Editorial: With Xbox One, you are the controller (and the DRM)

Does Xbox One require a persistent online connection? Does it play used games? Microsoft has been so coy that anxious gamers are left with no choice but to assume the worst. Answers to these questions should be clear-cut--a simple "yes" or "no" would suffice, and help us all.

Yet, even Microsoft's so-called "clarifications" do little to ease concern that the next Xbox will be plagued by draconian anti-consumer practices. Major Nelson updated his blog saying "while there have been many potential scenarios discussed, today we have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail. Beyond that, we have not confirmed any specific scenarios."

Okay, that's fine. But here's the kicker: "Should you choose to play your game at your friend's house, there is no fee to play that game while you are signed in to your profile." By mentioning the f-word there, we can only assume that there will be fees to play games in any other scenario.

A console that blocks used games is rather unprecedented. While rumors surrounded PS4, Sony has gone on record saying that PS4 will play used games, noting that the "general expectation by consumers" is that when they "purchase physical form, they want to use it everywhere."

And that's true. There are many expectations we have of console games. Being able to buy, play, sell, trade, and share used retail games is one of those expectations. We expect that when we bring a game home, that we'll be able to play it with our friends and family--is that something we're no longer allowed to take for granted on Xbox One?

My vision of Xbox One's "worst case scenario" sounds a lot like this patent discovered last year. Filed in 2011, the patent "regulates" content by identifying users. "In other words, a content provider could regulate their goods to be doled out on a per-user basis. They could, for example, price tiers of movie rentals based on how many viewers it will have," we wrote back then.

But, wait. The new Xbox comes bundled with a Kinect. In fact, as rumors have suggested, it's required for operation with the system. With Xbox 360, there was no way to really implement a patent like that. Bundling Kinect with Xbox One opens up all sorts of terrifying possibilities.

For example, your Xbox Live profile will likely become permanently tied to whatever biometric data Kinect collects about you. Having Kinect instantly recognize you and sign you on does offer an incredible convenience, but it also has scary ramifications. With your Kinect data stored in the cloud, your Live account will be useless without you physically there. So when Major Nelson says that you can play used games without a fee "while you are signed in," does that mean you will have to physically accompany the disc? Given that Xbox One is smart enough to know who's holding which controller, will the system stop gameplay if you pass the controller onto someone else who doesn't own that content? And even more worrisome: can family members and friends in your own home that have access to your console--will they be able to play the game you've purchased without you signing in? And what if you take a bathroom break? With Kinect's always-on gaze looking for your biometric data, could the system decide to quit your game?

Microsoft hasn't "confirmed any specific scenarios," but they're certainly doing a terrible job of denying what is and isn't possible on Xbox One. For a company that berated Sony for refusing to show off the design of the PS4, I find it even worse that they can't simply answer the question: "can we play the games we paid for?" For the launch of the original Kinect, Microsoft said that "you are the controller." However, for Xbox One, their message appears to be "you are the DRM." And until Microsoft very clearly states their policy on online and used games for Xbox One, it'll be hard to believe otherwise.