Talking Point: Wii U vs Xbox One - Online Requirements and On-Disc DRM

A big deal, or a mountain out of a mole-hill?

Last week Microsoft unveiled its Xbox One, or the non-gaming aspects for the most part, and seemingly managed to confuse as many viewers as it hyped up. Those that opt for schadenfreude should tread carefully, however, as Nintendo's Wii U reveal at E3 2011 similarly baffled many in terms of what the system actually was — an expansion for Wii, or another portable system? The only proviso we'd throw in is that the issues confusing people about Xbox One are more complex, and even after fevered analysis in recent days some areas are still causing the scratching of heads, especially as Microsoft executives have a habit of making vague, contradictory statements.

As the heading suggests, we're going to consider what seems to be the case with the online connectivity requirements of the Xbox One, and also how it's set to handle on-disc DRM (digital rights management) and, by extension, the resulting impact on the used game market. We're just going to outline the latest info that we're aware of on these topics below, before we get to the important bit, your opinions in the polls and comments. We're focusing on the Xbox One in comparison to Wii U in this case as Sony's being rather coy on these topics to date; if you want a more extensive state of play summary for Wii U and its upcoming rivals, you can always check out our talking point on the Wii U's next-gen challenge.

So, what do we know so far? In terms of the Xbox One's online connectivity requirement, pre-reveal rumours that the system would be "always-online" proved inaccurate, which was the only sane outcome. It's clear that an online connection is integral beyond standards such as TV streaming or online multiplayer, however, as Phil Harrison explained to Kotaku that, as he understands it, games will need to connect once every 24 hours. Microsoft's official statement on the matter is as follows.

No, it does not have to be always connected, but Xbox One does require a connection to the Internet.

The clear point is that the One won't be a useless brick if your internet drops for a few hours, but an internet connection will need to be there in the first place — this is perhaps unsurprising with the range of media being implemented — TV, Skype, web browsing etc. Yet the daily connection for games also hints at the DRM system that will be in place; a great deal of related ire has gone Microsoft's way for confirmed aspects of on-disc DRM, and the potential impact on used game sales. What we do know is that game discs are essentially unique enablers, with the content being downloaded to the system's hard drive (or an external drive if the system's is full) automatically; the disc then has no actual use for playing the game. If you take the disc to a friend's system, you can play it when logged into your account — user accounts are in the cloud, rather than tied to hardware — but the game can only be played when logged into that account. When you go home and log into your system again, your friend will have the data but will have to buy the game to utilise it.

So, what are the negatives? For one, you can't simply lend your friend a game that you're no longer playing, as they'd also have to use your account on their console; this system drives people to buy the game for every system. It's rather like the scenario with Nintendo eShop download games — albeit with cloud-based user accounts — in that once you buy those games they're yours alone, and you have no way of traditionally lending them to others. The Xbox One goes further than the eShop as this is no longer optional, but part of physical copies.

And this is where a current hot-topic comes up — the role of used game sales, which are integral to retailers and also a significant proportion of the gaming community. What we've outlined above shows that it's not simply a case of taking your disc copy into a store for cash or credit, but that the DRM adds Microsoft as an additional middle-man. Officially, Microsoft executives have vaguely stated that a framework will be in place to allow used game sales, but has stated that more will be revealed at a later date. Retailers will seemingly need to be part of the cloud-based system to enable these transactions, as any data or license related to your account for a given game would likely be revoked when you trade it in. Like when you sell a game disc, it's no longer yours, but this system takes that idea to data on your hard drive.

Short of solid answers, Eurogamer has spoken to retail sources which suggest that Microsoft will set activation fees to be paid by retailers; part of that fee goes to Microsoft and part to the game's publisher. One arguable benefit, if this is true, is that publishers will receive some money for used game sales, while a negative is that Microsoft can essentially set the prices of used games. If an activation fee is $40 to the retailer — that's purely hypothetical — then you're unlikely to see used copies for anything less than, say, $45. Rather like the DRM being applied to new games, this seems to be a method to drive more consumers into new game purchases, stripping away the simple process of lending games around or picking up older games for a song in the form of a used copy a while after release. However you cut it, it's a more complex arrangement than we currently have, and one that could be a disappointment for gamers that currently share games with friends or rely on cheap used copies. It's also a potential issue for retailers, of course, that are so reliant on the traditional used game market for revenue.

We'll see how it shapes up, but there's a reason that we've spent plenty of words explaining the Xbox One setup and said little about the Wii U's equivalent, and that's because Nintendo's system takes a simpler approach. As we've already reported, potentially affected business such as eBay Germany have highlighted the appeal of the Wii U in comparison, as it's easily catered to your circumstances. Is online required? No. You'd miss goodies such as Miiverse, the eShop and online multiplayer games, but the system doesn't need to go online regularly as a mandatory process. What about used games, or sharing copies with friends? Simple, sell your disc, or lend it to a friend; you pop it into the system and go.

We're highlighting these Xbox One details as issues and headaches, compared to the simplicity on Wii U, but are they? We want to know how important these issues of on-disc DRM, mandatory hard-drive installs and online connectivity are to you. We cite Nintendo's approach as the fairer way to treat gamers and make this hobby of ours so flexible, but we want to know whether you see it that way.

So let us know what you think in our polls, below, and also sound off in the comments. We know that these areas of the Xbox One will be different and potentially anti-consumer in nature, the PS4 is still a mystery in these respects and the Wii U plays it straight and old-school. Does it matter, or is this a big song and dance over nothing?

Is mandatory online connectivity an issue? (560 votes)

Yes, I don't think online should ever be mandatory

73%

Not for me, but I don't think it's a fair idea

19%

I'm not sure, to be honest

2%

I don't think it's a big issue

3%

Not an issue at all, welcome to 2013!

3%

None of the above

1%

Please login to vote in this poll.

Do you actively share games with other console owners? (550 votes)

Yes, and I think it should be allowed without restrictions

49%

I do, but I don't object to the Xbox One setup

1%

I rarely do, but I like to have the option

40%

Never, so this issue doesn't affect me

9%

None of the above

1%

Please login to vote in this poll.

Do you trade-in many games? (550 votes)

I trade-in often for cash and store credit

22%

Occasionally, but not often

34%

Not really, but I'd like the option to be simple

18%

Practically never, I keep my games or have download copies

24%

None of the above

2%

Please login to vote in this poll.

What do you think of the used games market? (548 votes)

I think it's vital for some, and is fine as it is

45%

It's an important way for me to buy games I want

31%

I think retailers abuse trade-in/used game values, so it needs to change

16%

I think publishers should get a cut, as with the rumored Xbox One system

4%

I'm against the used game market as a whole

1%

None of the above

3%

Please login to vote in this poll.

Sponsored links by Taboola

From the web