June 07, 2013, 6:00 AM —
Here we are, about to enter the last weekend before the biggest E3 we've seen in many years. With two major console platforms going head-to-head later this year, it should be quite a show.
We've seen the initial reveals of both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One, but the latter in particular left us with a lot of questions about used games, Kinect privacy, and Internet requirements. Yesterday afternoon Ben Kuchera at Penny Arcade Report wrote "Microsoft needs to talk Xbox One DRM right the hell now if the company hopes for a good E3." And oddly enough, hours later they did. I don't know if Kuchera knew something ahead of time, wields great influence over Microsoft, or was just lucky, but kudos to that timing.
But on to the answers. First on the topic of Internet connectivity, yes it is required. When you're playing at home your Xbox One will need to 'check in' once every 24 hours. If you're playing your games at someone else's house (you can access your games from anywhere via the the Xbox One's cloud server), it'll need to check in once every hour. Microsoft recommends that you have an Internet connection speed of at least 1.5 Mbps. If all you have is dial-up, I guess you'll want to hold on to your Xbox 360. You can read more details on Xbox One connectivity at xbox.com.
Let's move on to Kinect and privacy issues. Every Xbox One comes with a Kinect sensor, and though I'm not sure we've seen a 100% definitive statement on this, everything I've read and heard indicates the Kinect needs to be attached in order for Xbox One to operate.
When the Xbox is off, it'll be listening the the command "Xbox on" and nothing else, Microsoft assures us (and you can turn this feature off so Kinect is totally off when the Xbox is off). And when the Xbox is on, you can still pause Kinect if you don't want it to interact with you. Microsoft says Kinect is never recording your conversations and that you are in control of your personal data and have to explicitly allow any of that data to be uploaded.
That all sounds great as long as everything works perfectly. You can visit xbox.com for more on Kinect and privacy.
And now for the 800lb gorilla in the room, licensing issues. Microsoft assures us that the Xbox One ecosystem allows selling and buying used games "at participating retailers." So far so good, but then they add that third party publishers can "opt in or opt out of supporting game resale and may set up business terms or transfer fees with retailers." So all we know for certain is that you'll be able to trade-in your first party games at certain retailers. Whether publishers like EA or Activision will support used games, or if they'll tack on a fee, we don't know for sure but I'd anticipate an additional fee at the very least.
But what about giving a used game to a friend? You can do that within certain restrictions. The friend you give it to has to have been on your friends list for at least 30 days, and a given copy of a game can only be given away in this way once. So presumably your friend can't finish the game and pass it on to a third person. (But can he trade it in to a retailer? That's not clear.)
I'm not sure I'm a fan of that 30 day clause. I've traded games with people I work with who I'm not "Xbox Friends" with in the past. Having to say "I'm done with this copy of Halo 5. You want it? Send me a friend request tonight and I'll give it to you in a month." seems a little weird to me.
And what about gaming with family members? Well the news here is good. Anyone can play any of your games on your Xbox One. So if friends come to stay with you for a few days they can play any of your games, as much as they like. Better still, you can give access to your game collection to up to ten family members, and they can play your games from anywhere. So your child can go to a friend's house and play your copy of a game on that friend's Xbox One. The only restriction is that only one member of your 'family' can be accessing your library at a time.
That sounds to me like a parent can purchase a game, install it on his or her Xbox One in the living room, and one of the kids can 'share' that game and play it on the Xbox One in his or her bedroom at the same time the parent is playing. For multiple Xbox One households who like to play online together, this should be quite a cost savings.
Microsoft also mentions that all games will be available digitally on the same day they release on disc, and that your games will be in the cloud so you can play them from anywhere. It's not 100% clear if that means you can actually run them from the cloud via some kind of streaming, or if you have to download them and then can play them. Hopefully that will be made clear.
Another thing that needs to be made clear is how much of this functionality third party publishers can shut down. Trading in games, for sure, but what about that 1-time game giveaway, and ten family members having access? It's not clear to me if a third party can limit those capabilities. Anyway once again, more about licensing on xbox.com.
So how does everyone feel about the Xbox One now? I felt like this was a mix of good and bad news. I'm opposed to the Internet requirement more on principle than for any practical reason, but I'm glad to hear I can 'pause' Kinect. Being able to give 10 'family members' access to your library actually seems pretty generous, but I'm worried about 3rd party publishers.
So now Microsoft has all its dirty laundry aired and E3 can be all about the games. Suddenly the spotlight shifts back to Sony, which really hasn't said much about used game sales. If they have to introduce DRM systems or connectivity requirements at E3, it's going to hurt their buzz, I think.
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.