WARNING: Some strong language is used within this article.
Microsoft have revealed via their official Xbox news site a load of new information regarding the Xbox One, namely their policies on used-games, lending, licensing , privacy and much more. The good news is that some of the information is actually quite exciting. The bad news is that the majority is not likely to help stem the tide of anger currently being directed at Microsoft and their VCR player. Damn. I meant their Xbox One. It’s so hard to tell.
So, without further ado I want to pick out some of the key points from Microsoft’s burst of information and provide my brief, possibly borderline stupid, thoughts on them. To keep things simple and ensure there’s absolutely no confusion quotes from Microsoft will be provided in lovely bold text.
And don’t worry, I will be picking out some of that good news I mentioned, too, because at the end of the day I’m trying not to bash the console just for the sake of bashing of, although currently Microsoft do not seem intent on helping with that.
First of all, let’s start with the first page of information, titled “Xbox One: A modern, Connected Device.” which boasts a few interesting snippets of information.
“Access your entire games library from any Xbox One—no discs required: After signing in and installing, you can play any of your games from any Xbox One because a digital copy of your game is stored on your console and in the cloud. So, for example, while you are logged in at your friend’s house, you can play your games.”
To start with I thought I’d focus on something positive, and the ability to access and play my entire library of games via the Cloud is pretty cool, assuming of course that wherever I am at the time has a good enough Internet connection to stream the game in question. Just imagine going on holiday for a while: you could simply pack the Xbox and not have to worry about finding space for games as well.
“Buy the way you want—disc or digital—on the same day: You’ll be able to buy disc-based games at traditional retailers or online through Xbox Live, on day of release.”
Again, a nice little piece of news, though one that’s once again really only going to be of interest to those with fast, consistent Internet connections. Sadly such connections are still actually in the minority here in the UK, and so downloading games can be a pain in the arse for many. Still, it’s good to know all the new titles are going to be sitting there, waiting for you to download on release day. However, if the Xbox 360’s Games on Demand service is any indication the pricing of those games could be much higher than what we tend to see at retail.
“With Xbox One you can game offline for up to 24 hours on your primary console, or one hour if you are logged on to a separate console accessing your library. Offline gaming is not possible after these prescribed times until you re-establish a connection, but you can still watch live TV and enjoy Blu-ray and DVD movies. “
If I had a mouthful of coffee when I read this I would have sprayed it across my screen in truly dramatic fashion. Of course we were aware of the 24-hour check-in as a Microsoft representative mentioned it just after the official Xbox One reveal event, but the exact consequences of not being to connect within the given timeframe were unknown. Now, though, Microsoft have made it clear: if you don’t connect to the Internet within the alloted amount of time, you won’t be able to play games. At all. Exactly why am I not allowed to play my games offline, Microsoft?
What truly catches me, though, is how they cheerfully mention they mention the Xbox One’s ability to continue to let you watch movies and TV offline, like this it’s somehow a truly amazing feature. I’ve got news for you, Microsoft, my fucking Xbox 360 lets me watch movies offline, and even more amazingly it let’s me playing fucking games, too! You see, I wouldn’t mind so much if Microsoft could at least give me a genuine reason as to why this 24-hour check-in policy would benefit me, the consumer. I’d at least be willing to consider my stance and weigh up the benefit against the negative if they could provide such an argument. But so far the only reason this policy seems to exist is because a) corporations want to know everything you’re doing, and b) Microsoft firmly believe that we’re all pirating games. Here’s a shocker, Microsoft, I don’t pirate games, so stop treating me like I am.
I have seen some people argue that it’s because Microsoft plan on using the Cloud to bolster the console’s performance, however this argument would only be valid if the console required a constant Internet connection – it doesn’t, it merely asks for a connection every 24-hours, meaning developers still can’t rely on every Xbox One owner have a continuous connection with which to take advantage of the Cloud. So, if it’s not for the Cloud, exactly why does the console need to connect every 24-hours? Microsoft don’t seem able to give us any answer, other than because they want to know everything you’re doing.
What happens if I’ve got no Internet connection for a few days? Or what if I go on holiday to a rural area for a month without Internet connection? Sure, we live in a world where near-constant Internet connection is commonplace, but at least most of those systems provide actual benefits for being that way, and tend to work even when they aren’t connected. My phone still lets me phone people without an Internet connection, so why can’t my games console play games without Internet connection?
Let’s move on, to the page titled ‘How games licensing works on Xbox One’.
“Give your family access to your entire games library anytime, anywhere: Xbox One will enable new forms of access for families. Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One. Just like today, a family member can play your copy of Forza Motorsport at a friend’s house. Only now, they will see not just Forza, but all of your shared games. You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time.”
Now, this is certainly an intriguing piece of information, largely because Microsoft haven’t fully detailed how exactly how this system will work, leaving it open to quite a bit of interpretation. How will Microsoft verify who is your family and who is not? Will Kinect perhaps scan the faces of those logging in to check that they’re who they say they are? At the moment, then, this idea seems like a brilliant lending tool for you and your friends, allowing you to create a substantial network of titles that you can access and play whenever you want. Presumably only one person could stream a game from this shared account at the same time, though. But if not, then you and your friends could simply get together, create a single account and then purchase games solely for that account and access them through the Cloud.
“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.”
Upon first glance this seems great: the Xbox One will indeed allow gamers to trade-in their games! That’s brilliant! Until you notice that it’s at the discretion of the publishers, who can choose to either allow their games to be traded or not. Considering the stance that many publishers already take in regards to second-hand games, this doesn’t exactly bode well for the future of the pre-owned market, and therefore for the future of retailers for whom such sales are an important factor in their continued existence. The wording also makes it seem like the ability to trade-in a game is disabled by default, which while not a truly big deal does perhaps lend a little insight into Microsoft’s mindset. It was also mentioned that while Microsoft themselves will charge no fees for the sale of pre-owned games, publishers may choose to “set up business terms or transfer fees with retailers.” Should some publishers choose to do so I’m sure we can expect to see some price mark-ups on certain pre-owned games.
“Give your games to friends: Xbox One is designed so game publishers can enable you to give your disc-based games to your friends. There are no fees charged as part of these transfers. There are two requirements: you can only give them to people who have been on your friends list for at least 30 days and each game can only be given once.”
Again, here’s something which Microsoft almost seem to be proudly touting as a major selling point for their new console, the ability to lend a game to a friend! And once again I can’t help but feel that it’s important to point out that I can already fucking do that! Even better, at the moment there’s very few limitations on me doing so and I can give any of my owned games to any of my friends as often as I see fit! Yet with the Xbox One I’ll only be lend a game once to a single friend, and only if that friend has been on my Friends List for 30-days, and only if the publisher lets me do it. Yes, just like the pre-owned games issue, publishers get to choose whether or not you can lend your game to a friend. Sadly this is simple an extension of a problem that’s been around for a while now, the problem that you don’t technically own the games you “buy”, you simply lease the software on the disc, which in essence means that stores are actually lying to you when you buy a game. You haven’t bought it, you’ve merely leased it.
Right, now we move on to the section titled ‘Privacy By Design: How Xbox One And The New Kinect Sensor Put You In Control’ or ‘SkyNet, And How It Will Take Over’ as I much prefer to call it.
“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.”
Now, this is a rather sneaky bit of wording from Microsoft, because many gaming sites have read it and ran off to merrily declare that Kinect can indeed be turned off, which is actually incorrect: what Microsoft said is that Kinect can be paused, and exactly what that means is anybodies guess. What Microsoft do say is that you can turn the Xbox One off, and you can also turn off the Kinect feature that listens for the turn-on command, but they never actually say that you can Kinect itself off and continue to play on the Xbox One. Maybe I’m just being paranoid here, but that wording seems a little sneaky to me.
Anyway, the real problem is that a lot of people, myself included, won’t be happy with Kinect until we can actually unplug the bloody thing to ensure that hackers and corporations can’t put it to more nefarious uses. And once again my biggest complaint here is that Microsoft don’t seem able to provide a genuinely beneficial reason for me, the consumer, to have to have Kinect connected at all times, so if there’s absolutely no benefit then why not just let me unplug it? It would hardly have been that much of a difference to the consoles design.
Some have put forth the argument that by having the Kinect connected at all times it makes life easier for developers, but this argument is largely invalid. Every Xbox One is going to be sold with Kinect, so every developers knows that each consumer will have a Kinect at their disposal, allowing them to design their games with that knowledge in mind. If a game requires Kinect to operate then the consumer could simply plug it in, giving them the choice of whether or not they actually want Kinect connected or not, and thus soothing privacy fears. Yet for some reason Microsoft have chosen to go down the route of forcing you to have Kinect plugged in at all times, and are unable to provide a true justification for their reasoning.
“You are in control of what Kinect can see and hear: By design, you will determine how responsive and personalized your Xbox One is to you and your family during setup. The system will navigate you through key privacy options, like automatic or manual sign in, privacy settings, and clear notifications about how data is used. When Xbox One is on and you’re simply having a conversation in your living room, your conversation is not being recorded or uploaded.
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.”
As you can see I’ve grouped these two quotes together as they’re largely dealing with the same thing: privacy. I’m certainly glad that Microsoft are planning on implementing plenty of options in regards to controlling privacy, but it’s not enough to alleviate most people’s concerns, which is understandable given that there’s a camera with infa-red always connected to a console which wants to check-in every 24-hours and store data in the Cloud. It also wouldn’t surprise me if we started to see a major increase in publishers including a Terms of Agreement in their games which have clauses allowing them to collect substantial data, clauses you must agree to in order to play the game.
Ultimately the impression that I get from reading Microsoft’s latest burst of information is that their sort of missing the point of console gaming: simplicity. Simplicity was the one major advantage that consoles could claim over the far more technically powerful PCs. Consoles were cheaper and all you had to do was go home, plug it in and slap in a game without having to worry about anything else, yet Microsoft seem intent on making the console experience a confusing, muddled and frustrating one. A lot of these changes actually put the Xbox One terrifying close to being a PC in disguise, and a massively inferior one at that. Microsoft are throwing lots and lots of limitations at me, without providing any reasons as to why any of these are good for the consumer. At least give us some benefit to balance out the reign of terror.
E3 is coming up and Microsoft have a chance to draw us back in after their horrendous first impression. So far their message has been a muddled mess, leaving people unsure as to whether the Xbox One is an entertainment device, with games being just one of many features, or a dedicated games console that can also do some other cool stuff. Needless to say, though, this batch of information hasn’t done much to improve my current attitude toward the console, or toward Microsoft.
But then, who knows, perhaps the PS4 won’t turn out to be much better, either. Time shall tell, and opinions can change quickly. At the moment I can’t render a full judgement of either console, but like any human being that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion.
I feel like I’m jumping on the hate band-wagon. Ah well.
Categories: Opinion Piece