For those not already aware, the internet exploded when Microsoft dropped a bombshell in the form of an official statement regarding their ‘always online’ and ‘used games’ policies. The link is below.
Microsoft has decided to not backpedal a little, but to backpedal completely, making the Xbox One little more than a more powerful, more versatile Xbox 360.
If this was always an option, why did they try to go with the convoluted sharing system in the first place. The reason can be found in their interview with CNN just as E3 was winding down.
Publishers, of course, have been the most forceful proponents of cutting off the used game market, with some suggesting that used games are comparable to piracy for their bottom line. But Mehdi said that Microsoft wasn’t simply “giving in” to publisher demands with its new game licensing terms.
Instead, it was trying to balance the needs of its four main “constituents,” including the consumer (who comes “first and foremost” he said), game publishers, retailers, and Microsoft itself as a company. …
…On the Xbox One, Mehdi said the company has “tried to… bridge the two in a way that no one has done — to give you the power of digital and then give you all this power in physical … . We know we’re providing a lot more value to consumers, but in that comes a lot of need to clarify, ‘How come disc? How come digital? How’s that work?'”
I think it’s very clear how this came about, given this statement, but it has several layers to it. So let’s begin.
Layer 1 — Microsoft’s agenda
Microsoft has made known under no uncertain terms, it wanted the Xbox One to be a digital device. It also has made no bones about wanting to compete with another big technology company, Apple. Xbox One, was likely conceived as Microsoft’s answer to the Apple TV. However, by providing access to AAA titles, it hoped to set itself apart and reach a demographic that the Apple TV would barely touch — the hardcore gamer.
This idea could stand pretty well, but would work best as a purely online device, similar to the Ouya. Games would be digital, not physical, so not being able to access your games while offline, would make sense. This would allow them to be both the hardware provider, and provide a service similar to Steam. This would cut out a fair portion of their market, but it would be far less confusing by presenting it as something consumers were already somewhat familiar with.
Layer 2 — Retailers
The CNN article specifically references retailers, which means that GameStop got to say their peace on this at some point. If Microsoft chose to move to purely digital, then GameStop would have no reason to carry or promote their device. There was pretty much no negotiations to be made on this aspect. Either the Xbox One still allows physical media, or GameStop refuses to promote it.
Not wanting to look bad with GameStop and other retailers, Microsoft had to support using physical media. That wasn’t too bad of a stretch. Since it had a disc drive for Blu-ray, it could install discs to the drive fairly easily. This would allow users to still have a library saved to their hard drive and allow access across the internet.
Layer 3 — Publishers
Publishers, such as EA, don’t really like this idea of being able to install the game on the system with a physical copy, because of what could happen to that physical copy. Unless the disc is required to be in the tray to play, there is no way to prevent the user from just passing the disc from one user to the next to the next, only getting an official purchase once.
This is likely where the internet check in and unique coded discs idea started coming into play. By locking games to a user, Microsoft’s servers would be able to tell easily where physical discs went to. However, it also meant that if the system was not connected to the internet, they would not be able to confirm that only one person was playing at a time. So, while leading up to this, the internet connection was always a plan, a ‘check-in’ had to be established. This also meant that at some point, they would have to prevent user’s from playing offline.
Layer 4 — the Consumers Weigh In
E3 was ultimately the crucible. The whole idea had become very convoluted and confusing, likely even for the software developers working on it. Even when asked at E3, it seemed like Microsoft still didn’t have a firm grasp of it yet. They thought they were future proofing the system; instead, they were just confusing the heck out of everyone, including their own people. Consumers over the past week have made it very clear that the PS4’s stance, keep everything as it is, is the stance gamers can and will get behind going into the next generation.
Microsoft backpedaled on this idea, very hard — perhaps too much so. They dropped the online features of sharing a library completely, to go back to keeping the discs in the tray. I almost regret this is the case, since there surely was some middle-ground somewhere to be had with this idea. The problem seems that digital gaming, physical media, and consoles just aren’t fully compatible yet, and that could spell trouble as the gaming market slowly inches toward a cliff