Let's talk about the Xbox One.
|I'll stop after this, I swear.|
Microsoft's messaging has been awful on the intricacies of the Xbox One's online requirements, licensed disc-based games is a mistake, and the twenty-four-hour check-in thing is total bullshit.
But what they're trying to do is... wise. And has vision. And is far-reaching. They're just tripping over some of the details, and have (seemingly) made unnecessary concessions to their publishing partners in the process - concessions which won't matter one iota when (not if) Microsoft's vision of gaming comes to pass.
The future Microsoft envisions for the One is one nobody in the first world would have that big of a problem with - an entirely digital gaming console - but it's also something that's never been successful, unless you've only used your smart phone for Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies. In the same way few people buy PC releases on anything but Steam these days, in the same way I've probably spent close to $300 so far this year on the PlayStation Network alone, there are benefits to this type of system for the consumer, the platform holder and the developer.
The consumer needn't deal with a trip to a brick-and-mortar store, and has access to games that run the gamut from $0.99 to $70. The publisher's overhead is cut way down, with no need to manufacture and ship discs and cases, and the developer is able to provide and service their games more efficiently and directly than ever before.
There's a lot about digital distribution that is way cool - and Microsoft wants their box to be... well, a Steam Box. And rest assured, one day we will be there.
We, the people, aren't ready for it yet. I love my physical games library. I like looking at it. I like the... truth of it, I suppose. Showing my games library to someone has a very different value than letting them browse my download list - but the time will come when no new video game releases in a physical format.
One day, retail stores won't stock anything but ancient, scuffed "retro" games in a physical format, and all they'll have to offer us for new games will be little plastic cards with a download key on them. Those cards already exist - you've probably walked past them in Wal-Mart - and there will come a point within our lifetimes that they are the only physical representation of a video game. The only part of a game you'll still be able to hold in your hand.
Microsoft wants its box to be ready and capable when that future comes. They're just... overcompensating. Which is odd, because Microsoft essentially led the charge towards the present we all enjoy with Xbox Live on the first Xbox.
I can only look at this through the eyes of someone who does a lot of business with the PlayStation Network, and is familiar with its EULA - and the concept that Microsoft proposes with the Xbox One's digital rights is almost-identical to what you'll currently find on the PlayStation network. It's not a bad thing.
They talk about how up to ten family members will be able to enjoy the content you purchased on your Xbox One - I don't know how things work on the Xbox 360, but that's already the case on the PlayStation 3. If I buy Guacamelee on my PSN account, Kayla can log in to my PS3 on her PSN account (or create a random, PSN-account-less user name) and play my copy of the game on my console, regardless of whether or not she's purchased it.
They talk about sharing a game "once" - which is precisely what the deal on PlayStation Network is. When PSN started up, that number was five - five licenses for each PSN game I bought - now it's down to two, I think, which nobody really found unreasonable, when the change was made.
The important part is that it's my account and my content, and my access to it is never denied. I can go over to Kayla's, log in to my account on her PS3 and download Guacamelee again. The system authorizes that I have a license available, and she's good to go. If I then go to a third PS3, log in to PSN and attempt to download Guacamelee again, it'll tell me "ehhh sorry - you've already got this license on the maximum number of boxes allowed. Please log in to one of the other two PS3s you've authorized to play this content, and disassociate the license from that box."
That's it. Easy peasy lemon-squeezy. If your box disappears - someone stole it, God forbid, and you don't have physical access to it to disassociate your account - there's a backup system in place in which Sony can wipe the licenses you own from all PS3s, PSPs and PS Vitas associated with your account. Then just turn on your new system, log in to your account and open up your download list - yes, I would like to authorize this system for my account. There's all your games, good to go.
My PS3, for the record, turns itself on every morning at 08:00 to download updates for the games I own, synch my trophy information with the Sony servers and upload all my saved games. It's sweet. I don't know if the current Xbox Live Gold service does the same, but it would come as no surprise if it did.
This is how it should be.
The system Microsoft is trying (and failing) to communicate to us already exists - and it's nice! They've just added a few caveats on top that we find... unappetizing.
When asked about the reasoning before the 24-hour check-in, Microsoft's PR folks tend to spout a lot of crap about "persistent online worlds" and "the power of the cloud," neither of which have any bearing whatsoever on the question at hand. The reason is (or seems to be) entirely so that they can verify the licenses on your box.
And your defense, Microsoft, that the data packet is super-tiny? That misses the fucking point. You can't (or at least, I sure hope you can't) treat your customers like they're guilty of piracy until proven innocent to your satisfaction every twenty-four hours, and if not, you brick the console they invested in.
That's bullshit. This is my box, and if I want to connect to the cloud, that should be my choice. Just make me want to, and don't render my box inert if I don't. Simply tell me, the next time I log in and try to associate a game elsewhere whether or not I have any licenses on my account. Let it be my choice. It's so bloody simple.
That's all you have to do to achieve the effect you're looking for, Microsoft.
Speaking of licenses, disc-based games functioning only as a way to install licensed content to my box is a joke whose punchline I really wish you got. You're trying to force the limitations we all accept of digital distribution on physical media, and we don't accept that.
The future you envision will come, Microsoft - but it's not here yet - and in the present, the legal hijinks you're attempting to pull with Bluray discs is arrogant, greedy and entirely unattractive.
Be patient with us. Don't just talk at us. Communicate with us.
The future you envision will come, but you needn't drag us kicking and screaming into an all-digital world. We'll get there - and here's the important part - we'll get there with or without you. When we arrive at that future, it won't be a future that's merely for you to tell us how things are, and what we're permitted to do - which is what the Xbox One's policies seem to be presuming.
We'll get there - but not because of you - and certainly not because you insist there's no other way to play.
'Cause brother, that ain't the case.