OPINION: Xbox One pre-owned backtrack puts the blame where it belongs – on publishers

Make no mistake about it – what you saw last night was a retreat from Microsoft.

As if the weeks of deafening silence and increasingly confusing clarifications” weren’t confirmation enough, this line buried at the bottom of the platform holder’s statements speaks volumes.

Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.”

All of which points to this – loaning or renting was not part of the Xbox One plan. But even Microsoft can’t ignore to tidal wave of negativity from fans and media pressure.

It has changed its mind.

None of which means that pre-owned gaming will be viable or free on Xbox One. You get that, right?

Because for everything printed online last night the really hilarious thing is that we’re left in exactly the same position as we have been since the Xbox One reveal.

Will consumers be able to play pre-owned games? And will they have to pay for the privilege of doing so?

Yes, we know that Microsoft has ditched plans to routinely limit pre-owned. We’ve got that. But it’s not as if gamers will be free to share discs with one another and borrow titles for the weekend as they can now.

That’s because Xbox One is built around an infrastructure that’s clearly designed to regulate the use of pre-owned software. To control software licenses. The only thing is that’s changed is that Microsoft has now bottled it and decided to remove its compulsory shackles.

Instead it has invited publishers to make the decision whether to shackle or not. The ball is in their court.

This is the absurdity of the situation is that we could be faced with:

  1. Games from publishers A, B and C are permanently locked out of the pre-owned market
  2. Games from publishers D, E and F are locked out of the pre-owned market for a specific period after release
  3. Games from publishers G, H and I will function if pre-owned, but will require a free (payable by either the retailer or the user) to run
  4. Games from publishers J, K and L have no pre-owned restrictions

This is a future where NeoGaf threads are rammed with users trying to find out what pre-owned conditions govern the latest release because publisher X has not issued a definitive statement pre-launch.

But you know what – Microsoft isn’t the real villain here. Right from the word go it was publishers who were pushing for this and now, after everything, they’ve got their way. The big boys have finally got a firm grip on the balls of pre-owned. And they care not who they fuck over on the way. Even if it’s themselves!

And make no mistake – they’ve not only fucked over gamers, they’ve also fucked over indie retailers.

We think.

Only participating retailers” will offer pre-owned Xbox One software. Do you reckon that includes the dozens of hard-working and committed indie retailers around the UK? Us neither.

Adding insult to injury, these retailers (and their families, who are facing up to a grim reality this morning) won’t have been briefed by Microsoft. This is likely the first they’ve read of it. They’ve had the heart of their livelihoods possibly ripped out from underneath them and no-one’s even had the decency to tell them.

The national retailers will have been briefed, of course. But do I retain any confidence whatsoever that specialist games retail can survive this? No, not really.

And what of Sony? I’ll be honest – I don’t know. But I’d bet my rectum on Sony granting publishers exactly the same freedom that Microsoft has.

This is a new era.

Q4 will bring with it the answer to a very interesting question. Do consumers care about any of this? All the words written here and on Kotaku and GameSpot and CVG and IGN and Develop and Polygon and Videogamer – do they count for anything? Will sales of the next-gen consoles follow the trend laid down by Wii U?

Is this the end?

Or will normal” consumers buy the console regardless because either they’re not aware or actually just don’t care?

This is the most precarious period ever for the games industry. I hope it survives it.

This still from @Cyhwuhx on Twitter sums it up nicely:

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