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EDITORIAL: Microsoft’s Licensing Policies Baffle

Following the announcement of the Xbox One in May, Microsoft was met with complaints that they weren’t exactly clear on what they meant when it came to certain Xbox One policies. Would the console require an internet connection or not? Would there be additional fees for used games, or not?

In order to answer those burning questions, Microsoft decided not to wait for E3, but instead put up some official websites:

The online requirements are detailed here, licensing is explained here.

Gamers looked at the news, on an official Microsoft site, and did not take kindly to it:

“While a persistent connection is not required, Xbox One is designed to verify if system, application or game updates are needed and to see if you have acquired new games, or resold, traded in, or given your game to a friend. Games that are designed to take advantage of the cloud may require a connection.

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.”

So the Xbox One doesn’t need to be connected to the Internet ALL THE TIME, it does however need to phone home once every 24 hours. Unless you’re playing via your profile on a friend’s computer, at which point it phones home every hour.

What happens if the box can’t connect back to Microsoft, or your cell phone can’t dial?

“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.”

Well that’s good! How generous of Microsoft to allow me to watch television on my, you know, television.

We saw the reaction gamers had to the persistent connections for Sim City and while this is not a continual connection, that’s going to be cold comfort to people who get locked out of their games. Plus, as we have seen with other various online DRM connections, the signal can fail through no fault of the user. If Microsoft’s servers become unavailable or unreachable for more than 24 hours, gamers will be locked out of all games on the the console they paid for.

Looking at the licensing page, there’s a mix of good and bad news:

First, the good news, Your games are now installed from disc and stored on the Xbox One hard drive and in the Cloud. This allows you to log on to a friends Xbox One and access your own games. You can also share your games on your Xbox One with anyone in your household and up to 9 family members.

So that sounds encouraging! But…

“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.”

So, if I have a game that I enjoyed, I can give it to a friend (assuming they’ve been my friend for 30 days or more) and they can install it and play it. At that point it’s removed from my library and I can’t play it anymore (that’s what the once per day or once per hour connection is required for.) But I can’t convince a friend to buy a game by loaning it to them. If I give them a game and they install it then it’s done. They can’t give it back to me and they can’t give it to anyone else. It’s a one time transfer.

Now, when it comes to reselling games, Microsoft is allowing people to re-sell games at authorized retailers. Your license will be revoked and it will be re-issued to the new buyer at no additional charge.

At launch Microsoft has stated that both lending and renting games will be impossible. That’s a feature they may add later, or they may leave up to individual publishers.

“In our role as a game publisher, Microsoft Studios will enable you to give your games to friends or trade in your Xbox One games at participating retailers. Third party publishers may opt in or out of supporting game resale and may set up business terms or transfer fees with retailers. Microsoft does not receive any compensation as part of this. In addition, third party publishers can enable you to give games to friends. Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.

As we move into this new generation of games and entertainment, from time to time, Microsoft may change its policies, terms, products and services to reflect modifications and improvements to our services, feedback from customers and our business partners or changes in our business priorities and business models or for other reasons. We may also cease to offer certain services or products for similar reasons.”

And there’s the rub… with one hand they give and with the other hand they take away. At any time in the future Microsoft can pull the plug and your brand new gaming console will be just another hunk of plastic and metal.

Reaction from gaming fans on the Internet was predictable and swift. Social sites like Reddit and Facebook were filled with critical remarks.

If the rumors are true, Microsoft’s counter reaction is less than ethical:

Reddit user “mistysilver” posted that they are a marketer working for Microsoft and saw, during a recent meeting, Microsoft employees being paid to write positive Xbox One comments on Reddit along with upvoting other positive comments and down-voting negative ones.

The original thread can be found here, though it now seems to have been laid waste as users have deleted their comments.

Before everything was deleted, mistysilver stated:

“I noticed he was mass-downvoting a ton of posts and comments, and he kept switching to other tabs to make posts and comments of his own. I couldn’t make out exactly what he was posting, but I presumed he was doing RM (reputation management) and asked my boss about it later. According to my boss, MS have[sic] just brought in a huge sweep of SMM managers to handle reputation management for the Xbox One.”

So, this may seem to be a giant PR disaster, just before E3. Instead of stepping back, taking a deep breath and making things better, Microsoft seems bent at this point at doubling down.

A user on the site NeoGaf is reporting that Microsoft is paying off publishers to hide PlayStation 4 copies of their games at the industries largest annual trade show. Apparently the only way for the Xbox One to look good by comparison is if there is no comparison. The original NeoGAF thread can be found here.

So what does all this mean?

The long and short of it is that Microsoft is moving into the next generation by making moves that are increasingly unpopular with a large segment of the gaming public and instead of admitting their errors, reversing them and saying “We are listening to you”, Microsoft instead is compounding error upon error in a way not seen since Ocean Marketing.

Next week, Microsoft still has the opportunity to reverse themselves in a humorous way and tell everyone “Yeah, none of that is true, we just thought Sony needed a little help with their advertising campaign, here’s what we’re actually going to do…”

Anything less than that will be conceding the next generation to the PlayStation 4. (Unless, of course, Sony has the same policies and have let Microsoft be the stalking horse. After all, there’s no way third party publishers would allow two different game policies on the consoles.)

Cool Kids Are into Social Media, AMIRITE

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