BREAKING: Microsoft Backs Off of DRM – No Family Sharing Plan

The last week as been an awesome roller coaster of trying to figure out where Microsoft was going with new features and how they were going to handle DRM. Today, all that died.

Xbox One

Don Matrick, President, Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft announced today that (alternate source since the Xbox site is under heavy load):

An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.

Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.

While this means the used game market isn’t going anywhere and people can still trade their used games, the features that went along with the DRM to add value are gone as well. No chance to share your game library with family or friends the next state over. Unless you want to put your game in an envelope and mail it to them that is. And hopefully they send it back.

Where this puts publishers and developers down the road can’t be good. It’s already well-known that used game sales hurt AAA titles the most. I guess we’ll just have a few less Call of Duty class games and a few more indie games on our next gen consoles. Ho, hum. I’m not a fan of backtracking.

Microsoft, Xbox One

DRM – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

DRM isn’t a new term, but it sure has been gaining popularity as of late. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and to put it simply, it is the tool that manages how an end user accesses digital content. DRM takes on many different forms; from encryption, to license checks over the internet, to limiting the number of installations. When a user encrypts their data, they are employing a form of digital rights management (something you should be happy you are able to do!). An encrypted DVD is using DRM to prevent illegal copies from being made without permission. Or a video game technology with empty blocks used to prevent duplication.

ServerDRM usually has a bad reputation, and to be honest, it’s earned it fair and square. Seasons of DRM content becoming unavailable due to a management server being shut down, or rootkits employed on CDs to prevent distribution have plagued users since the inception of DRM. And DRM is in a constant struggle over controlling digital media that is quite easy to copy and distribute (commonly called “pirating” media). There is a very real tension between trying to make content easy to access, but not too easy.

Book publishers are in the midst of learning how to distribute digital media right now. Amazon has a pretty heavy-handed DRM approach to books, but users don’t have a problem with it at all. Why? The make it incredibly easy to access their content. Most of the devices they sell  to use the content (like the Kindle) can get it anywhere they have a 3G connection. Amazon is also a huge company with arguably some of the best servers in the world.

Music has had a rougher go of it. During the time span between 2006 and 2008 several major music distribution services shut down servers that allowed users to listen to the music they bought. Not being able to access music that users paid for was, to say the least, frustrating to honest consumers. The growing pains of DRM has caused many people to be bitter about the whole process.

Movies have yet to settle on a good method, although some are trying to make access easy and long-term. Services like UtlraViolet, Amazon, Google Play and Apple iTunes allow access to movies and TV, albeit heavily tied to DRM.

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A Story About New Technology

Classic Cell PhoneLet me tell you a little story…

Years ago, someone said “Let’s make a device that will do things beyond what we’ve had up until now. Image, chatting in real-time with someone, or taking a picture and sending it to a social media site and sharing it with friends. Or play a game and then switch over and track my exercise for the day. All you need is an internet connection.” And people complained and said “but no one has internet everywhere! And why would you use a phone for something more than a phone? It’s for calling people! I don’t need a computer in my pocket! Then I have to answer my email on the beach.” But it was pushed forward. And people realized there phones could do more than simply make phone calls. And it actually made phone calls better because right after a phone call you could open your calendar and schedule an appointment you just made. And the people realized it was better. And (as of today) +50% of Americans bought one form or another.

Right now there is a heavy debate about the future of gaming and where next-generation consoles are taking it. Some feel the comfortable world of they way things has worked is better, and I’ll admit, sometimes it does. Why change it? It makes phone calls! Why would I need those other things? Others feel that there is room to grow and expand on the idea. But there are restrictions that come with that. Expectations, like having an internet connection. Mobile phones have been able to grow because the networks around them have grown. With the invention of data over mobile devices can do more than simply make phone calls now. Sending pictures, checking in to restaurants, updating social media and many, many other things have become possible.

As innovation marches on, things change. Products adapt and take advantage of those new resources. Does everyone have a smartphone? No, as sometimes the reach of that data connection is just not long enough (although it’s growing rapidly). Or cost is prohibited (an unsubsidized smartphone is around $600!) and not everyone can afford that. But if smartphone manufacturers decided that they wanted to wait until 100% of the population had high-speed mobile internet, would that really be a good thing?

Right now Sony is going the route of a basic cell phone. It’s playing it safe and playing games. And that’s great! Gaming is going to be awesome on all the next-gen consoles. Xbox One is going the way of the smartphone. People get a whiny because it needs an internet connection to do all the amazing things it’s going to do. If you ONLY want to make phone calls then get a “dumb” phone. It’ll do that very well. If you want to make phone calls AND a ton of other things, you probably want a smartphone (but you’ll need internet to do it!). Xbox is trying to make console gaming of the future feel like a smartphone does today.

Read More: Xbox One vs. PS4

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