Pre-E3 2013: Microsoft

The 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo is only a few short days away, and I must say, I’m excited. Before the show gets underway, let me share some of my early thoughts. First up: Microsoft.

Oh, Microsoft…

After the reveal of the XBox One, I actually spent time defending Microsoft’s approach in several conversations I had with other gamers and a few interested casual individuals. I still feel like the media-centered reveal of the new console was the correct course of action for the company, but I also recognize and share the sting of exclusion and anger that fueled the gamer outcry afterwards. We want to see what we will be playing on this next-generation console – we have more enough devices to watch TV and movies with.

This week, however, my decision to purchase the One or not has gotten a bit simpler. Microsoft has finally explained its plan for always-on connectivity and game licensing. That link is for the main information hub, and you’ll find links to the details at the end of the post. I currently don’t have any particular games I’m exceptionally curious to learn about exclusive to the One other than Quantum Break, so this post will deal exclusively with this new technical information.

“A Modern, Connected Device”

I like what Microsoft is trying to do in this space, but I’m disappointed in what I’m seeing as far as execution. For all I know, this will work perfectly, but I can’t help but feel like some of these decisions are just bad. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see developers make huge, persistent worlds. I want a fast booting system that updates regularly and silently. Skype is cool, and having access to my entire games library even when I’m on a friend’s system is a neat idea as well. And more importantly, I still like purchasing a physical copy of stuff – old-fashioned, yes, but comforting.

The wording here, though, is enough to worry me. The list of features opens with “Because every Xbox One owner has a broadband connection;” That phrasing right there eliminates entire countries, poses problems for potential buyers in several huge emerging markets like Brazil, alienates consumers right here at home who don’t, in fact, have a reliable broadband connection if they have one at all. And to make matters even more confusing to me (and many others I’m sure), is the inconsistent implementation of Internet connectivity. A “persistent connection is not required” in that you can, indeed, play games offline. The catch is that the system periodically checks for updates, patches and any changes to your games library. Because of this, you have 24 hours of offline game time (one hour if logged into someone else’s system); after that, you will need to re-establish a connection. TV, Blu-ray, and DVD playback are unaffected. So, without a broadband connection, XBox One is a glorified Roku. Maybe not even that as I’m sure you could still play Angry Birds on your Roku without a connection.

First-Sale Doctrine at Risk

Same day release of disc and digital is nice. Also, I’m fine with mandatory installs, and in this case, you are also automatically getting a digital copy in the cloud – regardless of whether you purchased a physical or digital copy. You get to share your entire library with up to 10 family members, and they can access from any system just like you can. All of this is OK. What isn’t so OK is the new policy regarding trade-ins, resells, and sharing.

I’m not going to get too deep in the legal mess surrounding software licensing and the first-sale doctrine. Instead, I’ll post some links down below if you want to read up on some of that. I will say this: leaving the decision to allow or disallow used games in the hands of the publishers is both smart and terrible. Smart in that it frees Microsoft of some ill-will should a publisher decide not allow its games to be placed into the secondary market; terrible because it puts publishers in a bad position against consumers. We get a little power in the deal as we can take collective action with our wallets more easily, but in the end, the real power still lies in the hands of Microsoft and third-party publishers. We consumers are being told outright that game makers don’t like what we do with the products we purchase. We already knew this, and this debate is a rather old one, but the twist is in the details. Digital first sale is currently nebulous; physical first sale is pretty well established in case law and history. Microsoft has just changed the license agreement for all games to basically say that consumers may not do what they want with the “physical” product that they paid for. Every software license says that about the digital product, but the overwhelming general expectation of physical ownership has now been compromised with this decision from Microsoft.

Now, XBox One is Microsoft’s system. It can do with it whatever it wants to. But going into E3, I really hope this company has a ton of uber-amazing content to talk about to get people talking about things other than this. The PR mess that came after the big reveal could easily get worse otherwise. As for me, I want to give the One a chance to impress me with games, but right now, Sony and Nintendo have my money.

Source: Microsoft (Licensing, Connectivity), First-Sale (Wikipedia)
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I'm an otaku, avid gamer, and electronic "musician." I'm forever indulging in the amazingness that is Japanese tokusatsu.

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