Posted May 26, 2013 by Amy in Commentary

XboxOne: Anti-Consumer or Exciting Technology? You Be The Judge!

Xbox One site screen
Xbox One site screen

There is a ton of information out there this week about the newly released XboxOne – and one of the biggest controversies to date has been the confirmed fact that used games will be limited in some way by a fee (reported to be actual full price) and that there will be no backwards compatibility, digitally or physically. A recent discussion with a friend of the “Don’t like it, don’t buy it” opinion had me really thinking about my positions on this, and so I asked the team to weigh in, and some pretty hefty arguments both for and against were a given. It’s brand new technology – yay! Families may find themselves lost in the shuffle – boo!

Adam:  The “don’t like it, don’t buy it” argument is fine in most cases (seems to be the growing consensus around the Xbox One), but there has been confusion for some considerable time around videogames (well, any software) and what you are actually getting with the money you are putting down and how long that deal is for. Do you get a copy of the software that you own? Do you acquire a licence for personal use that you can sell on? A licence for temporary use until the terms and conditions are changed by the publishers? This is one of the good things about Steam which has gone out of its way to provide consumers with as much protection as possible regarding the future of their digital purchases. Mind you, I say that but I use lots of software; video editing, sound recording, DVD authoring etc and for me the EULAs have always been fairly innocuous and straight forward. It’s only games and the advent of always-connected games consoles and PCs where things have suddenly become a mine field. This isn’t helped by software companies and publishers, who obviously don’t want you to have carte blanche control over their licence (piracy, second hand sales etc) and so have been applying increasing levels of pressure to benefit their own ends, and not those of the paying consumer. In the UK (and the rest of EU) we do have very stringent consumer rights act, not sure if you have something similar in the US.

In that respect, I can’t help but feel that a public definition/revisit of our consumer rights when purchasing digital/physical entertainment would be good so that consumers are fully in the know regarding their rights and what they are paying out for when they purchase a game, as well as a defined list of what publishers/developers/consumers and retailers can and can’t do with digital purchases. The good thing about these acts is that they automatically make null and void any terms and conditions or EULAs that retailers/publishers would otherwise try to impose on you. So the “we reserve the right…” schtick wouldn’t cut it legally if they decided to remove access to a game you bought legally a few months previously, even a few years. My argument regarding the licence is that if you have the right to remove my access to your code, then I should also have the right to remove my money. It’s not a one way street and just as you reserve the right to “own” the content you provide, I also “own” the money I have legally acquired. I would like to see that written into a CRA so this issue is one that we can finally put to bed across the gaming industry, and get on with making/selling/playing games. We never had all these arguments with the Commodore 64, which is why it still remains as the greatest gaming machine ever. And that is a FACT!

Amy:  They didn’t reference families, but that is what immediately came to mind. My understanding is that physical games *must* be installed, and that game is then tied to a single account. For other accounts to use it, they will have to pay an as yet unspecified fee. As to the rest of your arguments – I completely agree. Sadly, nearly every time the issue has come up, the courts have sided with the large, money filled pockets of the corporations. I would love to see a clearly written statement on digital media. Until then, it certainly makes me even more wary of paying large amounts for digital games, which seems counterproductive to the all digital future they seem to want (and which would seemingly equal more profit for them). There isn’t any good reason for them not to transfer digital purchases – especially since they are transferring things like gamerscore and achievements – and I guess that’s why it bothers me so much.

Dan:  am I the only one excited by the Xbox One? Having to shell out a bit of extra dough for some features vs the overall convenience of having my entire entertainment setup integrated into one box seems like a fair deal to me. As for the game thing (and its something that’s come up in my family actually) is the actual need/necessity for multiple accounts. If you’re the only gamer in the house, no big deal. If the entire family wants to game on it, use 1 account. You want to track your achievements separately? Pay a few bucks to have a second license for the select games  you care to do that for.

Its actually not as big a deal as everyone seems to make it out to be. As with every console reveal, the biggest/loudest voices are the ones bitching and moaning about how awful and restrictive everything is. Remember when the 360 was announced, and every began to bitch and moan about Silver/Gold Live subs? About paid vs free online services with the 360 and ps3? It’ll resolve itself, you don’t need to buy into the console if it feels too restrictive or whatever your reason is. If you think that’s limiting your choice, well, it IS. You have plenty of choice, and with the Steam Big Picture mode and Steambox, pc gaming in the living room is a viable, realistic alternative. Hell, pc gaming in the living room PERIOD is viable and realistic; we’ve had HTPC (Home Theatre PC) designations on computer for YEARS now.

Excluding launch, when only those who must-have and must-have-first get the console, it’s relatively cheap to invest in a new console. And it really is an investment: you’ll end up pouring in money over the years for entertainment. And while a lot of people seem to be steamed over not being able to port their games over to the One, keep in mind that the 360 that’s currently in your living room doesn’t explode when you buy a One. How many consoles are you supposed to keep/have? As many as you insist on keeping around for the purpose of playing games or using the features. It’s a choice. We’ve had our 360 in a box for about ~2 years, and last xmas we busted it out. Since the majority of the console use in the household here is using the PS3 for netflix (and the occasional gaming on my part), my uncle decided to buy his own ps3. He chose to, and effectively (if i was actually interested in most FPS games) would be buying 2nd copies of games so him and I could play together, or if he wanted his own copy. In the end, being able to swap between everything with a spoken word, having a tv guide that’s custom to a request, etc is pretty much a SOLD for me.

Zeth: According to reports it WILL let families share their games.  It will also tie a game to an account “somehow”…. it also plays used games.  You can also go to your buddies, sign in and the download your games to their console and play via “The Cloud”…. basically MS has handed out a confusing mess of information….

Amy:  Dan – your situation is not the typical family one. Your uncle buying another console or rebuying the games is far different than having several teens and tweens. For one thing – we don’t have room for all that. For another – that’s prohibitively expensive. Believe it or not – not everyone is concerned with achievements. The majority of games we’re coming across now only allow for one save profile – meaning that if more than one person wants to play the game, they need different accounts.

I can understand keeping the 360 around for physical discs – for the digital copies? No – I don’t undersatand it, and no – I shouldn’t have to do it. That would be like implying everyone should have hung on to every single iteration of iPad and iPhone and iPod they’ve ever had, with every piece of digital media purchased played only on that device. Digital media is a fairly new thing – people had every reason to believe that the media they were purchasing would carry with them to new consoles – after all, it is tied to an account – and there is no good reason for it not to. Yes – people are going to complain. But in this case, I do believe it is justified. This is not in any way consumer friendly – the people who really benefit from the new consoles are Microsoft and Sony, by being able to lock consumers into their schemes. A home pc setup is nice – again, for families containing mainly adult and teen gamers. It is not family friendly, truly – and it is prohibitively expensive for many.  As for being excited about it being an all in one thing? Nope – we have all of those capabilities, on the consoles we already own. If I wanted to cut down in my living room, I might buy one to get rid of those old consoles and consolidate. Oh, wait! Can’t do that, can I, as I’m expected to hang on to all those old consoles anyway. That being the case – no, there isn’t a lot to offer to consumers, beyond the fact that if they don’t purchase the new consoles, they can’t play any of the new games, as production on games for the old consoles will surely be stopped.

Peter:  I’m the only gamer in my house, but even so I wouldn’t want games locked to a single account. A lot of my old games – 8bit to 128bit era – were used games found in second hand shops and car boot sales. People shouldn’t be forced to keep something once they’ve bought it. I know the EULA usually reads along the lines of “you don’t have the right to edit, sell, rent out or lend this item” – I guess we buy the physical disc something is on, but only lease the right to play the actual content? I wouldn’t want games to go in that direction (and if the climbdown EA made over locking gamers in is to be used as a precedent, nor does anyone else). But I don’t want to go raising my blood pressure if that’s not the way things are going. The issue of legacy play though I have been giving a lot of thought too. And trying to come at it from different directions too – you know how my free-thinking can go, so feel warned. This change from one generation to the next is not a new one. My SNES could not play my NES games; my Dreamcast sneered at my Saturn, and so on. So it should feel the same knowing the the 360 will be left behind by the Xbox One (XB1 – I cannot just call it “the One” without too many disappointing flashbacks to the second and third Matrix movies).

But it doesn’t. I’m wondering if it comes down to two factors; the nature of 7th generation gaming, and what we were hoping the 8th generation would offer. The 7th generation of consoles were the first properly online systems; sure, we could do Chu Chu Rocket on the Dreamcast or Halo 2 on the original Xbox online, but they were the exception instead of the rule. With the 360 and PS3 we’ve come to expect online play as standard. I think that we’ve been encouraged to commit to these systems more emotionally – our friends are on there, we’ve been able to customise our avatars, compare games, download titles that tempt us and so on. It’s become a piece of our emotional space – and there is the sudden realisation that it might end. Dan is right that the 360 won’t explode when the XB1 is released. Probably. But if I load it up and find people have moved onto the next gen consoles it won’t be the same space to enjoy. How long will the servers be up for 360 games? You can no longer play Xbox Halo 2 online; hell, you can no longer play multiplayer games of some early 360 titles due to that support being switched off.

It raises the possibility that one day you will not be able to play these games online, or re-download arcade games. It will not be the same experience – unlike my obsolete NES, which still works exactly unchanged from the day the SNES took over. And the second point about expectations… It’s hard to see what the console offers that is new. Sure, it offers things that are better, but that probably isn’t enough to make it feel worth moving on. Better hardware for graphics, sound, physics… It made a bigger difference in earlier generations. Better VOIP is welcome, but not revolutionary. And so on. Better is good; but does it feel enough to warrant a generation leap? If it had managed that, we might feel better about taking that step onto the new system and leaving some of our old things behind.

Troy:  If it helps, Dan, I left with more good impressions than bad after watching the Xbox One unveiling.  I like the tech, I like the ideas, and while I rolled my eyes many times (especially when the one executive talked about listening to music by Deadmau5), Microsoft made a lot of big promises that they’re going to have to deliver on (instant switching between mediums, casual voice commands, etc.) that today’s hardware and software that I think they can actually deliver upon. I want to see the E3 announcements for Xbox One and PS4, and hope to get some clarification on some of the speculation about the features.  I also hope that the development and community around the Xbox 360 and PS3 continue to thrive for another year or two before they’re taken out behind the shed and put down.  I would hate to see those just drop off.
Justin:  Xbox One = bad.

Jeff:  What was the last console to have backward compatibility? Not counting the couple of weeks that the PS3 had it. I am mot sure there is not a such thing as a normal gaming family. Our set up is different from the other 2 that have been mentioned. I mean don’t get me wrong. The family pack going away and if they say it’s only one user per game, we will probably not be a gaming family anymore but I can still see the coolness of the XBO. And what are we comparing it to? The ps4? Did we forget how hard they are leaning to the social stuff? At least we did not even get an ounce of that from MS. Anyway, I like / dislike stuff about them both but i am more excited about the XBO. Probably because I’m and Xbox guy already.

Amy:  I didn’t expect disc compatibility – but digital compatibility? Yep. I’m comparing it more to other digital platforms, like steam, iTunes, google play – do you really want to pay full price for a download, knowing they really can take it away at any time?

Jeff:  Nope. I hate that part. I hate that we don’t own anything anymore.

Justin:  The way they appear to be trying to take total control of the used game market bothers me the most. Not that I buy many used games, but I’m not a big fan of only being able to trade in games only at Microsoft approved retailers. Kinect always on and DRM patents are not that cool either. Sony has not specifically stated their whole used game plan either, which has me worried that they are going to let publishers do something similar. I’m guessing this is why EA suddenly dropped their online pass, no need for it next gen if MS and Sony will do it for them. I’m thinking I’m just going to wait a year or so after they release and see where everything stands then.

Overall, next gen is a pretty depressing anti-consumer prospect right now.


U.S. Senior Editor & Deputy EIC, @averyzoe on Twitter, mother of 5, gamer, reader, wife to @macanthony, and all-around bad-ass (no, not really)