Xbox One, Licensing vs. Ownership, and Voting With Your Wallet

One and done?

Today’s news about the forthcoming Xbox One’s reported limitations on their “license” and how it’ll affect consumers is a bit troubling.

The short version of this is that Microsoft has created a system that can potentially kill the trade-and-resell market for video games but has deferred the actual pulling of the proverbial trigger to publishers. It’s a half-ass stance that is not unlike Microsoft’s current business culture (one example: Windows Phone should be eating Android’s market share in business – see their exceptional Office integration – but Microsoft would rather make money on patents).

That said, the first shot was fired long before the “Xbox One won’t play used games” rumors reached critical mass. In fact think back to the first time you heard you’d have to pay for a subscription just to “activate” multi-player games. Want to use that Netflix subscription on that Xbox? Yeah, that’s not happening if you’re not a “Gold” XBL member.

In the mid-90’s I was on something of a PC gaming kick. Mainly because it was the first time I’d have a PC in my life and a friend had a given me a bunch of old Win95 games. For those that didn’t know better (*raises hand*) I thought having the disc was owning the game. Sadly, I quickly learned about the need for registration keys for software.

My fascination with PC gaming all but die there. Sure, I would load up copies of Doom and Wolfenstein on those old rigs; graduate to Black & White and then Age of Mythology (both of which I enjoyed) but I’d never really go back to investing the time or money because to me, that business model was cost-prohibitive.

With E3 about to kick off next week and with everyone’s attention on the next generation of consoles I’m saddened that the general refrain from the gaming community can be summed up as trite whining. “I can’t buy/play used/borrowed/rented games… but I’ll still buy the system,” really? Though I won’t dilute myself by saying my refusing to buy PC games made publishers rethink their strategies; the fact that I was in the majority of consumers that went a different way, namely consoles, is the reason we have different business models for PC gaming today (think services like Steam).

By no means does this mean that the Steam model will work for everyone; as it is, the Steam model doesn’t solve the primary gripes that we’re reading about in most tech/gaming blogs. Steam does not allow the resale of games purchased, it does not allow you to try-before-you-buy, hell, it even requires an always-on internet connection to play your content. In fact, if you re-read that last sentence, Steam is in fact guilty of all the things many railing against.

The reason Steam has largely gone praised by the same group of folks that are suddenly so anti-Xbox may have more to do with the fact that Steam offers steep discounts on games, regular deals on indie titles, and many of the same “achievements” found in console gaming. Sure you miss out on a few console exclusives, but you can take that saved money and go nuts on the next Steam sale.

Ultimately the future of gaming rests solely on the people who go out and spend their money on games. If you truly want to see a change in the way consoles view media – licensing vs. ownership – then you’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is. Even if that means we’ll have to sit out an entire generation of consoles.

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