Posted on June 6, 2013, Ross Lincoln Xbox One Won’t Kill Used Games, But Will Let Publishers Do So
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.
Perhaps the single biggest controversy surrounding the new console happened when Microsoft Corporate VP Phil Harrison told more than one outlet during the reveal event period that “used” copies of games would be resold at full price. Microsoft quickly moved to shut Harrison up and issued several vague denials of his claims, but it was clear they only did so after the amazing PR backlash that erupted over them. The good news is that the backlash worked: Microsoft has confirmed that Xbox One will not ship with any built-in way to prevent gamers from reselling their games, or purchasing used copies.
However, that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. Or that the matter is any clearer. From the statement:
Today, some gamers choose to sell their old disc-based games back for cash and credit. We designed Xbox One so game publishers can enable you to trade in your games at participating retailers. Microsoft does not charge a platform fee to retailers, publishers, or consumers for enabling transfer of these games.
What does this mean? In short, Microsoft is tired of dealing with the backlash. So they’ve decided to let the Publishers endure it for them.
Note what the statement avoids saying outright: the default setting is going to be “no used games”. Publishers will have to actively “enable” your ability to get right of a game you no longer want without just throwing the money away. This is especially troublesome when you consider that your ability to give it as a gift will also now be severely restricted.
Certainly, not every publisher is going to fail to “enable” used games sales, or charge onerous fees to gamers who purchase used copies. But it is certain that some publishers, particularly the biggest of them, will absolutely take advantage of the ability to blunt the money-saving impact of used games. Which approach works is going to come down to basic free market principles, which means gamers had better be prepared to vote with their wallets. That’s assuming, of course, that they’re not put off by some of Xbox One’s other problems.
Simply put, Xbox One is going to be an experiment in seeing what gamers will endure. Let’s hope it’s not much.
A couple of final thoughts:
* That “Participating Retailers” bit is telling also. Expect to see the biggest publishers not only putting the squeeze to their gamers, but to retailers as well. How? Well that remains to be seen, but no doubt we can expect hardball from all parties, whatever conciliatory words are expressed so far.
* Since when have publishers ever “enabled” the selling of second hand copies of games? Such transfers have always been “enabled” by the first sale doctrine. Microsoft is very cleverly moving the goalposts now with how they discuss the issue. Clearly, the EULA will expressly define the purchase of games as the purchase of licenses. I suppose it will be up to the court system and federal regulators to determine how lawful this is.