Xbox 180: Microsoft reverses course on used games and online connections

xboxonebannerWell, that was quick.  It’s been barely a week since Sony launched an all-out assault on the much maligned Xbox One, and Microsoft is already waving the white flag.  Read on for the details.

Hey, so… remember the big deal everybody (including me) made about the Xbox One’s online check-ins, used game policies, and all-around douchiness? Apparently, our pitchforks were pointy enough to make Microsoft basically abandon the whole thing.  No, seriously.  It’s over.  In an update to those wonderful FAQs the company posted last month, Don “I don’t know what it means to be on a submarine” Mattrick has posted a letter to fans, announcing some sweeping changes to his plans for Xbox One.  The site is getting justifiably hammered at the moment, so here’s the whole thing.

Last week at E3, the excitement, creativity and future of our industry was on display for a global audience.

For us, the future comes in the form of Xbox One, a system designed to be the best place to play games this year and for many years to come. As is our heritage with Xbox, we designed a system that could take full advantage of advances in technology in order to deliver a breakthrough in game play and entertainment. We imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing, and new ways to try and buy games. We believe in the benefits of a connected, digital future.

Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.

You told us how much you loved the flexibility you have today with games delivered on disc. The ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world.

So, today I am announcing the following changes to Xbox One and how you can play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360. Here is what that means:

  • An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.
  • Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.

In addition to buying a disc from a retailer, you can also download games from Xbox Live on day of release. If you choose to download your games, you will be able to play them offline just like you do today. Xbox One games will be playable on any Xbox One console — there will be no regional restrictions.

These changes will impact some of the scenarios we previously announced for Xbox One. The sharing of games will work as it does today, you will simply share the disc. Downloaded titles cannot be shared or resold. Also, similar to today, playing disc based games will require that the disc be in the tray.

We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.

Thank you again for your candid feedback. Our team remains committed to listening, taking feedback and delivering a great product for you later this year.

Wow.  I mean… wow.  Unlike most of what Microsoft has been saying over the last month, Mattrick’s statement is pretty clear.  Disc based games for Xbox One can be played offline indefinitely, and can be resold, traded, lent, or gifted.  You buy a physical copy of a game in a store, and you own it.  Just like you can with any other game in the history of games.  They won’t even be region locked.

A reversal of his magnitude is unprecedented in the industry.  Sure, game companies have caved to public outcry in the past.  Controversies surrounding Mass Effect 3 and Simcity are a couple recent examples.  But never before has a console manufacturer reversed course so completely, and so quickly.  It’s to me shocking that a corporate strategy this far-reaching, which has probably been in development for years, could be undone in a week. And it’s a testament to the power of the message Sony delivered at their E3 press conference.  The system for buying and selling games that’s in place today works for consumers, so there’s no need to change it.

Some questions remain.  How will this affect the Xbox One’s family sharing plan, in which any ten people can be given access to a single library of games?  While Mattrick doesn’t come right out and say that family sharing dead, it sure sounds like it is.  How will the Xbox One’s cloud processing be affected by this move?  Part of the online requirement was to guarantee that developers had access to Microsoft’s cloud-based processing muscle.  Now, it appears that they won’t.  Has the plans for Kinect changed at all?  Beyond the outcry over online requirements and used game DRM, many people were unnerved by Microsoft’s insistence that the Kinect be connected and (at the very least) listening for commands at all times.  While customers will have the ability to disable the device through software settings, it still must be plugged in, or the Xbox One won’t function.  Or at least, that was Microsoft’s stance before today.

The biggest question of all is why?  Why jack hammer the foundation of the Xbox One’s design so abruptly?  Despite the uproar amongst gamers, Microsoft was the picture of confidence at E3.  Major Nelson talked about “educating” the public on the benefits of an always-online console.  Their chief marketing and strategy officer Yusuf Mehdi went so far as to say “In a broader set of community, people don’t pay attention to a lot of the details.”  Their attitude was basically “haters gonna hate and we know what we’re doing.”  And to their credit, the system sure wasn’t lacking preorders.  And I’m sure the publishers were more than happy with it.  So what changed?  What made them make such a drastic change of course?  Was it Sony?  Was it gamer rage?  Was it the military?  Was it all three?  We may never know the answer.

While I’m pleased that Microsoft has listened to the feedback and is making changes to address it, I must say that I’m a little disappointed.  Sony’s point-for-point dismantling of Microsoft’s vision for Xbox One at E3 seemed like the opening salvos in a battle that would rage for years.  For the first time in generations, we were headed for a real console war.  Two companies, two powerful machines, two vastly different ideologies.  It was going to be pretty damned exciting.  Now… don’t get me wrong, it’s still going to be exciting.  A new generation of games is always a thrill.  But the fate of our hobby is no longer at stake.  What was, for a little while, beginning to feel like a crusade is now just another choice.

I’m still going with PS4.  A hundred bucks is a hundred bucks… or fifty, if you live in Australia.

About the Author: (@Joe_of_the_Dead) Lead Editor, Writer

Joe was born in a time of war. A console war. Two electronic titans were locked in a heated battle for the living rooms of America. Which titans, you ask? Well, the Fairchild Channel F and the Atari 2600 of course. You see, Joe is old. So many of his favorite games tend to be on the older side as well. But that hasn’t stopped him from developing unhealthy obsessions with such modern franchises as Halo and Mass Effect. Just don’t tell him how long it’s been since the original Metroid was released. His aging heart can’t take the shock.

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