Killer Instinct's DRM Situation Not Present In Xbox One's TOS, Policy Guide

The Killer Instinct DRM blow-up was quite a thing. A lot of sites covered it, a lot of people were angry, a lot of hate circulated, but no one really knew what went down or why. I mean, wasn't there already a policy guide out about what sort of DRM the Xbox One would have? And shouldn't the incident in the Killer Instinct video be a part of that? Well, not quite.

We've heard a lot of theories, speculation, excuses and guesswork but received very few explanations. And while Microsoft has acknowledged the event, thankfully, we had two people come forward to help identify what exactly happened that led up to the Killer Instinct DRM situation, with tournament organizer at Queens College in New York, Elliot Oyola, and the lead streamer from Team Spooky, Arturo Sanchez, explain what happened and why.

So a quick recap is that the owner of Killer Instinct was playing the game in a local offline match on an Xbox One he did not own. The Xbox One dropped its connection to the Wi-Fi, and even though the owner was still logged into the console and playing the game, the game itself kicked them out to verify that the owner was the proper owner of his own game.

Some argue that this is the exact same DRM measures put into place on the Xbox 360, but it's not quite the same. The difference is that the Xbox 360 does a DRM check before a game starts, not during the middle of the game. As noted in Microsoft's own policy and content usage guide on their official Xbox support site under section 5, part 5 of their Xbox 360 DRM policy FAQ ...

“When you try to use a protected game, video, or add-in, the Xbox 360 console checks whether you have a valid license for that piece of content. If the license allows you to use the content, the Xbox 360 console plays the content or allows use of the add-in.“If the Xbox 360 console doesn’t find a valid license for the content or if the license doesn't permit you to perform the action, your Xbox 360 console won't perform the action. Typically, you receive an error message that states why the action wasn't performed.”

This DRM check typically happens before you get into a game, not during. If you get into the game then you're fine so long as you don't log out. In the case of the Xbox One, if the connection drops during play of a digital title – even if you're accessing an offline portion of the content – it will still require a content ownership ID check, which is what happened during the Killer Instinct tournament.

What's surprising is that despite this form of DRM not necessarily fitting the 24-hour check-in clause from the Xbox One's original policies, this is DRM that wasn't covered in the Xbox One's revised and updated DRM policy guide following Microsoft's initial digital rights management reversal. This kind of security protocol is also not present in the official Windows DRM policy guide, even though it shares similar content rights management policies as the Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

In fact, after reading the Terms of Service and policy guides for Killer Instinct from the digital store page on the Xbox One, there was no mention of this specific kind of DRM. In addition to this, the official press release from Microsoft regarding the reversal reads slightly different than what sort of DRM is in place that affected several tournament organizers playing Killer Instinct, which reads...

“In addition to buying a disc from a retailer, you can also download games from Xbox Live on day of release. If you choose to download your games, you will be able to play them offline just like you do today. Xbox One games will be playable on any Xbox One console -- there will be no regional restrictions.“These changes will impact some of the scenarios we previously announced for Xbox One. The sharing of games will work as it does today, you will simply share the disc. Downloaded titles cannot be shared or resold. Also, similar to today, playing disc based games will require that the disc be in the tray.”

The interesting thing about it is that the title wasn't being “shared” but rather played on a different console. Is the owner of the game playing digital content on another console that isn't the home console considered "sharing"? There's no clear-cut policy guide on this distinct issue or what users should look out for regarding digital content ownership rights, or if accessing their own game from a different location is considered as "sharing". Technically, had this information regarding the DRM been made available and clear beforehand, maybe the blow-up over the Killer Instinct DRM in the video would have been far more tame.

Also, if you check the official Xbox One news wire update from former Microsoft executive Don Mattrick, you'll notice that there's also another statement regarding playing games offline – though the clarity of the message doesn't distinctly point out what sort of regulations are in place for offline play – with the statement saying...

“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, it's not just in the revised policy guide that the idea of playing anywhere at anytime is stated without the inclusion of the clause that you must be online at all times to maintain access to digital content you paid for, it's also on the official website that houses the following quote...

“A single Xbox Live Gold membership works across both Xbox One and Xbox 360 – your membership covers both. And you can log into a friend’s Xbox One and access all your downloadable games, preferences, and apps.”

Now, it is true that you can play your games that are registered to your Xbox One in offline mode; I tested Killer Instinct on the Xbox One and purposefully disconnected the Wi-Fi during the middle of a match. The match continued on like nothing had happened, except when I tried to access Xbox Live it stated that I wasn't connected to the net.

However, the video evidence from the Killer Instinct tournament and testimonials of tournament organizers led us to contact a representative for Microsoft about the specific kind of DRM that the FGC has encountered and whether Microsoft would issue a revised policy guide for that kind of DRM. According to the representative, these issues will be brought before Microsoft and, for now, Microsoft has stated that they will continue to support the FGC during this time.

We'll continue to keep you updated on additional information and details regarding the Xbox One and its DRM as we continue to dig for clear answers to this situation.

[Update: There is a small part in the games section through the "Other" section on the support site relating to digital Xbox One games, stating that users must be logged into Xbox Live at all times to access them]

Will Usher

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.