Microsoft’s upcoming game console, currently referred to as the Xbox 720 by most people, is starting to take shape. Rumors and leaks are painting a picture for people to get excited over even if we have months yet before an official release can be expected. Some of the more recent information may take quite a few people by surprise if true, however.
There is at least some chance that the next Xbox console will require an always-on internet connection that can check to make sure that the game you are playing belongs to you. Each copy of a game would be bound to a single user account and there would be no opening for resale.
One of the more frequent irritations for game developers is the existence of used game sales. They’re hardly unique in that, as evidenced by similar problems in book publishing and innumerable other areas, but they do have enough influence on the platforms they participate in to make it an issue. People have been worried about the potential for some sort of move by console makers to limit the resale market in the next generation, so perhaps this comes as little surprise to some, but it is a huge divergence at this point. Word has it that Gamestop stock already took a head over the rumors.
Realistically, I believe this particular rumor to be half true at most. While both game developers and Microsoft do miss out on revenue thanks to used game sales through stores like Gamestop, the loss of all lending and borrowing potential would be too huge to overlook. Short of an all-digital distribution system, there is not much chance of a truly locked down environment any time soon.
More likely, we’re going to be looking at an integrated system for multiplayer account authentication. We already see something along these lines happening in games with strong resale potential. Users who buy a used copy are required to purchase a multiplayer pass in order to participate on the game’s servers. This will likely be the standard from now on.
By building that sort of process into the Xbox experience, Microsoft can take their cut of any secondary sales while standardizing the experience for users and making collection easier for those providing online services. Games that do not rely on externally hosted servers will almost certainly remain unaffected by this sort of change, since it would only add pressure to the system for every console in circulation to be constantly checking in.
The idea that there will be always-on internet connections required for full use of the Xbox 720 remains valid. There are many reasons for this to be introduced, especially given Microsoft’s emphasis on the integration of their various devices. In order to provide a more consistent experience they will want to ensure regular security and feature updates, if nothing else. That’s the least of what could be accomplished with the assurance of connectivity. It just won’t be used to prevent players from borrowing a game for the weekend. The backlash would be too extreme.