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[Update: Microsoft confirmed that all forms of DRM for the Xbox One has been removed]
As some of you know, the Xbox One was revealed by Microsoft in an official capacity last Tuesday on May 21st at 1:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. The console was received, initially, with disappointment from the core gaming community over a lack of games showcased. However, many were willing to wait for E3 to see the exclusives.
What transpired shortly after the Xbox One reveal was something slightly nefarious regarding consumer ownership and privacy rights, and the community at large was made aware of several different policy practices that could be part of the next generation Xbox console. This article will simply lay out some of the issues you may or may not have been made fully aware of...not as a gamer, but as a consumer.
All of the following information will be detailed so that you can gauge for yourself how critical some of these practices are, as well as which ones you may or may not be willing to accept as part of a purchasing decision for Microsoft's upcoming console. Links will be provided in the sub-headings for further reading. Keep in mind that none of the policies below have been entirely finalized, according to Microsoft. The company is still gauging feedback based on your responses before ironing out the final details.
If you feel some of these issues are very serious either for privacy or consumer right concerns, be sure to contact Microsoft and let them know through their community manager, Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb.
Region locked content is a common practice for most consoles. But if this is an issue that may or may not be very important to you, it is something you should consider as a factor for buying the console. Microsoft kept it quite simple in stating that they must respect copyright and regulatory laws of all respective regions in which the Xbox One will be sold, and the pricing and taxes that come along with those regions. There are also certain app and streaming functionality restrictions that may apply for certain territories, limiting some regions from accessing television and digital media in that country.
Simply put, the Xbox One won't be region-free and content, either physical or digital, will not be interchangeable through differing regions. Some of these policies may change over time, but if you want to play a game, listen to music or watch content outside of your designated region you would have to install a mod-chip or similar device, which may or may not be possible for the Xbox One given some other system functions that may prevent this from being possible.
If you're considering the Xbox One for both new generation games and to be able to play your old Xbox 360 games that won't be happening right out of the gate. The Xbox One was designed from the ground up with an architecture in place that prevents it from playing Xbox 360 titles. This was made explicitly clear by Microsoft both in interviews and in a F.A.Q.
While digital, Cloud and physical media backwards compatibility is not available for the Xbox One, it is something to keep in mind if or when you feel like playing older Xbox 360 titles. While Xbox Live accounts and Gamertags are interchangeable between both the Xbox One and Xbox 360, the games you play from the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, the Xbox Live Arcade, Xbox Live Games On-Demand or purchased content from retailers will not be accessible in any way on the Xbox One. This policy could be up for change depending on the consumer feedback that Microsoft receives.
24 Hour Mandatory Check-In
In the same way that Microsoft confirmed a lack of backwards compatibility, the company also made it known that the Xbox One is not required to be always-online. Keep in mind, however, that there is a copyright and digital rights media fail-safe in place to prevent the duplication of media or the abuse of multiple account sign-ins by using a 24 hour mandatory check-in.
Xbox One consoles will be designated to master accounts. A master account also has the ability to have several other linking accounts under a single Xbox Live Gold subscription, so multiple users within a single household can use a single Xbox One console and share content without additional fees. Nevertheless, any Xbox Live account on the system will have to do a mandatory check-in to retain access to media content and services on the Xbox One. Take note that if an account is used on a different Xbox console...when the user returns home and turns on their own console the mandatory check-in will log-in the master account and log-out the account from any other Xbox One consoles, preventing a single account from being used simultaneously on multiple consoles.
Used Game License Fees
This topic has caused a lot of controversy and it would be advised that anyone who has not fully read up on the matter to click through the link to read what Microsoft's vice president, Phil Harrison, has to say about used game fees. The concept is a direct affiliation with the mandatory 24 hour check-in procedure mentioned earlier. Selected retailers will be able to tie-in their services with Microsoft's Cloud to enable a moderated pre-owned market where a fee is charged as part of the total sale, with the retailer awarded 10% of the final sale.
Users who own a copy of the game can share, lend or borrow out the game to anyone they like. However, in order for the individual to use the game they must be logged into the original owner's Xbox Live account, otherwise a license fee must be paid by the person trying to access the content that was not originally tied to their account. According to a report from Gamespot, if a new game is purchased and borrowed out to a friend/family member/etc., and they try to access the content with their own account, an initial fee equivalent to the current market value of the content will be incurred. This figure is rumored to be about £35. If this is true, it could violate the copyright law of the first sale doctrine, as outlined in the Criminal Resource Manual.
Take note that there is also a process of deactivating the license from the initial master account using the Azure Cloud service, and allowing the licensed content to be re-activated on another account as a way of sharing, according to MCVUK. Fees for deactivating and reactivating content have not been fully disclosed.
Microsoft's Kinect device for the Xbox One is required to always be on in order to actually use the Xbox One console. The device works as a recognition portal, allowing quick access to specific profile functions and features. The device, even when powered down, will also be on in a low-power state, enabling it to turn on when the proper command is vocally spoken. As reported on by the PA Report, it is not possible to use the console without Kinect, as per company policy.
There are worries about privacy concern considering that the Xbox One's Kinect 2.0 will always be on and must always be active in order for the console to operate at all. Additionally, a patent was filed to enable the Kinect to monitor, watch, collect and gauge user information within the room. According to MCVUK, it was verified by their source that this patent has been applied to the technical capabilities of Kinect 2.0 for the Xbox One. As we reported many months ago, the patent would enable Kinect to prevent copyrighted material from being accessed from more than the alloted number of individuals within a room and a copyright fee could be issued for exhibitors of copyrighted material who exceed the allotted number of users.
Long-Term Game Access
This last issue is not inherent to any particular issue Microsoft has discussed, and is more-so an overview of what it means to have some of these features available and active in a console of this sort. It's also important to note what this means for consumer ownership of a product, or the lack thereof.
Let me start by explaining that mandatory sign-ins and content verification methods are attached entirely to a system infrastructure operated by the designated company. Furthermore, when these operations cease to exist from said designated company the ability to access the content they verify will also cease.
Having games tied to a copyright authentication service in order to use the material would mean that any game that relied on this service – presumably when the service eventually comes to cessation – will no longer be of use. As mentioned by Microsoft's vice president, Phil Harrison, the information on the Xbox One game discs are simply “bits” of data designed to be stored on the system's drive, and the content is active based on the active license attached to the Live account. If the account is not available, neither is the game. If the service is not available, neither is the game.
With that being said, a real-world example – and the potential lifespan of Xbox One games – is equivalent to all the Xbox Live content that was made unavailable when Microsoft shutdown the original Xbox Live service for first Xbox game console, as we reported on back in 2010. All games and content associated with the original Xbox Live service is no longer available or attainable through official channels, meaning that games that relied on the original Xbox Live service, such as Phantasy Star Online, cannot be used directly out of the box ever again.
Keep in mind that this puts a finite lifespan on all content for the Xbox One, both digitally and physically. Microsoft has not revealed or explained any alternatives in the case of service cessation, or what method would be provided for consumers to access content outside of the authentication services, if the service ever came to an end.
If you feel these issues need further clarification or you would like to bring your concerns forward to Microsoft, feel free to do so with the provided links at the beginning of the article.