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

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"Marvel Heroes Omega" shut down with just six weeks notice, and some players lost hundreds of dollars worth of purchased content.

"Marvel Heroes Omega" shut down with just six weeks notice, and some players lost hundreds of dollars worth of purchased content.

"Marvel Heroes," an online RPG that ran for nearly three years, suddenly shuttered its operations in December 2017, making the game entirely unavailable.

While the game was free to download, players who had spent hundreds of dollars to unlock extra heroes and costumes were left with nothing to show for their investment when the game shut down.

To make things worse, the game's developer only gave players six weeks notice before "Marvel Heroes Omega" went offline for good.

Even as a demo, some consider "P.T." one of the best horror games ever made. It was available digitally for less than a year before Konami pulled access to the download completely.

Even as a demo, some consider "P.T." one of the best horror games ever made. It was available digitally for less than a year before Konami pulled access to the download completely.

"P.T," was a critically-acclaimed game designed by "Metal Gear Solid" creator Hideo Kojima. The game was meant to be a demo for "Silent Hills," a popular horror franchise.

"P.T." was available on the PlayStation Network for free from August 2014 to April 2015, but when "Silent Hills" was canceled, the demo was pulled from the store.

Years later, fans are still trying to recreate the demo from scratch.

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"Scott Pilgrim" is a cult classic beat-'em-up game, but it can no longer be purchased at all.

"Scott Pilgrim" is a cult classic beat-'em-up game, but it can no longer be purchased at all.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" was a tie-in to the movie released in 2010, but was an impressive game in its own right. The side-scrolling beat-'em-up was an homage to classic games like "River City Ransom," but also had original music and art inspired by the "Scott Pilgrim" comic series.

Sadly, the game never got a physical release and is no longer available for purchase, meaning that anyone who hasn't already played the game won't ever be able to play it.

The digital re-release of "Marvel vs. Capcom 2" has been pulled from stores, meaning fans have to go find the original disc to play.

The digital re-release of "Marvel vs. Capcom 2" has been pulled from stores, meaning fans have to go find the original disc to play.

"Marvel vs. Capcom 2," a classic fighting game released in 2000, saw a digital release in 2009. "MvC2" has a long legacy as an esports title, and hard copies of the game were becoming increasingly rare when the digital version was announced, so fans were overjoyed at the chance to buy the game for modern consoles with high-definition graphics.

However, Capcom's licensing deal with Marvel fell through in 2013, and all digital sales of "Marvel vs. Capcom 2" were halted after four years.

People who purchased the game before the game was pulled can still download and play it, but players who want to try this cult classic will have to track down the original disc for the PlayStation 2, Dreamcast, or original Xbox.

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Digital content has mostly been dependable, but we shouldn't ignore the ownership questions.

Digital content has mostly been dependable, but we shouldn't ignore the ownership questions.

Even as I critique the way that ownership of digital video games is handled, I have to admit that I own more than 200 digital games on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox and Nintendo consoles. The main factor behind my purchases is convenience, and for now I trust that my games will be available when I want them.

But in some ways, embracing the all-digital Xbox means trusting Microsoft and other games to preserve video game history, too.

When it comes to games that I truly value and expect to play for years, I will buy a physical copy just in case something goes awry. That way, even if the game get pulled offline, or I lose access to my account, I'll always have a way to play my favorites.

For me, the sense of security that comes with being able to grab my favorite game and play it right away is far more important than saving $50 on a console.