There have been a growing number of opinions about the Xbox One reveal with critics tearing every little morsel of the announcement to find fault. These issues shouldn't be aimed at the hardware itself, particularly if there isn't an intention of buying it, but the cumulative effect these decisions can have on future industry standards.
There are legions of gamers who have pledged support for Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Wii U over the last few days, even the changes in stock levels for all three industry players reflected the news. A piece of new hardware can easily be shunned and mocked but that's the shallow picture, surface level. Because of Microsoft's significance in the video game, computing and entertainment industries, their moves could impact the next-generation in an anti-progressive way.
Console "wars" and "winners" aside, there have been many changes in development and retail in the last five years. Indie studios are very much entering their prime, a wave of creativity has overshadowed the grim war shooters. The used-console market keeping old titles very much alive and relevant.
The new Xbox One appears to be making strides in some areas, particularly the entertainment and television focus, but taking hurdles backwards in others.
Used and Abused, the Death of the Second Hand MarketPerhaps an over-exaggerated sub-header, yes, this isn't the sign of neither an impending retail apocalypse nor the end of second hand gaming in one fell swoop. The new used game scheme from Microsoft, however, can and will cause a big money stained dent on what is a thriving sector of the industry.
There have been a variety of different scenarios posted by Microsoft employees and industry sources this week - some involving consumer fees and others including an integrated Microsoft second hand system within retail stores themselves.
There are benefits of a brand new game - the media is scratch free, the original inserts and bonus incentives are still in place and the box doesn't reek of cigarette butts and pet hairs. There's nothing quite like slowly tearing through the factory-sealed wrapper of a game and plodding through the manual on a bus ride home.
On the flip side, there's of course nothing wrong with used games in the slightest. With all the brand new releases dominating store shelves and online shopping banners, the other gems - even those just a few years old - can and have often faded out of sight. Whether it's the more obscure retro gem like Animal Crossing for Nintendo GameCube or the more recent, regularly available games like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, there's a huge back catalogue of critically acclaimed and rare games to play second-hand.
The main argument against the used market is revenue. Looking at the issue from a developer and publisher perspective, Microsoft's move into charging a fee for used titles does make business sense. The fee, which could be the full-price cost or a proportion of the recommended retail price, would recoup the losses made as publishers currently don't see a dime of what's being sold second hand.
Full price charges are being touted as one of the possible options Microsoft has in mind, but the fact remains that there will be some form of fee on top of the used-game price. Another option would see Microsoft themselves manage used games, by way of consumers sending in their titles for the Xbox creators to handle or in-store integration.
The Xbox Support on Twitter however suggests there won't be charges to users directly, with sources suggesting that the fees will be bled into retail.
This approach describes how retailers may have to handle the fee process, with a large portion of the sales going to Microsoft/publishers with the cut to retailers at just 10%. Yes, if this solution comes into effect, Microsoft will nab an extremely lucrative chunk of each second hand game sold and maintain full control over the distribution of all its titles - both new and old.
The next Xbox aside, the effect the move would have on the industry could seriously pave the way to shrink the used game market considerably and make the video game section of the rental market obsolete. Dedicated stores who sell second-hand software would either have to reduce their margins on Xbox One games significantly or just not stock these games at all.
Whilst it would inevitably mean more space for older games, but if the concept becomes industry standard it could tear both used and rental video game markets to shreds in a few years.
Forced Online, But What if You're Not?When Microsoft confirmed that the new Xbox One doesn't require a permanent internet connection, the internet breathed a sigh of relief. Fortunately for consumers we're not at that stage yet.
What the new setup is required to do every so often is to connect to Microsoft's servers. It's currently uncertain whether it's every 24 hours or once per week, however. Being in the day and age of constant updates and notifications, this move doesn't seem out of the ordinary. Our mobile phones, tablets, laptops are generally hooked up to the wider web at every waking minute, but why the need to have to connect on a frequent basis?
Microsoft have yet to outline the online scenario in depth, brushing certain questions aside as in "planning stages". For the moment we know what there is a requirement to connect at "certain points" when using the system. The question remains is… why? Sure, users won't be able to play online or update dashboard widgets, but the consensus is that the online requirement is to act as form of DRM protection. By having the user connect at these times, Microsoft can monitor whether a game's license is valid, potentially blocking titles if they're not registered to the account.
Whilst it would stop players from simply installing a game across multiple machines and disabling internet access, what happens when internet isn't available or there isn't internet access? One scenario could be if a family goes off on a holiday, books a home and takes the Xbox One setup along with them. An ideal solution for a rainy day - pop on a DVD or play a game. If there wasn't internet access, the system may prevent titles from running because the ownership can't be validated.
One scenario could be if a player registers/installs their Xbox One title to the system, but then decides to sell the game. The Microsoft server should de-register this title from the user's account and this in turn disabling the game from use on the hardware. But if the user remains disconnected, in theory they should be able to continue playing despite giving up their rights. This example situation would make the need to continually connect make sense - Microsoft continuing to check current owners and those who have given up ownership to maintain DRM.
It also invites the question of how frequent the user must be connected to play. When does Microsoft check in: at random intervals or when a player has started to run software for a pre-defined amount of time? These are still questions that remain very much up in the air, the cloud of confusion as it were.
Microsoft have yet to answer when these checks are made. If there is a requirement to connect to the internet every time you wish to play a game, or at the beginning of each play session, the backlash could be immense.
The plus side for the industry is that the move would help publishers air out ownership and piracy issues by way of enforced, controlled DRM, but what happens when the internet is just unavailable? Microsoft seem to be sidestepping what could potentially be a frustrating issue given the plethora of issues with Sim City.
The use of hundreds of servers could open up even more issues - what happens if Microsoft's infrastructure becomes corrupted, hacked or tampered with in some way? Cloud computing does offer benefits to both the consumer and publisher, but if the server goes down, access to playing games could become compromised. It would need a back-up plan to allow a user to validate ownership or just launch a game without having to connect; 24 hours is still too low.
Further down the line, say five or ten years, what would happen if Microsoft decide to shut down servers or support for what would then be the old Xbox hardware. Would players be able to access their titles still, confirm ownership?
Servers being shut down eventually for online play can be seen as unfair, but at least still allow for the offline campaigns to be played, but what if it becomes game-wide?
It may sound like these potential scenarios are clutching at straws and the general consumer should, in theory, have stable internet access - but there needs to be clear what-ifs in place if a connection simply can't be made.
The internet requirement and software ownership are in some ways a step in the right direction, but need careful consideration before being put into place on Xbox One and before it becomes an industry standard amongst future hardware.
Loaning Games to FriendsWhilst used gaming is still being aired out at Microsoft, there is confusion when loaning titles to friends. Despite fees appearing to sway towards being retail based for used games, there is still an issue with the age-old process of lending a game to a friend.
Microsoft did confirm that it is possible to take a game over to a friend's place and play by logging into the account and installing the title on the system. But there are still question marks about potential fees if it's not possible to login - i.e. when lending the game to a friend to play on his or her own account. Fees have been suggested and brushed aside as in the planning stages.
Again, it all boils down to ownership and DRM. A friend should be able to simply run the borrowed disc, but because of the obligatory need to install game, it would require the friend to purchase the rights to playing the game.
This could be tackled by way of offering smaller fees for a certain number of days perhaps, like a rental scheme, to at least maintain some means of tackling game copying.
Taking a Dump on Indie Development
There might be a reason why traditional boxed, AAA releases are seeing less sales with each instalment. Activision are one of the major players that are predicting lower profits on the next Call of Duty release. Perhaps gamers just aren't connecting with these major games that don't offer any significant differences to their predecessors.
The indie market is thriving on Nintendo Wii U and PlayStation 3. Both Nintendo and Sony have made massive strides to accommodate smaller studios when both had previously issued difficult requirements. On the Nintendo front there are only a handful of minor rules to get started so that both bedroom and established indie creators can grab a slice of the Wii U and 3DS eShop pie, have their own prices, rules and fairly easy ways of updating their titles post-release.
What Microsoft wants to do is continue the restrictive rules planted during the Xbox 360 era into the next generation Xbox One. Studios and smaller indie individuals must have a publisher or sign onto Microsoft's own publishing scheme at a cost in profit and with a long set of rules to abide by. The militarian approach has left a sour taste in many indie outfits, with a large number opting to bring their projects to the Nintendo eShop, PSN and Steam instead.
I would also expect that for this new generation that we're going to continue to explore new business models and new ways of surfacing content. But Microsoft Studios is a publisher that works with a wide range of partners, as do a lot of other people, to bring digital content to the box.
Matt Booty, general manager of Redmond Game Studios and Platforms
The effect for Nintendo and Sony would be more indie games tailored to these platforms, easy gain. But the wider picture could see Microsoft doing the indie market more damage than good with the archaic approaches to publishing - less exposure to these games from one of the big three.
Privacy Perils - Microsoft Could Watch YouGranted the Windows Operating System is perhaps the least secure and prone to hacking at the blink of an eye, but privacy and security concerns have heightened with the confirmation that the Kinect device on the Xbox One will be always be on, sitting in the homes of its users.
At first glance it appears a non-issue, since the peripheral is primed to be bundled with every Xbox One console, however the main concern from consumers is the requirement to have it turned on at all times, hooked up to Microsoft's servers.
The plus side is that because of its native functionality, developers would be able to take full advantage of the voice and sensory tech if they wish, but there are a large set of negatives that outweigh the advantages. Because the device is always "listening" even if the Xbox One is switched off, in theory it could be used as a means of invading ones privacy - capturing data on users without them ever realising.
Despite claims that the new hardware could be "designed and built with strong privacy protections", there are patents in place that can monitor how many people are in a room watching a movie, for example. Not just for research purposes, but to potentially invoke a fee on users who exceed the maximum threshold for a standard domestic license - e.g. if someone were to use an Xbox One to broadcast a movie to a University lecture.
Going back full circle on this point, we know that despite years of development - decades even - Windows is still the most prone operating system to attack. Despite rigorous rules in place, there is the potential for rogue software that could use the Kinect device to spy on users unwillingly. It's happened many a time on Windows despite avid claims of improved security, so there is a strong possibility of similar threats on the new Xbox One hardware. Not to say that it will happen and the Xbox OS is different to Windows, but it can happen given that these new tools on at all times and presumably accessible at software level.
But what are the wider implications outside the Xbox One? Because of the increasing number of draconian rules and fees with the new hardware, there is the potential for certain aspects to become standardised. If proven a success, the policies with microphone/cameras always connected to the internet could bleed into other devices - mobile phones, future laptops and netbooks that come with cameras as standard.
Imagine a scenario in the not too distant future where Windows natively requests a user to connect to the internet before running a DVD or film to check how many viewers are in the room. More enforced fees and rules despite a consumer purchasing media through legal means.
Perhaps the issue isn't a major one given Microsoft's commitment to both security and privacy, but the company's track record it doesn't boast a resounding sense of total security for future Xbox One adopters. At the end of the day, it is a patent and doesn't have to be made reality, but there the setup does open up concerns for both privacy and security going forward.
You're Backwards, Says MicrosoftIt's not industry standard nor should gamers expect it, but backward compatibility shows consumers that you care. It's an easy means of persuading those who own the previous model that games can be played on the new system and upgrading would be pain free.
Nintendo themselves are often criticised for their console migration and holistic approaches to accounts. The company is still very much in the learning stages with Wii U and 3DS, but have made strides to accompany a more unified means of organising users to an extent. Migrating from Wii to Wii U is effortless. Games, including downloaded WiiWare and Virtual Console, can be copied across with a few simple steps and of course the Wii U plays all Wii titles.
There are some improvements that could be made on Wii U, such as the ability to run Wii software on the GamePad screen and load titles from the Wii U menu itself, but it's given Wii U owners a huge back catalogue of games to play and the older controllers to play with.
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 both are ditching backwards compatibility due to a change in system structure. It's fair enough in that regard, but does limit the existing consumer-based into leaping almost blind into a new system without the safety net of being able to play their existing collection.
What are your thoughts on the Xbox One features and how should Microsoft tackle policies, indie development and online support with the upcoming hardware?