Microsoft backs down: no DRM on Xbox One

The beginning of all the trouble: Don Mattrick unveils the Xbox OneHave you ever heard or read about a big corporation making a really bad decision, and said to your friends, “They really need to just change their minds on this. They won’t, of course, but they really should.”

Well, in defiance of all convention, Microsoft has changed its mind.

Microsoft was near-universally criticised last month when it unveiled its upcoming Xbox One game console to much fanfare but only quietly mentioned in the fine print that it would place tight restrictions on what owners could do with their games.

Specifically, once a game was used on one console, it would be permanently tied to that console, unless some kind of arcane licence transfer took place. In practice, this meant that you would not be able to lend a game to a friend, unless you went to their house and logged into your Xbox account on their machine. Further, selling games – a major slice of video game retailers’ business – would be made far less profitable, as somewhere along the second-hand game chain a large licence transfer fee would have to be paid to the game’s publisher.

All of this was backed up by a console that had to remain online at all times, in order to manage digital licensing. The Xbox One would need to connect to home base at least once every 24 hours; if it were to remain offline for longer than that period, its gaming functions would stop working. Privacy advocates were concerned about the implications of a console with a camera and voice recognition being required to remain connected to the internet at all times.

This morning, in an unprecedented turn-around, Microsoft has admitted they were wrong. In what may be a first for the video gaming industry, Don Mattrick – the president of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business – has published an article on the official Xbox blog stating that all of these restrictions have been removed, in direct response to audience feedback.

The carefully-worded announcement, titled “Your Feedback Matters – Update on Xbox One”, thanks users for their “candid feedback” and says that Microsoft has “listened and [they] have heard loud and clear from your feedback”.

This is not a piecemeal rollback of some features, but a complete reversal. There will be no DRM (digital rights management) restrictions on disc-based games at all. If you buy a game on disc, you will be free to lend it and re-sell it as you like.

There will be no more 24-hour online check-in – gamers will be able to play games offline as long as they want. There will still be a one-time internet connection required when a new Xbox One is first purchased, used to set up an account, but after that there will be no requirement to ever connect it to the internet again.

This is great news for everybody, most of all Microsoft. While I am sure they will be targeted by some ridicule for changing their minds – Western society sees decisiveness as a virtue, after all, and admitting a mistake as a sign of weakness – it removes a gigantic millstone from around their new console’s neck. While relatively few people buy second-hand games and most people have high-speed always-on internet, it was a matter of principle. Microsoft was saying that the games people buy do not belong to them, and that was always going to generate outrage.

However, it’s also good news for gamers, and even for Sony and Nintendo fans who never intended to buy an Xbox One anyway. If Microsoft had kept theses restrictions in place, it could have led to abysmal sales and the end of the Xbox brand. This, in turn, would have resulted in a massive drop in competition in the video gaming industry, and a lack of competition is bad for consumers.

You may be the most ardent Sony PlayStation fan in the world, but the fact is that the existence and popularity of Xbox keeps the PlayStation on its toes. Without that rivalry, prices would rise and innovation would be stifled. Xbox makes PlayStation better, and clearly in this case, PlayStation has made Xbox better, forcing it to abandon its misguided DRM policy.

Competition is a good thing. I look forward to a long and healthy future for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U, as well as gaming on Windows PC, handheld consoles, and mobile devices. The broader and more diverse the industry is, the better for everyone.

Update: Forgot to mention, this morning’s announcement also mentioned there will be no region lock on Xbox One games, making it the first Xbox console without regional restrictions.

– James “DexX” Dominguez

DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.