The more you think about it, the more Microsoft's strategy at last night's Xbox One unveiling seems a little bit weird. The internet had been awash with rumours - mostly negative - for months beforehand, lending the event a distinctly negative vibe before it even kicked off - so you could be forgiven for expecting the company to stride confidently on stage, and put everyone's minds at rest. Instead, what happened was that Microsoft cunningly avoided talking about any of the issues people were concerned about, with the intention of letting info trickle out onto the internet after the event, through select interviews with high up Microsoft execs. One of the biggest, and most controversial issues in the run up to the
Xbox One unveiling was that Microsoft may be about to block pre-owned
games from working on their console. At the event, Microsoft didn't
mention the words used or pre-owned once - but the aversion strategy hasn't exactly worked as planned.
What we've ended up with is a hugely confused, panicked mix of confirmations, denials, clarifications and explanations. Now that the dust is beginning to settle, it seems that the Xbox One will have some rather draconian DRM. When you buy a game on a disc, and put it in your Xbox One, that game will be immediately installed onto your hard drive (and the installation is mandatory, too), before being locked to your console, and your profile. If someone else in your family wants to play your game, they'll be able to, as long as they play it on your console. If that isn't an option - for example, if you'd like to lend your friend one of your games for a few weeks, or if you have two consoles in the same house (one in each child's room, for example), then things get a little bit more complicated.
As the games are tied to your account, if you want to play them on a different console, you'll have to have your account logged in. That effectively means it'll be impossible to lend your friend a game, as they'd have to keep you logged in in order to play - and they won't be able to do that if you log in at home. More concerning is the implications for people who play in the same house. If you're playing a game in the living room, and your child wants to play one of your games on their console, under the Xbox One's system as it stands, that simply wouldn't be possible. If the game they want to borrow is locked to your account, they can't play it on their system without logging you in - and if you're playing in the living room, you can't log in on their console. It's a draconian measure, and one that Microsoft have really struggled to explain over the course of the day.
But what of pre-owned games? Again, Microsoft have sent incredibly mixed messages. In an interview with Wired, Microsoft seemingly confirmed that games would be locked to a single account (as detailed above), and if you then decided to trade them in, anyone who bought the game would have to pay an activation fee in order to transfer the license to their account - a fee that would apparently be close to the cost of the new game. This would be terribly impractical, and would effectively kill the pre-owned market overnight. That's fine if it forces stores to discount games on a more natural curve - but it doesn't exactly seem the most consumer friendly of approaches. As time's gone on, Microsoft have denied, confirmed, and attempted to clarify again that there'll be a charge involved when playing pre-owned games - but at the moment, much is up in the air. More recently, Microsoft have issued an official FAQ, that states "We are designing Xbox One to enable customers to trade in and resell games. We’ll have more details to share later.", which hints that at the very least, trading in games won't be the simple thing it was before, and there are almost certainly plenty of caveats and penalties awaiting consumers.
In the end, all that's really clear is that lending games to your friends will be nigh on impossible, and households with more than one console will find things a lot more awkward on the Xbox One. And whoever's in charge of Microsoft's PR and Communication may soon end up looking for a new job.