Right now the controversy surrounding the Xbox One and it looks like the whole aspect of DRM will limit the console. Are there any benefits to this digital ecosystem? We can begin to explore the concept by comparing the Xbox One to systems past.
Lets start with backwards compatibility. In the current generation people expect backwards compatibility because the consoles are all disc based, so if an Xbox One has a disc drive it should be able to play Xbox 360 discs. However, most consoles in history have not offered backwards compatibility. Look at the transitions from NES to SNES to N64 to Gamecube… no backwards compatibility. The same is true of the Xbox 360, which uses DVD’s while the Xbox One uses Blu-Ray Discs. It is a fundamentally different media to deliver games.
If we look closer to the Xbox One architecture, than we see that the actual mode of content delivery is not the Blu-Ray Disc, but digital distribution. The Xbox One is designed from the ground up to be a digital device for the age of the internet. Once the disc is installed in the Xbox One you no longer need that disc to play the game. And once the game is associated with your account, you can play that game on any Xbox One once you sign in. Period. The game is not actually located on the disc, the disc is just a means to deliver digital content to the consumer, much like a MS Point card can be labeled with a specific game.
This brings me to DRM and Microsoft’s policy towards the consumer. Everyone thinks DRM is just means limitations toward a consumer’s content. But DRM only stands for Digital Rights Management, in other words it is a broad term used to define what a consumer’s rights towards digital content is. This specifically applies to the Xbox One because it has a digital ecosystem. On any other digital ecosystem, iOS, Android, Steam, Origin, you would not expect to be able to trade in some of your digital content, although it would be nice. There are countless games on my iPhone that I have purchased and removed from the device because I no longer use them, but I can’t trade them in. Microsoft’s digital rights allows the consumer to trade in digital content, as long as they bought a disc to deliver the content.
Technically the disc only offers a license for the digital content. Very similar to any disc based purchase of Blizzard products. Diablo III may have come on a disc, but I do not use that disc to play the game. This is the type of ecosystem that Microsoft seeks to create, because they believe that this is the future of content delivery. The difficulty comes when the consumer then wants to trade in a disc, to a store such as Gamestop, when on the Xbox One the disc is only a license transfer, and is not used to play a game. However, Microsoft’s DRM actually allows the consumer to trade in the disc, by giving Gamestop the means to remove an accounts license associated with the game, via Xbox Live, and resell the license to another consumer. This will only work if the Xbox One is required to connect to the internet once every 24 hours in order to check your licenses, or else I could trade in all my games for store credit and still play them by staying offline. Microsoft decided that the used game market is more important than only seeing the disc as a means of license transfer. By comparison, Blizzard does not think that the used game market matters, and you are unable to trade in those games.
But again let us think about what a used game license means. In the olden days, a used game was lesser than a new game, and thus cheaper. For example, cartridges may have scuffs or even some content and game saves still on them from the previous owner. Discs in the last two generations may be scratched from handling. But in this generation the disc is not used to play games, and the license that you buy from a used disc is exactly the same license that you receive when buying a new disc. In this way I do not see Gamestop differing between used Xbox One games and new Xbox One games, because they deliver the exact same license to the consumer. This benefits them, and may allow them to charge the same for used and new games. But it may also benefit the consumer if publishers realize that cheaper prices result in higher sales (don’t hold your breath for that).
Finally, I have some optimism towards the future of Xbox One. A byproduct of the digital ecosystem and the 24 hour online license check is that all Xbox One’s will be connected to the internet. By choosing this policy developers know that every Xbox One user has internet access, and can make games accordingly. I see the future of gaming moving away from a strict single player game, and moving in the direction of The Division by Ubisoft and Sunset Overdrive by Insomniac Games, which feature both PvE and PvP elements in a living breathing open world. You may need constant license checks on the Xbox One, but all the best games of the next generation will require a constant internet connection anyway, and if they don’t they are missing out on what makes the next generation the next generation. Even though both the PS3 and Xbox One have some cons, both consoles will turn out great games.
Now before you all call fanboyism. Know that I have both a PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. And plan to purchase both the Xbox One and PS4, because I love games. Uncharted is one of my favorite series, along with Halo, and of course Zelda. I am just wish people would understand what Microsoft is trying to do, because in my eyes the benefits of a digital ecosystem far outweighs the cons.
Oh and I know this is really long, but here are some more articles on the topic.