, it will need to 'check in' with Microsoft's authentication servers every 24 hours in order to remain in a playable state.

So, you don't need to have the console online all the time, but unless you have a connection that is switched on at least once a day then you can't play any games on it. Functionally, this is may as well just be an always-on requirement.

Cloud-powered Gaming

In addition, Microsoft has made much of the Xbox One's ability to use additional processing power located in the cloud - ie on the internet. Xbox One engineering manager Jeff Henshaw went so far as to say that the Xbox One can draw on "infinite additional processing power." by offloading some tasks to Microsoft's array of dedicated servers.

Obviously, this is going to affect some games more than others and smart coders will take into account external factors like bandwidth and temporary outages. We can expect that these boosts will either be optional extras or features like more detailed renders that could be ‘dialed down’ if required.

However, this still means that an Xbox One is going to need to see its cloud servers to give the best gaming experience. What will those games look like if those servers go offline?

Un-loved Pre-loved

Onto the second issue - used games.

Publishers have long had a problem with gamers buying used titles, where the resale money goes to the likes of Game or Blockbuster rather than them. On the Xbox One, we are told, things will be different.

From Microsoft's own license information page: "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."

Implicit in this is the idea that publishers can - if they wish - prevent you from transferring ownership of your games. The whole concept of 'owning' the game you have purchased starts to look a bit hazy the more you think about these new terms.

The Games We’ll Never Own

When you hand over your money for a new Xbox One game you don't really own the game, you own a licence to play it - the DVD is just a way of getting the code onto your console.

You can temporarily transfer the rights to play it on another Xbox One by signing in using your Live credentials but you do not automatically have the right to give that game away or to sell it. Even lending it is restricted to a single friend, who must be acknowledged as such on your Live friends list.

The Xbox one thus has two important caveats, and both mean the console needs access to Microsoft's server farms. The concern for gamers thinking of buying an Xbox One must be, therefore, “how can I know that those servers are going to be there when I need them?”

Look ahead a few years and consider what will happen when the Xbox One is nearing the end of its lifetime. Will Microsoft keep those servers running so that you can keep playing your collection of games? Will the “infinite” capacity of the Xbox One cloud still be running at full whack or will the service be scaled back?

Dark Clouds, Silver Linings

Now, before we get too apocalyptic, it is worth remembering that Microsoft is not blind to the long-term commitment required here.

Two other recent Microsoft products - the Zune music player and service and the Kin smartphone both failed to set the world on fire and ended up on the scrapheap. In the case of the Zune, MS folded its music offerings into Xbox Live and you can still get access to your tunes, albeit in a slightly different way.

With the Kin phones, sales were so poor that the servers dedicated to pumping out data for weather reports and news were shuttered and new firmware was issued that left the devices able to function without them. Disappointing for a handful of users but Microsoft did at least make some effort to accommodate its customers.

The Backlash has begun

The internet has already awoken to the potential of the Xbox One’s approach to DRM. Many are angry, or concerned. Xbox Live’s Major Nelson responded to questions from Reddit users about this issue with the following:

“I'll just say this: We haven't even started this generation, so it's kind of early to talk about the end of the generation. That's certainly something we would not do. That's not the way the system is designed. It's designed for flexibility. But let's get the system out there first.”

This sounds like a flat denial but we still don’t know exactly what Microsoft’s plans are and what this ‘flexibility’ will entail. Will there be charges to keep playing? Will Microsoft simply turn off authentication? What would happen if Microsoft isn’t in the games market in a decade’s time?

Visions of the Future

It might seem like Microsoft is too big to fail but the truth is nobody can say exactly what state the company will be in by the time the next console generation rolls into view, much less the one after that.

Even if Microsoft is in rude gaming health in a decade, it might see retro gaming on its ‘older’ Xbox One console as a threat to an officially-sanctioned package of ‘classic’ Xbox One games on the Xbox Infinity or whatever name is announced at E3 2028. Is the Xbox One’s DRM there to ensure we can keep on being charged for the same games, again and again?

However Microsoft decides to handle things, the Xbox One should give gamers some pause for thought. Replacing physically owned games with licenses enforced through Digital Rights Management and tethering play to a company’s servers requires that you trust that company to both stay in business and keep your interests at heart.


June 18, 2013, 11:58 am

Fundamentally? No it won't. If the business model fails it is just a software change they need to make, nothing is limited by hardware.


June 18, 2013, 4:10 pm

Nothing, nothing will now persuade me to buy the XBone. No amount of concessions (if there is any to come) backtracking/clarification or exclusives.
I'm not a Sony 'fanboy', so this isn't hate. I've been using Xbox consoles since the beginning, but I've had enough of their unbelievable arrogance, lack or foresight and proprietary ethos taken to an extreme degree.
Sony, the ball is in your court...Win me over, please (so far, you're doing just that.)

ryan merriman

June 18, 2013, 5:10 pm

"However Microsoft decides to handle things, the Xbox One should give gamers some pause for thought. Replacing physically owned games with licenses enforced through Digital Rights Management and tethering play to a company’s servers requires that you trust that company to both stay in business and keep your interests at heart."

This last paragraph more than anything encapsulated my feelings on the xbox one. Why would we (as game consumers) trust a company who's product ecosystem is openly hostile against us? We would be putting alot of trust in a company that is more or less treating us like criminals for purchasing their product. Ridiculous.

I own a 360 and have loved it for the most part. But ive canceled my live account and took it completely off-line because i do not trust Microsoft at all anymore. Who's to say in the future they wont try to push some kind of software to it that puts the same restrictions on it as the xbox one? I do not think that tactic is beyond them.

I can understand rebelling against the game retailers like Gamestop. They take back our games at 25 bucks and sell them for $50. Their re-sale practices are borderline exploitive and it should be addressed. But not in the way that the MS is doing it with the xbox one. Its like Chevy telling you that you cant sell your Truck without their permission because the designers need to be compensated. Screw them.


June 18, 2013, 7:15 pm

Console makers come and go. Atari and Sega were once mighty Empires too with devoted armies of followers. Honestly, the only thing really exciting me at the moment in gaming is the Oculus Rift.


June 18, 2013, 7:21 pm

Remember what happened with Plays4Sure. MS dropped the DRM servers which meant if you got a new PC, or reinstalled Windows, all your music was gone and you couldn't get it back. Their solution for customers? Burn your music to CD and rip them to mp3. Pitiful.

If they can do it once they can do it again. Whether they actually would isn't actually the point; the point is they can.

Graham Rusk

June 18, 2013, 8:28 pm

It's the second hand games thing that does it for me.

For years we've had it rammed down our throats that games are expensive mainly due to piracy. The Xbox One will eliminate piracy (even if you can do it they have already stated that the penalties for breaking the T&C's will remove your ability to play games - ALL games EVEN THE ONES YOU HAVE LEGITIMATELY BOUGHT) it'll be just too risky to try it. So in light of all this have the prices of the games decreased? Don't make me laugh. Can you imagine if they had? "So the price of the machine is £80 more than the PS4 however brand new games max price is 25-30 pounds because we will have eradicated piracy". I'd have been all over that


June 18, 2013, 10:02 pm

"Publishers have long had a problem with gamers buying used titles, where
the resale money goes to the likes of Game or Blockbuster rather than

Are the publishers thick, stupid, or what? Don't they all drive BMWs? Don't they understand that you can only charge top dollar for a product brand new if it is known to return much of that cost second hand? Like BMW, etc. Otherwise you fall into the Citroen category, and buyers, knowing that it is all money down the pan, will only pay lower prices brand new. Buyers figure cost of ownership, not simply cost of purchase.

In short, the pay-back to the publishers of a healthy used market is higher new prices (to say nothing of how it all fosters pocket-money new entrants, etc). Their dog-in-the-manger attitude to used sales will cost them revenue, but they seem too stupid to realise.

Paul Morris

June 19, 2013, 7:54 am

Excellent article that sums up the points of contention with Microsoft's new system nicely.

I am very wary of the way digital media distribution is heading, with consumers no longer being allowed to purchase their media directly, but only a 'licence' to use it - remember what EA attempted to get away with last year with Rock Band on IOS devices? People had paid $4.99 for the game, and then one day when trying to play it, received this rather patronising message: "Dear Rockers, On May 31, Rock Band will no longer be playable on your device. Thanks for rocking out with us!" - they must have thought people were going to just bend over and take it right in the posterior.

We have to remember that companies usually only have their own interests at heart, much as they will try to tell us otherwise.


Matthew Bunton

June 19, 2013, 8:25 am

I think a lot of people will still buy it unaware of its policies as not everyone follows the tech and industry as closely.


June 19, 2013, 11:43 am

The presumption that everyone has an Internet connection is ludicrous! I have, but many of my friend do not.

Amit Aggarwal

June 19, 2013, 12:13 pm

Microsoft have always displayed an element of greed with their XBox strategy. I say this having owned both the original XBox and XBox 360.
The original XBox, though perfectly capable of DVD playback, instead required the purchase of an additional remote control in order to enable it. Whereas the PS2 played DVDs out of the box.
With the 360 - a console designed for online gaming - there was no built in wi-fi. Even the later so-called 'Elite' version did not. Instead, if you couldn't have a wired connection, you had to pay a ludicrous £50 for a wireless adaptor. It was this reason alone which meant I never played online with the 360, but instead used my all singing, all dancing PS3 to do this.

I sincerely hope that sales of the XBox One are less than spectacular - it is the only way greedy corporations learn a lesson - when it hits them where it hurts. I'm no Microsoft hater - it is a corporation with much to admire, and i'd love for them to make more of an inroad into the mobile and tablet market, as they are genuinely doing some great stuff there. But if I had to choose a next-gen console, the choice is without question the PS4.


June 19, 2013, 1:41 pm

Has the fact that Apple is a closed ecosystem in the tech world (if that sounds right) made its devices less popular. People buy into it because of image and they have been swayed buy Apples propaganda. There are a lot of factors to both the X-Box One and the PS4 and to be honest I think the X-Box one is the most innovative and the Ps4 more of the same except the processors inside. propaganda here is in favour of PS but that doesnt mean the X-Box One is the worst of the two. More importantly I think after release you will find either PS4 going back on its none DRM stance or Microsoft easing theirs. I do believe the tech industry never learns when trying to be forward looking


June 19, 2013, 2:47 pm

And it's back to the point of a previous article on TrustedReviews. You're paying £500 for what? A license to play a game that may be revoked at any point in the future. While there are many who will bow down and buy the console, there's going to be many more, who simply ask, what's the point??? The quote of the week has to come from the MS guy who says they're delivering $1000's of dollars worth of value??? eh, on what planet? It makes me laugh when companies come out with these kind of rubbish statements, the gaming audience has matured massively over the last 10 years, do they think we're stupid?

The simple economics of second hand games:

Person who pays full price recoups some of their investment to spend on another full price game.
Person who pays a the 2nd hand price does not end up pirating the game.

If games were reasonably priced, the arguments would be moot, but they're not and probably never going to be. (As an aside - I've spent more money collectively on lower priced indie games this year than I have on full priced AA titles. Of the two AA titles (Tomb Raider & Bioshock) I've each played them for about 14hrs each, I've spent much longer on the Indie games, so have received much more value in real terms. As such I've bought more of them.)

The day I am only granted a temporary license to play or listen is the day I go back to being a pirate.


June 19, 2013, 8:54 pm

I had such strong feelings about this initially. I own a 360 and was looking forward to the new one being announced, and in the lead up to the announcement I was disbelieving all the rumours.

Over the last 2 weeks I've done a lot of thinking - reading lots of for/against MS articles. And playing my 360.

I have weighed up the pros and cons and after picking up Alan wake on steam from humble bundle I realised, my PC gaming would be screwed without an internet connection. I can't lend/sell my saints row 2 from steam either.

If I stood on my battlefield 3 disc and it cracked I wouldn't be able to play it. I've lent Deus Ex to my mate who swears he hasn't got it which I didn't really play properly in the first place so can't play now.

I'm in the same boat with netflix as far as internet outages go? And TBH if the internet went down, my laptop and tablet would be useless too. But playing bf3 multiplayer and realising I haven't done the single player campaign yet makes me realise, if I had an internet outage now, I'd watch a movie or go to the pub.
I'm still undecided about PS4/XBone later in the year (If either straight away) but I think people are reacting to the breaking of tradition as opposed to comparing parallels with other services like steam.


June 20, 2013, 8:30 am

I can confirm that DRM will certainly not kill the Xbox One. Fact...


June 20, 2013, 8:49 am

Fanboi ;-P

Seriously though, I think people have mistaken Microsoft's foresight and grabbed their pitchforks. To me the DRM thing bought so many good features it would have been amazing. Sharing and accessing games anywhere. What's not to like?

I'm not saying it was perfect. Perhaps changing a couple small issues, like re-selling used games and the ability to use purchased games without checking in every 24 hours (perhaps if the physical disc is in) would have pleased everyone.


June 20, 2013, 4:52 pm

You're in your own little world.

Sammy Bob Moe

June 21, 2013, 6:02 pm

This is now out of date, MS have decided to do a u-turn on the once a day connection and trading of games and preowned... http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/tech...

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