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COMMENT | Xbox One: Consumer Rights? Who Gives A Damn!

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
DRM, E3 2013, Microsoft, Pre-owned games, Xbox One

COMMENT | Xbox One: Consumer Rights? Who Gives A Damn!

The mantra "It's all about the games" always rings true. Consoles live and die by their exclusives, by the killer apps that encourage you to buy one over the other, and by the ease with which you can access these formidable selling points.

Microsoft know that. It's why they've funnelled $1 billion into the acquisition of exclusive properties for the Xbox One and the expansion of Microsoft Studios. It's why Don Mattrick took the time in a press conference that had nothing to do with games to emphatically tease no fewer than 15 unique games on Microsoft's next-gen system. It's why Microsoft are confident enough to stick an enormous middle digit up to the consumer audience and dare us not to buy the Xbox One.

COMMENT | Xbox One: Consumer Rights? Who Gives A Damn!

The "clarification", if you can call it that, of Microsoft's policies (which are, of course, subject to change at any given point) regarding the Xbox One and game ownership made for some dark reading. We had hoped against hope that Microsoft would strive to make their systems more open, more friendly, and more transparent. We were foolish and suffering from a severe case of denial. The signs have been there all along.

Before we go any further, here are the key points from Microsoft's waffling, explanatory-and-yet-still-quite-confusing Xbox Wire bulletins on game licensing and connectivity that you need to know:

  • Discs are now MacGuffins. They in no way imply ownership and are just catalysts for installations.
  • You licence games, you don't own them. Ownership... what a silly notion.
  • Games are tethered to both the primary console on which they are installed and also your user account.
  • Anyone can play your games on the primary console, whether you're logged in or not.
  • If you're logged in at your friend's house, you can play your games on their console.
  • Publishers will decide whether or not you can trade their games, and whether or not to charge a fee for this.
  • You can't lend games to people unless they've been on your friends list for at least 30 days.
  • You can only lend games once.
  • Of course, loaning and renting won't be available at launch.
  • The Xbox One must feed on internet once every 24 hours.
  • Or every one hour if you're signed in to a different console with your account.

Of course, the idea that we "own" a piece of copyrighted art, whatever the form of replication, is a vague one at best, but retail law has traditionally protected the rights of the consumer when it comes to open markets. Digital Rights Management has always been an insidious feature that punishes consumers pre-emptively: a quick fix for companies too bloated to respond to rapidly-changing commercial environments and a consumer base that's outgrown their dated models.

And least, that's what held true for music and television and film.

COMMENT | Xbox One: Consumer Rights? Who Gives A Damn!

But games are different. The expense of console titles, something that will only increase with the release of these next-gen machines, means that the pre-owned market has always been something of a boon for those on-the-fence games. The digitalisation of music allowed us to pick apart albums and get to the tracks we wanted with great ease, and at fair individual prices. To be fair, we've started to see that happen with games in a meaningful fashion with F2P efforts and episodic titles that strive to be good rather than just mine people wallets.

There's an argument to be made that this is just Microsoft falling in line with their greatest competitors -- Apple and Steam -- creating a closed network under a singular brand that allows them to dictate whatever they want to, whilst offering ultimate convenience to consumers who buy into their little ecosystem. Of course, Apple have been doing this for years and are much better at it and have a massive headstart, and Steam will let me play offline for weeks at a time.

Pricing is key, of course, and Apple and Steam have both shown an affinity for appealing to consumers who buy into their platform. Avalanche's CFO made the comparison the other day that no-one complains about not being able to trade in iOS games, and he was right. No-one complains about not being to trade in XBLA games, nor Steam games. But that's because those games, by and large, don't cost £40. A glance at Xbox 360's digital marketplace for on demand games at the moment does not make for happy reading, either.

COMMENT | Xbox One: Consumer Rights? Who Gives A Damn!

But Microsoft don't give a sh*t about you or I, in case the Xbone reveal didn't quite hammer that home. This sinister, manipulative bit of anti-consumer licensing garbage is aimed squarely at similar entities known for being sinister and manipulative and, at times, anti-consumer: those pesky publishers. Set against the backdrop of Microsoft's policies, EA's move to drop the Online Pass suddenly appears far less like a company admitting its mistake, and far more like a company abandoning one money-leeching concept in advance of the Next Big Thing, which will allow them to operate in much the same way under a glorious umbrella held up by the platform holder. And then there's this "participating retailer" phrase. Look how innocuous that is, sitting there like that. Indie outfits should be worried by that, because "participating retailers" basically means GameStop. As if they didn't have enough influence already.

Still, at least Microsoft have kindly given us the option to keep all of our business private if we want. Thanks so much for conceding to a basic human right!

Yet we'll suck this all down because of the games. I wondered if Microsoft had done this the wrong way round: revealing their dastardly policies before we had a glimpse of what they'd be offering us in return. But actually this is the way good news, bad news works. You start by lowering expectations, hinting towards a sh*t sandwich; but then you counter-act that with magnificent spectacles, grand theatrics, massive reveals, and must-have exclusives. It's a huge gamble, but Microsoft are clearly confident that they have the firepower at this year's E3 to turn some heads.

COMMENT | Xbox One: Consumer Rights? Who Gives A Damn!

The sad fact is that Microsoft will be perfectly happy for the Xbox One to be the Call of Duty, FIFA, and Halo console. Most of the people who buy it won't care about the connectivity features, and the metrics will probably suggest that the largest proportion of Microsoft audience are those who play the same three games online with their mates, on the same console, year in and year out, and watch ESPN religiously. The Xbone Reveal was targeted at the same demographic as Smart TVs might have: affluent, engaged, and connected.

The vocal minority across the internet shouts, "If they do this, everyone will just buy a PS4!" But who is this "everyone"? Cliff Bleszinski was actually kind of on the money when he called out us internet preachers:

If you’re currently raging about this on GAF, or on the IGN forums, or on Gamespot, guess what? You’re the vocal minority. Your average guy that buys just Madden and GTA every year doesn’t know, nor does he care. He has no problem throwing a few bucks more at a game because, hey, why not?"

Bleszinski was talking about microtransactions at the time, but the point extends to this. The average guy uses iTunes, streams Netflix, and won't give a damn about any of this. Microsoft have an audience that has told them that it wants this. We, and here I am taling about the vocal minority, just might not be a part of it any more. And that will hurt only as much as Microsoft's exclusives dictate that it will. As to that point, we'll just have to wait and see what the damage is.

One final note... Microsoft have at least unveiled most of their heinous desires to scupper game ownership and trade away consumer power. Sony, hiding behind Yoshida's smiling face and seemingly straightforward comments, haven't actually outlined their plans either, only that things would be left up to the publishers. And that sounds awfully familiar. There's a strong possibility that the most consumer-friendly console post-E3 might just be the Wii U, and with Mario and Link and others waiting in the wings, a fortnight's time could see Nintendo as some rather unlikely champions.

Wouldn't that be interesting?

Add a comment10 comments
screally  Jun. 7, 2013 at 12:11

I understand that devs deserve cash from sales. But that's why the initial console price for games is higher, because they have resale value. Most games you're buying largely on previews, imagine buying aliens colonial marines for £40+ and having no way out. Trust works both ways. I love steam and that platform and psn downloads, for price and convenience. But I do tend to sell my ps3 games that end up sucking. I sell them on eBay/play, I never trade them in, it's my choice. I really hate the idea of only being able to trade in to specific retailers. I will only be buying a ps4 but I'm sure they'll have a similar publisher deal for used games. The argument that iOS and steam do the same thing is irrelevant, they are already a lower cost because you have no resale opportunity.

RiKx  Jun. 7, 2013 at 12:16

http://images.wildammo.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/why-gabe-newell-invented-steam1.jpg

heh sort of on topic... ;)

seanzi  Jun. 7, 2013 at 12:31

It will be interesting to compare the piracy rates between the one and the 360. These policies will alienate consumers and I can see it following a similar pattern to that of Spore!

phil16  Jun. 7, 2013 at 12:32

I've seen several people comparing this move to steam but I don't think its fair in anyway. With Steam I can pick up a not very old game for ~£10 (I got tomb raider for £8 the other day). With a console I'm usually looking at £20+. Until the prices get lower on consoles games I don't see many gamers accepting this.

Korma  Jun. 7, 2013 at 17:27

I love how after all the 'scare mongering' about having an always on monitoring device in the home that MS release all this info just as it's revealed they were the founding partner in the NSA snooping scheme targeting anyone and everyone http://techcrunch.com/2013/06/06/google-facebook-apple-deny-participation-in-nsa-prism-program/

Realhoneyman  Jun. 7, 2013 at 23:36

An interesting topic to write about before perhaps the biggest games show of the year. It certaily raises some interesting questions around Microsoft's direction with their new console and whether it will prove to be successful in the upcoming market or otherwise.

I wonder this though: how many FIFA fans are going to be happy when they get offered very little for their copy of FIFA '14? How bout when they are told they can only trade it through GAME and perhaps Grainger Games? How about giving that to a younger cousin and then realising they can't play it freely without paying for the privelage?

That's why I feel this business model works on paper for Microsoft but is going to F-up big time for the company. All it takes is for the other companies to not adopt the policy and see how quickly the audience holds onto their Xbox 360s for as long as possible.

I can almost see the outcome before me. The tea leaves are clear this time (going off on fotune teller tangent right there).

N.B I want to add that SONY have firstly concentrated on the games and then told fans they will get additional features with the PS4. Why was this not the case with the Xbox One? Very interesting indeed.

Realhoneyman  Jun. 7, 2013 at 23:55

Just want to add this quickly as figurative fuel to the debate. A t-shirt SONY has sent out to developers pre-E3 (seemingly to butter them up):

Last edited by Realhoneyman, Jun. 7, 2013 at 23:59
Realhoneyman  Jun. 7, 2013 at 23:59

Can't get this to display properly so click the link for a quick chortle, albeit sighingly...

http://oyster.ignimgs.com/wordpress/stg.ign.com/2013/06/nohurdles.jpg

Last edited by Realhoneyman, Jun. 8, 2013 at 00:00
socialjeebus  Jun. 11, 2013 at 03:57

An interesting topic to write about before perhaps the biggest games show of the year. It certaily raises some interesting questions around Microsoft's direction with their new console and whether it will prove to be successful in the upcoming market or otherwise.

I wonder this though: how many FIFA fans are going to be happy when they get offered very little for their copy of FIFA '14? How bout when they are told they can only trade it through GAME and perhaps Grainger Games? How about giving that to a younger cousin and then realising they can't play it freely without paying for the privelage?

That's why I feel this business model works on paper for Microsoft but is going to F-up big time for the company. All it takes is for the other companies to not adopt the policy and see how quickly the audience holds onto their Xbox 360s for as long as possible.

I can almost see the outcome before me. The tea leaves are clear this time (going off on fotune teller tangent right there).

N.B I want to add that SONY have firstly concentrated on the games and then told fans they will get additional features with the PS4. Why was this not the case with the Xbox One? Very interesting indeed.


With all the game store closures going on and with no confirmation of who the pre-owned retail partners will be, what happens if you have nowhere within a reasonable distance to trade-in your physical copy, internet aside?

Is one heck of a mess that MS have created for themselves.

Then what of the legal ramifications.

EU have repeatedly fined MS over over the last few decades, plus the ruling regarding the right to resell digital content.

They're are going to see this, quite rightly imo too, as MS giving them the proverbial finger.

With Sony's announcements and Ninty seemingly complete disinterest in DRM, MS seem to be intent in cutting off their nose to spite their face.

I agree this has the potential has to be a disaster for MS.

I think they'll have watched Sony's E3 presentation and will probably make some vague announcement about further "clarifying" their policies at a later date, while they scramble to "rethink" this commercial self-harming episode.

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