Microsoft reverses controversial games sharing and internet policies on Xbox One

20 Jun 2013

Microsoft has just demonstrated the kind of flexibility and empathy with its customers that seemed up until now impossible for tech giants of its stature: it has reversed a controversial digital rights policy that would have made it impossible for users to share a game for its forthcoming Xbox One console more than once.

Recently at E3, Microsoft took the wraps off its new games console Xbox One, emphasising its potential not only as the ideal home for next-generation gameplay, graphics and other capabilities, but also as an entertainment powerhouse.

However, the launch revealed much to users’ chagrin that digital rights rules in the device meant a gamer could only share a video game just once. Not only that, but users also needed a steady broadband connection in order to play most Xbox One games – a pretty divisive decision since not every player has access to a consistent quality of broadband no matter what country or how good or bad their economy happens to be at this point.

This contrasted with rival Sony’s PlayStation 4 launch, which again emphasised next-generation capabilities but free of overbearing digital rights rules.

In one sharp, shock contest, Sony emerged victorious in terms of having gamers’ best interests at heart, while Microsoft came across as aloof, arrogant and intent only on its future vision of gaming and digital entertainment.

But something has changed. Microsoft said last night that it has listened to the feedback of its customers and is to reverse its controversial stance on sharing games.

Even large tech giants can change their minds

“You told us how much you loved the flexibility you have today with games delivered on disc,” said Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business.

“The ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world.”

Mattrick said Xbox One users will be free to trade in, resell, gift and rent disc-based games just like they can currently with the Xbox 360. “There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.”

Mattrick announced that an internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games. “After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc-based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24-hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.”

However, the decision to reverse the policy, Mattrick added, will come with a price. Mattrick said the sharing of games will work as it does today, gamers will simply share the disc. However: “Downloaded titles cannot be shared or resold. Also, similar to today, playing disc-based games will require that the disc be in the tray.”

This is something most console gamers can probably live with, since that is how it has been since year dot in console gaming.

But Microsoft’s vision is nonetheless clear: gamers will inevitably move to the cloud for most of their gaming, which will one day be predominantly online and disc-free.

“While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds,” Mattrick said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years