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At LAST! After weeks of backlash, bumbling executives, cancelled interviews and the general shitstorm that had erupted after Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal. The company has finally released some official information regarding the most important and burning questions. http://news.xbox.com/2013/06/main So what have they actually confirmed or quashed.

On the website (linked above) Microsoft have split the information into 3 separate pages so I’m going to look at each page, fight through the marketing babel to see what we actually have.

Xbox One; A modern, Connected Device
This section is pretty much the same PR stuff we all got at the console reveal. It will take advantage of the cloud, you can Skype and the Xbox will always be in a low power state. They do try to promote at the top of the page that “After signing in and installing, you can play any of your games from any Xbox One” but I’m almost certain this is the case with the 360 now; but there’s more to this at the bottom of the page. The only bit of real good news here is that “You’ll be able to buy disc-based games at traditional retailers or online through Xbox Live, on day of release.“, which I don’t believe was announced before. This is great news, we are in a digital age so there is no reason why we should wait for digital releases (I hope Sony second this).

Now, right at the bottom, past all the big bold bullet points is the real information gamers have actually been waiting for. No PR nonsense now. OK, less.
Microsoft recommend a 1.5Mbps broadband connection and in area’s where broadband isn’t available you can connect using mobile broadband. Absolutely nothing untoward here, this sounds good. Average broadband speeds in the UK are now 12Mbps according to Ofcom. With that said, I can’t see 1.5Mbps would be that useful for gaming, unless you enjoy latency and jitters, nor would I enjoy gaming on mobile broadband (especially outside of large cities) but I feel this recommendation is more for the media aspects such as Skype. It’s encouraging that MS has set a pretty low requirement here, no need to call your provider to upgrade your package.

Last on the page, the most important piece of information. I’m going to copy the whole text for clarity.
While a persistent connection is not required, Xbox One is designed to verify if system, application or game updates are needed and to see if you have acquired new games, or resold, traded in, or given your game to a friend. Games that are designed to take advantage of the cloud may require a connection.
First up, we have the above. A cleverly worded way of saying “you need to be connected 90% of the time” and from the way they put it, it sounds reasonable. Lets also be fair, most people will probably be connected that 90% (if not more) of the time anyway and having automatic game updates and access to the cloud will be essential next generation. This does confirm that you will need to connect to Xbox Live in order to register a new game, “Xbox One is designed to verifyto see if you have acquired new games”. This, I’m not a massive fan of. Yes, for the most part it wont be an issue because you’ll be connected but what if your internet is down, you’re at a new location where internet may not be setup yet or the WEP/WPA code is unknown to you. Minor inconvenience? Yes. Whatever way you look at it, it’s just one more obstacle between the user and the brand new exclusive game they’ve been waiting months/years to play.

Then underneath this, without even getting a bullet point or a bold title (why ever not?), is
With Xbox One you can game offline for up to 24 hours on your primary console, or one hour if you are logged on to a separate console accessing your library. Offline gaming is not possible after these prescribed times until you re-establish a connection, but you can still watch live TV and enjoy Blu-ray and DVD movies.
Confirming the ‘rumours’ regarding the need to sign in every 24 hours. My view on this mirrors my thoughts on registering a game, it’s another potential obstacle, it also feels very parent-child; being checked up on all the time to make sure you’re not doing what you shouldn’t. I don’t feel this answers all my question though, or maybe it does? If you get “one hour if you are logged on to a separate console accessing your library” surely you have a connection otherwise you wouldn’t be able to access your library from another machine? So does this mean that if your connection would then drop, you can still play for 1 hour? if so, that sounds reasonable to me, not entirely open but certainly nothing to cry over.

So overall, as a gamer and potential customer, there’s nothing here that would really deter me off the bat, unless a competitor offered something miraculously different. The majority of the information was already known. Same day digital releases are great, although something we might come to expect nowadays. While I do find the online game registration a potential annoyance, I do believe this will become standard this generation across all platforms one way or another; I’m sure Sony will have something similar, I’m just intrigued as to how they will approach it. I still don’t 100% understand the 1 hour without checking in when accessing your library but from what I currently understand its nothing to worry about.
[EDIT] This isn’t a true edit, more of an after thought while re-reading. If I can still watch live TV, play Blu-Ray and DVD’s (although these discs should be in a different category) without the need to sign in once every 24 hours, why should I for gaming! Why singularly punish gamers? Piracy, you say. I’m fully behind this and every system is going to have heightened anti piracy measures compared to the current generation; people have been able to get away with too much for to long. But an Xbox One would stop the user from gaming if they couldn’t sign in but happily let that person watch a pirated movie/TV show. Yes movie piracy isn’t Microsoft’s problem but the point is still valid, it also further exasperates Microsoft’s focus on media or more importantly, lack of focus on GAMES! Anti piracy measures are needed but surely they don’t need to be quiet so potentially restrictive.

How Game Licensing Will Work On Xbox One
This is where we get to the good stuff. Again more frilly PR bullet points, the first 3 reiterate most of what was already said on the previous page and at the reveal. However more interesting facts lie beneath.

The 4th point expands on information given regarding family members. It states “Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One“. How you define who is a family member is unknown and the use of the phrase ‘shared game library’ intrigues me. ‘Shared game library’ not ‘game library’, does that mean there will be a separate section or category for games that can be ‘shared’, implying that not all games with be ‘sharable’? Not really cleared much up here in my mind. It does also confirm “You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time.” Which is good but again, no specific are given. How long can you both play for?

The next bullet point clearly states the policy on game trade-ins and confirms this will be possible and Microsoft will not profit in any way from this, “Microsoft does not charge a platform fee to retailers, publishers, or consumers for enabling transfer of these games.“. MS do cleverly steer the focus away from themselves here though, while they confirm they will not implement statutory charges, they suggest that individual publishers may wish to do so “We designed Xbox One so game publishers can enable you to trade in your games at participating retailers.“. The use of ‘enable’ says to me that ‘should publishers wish to allow you to trade-in their games, you can do, but not all publishers will enable this type of feature’. Now of course, MS are one of these publishers, as well as being a manufacturer and thankfully will be on the gamers side (for once… for now) “In our role as a game publisher, Microsoft Studios will enable you to give your games to friends or trade in your Xbox One games at participating retailers.“.

The last point covers lending games to a friend, which you can freely do as long as you abide by 2 rules, “There are two requirements: you can only give them to people who have been on your friends list for at least 30 days and each game can only be given once.” The friends list feature sounds fine for the most part, although you wont be able to lend to a friend who’s new to the Xbox family (for 30 days) which sucks and could be a slight put-off for potential buyers. Only being allowed to lend a game once might sound a little restrictive but honestly, I’ve rarely actually borrowed or lent many games this generation so I’m sure that wont be much of an issue.

The fact that Microsoft publishing will allow game trade-in and the borrowing of games is great, if not something we feel we have a right to. The other information might not be music to everyone’s ears but similarly to the information revealed in the previous section, it’s not detrimental in the grand scheme of things, it’s certainly not going to deter any current Xbox users. However my favourite part of this page of information is still to come.

These two nuggets of information at the bottom of the page are important, the latter being huge in my eyes. These are full quotes from the website, linked to in the title of this section.

Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.
And
As we move into this new generation of games and entertainment, from time to time, Microsoft may change its policies, terms, products and services to reflect modifications and improvements to our services, feedback from customers and our business partners or changes in our business priorities and business models or for other reasons.  We may also cease to offer certain services or products for similar reasons.

Now the first quote, while disappointing, isn’t the end of the world but still doesn’t expand upon a lot. Is there a particular reason why we can’t share games in the beginning? I can’t see why not myself, unless Microsoft in still in discussion with other publishers on how to approach this/make the most money from it.
The second quote above is my favourite. This is basically a disclaimer stating that Microsoft can (and probably will) do whatever they please with the features and functionality of the Xbox One. They are basically saying that if they want to stop game rentals or borrowing of games in the future, they can(will). If they want to charge for trade-in in future, they can. This statement is pretty much saying that Microsoft will further restrict/or further heighten all of their policies in the future. This might sound common and that of course Microsoft have the right to do this but given the current situation I feel this is covering for more sinister intentions.

This is a deal breaker for me. If I buy a produce I want to be able to use all its features all the time and possibly have more added in the future. Not the opposite, where my device get more restrictive over time. Am I being pessimistic or jumping the gun, maybe, I have no way to prove these claims but think. Why has Microsoft felt the need to state this information in the first place? If they don’t plan to make changes in the near future then there is no need for this statement. There has been a lot of bad press and backlash online and in gaming media regarding how restrictive the One will be and how poorly information has been released; the sheer fact MS has posted this information online is a testament to how awfully they have handled the reveal and the release of information up to this point. Furthermore, they have cancelled interviews and media time after the E3 event. This stinks of MS covering their asses for the future when they no longer enable you to borrow or rent games and the publishing department start including flat charges for trading in games.
I find it ironic that at the top of the page it states “…there is no physical limit to the size or scope of the content provided.” yet limiting scope of the content provided is exactly what the are doing with restrictions on lending games, checking on you once a day and potentially changing all their current policies in the future.

Privacy By Design: How Xbox One And The New Kinect Sensor Put You In Control
The last segment covers concerns that had arisen over the fact that the Kinect sensor would ‘always be listening’ and what level of privacy it will give. From the information given here, it would appear MS are a lot more comfortable talking about Kinect than they are game related issues.

Firstly, a general comment is made stating that during set-up of the Xbox One you will be able to set multiple options to customize the functionality of your Kinect and Xbox One. “The system will navigate you through key privacy options, like automatic or manual sign in, privacy settings, and clear notifications about how data is used.” This is followed up by the second bullet point which states you can limit the functionality of the Kinect device, should you be worried about privacy. “If you don’t want the Kinect sensor on while playing games or enjoying your entertainment, you can pause Kinect. To turn off your Xbox One, just say “Xbox Off.” When the system is off, it’s only listening for the single voice command — “Xbox On,” and you can even turn that feature off too. Some apps and games may require Kinect functionality to operate, so you’ll need to turn it back on for these experiences.” This is really good to hear and its refreshing to get some straight answers for once, I think it will be clean in everyone’s mind now what the Kinect device will be doing and how much control the user will have. The functions that MS have revealed also sound brilliant and give the user a lot of options which is great. Having the option to almost completely turn off the device is great; from my perspective at least. The one thing I don’t 100% believe is “When the system is off, it’s only listening for the single voice command — “Xbox On,”“. How can the device pick out that one phrase without analysing or checking other words you say in a sentence. I appreciate the technology in the device but I don’t see that; I’d love for someone to inform me.
This section rounds up with a comment on data protection saying certain data “will not leave your Xbox One without your explicit permission“. It cites, videos, photos etc, all very social information. It makes no reference to technical data that the Kinect system picks up or the audio information it collects. Regardless of this, we live in an age where data about ourselves is flying around nonstop no matter how protective we try to be. Microsoft say they are giving user options which essential and I don’t believe they will have any more data on the user than that of Nintendo with the Wii/U.

Summary:

After all the contradictory stories and quote, misunderstandings and rumours, I think it was essential for Microsoft to reveal an information pack such as this; even if it’s the result of their own poor PR. While the information revealed doesn’t answer every single question it certainly goes a long way towards total clarity. Gamers now actually understand what they are getting with their Xbox One.
The key points we have learned:

  • Constant internet connection is not required
  • You are required to sign into Xbox Live once every 24 hours
  • A connection is required to register a new game
  • You can only game offline for one hour if you are logged on to a separate console accessing your library
  • Up to ten family members can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One
  • Microsoft will not charge anyone for the trade-in of games
  • The power to block/restrict used game sales is in the hands of the publisher
  • Loaning or renting wont be available at launch
  • You can only lend a game once and only to a 30 day old Xbox Live friend
  • Microsoft state that all their policies/terms/products could change over time
  • Kinect has privacy settings
  • You have the ability to turn off some voice command and other Kinect functions
  • Data will not leave your Xbox One without your permission

On the whole I think Microsoft has put to bed a lot of rumours or uncertainties that were going against the company beforehand, especially regarding Kinect’s privacy. On the other hand, the news for gamers (and remember, this IS still a ‘games console’) still doesn’t make for great reading. While most of the information revealed isn’t game changing and nor do I think it will deter many current 360 owners. It’s categorically more restrictive than gamers are used to, it wont aid in converting any uninspired Wii U owners, I certainly can’t see it winning over PS3 user and most importantly, everything could still change.
I can’t look past that disclaimer on the Game Licensing page. In light of everything that has gone on recently, I can’t shake the feeling that Microsoft are sugar-coating the information for the purposes of the launch. Helping regain some momentum again and dangling the carrot back in front of consumers. Only for that carrot to be yanked away 6 -12 months down the line, when used game charges come in and the abilities to loans/borrow games is removed. As I said above, that is a deal breaker for me and along with all the little extra and the lack of game focus so far, I can’t see myself owning an Xbox One (unfortunately I can only afford one system).

Note: I didn’t want to make this a comparison between the Xbox One and the PS4 but I will just say this. I do expect Sony to announce some sort of game registration/ anti piracy methods and my views about it being an annoyance will be mimic for the PS4. I just pray that they are more relaxed than those seen on Microsoft’s machine, wishful thinking, possibly. However if they are the same as MS’, Sony have played their cards extremely well. Let MS come out and break gamers heart and take all the flack, then slide in after with a similar policy when people are already familiar with the idea. Eases the burden for Sony gamer. We shall just have to wait for E3 for the final answers.

Thank you very much for reading this and I commend you for making it all the way through. I hope you have found this useful in some way or just enjoyed the read. Please do comment with your thoughts about the Xbox One or what I’ve written, I’d love to hear from you.

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