Editorials

Xbox One and the Myth of the Family Share Plan (Updated)

You didn’t really think you could share your Xbox One games with 10 people, did you?

Sean Mesler

What a crazy month to be a gamer, right? Literally a month ago, Microsoft unveiled its vision of the next generation of consoles, the Xbox One. Their all-in-one entertainment solution that would give users access to games, TV content, cutting edge technology and the “infinite power of the cloud.” Only with more than a few caveats. We all know what those are so I won’t reiterate them here but I will address one because it was the one that affected me the most.

I wouldn’t be able to sell, borrow, lend, or rent my games.

Now, before anyone reading this says, “you would have been able to trade your games at retail,” sorry, but trading my game to a retailer who has opted in to this is not what I want to do. I sell my games privately via eBay and I dictate the price and set the value. And I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, I have never had to lower my price. I get exactly what I think the game is worth, something you can’t do at Gamestop or Best Buy or pretty much any store looking to make a profit from my trade in. Every cent of value comes right back to me. And I then, in turn, buy another game.

So naturally upon hearing Microsoft’s bold new plan I decided that Xbox One wasn’t for me and I lost all interest. All I had to do was see if Sony would follow suit and I would then decide either that this generation was going to be my last, or that I would pick the lesser of two evils and game a LOT less in the next.

Then last Monday happened. Sony dropped a HUGE bomb by saying that PlayStation 4 would support used games and would not require an internet connection to play. I was suddenly, excitedly back in, and my first E3 turned out to be a great experience for me. I saw tons of great games from Sony so I felt good about my decision.

My new number one E3 moment of all-time.

Then I saw Titanfall. Yes, I am aware of the meme, but really that game was made for me. It looked amazing and made me have a pang of regret that I wouldn’t be able to play it until either its sequel or–if the rumors were true–the original game itself came to PS4.

It was a downer for sure, but I am absurdly convicted about things that most people don’t care about. Case in point? After 10 years of Nintendo loyalty, when I found out Final Fantasy VII wasn’t coming to the Nintendo 64 I quit Nintendo and never looked back (that’s not entirely true, I did rent a Nintendo 64 so I could play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). I was so convicted that beyond Titanfall’s live demo, I didn’t pay attention to any other Xbox One exclusives.

Silly, right? Don’t care.

The Future ain’t what it used to be…

Then Wednesday, after nearly a month of abuse from fans and from press, Microsoft finally reversed the decision to stop the sale of used games and removed the 24-hour internet parole officer. Fans everywhere rejoiced.

Not all fans, mind you. No, there were some people that lamented that Microsoft’s utopian vision of a digital-only future was annihilated by internet “whining.” They were upset because Microsoft’s snuffed-out vision included the “Family Share Plan” which was supposedly going to allow 10 people in a gamer’s “family” to share any game from their “shared game library.”

Wait; so let me get this straight. The company that was essentially killing private sales, dictating to whom and when a game could be sold because they want a piece of the used game pie, was suddenly going to allow 10 people to share ONE game? And the assumption was that all 10 people could complete said game?

None of this seems off to you?

That’s literally all we knew of this so-called “plan” and yet people were genuinely upset. Not a day later an anonymous blog appeared on the internet laying out some details of this plan:

First is family sharing, this feature is near and dear to me and I truly felt it would have helped the industry grow and make both gamers and developers happy. The premise is simple and elegant, when you buy your games for Xbox One, you can set any of them to be part of your shared library. Anyone who you deem to be family had access to these games regardless of where they are in the world. There was never any catch to that, they didn’t have to share the same billing address or physical address it could be anyone. When your family member accesses any of your games, they’re placed into a special demo mode. This demo mode in most cases would be the full game with a 15-45 minute timer and in some cases an hour. This allowed the person to play the game, get familiar with it then make a purchase if they wanted to. When the time limit was up they would automatically be prompted to the Marketplace so that they may order it if liked the game. We were toying around with a limit on the number of times members could access the shared game (as to discourage gamers from simply beating the game by doing multiple playthroughs).”

Now, mind you, this could all very well be satirical, but it does invite discussion. As I said earlier (OK, as I asked sarcastically earlier) there is no way publishers–who have been actively trying to get a piece of used game sales under the, erm, assertion that every used game sale is a lost sale for them–are going to allow 10 people to play and complete their games for free. That concept doesn’t make a lick of sense.

I was incredibly disappointed that I wouldn’t be playing Titanfall for at least a year… was.

 

If, and I do mean if, that was ever an actual thing, it would have been killed the moment the data came through showing that after having sold 2 million copies of Battlefield 4, 20 million people played it online. Granted, my numbers are generous for not only interest in Battlefield but also for that many people having Xbox One’s at that point, but you understand my point. The moment EA would have seen this they would have been all over Microsoft to nip it in the bud. At which point we wouldn’t be able to sell our used games how, where and to whom we wanted for whatever priced we wanted, and we also would lose the supposed “best feature” of the future.

Now that I’m done entertaining that fantasy, let’s get back to reality; this “family share plan” could only work as basically an ad for the game. A glorified demo if you will. It’s the only scenario that makes sense. Otherwise, Microsoft would have left it in play for the digital releases of all games.

Xbox One and my tin foil hat

I have a lot of theories as to why Microsoft changed course so early. Not the least of which is their awful messaging strategy, which quite frankly, was the worst I’ve ever seen in my relatively long life. It could have been because Sony opted out of this DRM riddled no used games nonsense, or that Gamestop said “no thanks” to sharing its profits with Microsoft–and you don’t piss off Gamestop. Or it could have been more retailers for all I know.

What I do know is that Sony going the other way set off a chain of events that led to Microsoft having to change these policies (for now) and understand that you can’t force the future down people’s throat without their collective gag reflex kicking in. And I certainly know that there is no way that the “Family Share Plan” was this awesome gift to gamers as some people think it was.

UPDATE: Speculation that the family share plan has since been refuted by Aaron Greenberg and Marc Whitten of Microsoft via Twitter:

 

Unfortunately I can’t find a single bit of me that believes that a company that came up with the idea that the physical disc can only be given to a friend who has been on your friend’s list for 30 days and can only be done once would allow 10 people to share a game for an unlimited amount of time. Sorry, I’m just not wired that way.

 

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