Xbox One Will Strictly Limit Sharing, Trading

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Posted on June 6, 2013, Ross Lincoln Xbox One Will Strictly Limit Sharing, Trading

Defying expectations that the company would simply avoid the discussion until after Sony did a little console confirming of its own next week, Microsoft has opted to go into E3 with all its dirty laundry aired, via a series of official statements clarifying – or attempting to clarify anyway – the privacy, internet, and used gaming aspects of the Xbox One. The long and short: Xbox One is not quite as bad as we thought, but it’s still going to be an absolutely bitter pill for most gamers to swallow.

One of the more heavily-discussed aspects of the new console concerns reports that it will place significant limits on your ability to treat an individual copy you purchased like, well, an individual copy you purchased. Microsoft has been confusing and often contradictory, but with today’s official clarification, we now know that consumers who buy Xbox One will have to accept far less autonomy over their post-purchase use of a product.

First, some relatively good news. At least one benefit of buying a console hasn’t been ruined: it’s been confirmed that anyone can use any game installed on a single system. This means the people who live with you don’t have to purchase their own copies of each game, and can play from their own profile on that device. This was a legitimate fear in the wake of reports that the system will kill used games and end the ability to trade them. It’s good to see the company isn’t completely insane.

However, for anyone outside your house, things are going to get much worse. For one thing, Xbox One will introduce a new form of game sharing that is confusing and potentially problematic. From the statement:

Xbox One will enable new forms of access for families. Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One. Just like today, a family member can play your copy of Forza Motorsport at a friend’s house. Only now, they will see not just Forza, but all of your shared games. You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time.

Microsoft clearly wants your take away to be “WOW, 10 Family Members Whoooo!”, but this new sharing regime comes with far more questions than answers. Just off the top of my head:

* Is Microsoft serious about the “family” requirement, or is this going to end up being “10 selected people” at the console owner’s discretion?

* If they’re serious about family, how, pray tell, will Xbox One even verify who is and who is not your family? What kind of information will they require in order to approve someone being added to your shared list?

* What’s with the very specific “shared games” designation. Does this mean you’ll have to enable games to be sharable? Will there be a limit to how many can be shared at one time?

* Will the share service come with additional fees not disclosed here?

It should also be noted that “Just like today” is disingenuous bullshit. Today, you can simply pick up your friend’s copy of Forza and take it somewhere else without any issue. But we’re used to this kind of thing by now. What we’re not used to is the inability to freely trade games with our friends, but Microsoft found a way to do it. From the statement:

Xbox One is designed so game publishers can enable you to give your disc-based games to your friends. There are no fees charged as part of these transfers. There are two requirements: you can only give them to people who have been on your friends list for at least 30 days and each game can only be given once.

Note that as far as microsoft is concerned, you can only trade disc-based games. That is a curious distinction to make. Clearly, digital copies remain as untransferable as ever, but Microsoft appears to be aware of two things: 1) console gamers are definitely not going to abandon the idea of a physical copy of a game being something they own, and 2) the fact remains that the legality of insisting consumers have only purchased “licenses” to play a video game rather than an actual copy of the game remains sketchy.

Later, Microsoft adds:

In addition, third party publishers can enable you to give games to friends. Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.

This makes things especially confusing when considered along with Microsoft’s apparent-but-not-really backing-down on used games. Clearly, microsoft intends its lending policies to be baseline, but will permit developers to go further. But can this work both ways? I wouldn’t be shocked if this kind of restriction will have implications for used games – perhaps publishers will be allowed to restrict a game’s trade-in and used-sale-ability to a single instance. At minimum, it’ll be interesting to see which publishers allow unrestricted lending and trading of games among friends.

Another potentially troubling question: Does this mean that the friend to whom you give a game to can never trade it in for used credit? Does this mean they couldn’t give it back to you? It seems absurd that microsoft could get away with allowing one instance of a trade but no other, and I anticipate many challenges to this in the years to come. Courts in the US and Europe are still hotly debating the question of ownership of digital content. I suspect the confused nature of Xbox One’s functionality is in part because Microsoft is preparing for things to go either way.

There’s one other weird thing to consider: “Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.” So that rules out letting someone try a game for a bit and give it back to you. Make of that what you will.

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