Xbox One’s Awful DRM Drowned Out Some Really Cool Games

Xbox One’s Awful DRM Drowned Out Some Really Cool Games

If you were in Los Angeles last week, and you happened to stumble into a bar or a restaurant, and you saw a group of people in business-casual atire and/or flannel, you probably overheard something like “Wow, Sony sure won E3.” This, of course, is preposterous. Nobody wins E3. You just survive it.

But it is fair to say that Sony’s press conference had the greatest impact on the gaming community, mostly because of the last few minutes, when Jack Tretton took the stage and fired an AK-47 into Microsoft’s skull. “You know how those guys are doing all this used game nonsense? WE’RE NOT!”

It was the best moment of E3, and possibly one of the best moments of any E3 — by refusing to restrict used games or require an online check-in, and then rubbing that fact in Microsoft’s neon green face, Sony immediately won favour — and the conference — in many gamers’ eyes. It was a hilarious blow, and a very human moment at a conference that often feels like it’s staffed by robots.

For the rest of the week, that was all people could talk about. DRM. Used games. Always-online consoles. How Sony listened to its fans for the PlayStation 4. How the Xbox One is ostracising military. And people with no internet. And people who want to borrow games.

It’s a real shame, because Microsoft’s showcase was actually rather impressive. If they hadn’t saddled their Xbox One with the type of anti-customer policies that drive people nutty, maybe last week’s narrative would be a little bit different.

Maybe, if not for DRM, more people would be talking about Sunset Overdrive, the Xbox One exclusive by Insomniac Games (the folks behind Resistance and Ratchet & Clank) that looks a lot like Overstrike, the game that the disappointing Fuse was supposed to be.

Maybe we’d be fawning over Below, the lovely roguelike by the people who made Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery, one of the most interesting games on iOS. Also an Xbox One exclusive.

And then there’s Project Spark.

You’re forgiven if you don’t know what that is. There were a lot of prettier, shinier games to watch and play at E3. But Project Spark was one of the most creative, most unusual, most interesting things there.

On Thursday, I was ushered into a back room of Microsoft’s E3 booth to take a closer look at Spark, which is less of a game and more of a game editor, like Game Maker or Kodu. You can start with a blank screen and sculpt a map out of nothing, then drop in creatures, and objects, and houses, and all sorts of other accessories. You can paint and program and add goals and behaviours and eventually turn your blank canvas into a video game. Then you can share it with everyone you know.

“This is the future,” I scribbled in my notebook at the time. (I underlined it, so I must have thought it was a profound thing to write.) Perhaps I was impressed by the giant touch TV that the demonstrators were swiping like a futuristic painting. But I was also blown away by what they could do with this thing.

One game created in Project Spark, for example, was a straight-up recreation of Limbo, complete with 2D platforming and chiaroscuro backgrounds.

Later I heard that they were showing off a turn-based RPG. We didn’t get to see that one at my demo, although we did watch the people at Microsoft Studios convince a rock to launch into the air and explode.

Spark also has a built-in programming language. It’s based on contingencies — every line is WHEN X, DO X — and you can use it to play around with behaviours for objects in your game. Simple, but potentially powerful stuff.

“This should challenge the conventions of what a game is,” one of the developers told us.

It’s impressive. Here’s a video montage of some of the stuff people have done in Spark, set to Fallout Boy music, because why not.

Perhaps, if things had gone a little bit differently last week, we’d be talking about the creativity that Microsoft could cultivate with experiments like Project Spark. Maybe we’d be discussing how player-driven content is a trend that all game developers need to embrace, and how Project Spark is a great example of the type of you-centric mentality that turned Minecraft into a global phenomenon.

But E3 2013 was not a convention about games as much as it was a story about rights. There are people who believe that when a person buys a game, it is theirs, and they have the right to do whatever they’d like with it. Perhaps there are people like that at Microsoft, and perhaps they even work on Project Spark, which is a game that, unlike the console it’s associated with, puts the player’s desires first. (Maybe that’s why Project Spark will also be available on Windows and Xbox 360.)

There are also people who believe that used games are killing the video game industry, and that the future is digital. They believe that there are benefits to a console that is always connected to the internet, and that a game disc is not something you own, but something that simply exists to transfer “bits.”

That’s the story of E3 2013. Games took a backseat. This year’s conversations were all about customer rights.

It’s funny: even beyond their traditional ritual of cars and guns, Microsoft had some very cool things to show. An adventure game from the people behind Alan Wake. An episodic murder mystery helmed by the guy who made Deadly Premonition. And Project Spark, which could train a whole new generation of video game designers and creators, and influence the world much like Minecraft did before it.

But nobody was talking about any of that. In the gaming community, conversations about the Xbox One will always start and end with the most important issue of this generation: DRM. That’s the fight that Microsoft has brought upon itself. And if they don’t figure out how to make their policies more palatable to gamers — or get rid of those policies entirely — it’s the conversation we’ll be having for the next 10 years.


  • The games are interesting and cool. But when you wrap them up in the shit sandwich that is Microsofts’s DRM / online requirements / region locking, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

    Project Spark will be available for Xbox 360 and Windows 8 PC’s anyway, so while it’s a Microsoft exclusive, it’s not an Xbone exclusive.

  • so Microsoft “won” e3 then.. if you consider that most of the talk was about stuff that they are doing, even if it wasn’t good


    • No…
      If you were to lose at a sport so bad that people never stopped talking about it, did you win?

      • e3 isn’t a sport. there is no winning or losing, really. besides, if we’re talking sports analogy, then e3 is just a warm up to the big game.

        and another sports analogy: all players focus on the one holding the ball

        considering there is more talk about xbone, even from sony fans, good or bad, maybe ms are the ones holding the ball


          • Whoah! That’s like the conversation that Daenerys and Khal Drogo had on their wedding night…

        • More likely that Microsoft dropped the ball by taking a dump on their fans. Saying Sony “won” E3 is simply saying it was the clearest winner in this battle of the console wars. If Microsoft were an athlete, it would be like them dissing their fans and the ref. Hey… they still might be a great athlete… but so is Sony without the bull. I do expect people to play the Xboff after they forgive/forget or simply get used to having their rights taken away…. but their decision to go ahead with their greedy control DRM has done irreparable harm to a lot of customers in much the same way as the backlash from Chris Brown assaulting Rhianna. The music might still be good, but it’s forever tainted.

          • If Microsoft was an athelete and video games were a sport, E3 would be like the press conference before a boxing match where each competitor dates each other downs and makes claims about victory. The actual competition is won at retail. Remember people saying things like RIP Nintendo after the wii was revealed? The bottom line is you never know what the future holds. What if MS introduces a $99 Xbone subsidised by a gold subscription and absolutely nails it at retail? You just never know.

          • I actually expect the Xbone to still do well. People will buy it without knowing, or change their mind over the bad policies. But it IS a bad policy, and I fully intend to boycott it… and would encourage everyone to do the same. Imagine if EVERYONE did… they might actually drop the bull and give us the Xboff without those mandatory negatives. Currently the only reason I think I would buy an Xboff is if they had a Marvel vs Capcom 4 exclusive… and I doubt that would happen.

          • “they might actually drop the bull and give us the Xboff without those mandatory negatives”

            You mean “They might drop the stuff I don’t like and give us the stuff I do like”. Not everyone shares your tastes in what makes something ‘bad’, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not every product needs to be for you.

          • No, I mean “they might actually drop the bull and give us the Xboff without those mandatory negatives.”

        • There is good press, and there is bad press, and both of them are good.

          But then there is shit press that alienates your customers. That’s not good.

        • It’s not a sport, but it’s definitely about gaining mind-share with new customers, and winning existing customers over from the competition.

          E3 has been a bit of a talking point with both colleagues and customers (I work in the IT industry). Almost all I spoke to who were previously undecided are now looking at the PS4. Some who had 360’s said they will be switching over. A few said they had 360’s and would probably stick with the Xbox one. Not one said they switching over to Xbox. Some retail customers are now questioning whether Sony will have enough stock at launch to meet demand. No-one is saying the same about Xbox.

          Now this is anecdotal of course and there’s still 5 months to go for people to change their minds – but in terms of gaining mind share, Sony definitely won E3. If this were an election, Sony would win in a landslide.

          • It seems, I suppose, that if they just allowed the choice – to install to hard drive and reap all the benefits of that (but requiring DRM checks), or just use the disc at all times (at the expense of some of the fancy stuff, but, overriding any need for DRM checking), this would work a lot better

            I hope MS change their mind and implement something like this.

  • I think the Xbox One’s family sharing really needs to be one of Microsoft’s talking points. Basically everything doing the rounds is negative, and I’m sure many people don’t even know about it.

    Spencer and I discuss the Xbox One’s new family sharing option, which lets 10 members of a “family” share access to games. This seems to be the best thing of all the uncustomary new parameters that have been established for this new Xbox. In a family group, the head of household can always play any game; and one other member of the family, no matter where they are, can play too. (this quote is a fair way down the page)

  • I’m glad Project Spark is coming to PC. It’s really the only Microsoft “exclusive” I’m interested in.

    • I was fearing that I’d have to skip out on it because I thought it was an Xbone exclusive. I couldn’t be happier being wrong

      Edit: It will probably give me a reason to keep Windows 8 aswell

  • Yeah there are a few Xbone exclusives I’d like to play, but luckily some of them are available on PC anyway.

  • Project Spark was my favourite thing shown at E3. I was a bit confused as to whether it was coming to PC or not, but even if it is I’m going to assume it’ll only be for Windows 8 through the marketplace so I still don’t know if I can play it or not.

  • I’m so glad there’s nothing on the Xbone I care about. But even then there’d be no way in hell I’d go anywhere near it. For me personally, nothing short of removing all DRM, region locks and a genuine admission of error by MS would convince me to go anywhere near the Xbone. This gen they have completely blown it for core gamers. I’m at a point where I just pity them and can’t help but laugh at their pathetic console.

  • Pretty sure no one would talk about Sunset Overdrive because Insomanic sold out all their fans to go exclusive to a console where they have none.

    In essence, no one would really care.

  • I think at the very least we can all agree the Halo 5 trailer was incredibly stupid.

  • I’m really liking the XOne games, mainly because I’ve been playing since the First Xbox, I like the exclusives a bit more compared to the Sony.

    I’m borderline at the moment for the next-gen, though I’m still slightly towards XOne.

  • I don’t think you give gamers enough credit. I saw all the games that Microsoft presented, and saw no Xbox One exclusives of interest. There were a couple of interesting titles, but they’re also going to be on PC or PS4.
    And that trailer was moronic – Chief vs … something out of Lego Bionicle? Armour that can survive a drop from orbit, but stands no chance against sand?

  • all the talk about drm and used games has been over blown IMO. i have never bought a used game and my xbox is always connected to the internet. if my xbox wasn’t able to connect to the internet i would be more concered about why my internet is down that not being able to play games. Used games dont get the developers any money and with all the studios going bust of late i would prefer to support them as the guys who put in the hard work to make the game than the 2nd hand market.
    Just my POV how will the DRM stop you playing?

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