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How the Xbox One lost me, and then won me back with 24-Hour DRM and the cloud.

I love my Xbox 360.  Or, 360s, I should say.  I’ve had 4 over the last 8 years with some dying and some traded in for newer models.   I’m an Xbox fan, but mostly, I’m a fan of technology and progress (and my PS3, too).  I love console release years because of all the new upgrades, and especially the graphics.  This is the first real year where we’ve had innovation in the online space by everyone, and it’s very exciting.  This week I was appalled by the 24 hour check-in.  I even tweeted that I’d cancel my preorder if they kept it.  I was serious. Here’s how Xbox won me back.

In talking with one of my friends (I preordered the PS4 as well), he said the reason he didn’t want the DRM wasn’t because he had bad internet, honestly we all know the Internet is pretty good nowadays, it was Xbox Live.  He didn’t want an entire generation of games being removed from history if in the future the One couldn’t connect to the internet for some reason.  This is definitely scary.  For me, as a gamer, all of my past systems I still have.  There’s nostalgia there.  The difference is that in the future, our computers and consoles at our house will start becoming less and less powerful, and more of that will be offloaded to the cloud.  The turning point for me was when Sony announced Gaikai that lets you play PS3 games on your PS4, Vita, and whatever other device the Gaikai player is on.  Gaikai works because it runs the game on a PS3 in the cloud, and then streams the video and controls to your device, letting even crappy hardware play amazingly graphics and computation-intensive games on a device that’s fairly weak, but has a good internet connection.  This, in theory, means you could run PS4 games on your PS3, if Sony had allowed it, but here’s where the DRM comes in handy for the future, even if it’s uncomfortably restrictive.

Gaikai has no idea what PS3 games that you purchased.  Why?  Because you didn’t buy them OnDemand in the cloud and they’re disk-based games that you can sell to a friend, or keep forever in disk form (and keep a working PS3 in order to play).  Since disk based games are without DRM, Sony can’t guarantee that you and your friends didn’t all use the same disk to tell them you “bought” it.  So, while you’re free to do what you want with your disks, when your hardware or disk dies, so does the game (to Ebay!).

Gaikai is the future of gaming, and PS4 announced it first.  The issue is, in order to get all of the convenience of the cloud, to be able to have the game on any console, and, more importantly, to be able to even play the disk game I bought in the cloud from my PS3 OR PS4, there must be some form of DRM.  For disk games, the DRM is the fact that there’s only one disk, and either I, or my friend, can have that one disk in our possession at any one time.  On Xbox One, all disk games are actually cloud games, and are all installed, and all in the cloud upon purchase.  Does Xbox One have a service like Gaikai?  No, but Azure is an incredible and reliable service platform, and puts Microsoft in a stronger position in the cloud.  Five years from now, when devs are hitting the edge of what the PS4 and Xbox One can push, Azure will be there to essentially infinitely extend the computation power of the Xbox one.  Another 5 years after that and we’ll be in an era where Gaikai-like services are the norm, and at that point, the DRM that Xbox pushed on us will be the only way they can determine that I, Ryan, bought Forza 5 and still own Forza 5 (or determine that I traded it to a friend, or in for a new game).  Since we lived from E3 on with no more disk-based games, when Xbox One goes ALL streaming, all of my past library will be there.  That’s something we’ve never had before.  Never again will I have to re-buy Final Fantasy XII, or re-buy whatever game I want to keep forever, because they re-release the exact same game as an On-Demand title on ever new system.

So, is DRM different?  Yes, and for some people it’s scary and others, for a few days out of the year when you’re on vacation to a place with no internet, it’ll mean you can’t play a game.  This is a future trade-off, though, and means that you’re LESS likely to lose a generation of games.  You’re only losing the nostalgia of the physical hardware and disks, not the games themselves.  In the next decade, the cloud will power games, and the 24-hour check-in is an inconvenience for some now, it affords a much greater convenience and longevity for games than have ever been possible.

Update 1: Games On-Demand that I can trade-in

I originally compared DRM haters to using Steam as a service, but was greeted with Steam having an Offline Mode to play games.  That’s totally true and a good point (Steam is super awesome).  Xbox one doesn’t have an Offline Mode for more than 24 hours, but here’s what we get with that.  We get Games On-Demandconvenience, but now with the ability to trade in those games for new ones or to lend/give them to people.  Games On-Demand have never had that ability that disks have had.  PS4 has one way or the other.  You’re forced to choose between buying the game on a disk and taking care of and swapping the physical disk forever, or buy the game on-demand with Gaikai or just as a download and not being able to trade it in or lend it EVER, which is at the extreme end of DRM.  For me, I feel like the Xbox route is an excellent compromise, if scary/different at first.