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The all-digital Xbox raises questions about what it means to own a video game, and what happens when a game goes offline for good

The all-digital Xbox raises questions about what it means to own a video game, and what happens when a game goes offline for good

Xbox One S All Digital

Microsoft

The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition is $50 cheaper than the standard Xbox One S.

  • Microsoft's recently announced Xbox One All-Digital Edition will ship without a disc-drive, requiring players to use Microsoft's online store to purchase games and other content.
  • The Xbox marketplace has robust support and Microsoft has an affordable game subscription service, but without discs or other hard copies, gamers have little control over what happens to the games they own.
  • A quick look at history shows the problems that can arise from relying on digital ownership of a game.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Microsoft's Xbox One S All-Digital Edition will arrive in stores on May 7 as the cheapest Xbox One model yet, but it also represents a major shift in the Xbox business model. The Xbox One S All-Digital has no disc drive, so players will need to rely on the Microsoft Store to build their library of games.

The Xbox marketplace has robust support to back the all-digital movement, and Microsoft offers an affordable subscription service with hundreds of games. But without discs, gamers will need to go online regularly to access their collection, and trust that Microsoft won't decide to stop hosting video games for download in the future.

Xbox One Family of Devices

Microsoft

The Xbox One family, from left to right: the Xbox One X ($499), Xbox One S ($299) and the Xbox One S All-Digital ($249).

Microsoft has supported the Xbox brand for nearly two decades with no signs of stopping, but digital content is often subject to complicated licensing agreements and content owners rarely have recourse if their platform of choice decides to limit or completely restrict access to purchased content.

For example, Microsoft's terms of sale state the following:

"Microsoft may terminate your account or use of the store at any time for any reason, including, without limitation, if you are in breach of these terms of sale or the store policies, or if the store is no longer operated by Microsoft."

Essentially, this means that if Microsoft decides to sell or shutter the Xbox brand, neither your account or purchases are guaranteed to stay intact. Considering that players can spend hundreds of hours, or hundreds of dollars, on any given game, there's some reasonable concern that their favorite content could suddenly become unavailable.

At the very least, players who commit to buying a game on disc can be sure that the game will always be playable, so long as the disc still works. Conversely, discs and cartridges are still the best way to preserve classic games. Since Xbox and Sony's PlayStation opened their online marketplaces, dozens of digital-only releases have since become unavailable. Once Xbox or PlayStation pulls access to the download, a digital game can become totally lost in the ether.

There's no shortage of digital-only games that have found themselves stuck in limbo:

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