Digital Rights Management, or DRM, has been the subject of many controversies over the past decade as wide-spread broadband connections, along with many software developments, have facilitated the unauthorized sharing of digital media. Today, just about everyone has had some (probably frustrating) encounter with DRM in some guise or another, whether its not being able to transfer songs between your iTunes accounts (before they removed their DRM in 2009, that is), being unable to play a DVD outside of its coded region, or simply not being able to give a friend that game you bought on Steam and don’t play any more.
A little while back, I wrote about the always-on DRM associated with the newest Sim City game. The gist of the story is simply that people don’t really appreciate having to be connected to the Internet when they’re playing an offline, single-player game. That said, it was a huge shock to me when Microsoft announced its DRM strategy for its next generation console, the XBox One. You can see it summarized in this image, created by a Redditor on the popular /r/gaming forums:
Understandably, most gamers were not so impressed with this new approach to things. While its standard practice to disallow the sharing or transfer of downloaded material, the idea that Microsoft would restrict the sharing of actual physical media seemed to really inflame tempers. One issue that was also brought up was the damage this policy would do to businesses that offer secondhand games. Not only this, but the region-locking features would make the console totally useless outside the 21 launch countries and if for some reason your XBox couldn’t make its once-daily check-in with the servers, you would be locked out until it could.
Well, after more than a week of taking a severe beating in just about every single gaming-related outlet possible, including E3, Microsoft released a new statement backtracking on basically every aspect of its DRM strategy. Probably a wise choice, considering the amount of people who suggested they would choose the PS4 over the new XBox simply due to these restrictions.
What’s perhaps the most important thing here, in my opinion anyways, is the fact that people complained, and Microsoft listened. Its certainly not uncommon for people to moan and grouse about changes to platforms they use daily (Facebook Timeline anyone?), but its considerably rarer to see a major player like Microsoft making such a major turn-around in response, what we might call in this case an XBox 360 (sorry, couldn’t resist that one).
DRM is quickly becoming one of the most important issues in today’s society. Much of the media we purchase and consume is no longer in the form of physical media that intrinsically grant us certain rights such as re-sale and lending, but are digital and thus subject to the whims of the content creators and distributors. There is a disturbing trend towards locking down this digital content, and the story of the XBox One should shine as an example of how the community can put their foot down when the line is crossed.