Xbox One and its always-online status, used game fees, and privacy concerns

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When Microsoft announced the Xbox One, the company detailed virtually everything you needed to know about the device’s capabilities. Tech specs for the console, the Kinect motion sensor, and the new controller were easily available for anyone to see. But those details didn’t tell the whole story of the console, and Microsoft wasn’t exactly keen on clearing things up.

Even before the console was announced, rumors of an “always-online” system had already spread. To put things simply, the console was feared by many to require a constant internet connection to use the system and play games. This was seen as an extremely obtrusive form of DRM designed to combat things like piracy and later on, used games. After the console’s announcement, Microsoft representatives confirmed that the console would only require an internet connection for services that required it — online multiplayer games, video streaming and other online services. Our fears were put to rest. Or so we thought.

The hours following the announcement were littered with numerous inconsistencies from Microsoft. Corporate Vice President of Microsoft, Phil Harrison contradicted previous statements by stating that the console would actually require an internet authentication check every 24 hours, therefore necessitating an online connection.

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Now, according to Polygon, sources have said that the interval in which the console would require an internet check is still being settled within Microsoft, which somewhat explains the confusion and inconsistent comments during the announcement. The same sources also said that Microsoft is experimenting on exemption codes that could be given to particular users, like soldiers serving in war zones. For now, it seems we can safely say that the Xbox doesn’t need to be always-online, but the console does require an internet connection.

The same Phil Harrison also caused another fury during the Xbox One announcement, when he revealed that Microsoft was planning on charging users a small one-time fee to activate used games. To do this, Xbox One games would be activated and tied to its original buyer’s account. This system would basically allow the publishers, and Microsoft, to recoup the massive losses incurred due to the used games market. But because of the way the system works, it would also completely destroy the entire concept of lending and borrowing games. Unsurprisingly, the reaction online was overwhelmingly negative, with many pledging allegiance to Sony’s PS4 which has yet to announce a plan for DRM and used games.

Now, Microsoft’s Larry Hyrb is saying that this isn’t the case and more information will be given in the future:

The ability to trade in and resell games is important to gamers and to Xbox. Xbox One is designed to support the trade in and resale of games. Reports about our policies for trade in and resale are inaccurate and incomplete. We will disclose more information in the near future.

Finally, one of the other concerns regarding the Xbox One is the potential privacy issues. The next-generation of  Kinect is a powerful piece of technology. It’s equipped with a high-definition camera that can see in the dark, determine your heart rate, muscle exertion, where you’re looking and if you’re smiling or not. In fact, the Kinect is required for the Xbox One to function. But that’s not what people are concerned about.

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One of the new features that was announced is that you’ll now have the ability to turn on your Xbox using the Kinect. All you have to do is say the command, “Xbox on.” To do this, the console utilizes its low-power states to keep the Kinect listening at all times. Which means that if you have an Xbox One in your home, it’s always connected to the internet and always watching and listening to you — it’s actually kind of impressive how Microsoft created the ultimate privacy nightmare in one fell swoop.

Microsoft, is of course saying that they’re not snooping on you and that privacy is a top concern:

“The new Kinect is listening for a specific cue, like ‘Xbox on.’ We know our customers want and expect strong privacy protections to be built into our products, devices and services, and for companies to be responsible stewards of their data. Microsoft has more than 10 years of experience making privacy a top priority. Kinect for Xbox 360 was designed and built with strong privacy protections in place and the new Kinect will continue this commitment.”

At this point, I guess it remains up to you if you decide to take Microsoft’s word for it — or whether you’re comfortable with having an always-connected microphone and camera in your living room. You could always unplug the console completely every time you turn it off, but you would lose the ability to conveniently turn on your console with your voice and the convenience of quickly resuming your game.

There’s a still a lot of things we don’t know about the Xbox One. The information-dense, one-hour special that introduced the console to the world certainly didn’t lack details — but right now, it seems that we, and Microsoft themselves for that matter, don’t quite have all the answers.

[via Polygon]

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5 comments

  1. Enrique
    Author/Staff

    [@Coyote] [@Mike] Great comments guys. It’s nice to see some fellow gamers around here, I was beginning to think I was alone! :)

    I guess in the end we really don’t know the specifics of Microsoft’s plans (or Sony’s) so we’re all grasping at straws at this point. Maybe if they detail their plans at E3 (which is unlikely I think) or maybe we’ll have to revisit this months after launch when everything is clear.

  2. Mike

    I personally believe that the issue amongst many gamers here has nothing to do with used games. I personally buy some games used and some brand new, to me it is a value issue I view some games as worth 60+ dollars and others as not. The same as watching some movies in a theater and waiting for some on DVD or even Netflix. Yes i know that in this case the studio still gets its pound of flesh. However in used games they have already gotten it once. I believe this to be another issue in a long line of feeling nickled and dimed by large companies like Microsoft. I would have absolutely no issue with seeing something like activation codes being put in place if I felt that the push was truly coming from the devlopers. If this was the case we would not be seeing one console manufacturer vs another choosing to do or not do this. Instead we see the console maker trying to cut in. Why does Microsoft deserve a cut in here at all? If the true reason behind this is to support the game studios then none of the revenue generated from these codes should go to Microsoft. However I believe that the game studios would see less then 50% of the code cost.
    I really do feel that what the real outrage here is feeling as though, as a consumer you are loosing choice. Which is never a good thing. It is very clear in the Xbox market place when a game is over 3 years old however dlc for that game is still priced at original value. With a couple of dlc’s you could easily pay more dlc then the game which has dropped in cost for even an original copy. This shows that there is very little consumer minded business practices in place. If there was more market deprecation for digital games and content I feel as though the community as a whole would be more willing and understanding to changes like this. However coming on the heels of day one dlc issues, and other micro transaction-ish changes. when I buy a game I want to know that I have purchased what has been advertised and what used to be considered a full game, only to find pieces or main story characters that where built in from launch missing. I feel like I have been swindled. Now I am fully aware the devloper will put out future content and I will be expected to pay. But gone are the days of true expansions and here are the days of small minor content updates.
    Again any one of these issues is small but the used game issue I believe less to be about the issue at hand and more about the overall changing gaming landscape, and these changes, I feel, are not being driven by gamers or the game studios but by the console manufacturers.
    These issues will go away overtime because they will become the norm. I remember a bunch of people saying Xbox wouldn’t last because it was going to charge people to multiplay their games and the playstation would rule supreme because it would allow it for free. Well here we are years later and no one complains hardly that Microsoft feels it has the right to limit its players from half the game they purchased. Do devlopers who add multiplayer content get money from Microsoft for adding a feature that would drive people to pay for xbox live? I doubt it.

  3. Coyote

    [@Enrique] Yep, I’ve been a life long gamer and have watched Gamestop grow into what was looking to be a conglomertae that would take out every other videogame store… which they did in my area taking comic stores, video and most bookstores down. That’s beside the point though, if microsoft had their way we would never leave the house and buy everything as DLC.

    But the problem isn’t gamestop or how people trade games (which is a consumer driven market). The problem is the developers are assuming there will be money from resales, this is a horrible business model. You go for first sale, that is the basis of economics. Now with DLC (real DLC not stuff tacked on or already in the game waiting to be unlocked) they can add value to the game already purchased, and lend value to the used game as well. But the game industry is almost as bad a the music industry with the greedy rights mongering going on. But in the end they have no right to say what one can and can’t do to the product they purchased.

    Let me give an example, when I was younger and I borrowed a video game, I got the game and all my friends progress. We could play co-op with 1 copy of the game. And when an old SNES game is bought used it typically still had save data on it, a nice bonus. But that will never happen again.

    And to get the subscription model straight, Microsoft will be making money, tons of it, game devs however will probably make even less with their share going to the Microsoft market. And although they say this is hurting profits, it’s not hurting the game industry. I would wager a good number of people that play COD or the like bought the games used after playing at a LAN party. They then were more likely to buy the next one, possibly retail even. So in that end, 1 copy of the game turned into 10~20 people playing it, most will like it, and some will buy more copies. Is this not how commerce works?

  4. Enrique

    [@Coyote] Hi, thanks for reading!

    Do you follow the games industry? Serious question, not trying to be snarky or anything.

    The used games market is a serious problem for the video game industry. Some publishers and developers are big enough and can take the hit from lost sales/revenue from used game sales but some of the smaller guys, not so much.

    When people purchase used games, the ones benefitting in that scenario are the retailers doing the selling, not the developers or publishers. In fact, they benefit from it so much that GameStop in the US notoriously pushes used games over brand new.

    There have been numerous attempts at trying to fix this. Online passes are one, and the next-generation consoles having features built in on a hardware level shows that this is definitely a problem.

    At the end of the day, if the used games market can be changed somehow by new features in the next consoles, possibly by letting the publisher receive at least some of the payment and not just the used games seller, then the industry will be better for it.

    Then maybe news of a developer closing shop or massive layoffs won’t be the norm in video games. Even if it doesn’t resolve that entirely, it can help. And that’s a start.

  5. Coyote

    “This system would basically allow the publishers, and Microsoft, to recoup the massive losses incurred due to the used games market.”

    Massive losses… right. Because when Ford or GM sell an automobile they should get part of any resales, rentals, or say letting my wife have the keys to go get groceries… Nevermind that creating new content, systems, etc is pulling in more profits.

    Is the way we do business changing in this country? Do we no longer have to innovate and provide services people will want to pay for? Obviously Microsoft is in it for the long haul by forcing customers to pay (for the system), then pay again (for the game), oh and with the new subscription you get to pay again (for the honor of being a customer I guess…).