By this point, it's become pretty obvious that digital is the future of the games industry. The convenience afforded by virtual storefronts has effectively revolutionized distribution, and done more to tackle the problem of piracy than all the billions of dollars media groups have spent lobbying against it. There's just one problem with digital storefronts, and distribution in general - you can't really trade it in or lend it out.
Once you've downloaded, it's tied to you and you alone.
With the Xbox One, Microsoft attempted to address that issue, setting up a system in which digitally-downloaded games could be easily swapped, borrowed, and traded in. There was just one problem: that new feature came hand-in-hand with DRM. Once every twenty-four hours, an Xbox One would be required to check in with a home server in order to authenticate ownership of installed content. Naturally, people were none too pleased with this state of affairs.
It didn't help that this guy was in charge of PR.
As is often the case with DRM, there was considerable backlash against the 'always online' requirement. Not only that, the system used by the Xbox One, in particular, had the potential to effectively kill the used games market (except where sanctioned by Microsoft). Ultimately, the backlash against it proved too powerful, and Microsoft ended up deep-sixing the authentication system...along with all its plans for digital libraries.
It was, as I've said before, a hollow victory. Although I myself was among the more vocal opponents of the Xbox One's DRM, I was also extremely intrigued by Microsoft's plans for a digital-only future. To see them switch back to a purely disc-based model effectively felt like a kick in the gut.
Today, Microsoft's Albert Penello explained that although the organization is going to tie ownership primarily to discs for the time being, the organization intends to switch back to full digital "when the time is right."
"Lending and trading of digital games has to be part of the experience," said Penello. "That was one of the places that we were actually trying to pioneer. We were trying to implement the ability to trade and loan digital games with your friends which is something that no one else was doing."
"We're going to revisit the idea. I think we need to do that. That has to be a part of the experience," he continued. "Right now, we're focused on launch and we switched the program back to discs, because that's what the customers wanted. Now, I get a lot of mails saying 'god, please bring back the family sharing.' We'd love to figure out how to bring that back. I still think it was a good idea. Maybe it was a little too soon for people, but I think there were a lot of good ideas in there. And we'll bring it back when the time is right."
This echoes a statement made by Microsoft's Marc Whitten that Microsoft wants to bring the feature back, but they need to make sure that they find the right way to do so.