The reaction to the Xbox One reveal and its original digital-led vision proves how little consumers understand about what they’re entitled to when buying download games, says a leading expert.
Microsoft’s forthcoming console was met by gamer backlash over plans to licence digital titles to users, meaning that they would not technically own their games.
Vanessa Barnett, partner at legal firm Charles Russell, says this has always been the case with downloads – it’s just that consumers aren’t aware of it.
“Consumers are always paying for the ‘licence’ of a download game,” she said. “Indeed, when they buy a physical copy they are also buying the licence – it’s just that licence is wrapped up in a ‘good’ you physically own.
“This is much like digital music and films, where you also get a ‘licence’ to play an album or watch a movie but you only ‘own’ the plastic that makes up the CD or DVD.”
And while the public battles of Napster and Pirate Bay have helped raise awareness of consumers’ digital rights in music and film, Barnett says that “on the gaming side, the public is less aware”.
The legal expert hopes that the Consumer Rights Bill – legislation that will give consumers specific rights with respect to digital content – will help educate consumers so that companies like Microsoft can experiment with new digital models.
“The Xbox example is just one example of how copyright licensing and permitted restrictions still depends to a large extent on the buy-in of the userbase,” said Barnett.
“Make it too restrictive and the consumers will buy elsewhere – or worse. Make it too permissive and revenue streams are under threat. As ever, it is a moral, legal and technical balancing act.”