Following its unveiling this week, Ed Smith tries to answer the questions Microsoft about the Xbox One and always-on, used games and DRM.
Is it a TV box? Is it aimed at people who play games? Can dogs actually fight in wars? If you thought the Xbox One launch was riddled with mixed messages, then you can't have seen the snafu that followed, as Microsoft execs tried to explain whether the Xbox would always be online and if it could play used games.
In an attempt to set the record straight, we've compiled this quick guide to all the unanswered or sort-of-unanswered questions around the Xbox One.
Is Xbox One always online?
For a long time it was rumoured the Xbox One would always need to be connected to the internet in order to function, but apparently that's not quite the case. In a series of interviews given after the launch, Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison tried to clarify things.
Speaking to Kotaku:
Kotaku: If I'm playing a single player game, do I have to be online at least once per hour or something like that? Or can I go weeks and weeks?
Harrison: I believe it's 24 hours.
Kotaku: I'd have to connect online once every day?
And then later to Wired:
"There are a host of features which will be usable without an Internet connection - watching movies, playing certain single player games... all of which will operate offline. We expect most of the more advanced experiences, like online multiplayer games, or games which have a lot of connected features... those games won't operate if you don't have an Internet connection. We designed the system to take advantage of a connection to the cloud, and all that that means. But no, it's not required that you are connected all the time, every second of every day."
So Harrison said you'd need to be connected at least some of the time, hinting at a once-a-day check-in, presumably to verify your console isn't chipped so you can keep playing. But Graham Boyd, a social marketing manager for Xbox, wasn't so sure. When asked about the always-online gossip on Twitter he replied: "Can't give you a definitive answer right now, sorry. More details to come."
@repairmanjacked Gotcha. Can't give you a definitive answer right now, sorry. More details to come.
— Graeme Boyd(@AceyBongos) May 22, 2013
The official Xbox Q and A held after the event however was more positive, saying you do need an internet connection to use the console in some way, but you don't have to be connected all the time:
"It does not have to be always connected, but Xbox One does require a connection to the Internet. We're designing Xbox One to be your all-in-one entertainment system that is connected to the cloud and always ready. We are also designing it so you can play games and watch Blu-ray movies and live TV if you lose your connection."
Unfortunately, it's hard to draw a solid conclusion from all this. With two sources saying it doesn't always have to be connected, you can probably assume the Xbox One isn't always-online. However, it does need some kind of internet connection in order to work, we're just not sure what this will mean yet.
This is a slightly trickier one. We do know that every Xbox One game will have to be installed to the hard drive first and that after that, the disc won't be needed in order to play. After that it was originally thought that if you lent that disc to someone else or bought it second hand, you'd have to pay an additional fee to unlock it and use it again to install onto your HDD. Harrison again spoke to Kotaku:
"The bits that are on that disc, you can give it to your friend and they can install it on an Xbox One. They would then have to purchase the right to play that game through Xbox Live," he said, adding that if it were a new game you would have to pay the same as the RRP to unlock it: "Let's assume it's a new game, so the answer is yes, [the unlock fee] will be the same price."
Honestly, this seems unclear, complicated and a bit mad. If you have to pay a fee to unlock a game after you've bought it second hand, why buy it second hand? Surely it would make more sense for the One to just not support second hand games at all and have done with it. Also, what constitutes a "new game?" Does this mean the unlock fees for games will go down as they move further away from their original release date?
After Harrison's announcements, sure enough, additional Microsoft PR reps swept in to clear things up. The Xbox support Twitter accounted responded to queries with: "You will not have to pay a fee. I can confirm those reports are wrong."
Xbox Live community manager Larry Hryb also responded on his blog:
"We know there is some confusion around used games on Xbox One and wanted to provide a bit of clarification on exactly what we've confirmed today. 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."
Again, it feels like despite saying a lot, Microsoft still hasn't made its policy on this clear. Nevertheless, we're betting against this fee set-up. It seems needlessly convoluted and strange. Analysts have said limiting second hand games is in Microsoft and Sony's interest, since it will help offset rising game development costs, but it would make more sense - to us, anyway - if both companies just made discs a straight-up one use deal.
We know that games will be tied to Xbox Live accounts. If you own and have installed Forza 5 for example and want to play it at a friend's house you'd need to take the disc and then log into your own Live account through their console. Conversely, if you wanted to play their games, you'd need to be logged into their account.
There will however be settings on the Xbox One allowing multiple users to access games. If you have a family and want everyone to be able to play FIFA, say, you can set the console to allow multiple profiles to access the game from that console. However, it's not clear what the maximum amount of permitted profiles will be or if those secondary profiles, the ones through which the game wasn't originally installed, will be able to access it from their friend's consoles.
Again, this seems like pretty complex stuff, but Microsoft at least has its message straight this time. The official Q and A, Larry Hryb, Phil Harrison talking to Eurogamer and Matt Booty, general manager of Redmond Game studios, talking to Rev3, all say the same thing. In Harrison's words:
"I can come to your house and I can put the disc into your machine and I can sign in as me and we can play the game. The bits are on your hard drive. At the end of the play session, when I take my disc home - or even if I leave it with you - if you want to continue to play that game [on your profile] then you have to pay for it."
Oh, and you'll also need to have the Kinect always plugged in, no question. As reported by IGN, Xbox UK marketing director Harvey Eagle told another post-launch Q and A: "Kinect does require to be connected to Xbox One in all cases, yes."
So, make of all that what you will. We'll likely get more information on all of this during Microsoft's presentation at E3, but for now, the Xbox One seems wrapped up in a lot of connectivity and rights management initiatives.