The biggest problem that Microsoft has with the upcoming release of their new Xbox console is that of how to properly sell its new DRM capabilities. The recent uproar over Twitter comments asking why it could possibly be such a big deal has already led to the resignation of Adam Orth. It’s pretty clear that this is not something people will just let go.
Microsoft’s solution is something of a cop-out. They plan to make the always-on DRM scheme available for any publisher that wants to make use of it, but it will not be forced on anybody. This means that they can claim to have no fault in the end when customers are upset over the problems arising from this sort of highly restrictive setup.
The alternative that publishers can choose to go with is a one-time validation of the game. There will be no truly offline console experience anymore from the sound of it, though hopefully in this situation it will be possible to play offline once the validation has been processed. That would be handy for people wanting to use their console in internet-free situations or even in the entirely unprecedented event of an internet outage.
After the issues that EA has been dealing with regarding SimCity’s always-on problems, we have to imagine that a lot of well-intentioned attempts to curb piracy will end up causing headaches for everybody involved. We also have to assume that the chances of major game publishers realizing this and choosing not to go with the more restrictive option are slim at best. It will be a very long time before the biggest names in the field acknowledge that piracy doesn’t have much of an effect on the grand scheme of things.
Obviously there is the chance that some of this could change in the time leading up to the big reveal of the Xbox 360’s successor. We still don’t even know the name of the console, let alone many of the details about it. Since the DRM situation will obviously be handled by the software wide of things it should be possible for Microsoft to keep things in limbo up until we actually see units hit the shelves. Theoretically they could even choose to change or remove options well after the eventual release date, though that becomes less likely as time goes on.
We do know of a couple other improvements that should be helpful to the overall experience.
The limited space on the Xbox Live friends list has been eliminated, which will come as a relief to many people. You can sign up everybody you know and play with without trouble now.
The achievement system has also been revamped slightly to allow publishers to dynamically manipulate what is available. Previously the only way to add achievements to a game after it was launched was to package them inside some sort of downloadable content pack.
We’ll know more for sure after the preview event on June 10th!