Good news for everyone who saw Microsoft's reversal on the Xbox One's family sharing capabilities as a major negative back in June -- the company is planning to allow for sharing capabilities after all. The news, which broke today, doesn't clarify every aspect of how the program will work, but it offers a great deal of information on the ins and outs of digital game distribution and what you will and won't be able to access offline.
Central to the new scheme is the implementation of what Microsoft is calling "Home Gold." As the name implies, Home Gold will only be available to Xbox Live Gold subscribers, but there's no additional cost. This new system allows the following:
- You can configure your console to allow other people to play multiplayer games and access entertainment applications, even if you aren't at home or logged into Xbox Live.
- Friends can sign in to your console with their own gamertags and play titles you have access to.
- You can log in to a friend's console and access your own library of games and applications.
- Games you purchase while at a friend's house (logged in with your own Gamertag) will register as purchases and be available for download on your own system.
Microsoft states: "With Xbox One
everyone in your home has a personalized account, which will enable powerful and personal experiences, and that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to create Home Gold. It means that your account and your gamertag are truly yours. You don’t have to share your gamertag for multiplayer gaming with others in your home, or see recommendations for your kid’s cartoons next to the recommended first-person shooter for you. It also means that you can introduce new games and enjoy multiplayer with friends while they are at your house."
First off, this is a smart move for Microsoft
and one we applaud. Family sharing was a centerpiece of the Xbox One plan. There's no word on game loanership or rentals here, but the dual-identity system should make such things possible. That's one of the takeaways from this -- MS has obviously implemented a system in which consoles are identified by unique characteristics and tracked independently of players.
The implication is that each console is associated with the equivalent of an Administrator Account. One gamertag gets set as "owner," possibly with a second sphere of tags as "Associates." All of Microsoft's examples refer to situations in which two different console owners are sharing content with each other; there's no information on whether a child with an account can still access those titles on a friend's Xbox One as well.
Still, this clears up a lot. When the console is offline, you have access to your own installed games. You don't have to be on Xbox Live
to play multiplayer games online -- the console's ID itself serves as authentication. If a friend comes over (or you visit a friend), you have to remain online for everyone to have access to your games, but that's not an unreasonable requirement. Few people objected to the idea that your Xbox One had to check in periodically when playing a "loaned" game, the problem people had was that the online experience was absolutely mandatory.
There's still no word on game lending, but this dual identity system should allow for its implementation at a future date. Meanwhile, the ability to share a single Xbox Live Gold account among a family is very welcome. There's no word yet on how MS will handle account associations -- if you have more than one Xbox Live Gold account in a family, will there be a way to combine the two going forward?