Daily Reaction: Xbox 720 Leaks Suggest A Dark Future, Attacks Used Games, Privacy and Consumers

March 20, 2013Written by Sebastian Moss

The PlayStation 4 may have been announced exactly a month ago, but Microsoft is playing their cards close to their chest. However, tons of leaks and rumors have begun to spread about the next Xbox – are they real, and what do they mean? Daily Reaction’s Seb and Dan discuss used games, installs, a camera that is always watching you and more.

What are the rumors and should we trust them?

Seb: The main spree of rumors here come from the aptly-named VGLeaks, who were correct about a few PS4 spec rumors. They say that the next Xbox, codenamed Durango, but generally called the 720, will require you to always have a Kinect (2) plugged in at all times; that it will use Blu-ray, but the games have to be fully installed; and that it will constantly connect to the internet, even when turned off. Edge, who were correct about the PS4’s share button, take things a step further and say that the Xbox 720 will require you to always be online and won’t play used games. They also corroborate VGLeaks’ comments.

Dan: Yeah, on top of the major bits of information coming off of this ‘leak’, they are also stating that they are going to improve upon the current Xbox controller by making system interaction more simplified for ‘non-core gamers’. As well as also improving the Kinect camera that will remove the need for the motor that the current one uses to improve its field of view, as well as a better ability to track movement.

While it is difficult to say how true all of these rumors are, the number of times VGLeaks has been correct in posting legitimate information does give this some chance of validity. The only problem with information being leaked out this early, even if true, is the potential for change by the time official announcements are made, so we will still have to wait and see how much of this holds water over time.

What will it mean if Microsoft bans used games through always-online blocking, and Sony doesn’t?

Seb: This is the big rumor that everybody wants to know the answer too, as it will have the largest ramifications for gamers and the industry. With the recent epic fail of SimCity, where poor servers on an always-online game meant that no one could play it, using an always-online system won’t benefit any consumer, even those that only buy new. Hell, I live in London, supposedly one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world, and I can’t guarantee a perfect connection at all times. If they do this, Microsoft is essentially saying goodbye to selling in any developing country, to people that have consoles in places with no internet (like a garage), and anyone with internet that isn’t absolutely perfect.

So this move, even if MS doesn’t have server issues at their end (which they will, everyone does), will screw over even the most loyal of customers.

And then, on the industry side, we have the fact that used games have become an important part of people’s purchasing habits. There are some gamers who only buy used games and trade them in, s0 they’re obviously no benefit to the industry. But a huge proportion of gamers also use trade-in money to fund the purchase of new games, or are introduced to a series by a cheap used game and then become a loyal follower who buys new. That’ll all be lost.

GameStop will also lose out on all their used game revenue, so how do you think they’re going to react?

Dan: Exactly, given that Microsoft and GameStop have had a close connection that has irked PlayStation fans for years, the idea that Microsoft would block used sales would be bound to cause trouble, especially if Sony didn’t. For a retailer, their major push is to keep their profit margins as high as possible, regardless of the manufacturer producing the products. So, if Microsoft were to cut out the ability for used games to be played on their consoles, GameStop would immediately push the console(s) that allowed them to still move their lucrative used game inventory around.

It might seem like a bigger problem for Microsoft than they would be willing to bite off, but the potential for securing all profits they would normally lose out on from used sales could make it worth it. If pulled off correctly, MS could still see a bump in profits while securing control over their retail products after launch, a problem that publishers have been facing for decades. It’s an incredibly risky and aggressive move, that may end up backfiring by pushing away segment of their audience in the hope of getting a better grasp on the retail space.

Why would Microsoft want you to fully install every game, and what does it mean?

Seb: It’s certainly an odd rumor. The notion that the 720 uses a Blu-ray drive sounds logical enough, and if they haven’t upgraded to a larger sized drive they’ll be in trouble, but if that means publishers will be producing lots of 50GB games… and who wants to install a bunch of those? The rumor at least says that you’ll be able to play while the games install, but it still sounds very frustrating – and can you quit a game mid-install? Can you start playing immediately? If the games are all 50GB, even the biggest of HDDs is going to fill up fast, which’ll be frustrating to say the least.

So the real question is, why would MS do something like this? There are several possible reasons, none of which are comforting. One – that they opted for a cheap, crappy, slow reading drive and this is how they have to compensate. Two – there’s heat issues caused by the drive, like with early 360s. Three – this is part of their anti-used game thing.

Dan: I think you hit it right on the head with that last part, the major reason for Microsoft to push mandatory installation of games would be to lock out used content. If Microsoft were to force their customers to install every game on a system that was ‘always’ connected to the internet, the need to actually use the disc when playing the game would be removed. They would then require a way to tie the physical product to an account or console, to protect people from just simply sharing games freely. This concept would also push out the possibility of people to install previously owned games, as the disc would be tied to its previous owner, basically negating both issues in a single move.

If MS are going down the route of mandatory full installs, it seems like they are taking more of a PC approach to gaming, a market that has had mandatory installs since the very beginning. I just hope that they find a way to circumvent all of the DRM issues that we are seeing with always-online services on PC, as current server loads and internet stability issues could close people off from their purchased content, as was stated earlier.

Apparently, the Kinect will have to be connected to the Xbox 720 for it to work, even if the games don’t use it. Wtf?

Seb: This is certainly the creepiest rumor of the bunch, and, again, one that is a little illogical. Obviously, it makes sense if you’re playing a crappy Kinect game, but if not, why would Microsoft want to force you to have it plugged in?

In the past, we uncovered a Sony patent that aimed to use a camera to track your emotions and conversations while you played a game. It looks like Sony hasn’t followed through and turned the patent into something real (hopefully), but one must wonder if Microsoft has more serious intentions. Watching users would be a useful, albeit horrific, way for a company to data mine – work out what the user is like, what would appeal to them, and what could be sold to them.

Moreover, Microsoft has patented a system where it watches you to see if multiple people are viewing a film (so it can charge more) or if you are old enough to play something. It’s like having the police sitting on top of your TV.

Microsoft isn’t known for being the best friend of privacy protection, and this seems like a step too far. If this is true, and we aren’t given a good reason for it, I’ll be incredibly hesitant to buy an Xbox 720, even though I wouldn’t keep it in my murder room.

Dan: The whole setup of having to have a system that should never be powered down, always connected to the internet, as well as always having a camera attached, just seems like the most insane set of rules I have ever heard of from a major company. If you actually think about where these gaming consoles are located, it really does bother me that this could be a possibility, and if you listen to Bad Gamers, you know that I am not easily unnerved. Gaming is a hobby that is enjoyed by millions of people of various backgrounds, who keep their systems in various locations, so the concept of the Microsoft Eye of Sauron always watching is far too voyeuristic for my own taste. Parents will end up setting up a gaming system with an always powered on camera in their children’s bedroom, and this alone is a WTF to the nth degree.

Past all of that, if Microsoft is planning on forcing the need for Kinect based play, I really think they are going to lose more of the core market next-gen, as it seems they will continue their focus on being more casual. Even though all of this is still considered speculation and a part of the rumor-mill, the evidence that surrounds what MS is planning on doing this time is really off-putting for someone who is very much invested in the industry.

What do you think about the leaked information regarding Microsoft’s upcoming console? Do you think MS will benefit from blocking used games? Will installing games be better than simply using the disc? Are you ok with having your console watch your every move? Let us know just how creepy you like it by sharing in the comments below, or by emailing us at [email protected]. You can also find us on Twitter at Seb and Dan, where we describe our day to day, instead of letting the great eye from Mordor film it.