Sunday, June 23, 2013
Last Wednesday, in an inconspicuous article on the Xbox Blog, Microsoft announced it was reviewing its Xbox One's policies on used games and Internet connections. Basically, everything is back as it was on the Xbox 360 - play offline games without Internet connection every 24 hours and do whatever you want with disc based games. The moment I read that, I felt relief. A few days earlier I criticised Microsoft on those matters, so it felt to me a clear example of a company listening to feedback and letting go of policies that only benefit itself. The press, though, felt different.
Every site I read, and I mean every one, criticised Microsoft on it. Sites, by the way, which had previously given Microsoft a hard time for their original decisions. Now, it seems, Microsoft is "setting back" the gaming industry because it killed the original family plan on games (because of the strict DRM policies, Microsoft would have allowed families to share their game library) and not allowing games to get cheaper (as the companies would have profited form the sales of used games). WHY, OH WHY, DIDN'T EVERYONE FEEL SO BEFORE? It's like this trend - it's cool to hate Microsoft, no matter why. We still complain about Microsoft bundling Kinect with Xbox One, thus making it $100 more expensive, but if they take it away, we'll say Microsoft is taking away the most interesting and intuitive part of Xbox and further discouraging developers to work with Kinect. Whatever.
So, in my anger, I decided to analyse what copyright mean today. According to Wikipedia, copyright is "a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it". So, it means that if I write a book about a evil entity that creates a cadre of rings and One to rule them all and in the shadows bind them, the Tolkien family could feel compelled to go to court and complain about me for stealing an idea that's not mine. Also, it means that if I buy a copy of LOTR and make lots of Xerox copies of it and sell them (or scan it and upload it on the Internet for everyone to download), again, the Tolkien clan might feel it unfair that I am making money (or at least that they are not) off something their grandpa did. They can't, though, sue me for buying the book, reading it, and then selling it to someone, or lending it, giving it away, losing it, or whatever. Mostly because I won't keep the book, I have to lose it for somebody else to get it. They already made money of that copy, so they have no claims on where it ends.
Digital content made sharing, or pirating, as easy as hitting Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V, and the movie, music, gaming and publishing industries were painfully aware of this. They were dragged kicking and screaming into the Internet distribution business (mostly by Apple, who showed us that giving people the option to pay 99 cents was better than having the FBI raiding their house) and still are working out the kinks. DRM - Digital Rights Management - is one of said kinks. DRM, in theory, ensures the content is used as intended - music will be played by the user in his/her devices, rented movies will expire, etc. The question is: how much do we own what we paid for, and how much do the companies? Are they really allowed to dictate what we do with what we bought? According to DRM, yes, the are. We let them. Or we don't, in which case we go to countless torrents sites and get what we want for free, hoping we get a file with good qualities, no viruses and no house calls from the police.
Microsoft original vision of the Xbox One content management was presented as a way to give you ownership of your content in whichever form, but only as long as you were enjoying it (or your appointed family members, as long as you paid the Live monthly fee). You wouldn't be able to resell your games (as the new owner would have to pay for a new license, in which case, why pay you?) and you would have to connect every 24 hours to the Internet - otherwise it was game over - as a way for Microsoft to check that you hadn't gone off its clean, pastel-coloured lines. That, I believe, was a step too far. I don't agree that Microsoft or the game publishers should gain control on the game you just bought. It's yours and you should do whatever you want with it as long as it is not illegal. You already paid for it.
Yes, I know that such a demand takes away some of the innovations in content acquisition and sharing, but keep in mind that is only so because companies are afraid they won't make enough money. It's a fucked up world we live in, were innovation is often held up by companies not willing to try new models because investors don't feel comfortable that their annual bonuses might not afford a new Ferrari for the kids. If pirating teaches us something, it's that a) people want content and b) they are not willing to jump through hoops to get it. It is not a coincidence that the most pirated show ever is Game of Thrones, a show made and distributed by HBO, whose only digital platform is the lousy HBO Go, which requires a cable subscription (from selected cable providers - in Brazil, my cable provider is not one of them, so no HBO Go for me). No iTunes, no Netflix, no Hulu, no Amazon, just a website and some questionable mobile apps are the only digital way into Westeros. Tighten the grip too much and people fall off the wagon. Loosen it - that is, give people fair and viable options to get and use your content - and they will fall in line.
So, cheers to Microsoft for listening. And, I don't think listening is always the answer, because people often don't know what they want, but in this case, we damn well know we don't want Microsoft pestering us to know what are we doing with what we bought. We already see enough ads on the Dashboard and pay a hefty, sometimes unfair, Live fee, so enough. Guess the kids will have to settle for a very nice Ford this Christmas instead.