Entertainment Sci/Tech

The Xbox One: Some Misinformation Should be Clarified

The biggest issues people seem to be raising concern over are used games, borrowing games, Kinect privacy, and the 24-hour online check-ins. While these concerns are definitely worth thinking and worrying about, the internet at large seems to have overlooked a few of the finer points that might put the Xbox One in another light.

XBox One -- in need of a dusting

24-hour Online Checks: Why It Might be Necessary

Xbox One will have games available for purchase both by going to a retailer and picking up a game disc, or by purchasing a digital download. You will be able to install games directly to your system, and will not need to use the disc in the future. This was a feature gamers have asked for, and it is also a feature that will allow games to run smoother as it removes to need to continuously read a disc.

Obviously, without some restrictions, this basically enables piracy without even trying very hard. Two people can simply install the game on two different systems. This is why the 24-hour online restriction is included: so the system can verify if the game is on more than one system. With all of the criticism Microsoft is taking and due to the fact that they can still change this, we wouldn’t be surprised to see them enable offline play by leaving the disc in the system. It seems as if that would be a good compromise.

Used Games: Re-selling & Buying

Let’s start with a direct quote from

“Trade-in and resell your disc-based games: Today, some gamers choose to sell their old disc-based games back for cash and credit. We designed Xbox One so game publishers can enable you to trade in your games at participating retailers. Microsoft does not charge a platform fee to retailers, publishers, or consumers for enabling transfer of these games…Third party publishers may opt in or out of supporting game resale and may set up business terms or transfer fees with retailers.”

So, you will indeed be able to sell or trade-in a used game. Deals between publishers, developers, and retailers will need to be negotiated, but Microsoft will not charge any fees or profit from this. Third-party developers will indeed be able to opt-out of this if they do not want their games resold; it is their decision. It is also their choice if they want to negotiate a cut of the sales or not with retailers who resell their games. First-party games will be able to be re-sold without Microsoft profiting or implementing any fees. Only hard-copies can be re-sold; digital downloads can not.

Renting Games

So, this is currently a real problem: renting games will not be possible at launch. But here’s the thing, Microsoft is working with game rental companies such as Game Fly & RedBox to allow Xbox One games to be rented in the future. Loaning will also be unavailable at launch, but there is an option that will be provided for loaning games to friends. Keep reading for more on that.

Sharing Games or Giving Away Games

This will be a running theme: all of these features will depend on the decisions of third party publishers. They can allow them or disallow them. Third party retailers will decide whether or not you can give their games to your friends. First party games will have all of these features enabled.

First of all, a very important feature coming to the Xbox One is being overlooked. Gamers will be able to setup circles or families of up to 10 friends. Players will have access to their circle family’s games as long as the owner or any of their other circle friends are not currently playing it. They will have access from anywhere, and do not need to be using the same console. This works much like how people share games with discs: only the console that holds the disc can run it at one time. Downloadable games will also be capable of using this feature.

So sharing games is possible (of course, depending on third-party publishers), but what if you wanted to actually give your game to someone, or someone not in your family circle or 10? It seems like you will have this option as long as your friend has been added to your friend’s list for 30-days. You can give the game to your friend for free, but this will only be able to be done one time per game copy. So your friend most likely will not be able to then give the game to another friend. And again, consumers are at the mercy of third party publisher’s choices on whether or not to enable this feature for their games.

Kinect: Will It Really be Watching You?

Let’s start with another quote from One: Kinect

“You are in control of when Kinect sensing is On, Off or Paused: If you don’t want the Kinect sensor on while playing games or enjoying your entertainment, you can pause Kinect. To turn off your Xbox One, just say “Xbox Off.” When the system is off, it’s only listening for the single voice command — “Xbox On,” and you can even turn that feature off too. Some apps and games may require Kinect functionality to operate, so you’ll need to turn it back on for these experiences.”

And another:

“You are in control of your personal data: You can play games or enjoy applications that use data, such as videos, photos, facial expressions, heart rate and more, but this data will not leave your Xbox One without your explicit permission. Here are a few examples of potential future scenarios:

  • A fitness game could measure heart rate data to provide you with improved feedback on your workout, allow you to track your progress, or even measure calories burned.
  • A card game could allow you to bluff your virtual opponent using your facial expressions.”

XBox One: KinectThis clears up everything. You can even disable the system listening for you to say “Xbox on.” The only thing that is worrisome is that one of the patents which Microsoft has submitted for approval could enable the system to track viewing habits of various materials and reward people for their viewing of those materials (like advertisements). Given everything Microsoft has said, it seems almost guaranteed that this will be optional, and owners will be able to disable it or will need to enable it for it to function. But it is creepy nonetheless, especially given the improved Kinect’s ability to track heart rate and eye movements. It could in theory make sure you’re watching (eyes are pointed at television) advertisements to receive the reward from the ad publisher while also creating a viewing profile for your viewing habits. Of course, you would be doing this because you want the reward/achievement in the first place.

The Big Issues

In a word: eBay. Owners of games have been using eBay to resell their games for a long time. It is unlikely that eBay sellers will be able to resell games, given the restrictions. Amazon marketplace may have a similar problem. Most gamers will have to resort to GameStop, who some consumers feel is a rip-off compared to other options out there. It is possible and likely that small business owners of used gaming shops will be able to become approved re-sellers, but GameStop and online options have made it tough for many of those to exist.

Consumer choice is being handed over to third party game publishers. You will need their approval to be able to resell the game you purchased that they created. This goes against how it is for most non-digital items (I can sell my keyboard, monitor, car, couch, jeans, etc.), but the Xbox One’s game installation option has opened a giant can of worms. It is actually very similar to how installing almost any of the modern PC games that come with registration codes are not able to be resold (unless the person buying it from you doesn’t realize the CD-key has been used, in which case you’re kind of a jerk). Another example is online PlayStation 2 games like Final Fantasy 11 which required installation to a hard-drive accessory and included registration codes were treated the same way.

So, the comparisons to reselling non-digital items probably isn’t a fair one. Buying used jeans, a monitor, or a car is buying a product that is not as good as new and has had its lifetime reduced. Buying a used game is basically like buying the new one, except maybe an instruction manual is crumpled or missing, and the disc might be scratched if you don’t pay attention when you’re purchasing (re-surfacing nowadays is super cheap and effective, though). But the game itself will be the same.

It’s also worth mentioning that people have been making the comparison of reselling DVD’s, CD’s, and books. As far as the music industry, the labels and artist get royalties from having radio-play, Pandora, being featured in film and television, band merchandise, and live tours. Movie producers very often release their movies to theaters before releasing to DVD, which is where they typically make a large amount of their profits. Movies are also streamed on services like Netflix, played on television through syndication, rented through amazon video or on-demand services, or purchased on itunes. All of these give more forms of income to producers. Books are different, but will undergo wear-and-tear due to use, and books do not cost anything to maintain once produced, unlike a lot of games which include online-modes. Books have also been expanding into the digital market.

Alternate sources of revenue for game developers don’t really exist, with the exception of online games that either have subscription fees or in-game digital microtransactions, but a lot of those games already restrict play to one user account. Used game sales have been hurting game developers far more than the producers of other forms of media that were just discussed. EA has been noted for shutting down the online components of their games, and it’s easy to see why. Without additional game sales, how would they continue to fund and maintain their servers without losing money? With one copy of a game being used multiple times and the online modes being used more than anticipated for that one copy, it becomes clear that this is a problem for publishers. This is also related to why PlayStation Network and Xbox Live subscriptions will be required for most online games in the future. In a world where large game-resellers will push used games over new games to their consumers because of the higher profit margins for the retailer, it seems understandable that change will come. Personally, I’d rather give my money to game developers who will continue making more games, than GameStop who is basically leeching. I’d like cheaper games, too, but maybe used games aren’t the only option? More on this towards the end.

XBox One: Controller

So it’s quite different. But consumer choice, to me, is the biggest issue. All of these Xbox One features provided can be disallowed for third-party games, so you might not get any sharing “privileges” for certain games. I don’t think this is a burden to be placed all on Microsoft, but it is weird that they are the only system with that restriction. You would think if third-party publishers were behind this pressure, PS4 would have caved, too. Why is Microsoft pushing now?

Unfortunately, it seems consumers are getting affected by these changes which were most likely directed at aggressive game-resellers like GameStop rather than consumers trying to save some money. GameStop is a particularly interesting beast, as they often demand pre-order exclusives which are almost always at the expense of the consumer, while also benefiting from aggressively pushing used games to people who might be trying to buy a new game at the expense of game publishers. These used game measures being introduced on the Xbox One seem like a way for developers to force GameStop to share profits with them from third party games. This seems reasonable, honestly, when looking at it through that lense. In summary: times are bad for consumers.

Game renting is still a to-be-determined variable. If GameFly is involved in working it out, which they are, then it is very likely it will come into fruition.

The Kinect is going to be bundled with all Xbox Ones. A lot of gamers have expressed concern that the price is high($100 more than the PS4) partially because of this. This is probably accurate; the new PlayStation camera for the PS4 will be sold separately and is priced at approximately $60. Of note, this will mean that every Xbox One owner will have both the Kinect and the system, giving publishers more incentive to create games that utilize its impressive capabilities. It is much more sensitive now, so subtle movements that are less intrusive will be able to be incorporated. You could tap the side of your head to enable night-vision, lean to the right to sidestep an incoming attack, or raise your controller to enable a shield. These are in addition to the two examples provided above from Microsoft to demonstrate some of its new capabilities.

XBox One: Kinect body recognition

The limit to giving away games (one time per game, assuming you have that option if it is a third-party game) seems awfully restrictive. Right now, I can give my PS3 game to a friend, who can then give it to another friend of ours to play through, and so on. This limit is partially made up for by the game-sharing feature for up to 10 people. It would be really cool to play the games of your sibling off at college or friend who moved across the country without using a mailing service, and while still being able to play the games you share with them, too. It’s a very cool feature, but something about being limited in how many times a game can be given away doesn’t sit right. And of course, this is up in the air for third-party games. Which is really the biggest issue, in our opinion. If the third parties enabled all of these features, it would be palatable, as then these changes would be more directly targeted at companies like GameStop.

Of note, for PC games, deep discounts (up to 75% off) on downloadable content (DLC) are very common to see on sites like Steam even for some newer games, which consumers obviously benefit from. If you can’t afford a game, it is much more likely that you can wait to buy it and it will go on sale if it is a PC game than if it were a console game. The used game market for modern PC games is pretty much non-existent, so game publishers are able to offer these sales. Would this have happened if used games were as dominant for PC games as they are for console games? Something to think about. The gaming industry is trying to implement changes like other industries have, and much in the same line that PC games have been doing. There are definitely many real concerns, but some of the common gut reactions are just based on inaccuracies.

One final thing worth considering is the frequency of games including DLC specific to an account (e.g: a map, weapon, cosmetic item, level-pack, etc.). If this were to increase, game reselling would not really be much of a problem. Because the downloaded purchases are unique to a user account, even if that person sells the game, the next person who wants to buy something will still have to buy it, allowing game developers to benefit from selling the same thing to multiple people with the same copy of a game. Microsoft’s stance would be less amenable to this market-style than Sony’s. It will be interesting to watch future developments unfold. And again, why is Microsoft pushing from now if this is likely to happen in the future, anyways, when looking at what has happened to other forms of digital media?