I've realized I haven't Sounded Off in quite some time, and this is certainly worth talking about.
Unless you're on my Facebook friends list or (to a lesser extent) following me on Twitter, you really didn't hear much from me over the course of E3 week. I've been here for sure, taking in all the trailers, stage demos, and press conferences, but my correspondence has been minimal, largely as I've attempted to digest the era of gaming we've just stepped in up to our knees.
This generation – the one we're in right now, not the one that we just got a clear view of this past week – was the one that saw the very perception of what a game is, change, and not at all for the better. Games went from being timeless classics and ongoing masterpieces to disposable, one-and-done experiences destined to languish on the shelves at your local Gamestop, GAME (for our European readers out there), or pile up in the back room at your nearest indie store. The thought then was that they were simply trying to get us to plow through our games so we could buy the next one sooner, and that may have very well been the case, but whether intended or not, there was another effect. It changed our perception – well, for many of us – of what a game is supposed to be.
It's not that the days of the Grandias and the Chrono Triggers and the Metroid Primes were outright over, mind you. I could rattle off many titles just over the last seven years that deserve to and undoubtedly will live on in our libraries and our "now playing" lists. It's the front-and-center, so-called "AAA" titles that are worth paying attention to here. I'm not going to give the Microsofts and Activisions of the world so much credit as to suggest that they deliberately did this in order to "train" us into not caring about games more than a few months after they released. What I will suggest is that they caught on to the fact that they were having this effect on a good number of us, and the end result is the Xbox One's DRM policy.
Now for E3 itself: My feet are planted squarely on the ground as always. I'm no dreamer. I wasn't expecting Microsoft to come out and recant on all their anti-consumer practices, at least not this year, but I was also kind of hoping their game lineup wouldn't make passing on their next-gen offering too painful. Unfortunately, although I'll have no shortage of things to play this holiday season, games like Forza Motorsport 5, Project Spark, and Crimson Dragon will ensure that the absense of an Xbox One in my apartment stings considerably. Hopefully either Microsoft backs off of their ridiculous DRM policies post-haste, or someone hacks the Xbox One to within an inch of its life so I don't have to worry about that nonsense and I can just freely enjoy these undeniably great games Microsoft showed off at their conference. More on that in a moment.
What I found unsettling is how much positivity I did see toward the Xbox One, not from the gaming press or the analysts, but from gamers themselves on message boards and social media. Even despite Sony clearly being the good guys in the equation with the PlayStation 4, which is shaping up to be the absolute ideal of what a next-gen platform should be, Microsoft and the Xbox One still have their supporters. "We don't care about the DRM," is among their more ignorant battle cries. "They brought the better games to E3," goes another, completely oblivious to the fact that even should they fall in love with any of those games once they're actually released, Microsoft's model will inevitably force it out of their hands the moment they feel the Xbox One has run its course.
This would be bad enough, but it's made even worse when you consider that Microsoft already has a top-notch DRM method in place. It's called Xbox Live, and it's served the 360 well. It works simply enough: when you sign onto their online service, your console is checked for abnormalities consistent with modchipping or custom firmware. If your system is pronounced guilty, you no longer get the benefit of using Xbox Live services on that Xbox. For years and years now, that has been an excellent deterrent in and of itself. Xbox Live has been an extremely well-managed service that has consistently been preferrable to using a modchip or installing CFW.
In other words, Microsoft accomplishes nothing by implementing stricter DRM except begging its consumers to revisit the Xbox Live vs modification debate. It was easy when it was just choosing between playing backups and homebrews or using Xbox Live, but now it's a question of the Xbox One's ability to function at all independently, so don't expect the decision to be so cut and dried.
If anything, a modchipped Xbox One will make the system approachable and consumer-friendly. It'll make it okay to make Crimson Dragon one of your all-time favorite games without worrying about it being taken away from you someday. It'll make it okay to dump 400 hours of blood, sweat, and tears into Forza Motorsport 5 knowing that the fruits of your hard work will always be there for you to come back to. It'll make it possible to take a bunch of Xbox Ones out to a centralized location for a multi-day Killer Instinct III tournament without having all manner of online check-in nightmares to contend with (oops, there went your Evo dreams). Most importantly, modded Xbox Ones will show Microsoft just how horribly they're stifling their own platform.
Of course, it will also inevitably allow gamers to indulge in the other, more questionable freedoms that come from having a modchipped console, and while I'm not endorsing it, Microsoft had to have known what they were getting into when they put their master plan on the drawing board, did they not?
A modified Xbox One will be the most defining statement of this generation that a gamer can make. It will be a symbol of gamers taking control of their own digital rights and hopefully hurting Microsoft's games division so badly that no one will ever think of taking these steps again. Either by ignoring the Xbox One outright or bending it to our will, we will send that message, "never again." Frankly, it must be the defining statement of this generation, because if gamers aren't willing to stand up for their own digital rights, they don't deserve them.
Welcome To Generation Eight.
What do you think about the comparison to Steam’s model of gaming, and the alleged leak from the Xbox One engineer that claimed this DRM lockdown policy could result in eventual pure digital distribution and super cheap game deals?
Would your opinion change if MSoft made the once-a-day online sign-in be performed from your phone or computer? Would this even be possible, I wonder… guess it depends on what MSoft is actually authenticating during that sign-in.
How would your view change if Microsoft at least promised to lift all the DRM on your games in the even that they were forced to shut down the service, allowing you to play sign-in free for eternity afterwards?
The way Steam and Xbox One are doing things is very different. Steam has an offline mode. You can stay offline for months at a time and it doesn’t care. Eventually you do have to login again, but the timeframe is so long that it becomes a matter of when it’s convenient for you rather than when MS deems it necessary.
You can have effective DRM and not piss off your clients. Steam, iTunes, Audible, they all do a good job of getting out of the way while protecting the content from casual theft. What Microsoft doesn’t understand is that if someone is determined to crack their system, they will.
Andrew: My opinion wouldn't change at all, and in fact I personally COULD check in on my phone since I have wireless tethering. If the recent backpedalling by Phil Harrison and Major Nelson about passing over end-of-system-life digital rights to the consumer has any validity, then MONTHLY check-ins would be almost acceptable until then (by my estimation that would be less than a hundred times total having to touch base with Xbox Live before the digital rights are turned over to us), but only if accompanied by some kind of contingency plan for others…call it a military exception or something.
Fil: I was always under the impression that Steam DRM was handled on an individual game basis, and only required one-time authentication the first time you launch any given game, forever authenticating that game on that computer.
[…] the Xbox 360. We'll get into the implications of the move in a moment, but first of all, as someone who participated in the backlash myself, I just want to take a moment to say how proud I am to be a gamer right […]