In a shocking move, Microsoft have completely reversed their DRM policy on Xbox One. To put it shortly, the following policies been changed:
- No more always online requirement
- The console no longer has to check in every 24 hours
- All game discs will work on Xbox One as they do on Xbox 360
- An Internet connection is only required when initially setting up the console
- All downloaded games will function the same when online or offline
- No additional restrictions on trading games or loaning discs
- Region locks have been dropped
- Discs are now required to play games, even after installation
- Games can no longer be shared freely with up to 10 family members
This comes after a disastrous E3 from a consumer reaction standpoint, and immediately after defending their DRM policies on video game sites and mainstream TV all week. This is probably the craziest thing to happen in the video game industry in a long time.
My assumption is that Microsoft fully expected Sony to use a similar DRM policy (I certainly did). Many in the industry believe that it is necessary for the console gaming market to switch to a policy similar to online stores like iTunes, Google Play, and Steam. People who buy games on those markets don’t have the ability to buy or sell used games, and are instead treated to deeply discounted games from time to time. While this isn’t as ‘open’ as being able to buy a used game any time you want, publishers still benefit from people buying discounted games. Some even thrive on it, raising money for development of future titles with big sales on Humble Bundle.
This is a very consumer-friendly move, but at the same time publishers will continue to have issues with used game sales. Gamers will still to be able to buy used games a few days after titles are released, and while they save $5 or so, publishers will lose $15 or more. This certainly hurts them more than folks who buy games long after they came out, but that was never a major issue to begin with. Those are the same games that more frequently receive huge discounts anyway.
So in the end, the consumer wins, and the publishers who make the products the consumers want lose. It is still possible for publishers to employ their own DRM, as Sony have confirmed, but at the same time publishers like EA have found that it has not been worth the cost of consumer backlash to employ such policies.
I think that a lot of publishers will design games to be used online heavily, which was a major trend seen at E3. Games like Watchdogs and Titanfall thrive on online interaction, even in single player mode. Another thing they can do is incentivize digital versions of their games; give gamers a reason to buy online instead of on disc. From exclusive in-game items which cost the publishers nothing, to slightly discounted prices. There are options available to get around this. In the end though, it is good that the customers will have a choice of how they consume their digital media. We are in the midst of major changes, and it looks like Microsoft’s stutter step will hold things back for a while longer, for better or worse.