Rumors swirl again about next-generation Xbox blocking used games

The future of the used gaming market keeps getting more dismal by the week, if the rumor mill is to be believed. It all started more than a year ago when Kotaku reported that the next-generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles would implement measures against used games. Now, Edge has new details about how the so-called Xbox 720 will lock out players who purchase used games at such stores as Gamestop and Gamefly.

Xbox and the used gaming doom

Games for the next Xbox, Edge says, will come with one-time activation keys and have “no value beyond the initial user.” It’s not clear what the activation code would look like or if it would be a Windows-style 25-character activation code that you have to enter manually. It appears you won’t be able to get around activation by staying offline either, as Edge claims the next Xbox will require a persistent, always-on connection to the Internet . VG247 reported in April 2012 that the next Xbox would always need to be connected to the Internet as an anti-piracy measure.

So what are we to make of this? Are used games doomed? Is it curtains for gamers looking to get a few good games on the cheap? Maybe, but probably not entirely.

Here’s Edge’s complete statement about the supposed Xbox used game lockout: “It is believed that games purchased on disc will ship with activation codes, and will have no value beyond the initial user.” Did you catch that “it is believed” part? Sounds to me like the activation code deal is either Edge’s best guess or their source’s, neither of whom appear to be that certain.

Kotaku was even less certain a year ago when it reported, “Microsoft intends to incorporate some sort of anti-used game system as part of their so-called Xbox 720…My source wasn't sure how Microsoft intended to implement any anti-used game system in the new machine.”

A Microsoft spokeswoman responded to questions about these renewed rumors by saying that “We do not comment on rumors or speculation. We are always thinking about what is next for our platform, but we don’t have anything further to share at this time.”

Used silver lining

Locking out used games is a major step for the gaming industry to take. Not only do the industry risk angering legions of gamers, it could also drive gaming retailers and a few online services out of business. Even with Windows 7 and Windows 8, Microsoft doesn’t completely lock out users with an unactivated version of the OS. Instead, you get constant reminders to activate your copy of Windows, and, in Windows 8, none of the personalization features work. You also can’t download any updates outside of critical security updates.

Of course, gaming studios may be less forgiving than Microsoft, but the software giant will set the policies for its own console. It seems more appropriate, then, to allow users to run used games in some kind of trial mode. Perhaps you can only play the first few levels or run past a few checkpoints before you have to pay up. That’s the theory Kotaku offered up in 2012, and it still sounds like the most viable option in my mind.

Imagine the alternative: a few years from now you lend your buddy the next Halo or Call of Duty. He inserts your disc into his console only to be greeted with a message that says this disc has already been used and is now invalid. A better alternative would be for game studios to engage your friend as a potential new customer, and once he’s played a few rounds for free, he can sign up to unlock the whole game or get expanded features, or something. But complete lockout? That sounds like suicide to me.

Pay-to-play still sucks compared to getting the full game regardless of whether or not you’ve got a new disc, but trial modes are better than being completely locked out, and it seems like a more realistic option for game makers and Microsoft.

It’s not clear when Microsoft will announce its next Xbox, but the latest speculation says the company will do so by mid-March. Sony is expected to announce the fourth PlayStation console on February 20 during a special event that starts at 6 p.m. Eastern.

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