Xbox One Used Games: Microsoft Searches For Someone To Screw [Editorial]

In a world in which its corporate communication team wasn't apparently being run by two monkeys and a sack of hammers, Microsoft executives would've taken the stage yesterday and delivered a concise, official explanation as to whether or not used games will run on the console. In point of fact, everyone thought they did. Wired's exclusive report yesterday purported to have the full scoop on how this situation would be handled.


Wired asked Microsoft if installation would be mandatory. “On the new Xbox, all game discs are installed to the HDD to play,” the company responded in an emailed statement... What follows naturally from this is that each disc would have to be tied to a unique Xbox Live account, else you could take a single disc and pass it between everyone you know and copy the game over and over. Since this is clearly not going to happen, each disc must then only install for a single owner. Microsoft did say that if a disc was used with a second account, that owner would be given the option to pay a fee and install the game from the disc, which would then mean that the new account would also own the game and could play it without the disc.
Clear. Concise. Simple. There would be a used games market, but there'd be some fees involved, games would be tied to Xbox Live accounts, some particulars still unclear. This news whacked Gamestop's stock pretty hard, sending the company's price down ~6%. Then came the reversals. First a Twitter account said used games would be functional, no fees. Then, at 8 PM tonight, Major Nelson / Larry Hryb, Director of Programming for the Xbox Live gaming network, published the following on his own blog:

"While there have been many potential scenarios discussed, today we have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail. Beyond that, we have not confirmed any specific scenarios. Another piece of clarification around playing games at a friend’s house – should you choose to play your game at your friend’s house, there is no fee to play that game while you are signed in to your profile."

Thanks, Larry.

Do you know why Microsoft hasn't "confirmed any specific scenarios?" Because it's still trying to figure out who to screw over. Either publishers aren't going to get the control they're desperately seeking over the used game market, or Gamestop's entire business model is about to take a beating. Nelson's comments imply that the company is considering a scheme in which someone (quite possibly Gamestop or the eventual second-hand purchaser) must pay a fee to reactivate content on a disc once it's been sold.

You don't want this to happen. Here's why.

Why Standing Up For GameStop Is In Our Mutual Best Interest

Let me make something clear. I hate Gamestop. If I were to make a list of my favorite retail outlets, Gamestop falls right between "Los Angeles crack den" and "Gun nut redneck meth lab" when it comes to picking up something for a little take-home fun. Their branded controllers are 50% plastic, 50% recycled migrant worker and the staff are every bit as miserable as you'd expect the employees of a rock-bottom, low-paying retail outlet to be. If you have a passion for gaming, Gamestop is where you go to kill it.

And you know what? That's exactly what game publishers want you to focus on. Focus on hating GameStop. Focus on how much you can't stand that there's a company that buys your used games and turns them into new cash. Focus on how that company controls the used market and sets prices as a result. Because if you're really, really, really focused on how much you hate GameStop, you may completely miss how publishers are about to try and grab your rights.

According to US Copyright Law, you -- the owner of a book, DVD, game CD, or music disc -- have what's called the "right of first sale." That means you are allowed to resell it, rent it, destroy it, or give it away. Period. The only thing you are not allowed to do is copy it for mass distribution to others.

If you buy and resell a movie, Hollywood makes no money.
If you buy and resell a CD, the RIAA doesn't get squat.
If you buy and resell a book, the author doesn't make commission.

But somehow, game developers have decided that they, and they alone, deserve to be an exception to this rule. And since everyone hates Gamestop, Gamestop gets dogpiled. But the bigger issue here is that game studios are hurting. Costs for next-generation games have skyrocketed, developer teams continue expanding, and more studios have folded than formed in the past few years. It's a really, really ugly situation.

And it's not our fault. It's not your fault that EA, Activision, and THQ greenlit terrible projects and make awful decisions. It's not our fault that these companies choose to shovel garbage into the market and bet on a handful of major titles to make the money back. The explosive growth of solutions like Kickstarter is proof that markets find ways to meet needs and fund projects, even when studios won't step up.

Of course, I could be wrong -- but I don't think so. This is Microsoft, trying to find a solution that lets them absolve themselves of blame, most probably by shoving the issue into the hands of publishers or finding a way to charge GameStop without actually hitting consumers directly. Because if they didn't, if this was simply business as normal, there wouldn't be any situations to clarify.

If Microsoft creates a system that allows publishers to charge either Gamestop or second-hand purchasers for used games, I'll never recommend the system. If Sony does the same, I'll buy a Wii U or skip this generation altogether. Not because I like Gamestop, but because the right to resell a product you purchased is more important than EA's bottom line.