John Carmack, co-founder and technical director of id Software, thinks that the controversy over Xbox One's restrictions was overblown. During his keynote address at QuakeCon, he said that Microsoft was simply responding to a clear movement toward digital-only distribution.
"I think the witch hunt was a little bit unjustified there," Carmack said. He admitted that gamers can have "legitimate grievances" about policies that impact their collections. However, he personally doesn't have a problem with the connection requirements and trading limits initially planned for the Xbox One.
Added Carmack: "I personally am extremely fond of having all of my digital purchases in a curated garden. All of my iTunes, all of my Amazon stuff, all of my Steam things. And it's a positive thing. Yeah, you can have better and worse ways of doing that, but we are very quickly going to be past the age of having a game that you hold in your hands on optical media."
To get one thing out of the way quickly: yeah, the phrase "witch hunt" wasn't the best choice. If there were any PR people, the words probably made them do this:
Word choice aside, I mostly agree with Carmack. We seemed to be headed toward a future in which game discs don't exist. Digital game distribution barely existed ten years ago and now it's a multi-billion dollar market. There are some clear advantages to buying digital: no supply limits, no commute to the game store, no clutter in your home.
I'm not sure we're ready for a digital-only console just yet, though. And we're certainly not ready for the initial Xbox One vision of, "Hey, here's a disc but you don't actually own it." Used games are still a big draw for people, as is trading with friends or having an offline console. I'm sure discs will hang on for awhile but I think they're going to lose more and more ground to downloadable titles as we move forward.
To get gamers to give up the trappings of the disc-based era, a console is going to need to offer something in return. Microsoft really failed to sell us on why we couldn't borrow games or why our console needs to keep checking in online. They couldn't provide clear advantages for these policies and instead spent their time downplaying the disadvantages. When the best reply you can dream up is "If you don't like it, go play Xbox 360," you lost the war of words.
"The future is obvious right there and it will be good for us in general," Carmack said. He's right that digital-only might be our future, but someone's going to have to convince us to take that step forward.