UPDATE: Borrow an Xbox One Game, Pay Full Price to Play?
Update II: In a statement to Polygon, Microsoft representatives have characterized Harrison’s statements (see below) as “potential scenarios.” The company’s response is as follows:
“While Phil [Harrison] discussed many potential scenarios around games on Xbox One, today we have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail.”
UPDATE: Two new developments have shed further light on this issue, though the situation is still far from clear. The first is an article posted by Kotaku’s Jason Schreier containing quotes from Microsoft Corporate Vice President Phil Harrison. It explains how the initial game installation process will work:
“Here’s how the system works: when you buy an Xbox One game, you’ll get a unique code that you enter when you install that game. You’ll have to connect to the Internet in order to authorize that code, and the code can only be used once. Once you use it, that game will then be linked to your Xbox Live account.’It sits on your hard-drive and you have permission to play that game as long as you’d like,” Harrison said.”
Other users on the console will be able to play that game as well, Harrison said. So you don’t need to buy multiple games per family. ‘With the built-in parental controls of the system it is shared among the users of the device,’ he said.
So far, so good, though the use of the word “permission” to describe the personal use of a consumer product is certainly problematic. More worrying is Harrison’s description of the system that will govern lending or borrowing games. In a nutshell, Xbox One games — even those that come in a box, on a disc — will work like downloadable titles currently do for the Xbox 360. They will be available to any user on the original console, but only to the original purchaser on any other console. The days of simply swapping discs are over. According to a statement posted by Xbox LIVE Director of Programming Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb on his personal site, “should you choose to play your game at your friend’s house, there is no fee to play that game while you are signed in to your profile [emphasis mine].”
Should your friend want to play the game while you’re not there, though, there will definitely be a fee: he or she will have to pay full price to unlock the game. Per Harrison: “The bits that are on that disc, you can give it to your friend and they can install it on an Xbox One…they would then have to purchase the right to play that game through Xbox Live…it will be the same price [you paid for the game].”
Harrison and Hyrb also perpetuated the confusion about used games on the Xbox One. According to Harrison, Microsoft “will have a solution — we’re not talking about it today — for you to be able to trade your previously-played games online.” Contrast that with Hyrb’s statement: “today we have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail [emphasis mine].”
So which is it? Online? Or retail? Or both? And more to the point: how will this system actually work? Schreier speculated that “once you’re done with a game, you can trade the code online and it will be erased from your machine.” Whether or not this is true, his follow-up questions are on point: “But what will you get? Other games? Microsoft Points?” Nobody knows, and, for today, Microsoft isn’t saying.
Microsoft’s big Xbox One reveal wasn’t exactly a smashing success. But despite the tepid reaction to the actual announcement event, there’s one aspect of the new console likely to provoke outrage: the possible inclusion of an built-in “online-pass” system that could have a huge effect on the way games — and especially used games — are played on the machine.
“Wired asked Microsoft if installation would be mandatory. ‘On the new Xbox, all game discs are installed to the HDD to play,’ the company responded in an emailed statement. Sounds mandatory to us.
What follows naturally from this is that each disc would have to be tied to a unique Xbox Live account, else you could take a single disc and pass it between everyone you know and copy the game over and over. Since this is clearly not going to happen, each disc must then only install for a single owner.
Microsoft did say that if a disc was used with a second account, that owner would be given the option to pay a fee and install the game from the disc, which would then mean that the new account would also own the game and could play it without the disc.
But what if a second person simply wanted to put the disc in and play the game without installing – and without paying extra? In other words, what happens to our traditional concept of a “used game”? This is a question for which Microsoft did not yet have an answer, and is surely something that game buyers (as well as renters and lenders) will want to know.”
After Kohler’s story was published by Wired, Microsoft posted an FAQ on the official XBox site that included this exchange:
Q: Will Xbox One allow players to trade in, purchase and play pre-owned games?
A: We are designing Xbox One to enable customers to trade in and resell games. We’ll have more details to share later
Xbox One 2nd hand games: Xbox told me that once you sell a game, the license transfers in the cloud. So when a new gamer activates it…
— Matt Hill (@gethill) May 21, 2013
At this point, all we have to go on is a mix of very vague Microsoft statements and conjecture. It’s hard to account for the discrepancy between the Wired story and Hill’s reporting, and it won’t be possible until Microsoft explains exactly how this system works. Is there a fee to add a second licensed user, or not? The cloud-based license transfers that Hill describes will require intense scrutiny; as things stand, they’re a technological convenience tantamount to magic.
Game Front has reached out to Microsoft for comment on this developing story, in the hopes of getting clarification that goes beyond the answer posted in the FAQ. Given the events of the day, further comment might be long in coming, but this article will be updated as soon as new information becomes available.