The Fifth Column: Dear Xbox One, Please Be Like Steam
The Xbox One TV tease session did very little to placate gamers because of its focus on non-gaming features like TV and Skype integration. Added to that our friends in Redmond stirred a veritable Internet hornets nest with their responses to the questions on whether the next-gen Xbox would require a persistent Internet connection and how second hand games would be managed. With E3 around the corner, this is as good a time as any to discuss how we would like these features implemented and how the new software distribution model may change our current behaviour.
First off,I would really like the Xbox One digital distribution model to look a lot like Steam. Steam requires online verification of a game but also has an offline mode which means that you do not need a persistent Internet connection in order to play your favourite game. All games purchased via Steam are linked to your Steam account which means that they cannot be resold, a feature that would make Microsoft very happy. But my all time favourite Steam feature is the fact that they have regular promotions and discount games by as much as 75%, which really seals the deal for me. Steam certainly looks like a viable role model and it meets the (rumoured) Xbox One requirements without too much trouble, the problem of course is that I very much doubt that the Xbox One will simply duplicate the Steam distribution model.
There is a very real possibility that the Xbox One will require online verification of games and may not allow an offline mode. It may also have a far more rigid distribution model than the likes of Steam, if it does, how will it change our consumer behaviour. The rumoured shift to a persistent Internet connection and new licensing scheme sounds quite radical but how would it differ from your and my current Xbox experience. As regards Internet connectivity, I have an uncapped, ADSL Internet connection which my Xbox is always connected to which means that I have a persistent connection by default. I have experienced connectivity problems with Live servers as well as multiplayer servers in the past, these problems however have not prevented me from enjoying the single player campaign of a game. So what happens to my expensive Xbox One game when the validation server goes down or is oversubscribed? There is an alternative, Microsoft could implement a validation system which only requires activation every 180 days like the Windows KMS license, this would be far less restrictive and more tolerant of potential connectivity outages. If the Xbox One required online validation for both single and multi-player modes, then it would be a deal breaker for me.
As regards the blockade of second hand games, I understand the general unhappiness but I do not have a dog in that fight. I normally spend my hard earned game budget on pre-orders so that I can benefit from the nominal discount that comes with it, added to that, I look out for promotions and sales to save a few rand but I don’t sell my games to finance future purchases and I don’t spend a lot of money on the Live arcade games or any of the limited number of AAA titles that are available for download. I do know that there are enthusiast gamers out there who plan purchases well in advance and buy multiple AAA titles which they then sell on, once they have completed the single player campaign, to purchase the next round of games. Understandably for this demographic, the death of second games would be a hard pill to swallow. But as always these are hard business decisions and Microsoft would not implement them if there was any chance that it would impact their profit margins.
In the final analysis, the only vote that you have is with your wallet. Given the current tough economic times, there is little room left for blind, brand loyalty. So if Microsoft implements draconian DRM which requires persistent Internet access and does not compensate us for the loss of second hand games, then I will look at other options for my gaming fix. I have been a console gamer for 10 years and given the seismic changes in the console industry, now might be as good a time as any to return to PC gaming. Steam certainly looks more attractive than any of the Xbox One’s rumoured offerings and after all, who doesn’t like a 75% discount?