There have been some murmurs recently that Microsoft is looking into various ways to exercise a bit more control over their next generation of Xbox, specifically in ways that could block out a large part of the used game market. Users and used game distributors are naturally upset by this idea. While some sources have claimed to be able to outline the changes that are coming based on development kid details, it seems more likely that any number of ideas are still in testing stages.
Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is a hard issue to deal with for many reasons. You can’t get away with having absolutely nothing. The thought raises ideological objections from content distributors before you can even get to the point of reasoning through it. You also can’t have complete control, as EA has recently demonstrated with their SimCity debacle, wherein an always-on DRM scheme caused one of the most impressive product failures in recent history.
The always-on idea has been floated for Xbox games as well. Since this would require a reliable internet connection for every console that could be used to make sure the active account is the only one allowed to access whatever game is being played, it’s as problematic for users as it is appealing for distributors.
While there was at least some chance that Microsoft would go this way with the Xbox 720, after EA’s blunder there has been too much press surrounding the issue. Users are aware of how a service failure completely out of their control can leave them unable to play legitimately purchased games even when there is no functional reason for the internet to come into play. Nobody is going to get away with that for a while.
More recent speculation surrounds a transition to the use of game discs as installation mediums. This would largely mirror the current PC market. Users would have to install from their disc to be able to play, after which the disc itself would simply be checked when the game launched.
This seems like it would be the ideal scheme for the moment. It would also require comparatively huge hard disks. At least quadruple the size of the current generation console’s 256GB storage space would be needed to make this reasonable.
The upside to this is faster loading times after the installation as well as decreased wear on optical drives. Those drives are the second most common point of failure in the current console, after all.
The problem is in the implementation. The temptation in this scheme would be to require at least a single registration of each game via the internet to lock it down to an account. Many (perhaps most) PC games already do this, but not all game consoles have that kind of reliable connectivity. On top of that, it would effectively cripple the used game industry just as surely as the always-on model would.
There is no way to really make either option look good. The optical installation medium is probably the lesser of two evils at best. Convincing these companies that the secondary markets for their products are a positive force seems to be a lost cause, though, so we’re going to have to deal with something.