Xbox DRM Punishes More Paying Customers And Actually Restricts Purchasing Options
from the fighting-bad-ideas-with-worse-software dept
Publishers are still hanging on to DRM despite example after example of how it does little more than annoy or harm paying customers. Why would you purposely annoy those throwing money your direction? To fight off a few pirates? Is it worth it? Most DRM is cracked and discarded within hours of a game's debut and yet, companies hold onto the crippling code, assuming that a small dent in piracy is worth the fallout from hundreds of pissed off customers venting their rage all over the internet.
Some of the most pernicious forms of DRM take the form of “online services” which require a unique login and account before anything can be done gamewise. Under the auspices of “convenience,” software companies have managed to lock down access to purchased games, reserving the right to do whatever they want with the software, thanks to broadly written Terms of Service and, for console manufacturers, binding arbitration “agreements.”
Over at Medium Difficulty, another gamer is dealing with DRM, as implemented by Xbox Live.
The particular set up for us to play three player horde mode, with system link, in the same house led to our first transgressive living room. Two TVs was wrong, but it felt so right. Gears of War 3 came out and we continued to enjoy our set up, especially since friends could also join over Xbox Live. For our non-nuclear unit, it was the golden age of multiplayer. Then the Mass Effect demo dropped with included MP. While I know we might be in the minority, we found it, and still do, a pretty enjoyable experience. But we hit a hiccup: we couldn’t split screen the multiplayer. There is no couch multiplayer for Mass Effect 3.
So we did what any reasonable modern family with disposable income would do: we bought a second Xbox. And honestly? There’s no going back. Couch co-op is not a guarantee anymore. Xbox Live has done wonders for online console gaming, but it has made a local co-op a second priority in some instances. There are enough games that do not support local co-op, and even more that do not support both local and online at the same time.
So far, the outlay for Microsoft products, at the very minimum, includes two Xboxes. Then there's the fact that two avid gamers share the same living space, meaning that the outlay for software is much larger than your typical “complaining basement dweller.” (The preceding is the sort of dismissive wording often deployed by DRM defenders in an effort to make a very real problem sound like some loser's overwrought drama. No one falls for it anymore, but it still makes frequent appearances in comment threads and forums.)
First, the co-op problem. Not really a DRM issue, but the next one definitely is:
Our second Xbox came with Fable 3, which is yay! but it also introduced us to the problems of owning two Xboxes. DRM is a real pain in the ass… We would go to play our Fable 3 campaign on one machine and be told that we couldn’t use the DLC, even though, you know, the code was in the box sitting on top of the machine. Without that DLC, you cannot load a saved game.
Because DLC (downloadable content — ranging from small add-ons to standalone games) gets assigned to the Xbox it was purchased on and the player's Gamertag (which makes sense), but is a problem when attempting to make sure your DLC shows up on both consoles. Microsoft's rationale is simple: prevent users from going from Xbox to Xbox with their Gamertag and downloading DLC (and standalone games) onto the drives of non-paying gamers.
But this rationale doesn't do much for households with multiple consoles who most likely aren't going to buy a unique copy of DLC (much less full games) for each Xbox in the house. Since the games can't be played at the same time (with one disc and say, two or more Xboxes), it would make sense (from the consumer's perspective) to be able to transfer the DLC (especially if you can't even load a saved game without it) from console to console.
Also bear in mind that purchasing full games via XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade) ties that game to that particular Xbox if the “wrong” Gamertag is used.
For example: I purchased TellTale’s Walking Dead Episode 1. I enjoyed it a great deal. When episode 2 came out, Meg thought she would be a kind and thoughtful spouse and purchase it for me. This was apparently not the Microsoft-endorsed thing to do. Months later, I still haven’t been able to actually play the second episode. I have to either buy it again, or play it on another system. Which is dumb.
Thinking that these limitations could be worked around by using a Family Account (you know, to make sure all of your family members can access the same DLC/games), the author set one up only to find that Microsoft's definition of “family” is rather bizarre.
We set the account up under Meg, then gave me all the permissions that any adult would want on his game console, and went about our gaming business. That was until one day when I went to purchase something from Live and realized that, from Xbox LIVE’s perspective, I was not an adult at all. I could not add points to my account. This wasn’t a setting in our family account. Nope, only one member of the family can add points to their account. If I want points to buy something, Meg has to give me an allowance. I’m not joking, that is the word in the interface. An allowance.
Nice. A system that treats grownups like children and everyone like thieves and at no time approaches the reality of today's gaming market. Instead, it sets up a series of intricate hoops that must be navigated before DLC can move from machine to machine.
Context: Meg’s Xbox is the new version, so black, and mine is the old white one.
Prerequisite: Have both gamertags saved on a USB stick. This allows you to log in to any Xbox without transferring your gamertag or recovering it from Live.
1. Log in to black Xbox with Meg’s gamertag.
2. Go into Family Settings.
3. SELECT GRANT ALLOWANCE.
4. Instead of using the default payment options, because I don’t want to charge her credit card, I select my credit card from the list of her payment methods.
5. Purchase a number of points.
Info: You can add 500 points or in 1000 point increments.
Let's just break in here for a moment and roll our eyes at the “point” system which handily turns actual money into useless Xbox Fun Buxx. Further eye rolling will ensue after step 6.
6. After the points have been added to Meg’s account, I grant them to my account.
Additional info: You can only grant points in increments of 400. Thanks for the convenience.
Remember: Most DLC on Xbox Live is in neither 500 or 400 point increments. I know what’s happening here, Microsoft.
Fun stuff. This sort of plan always leaves a gamer's “wallet” either short a few hundred points or with no way to bring the account down to 0. Microsoft loves this, just like many companies love gift cards. More often than not, the card is discarded with some spare change on it. Not enough for one person to keep, but thousands of leftover virtual coins soon adds up to real money. It's not completely Machiavellian but it still works out pretty well for the companies issuing the cards.
7. I then sign in to my account on the black Xbox, purchase what I wanted and download it.
Result: Now, the DLC is available on Meg’s Xbox so that she can play it if she wants.
8. Turn off the black Xbox, and then log in to the white Xbox with my account and download/transfer whatever I bought.
Result: I can play the DLC on my Xbox, and Meg can play it on her Xbox.
Please note: She cannot play the DLC on my Xbox.
That's a whole lot of steps for a paying customer to jump through just to make sure someone doesn't run off with some free DLC. If you and your family members are taking turns playing something that requires DLC in order to load a save, it would make more sense (in Microsoft's eyes) to skip buying a console(s) from it and just schedule some time in front of the only Xbox. That scenario is whole lot likelier than hoping its DRM scheme will be obtuse enough to force multiple gamers with multiple consoles under one roof to purchase individual copies for every Xbox. Microsoft may consider that to be the “right” or “moral” choice, but I can guarantee you the consumer doesn't.
Last word to “CPG,” the author of this piece:
I shouldn’t have to set up charts to figure out what DLC is on what machine, especially when we are on a family account that actually restricts my ability to purchase DLC.
We’re a modern family, geared towards gaming. We’re publishers’ target market – and if we’re not, we will be soon. They need to start thinking ahead.