With Microsoft’s new expanded “Games on Demand” ability coming to the Xbox 360,  it appears more people are complaining about the “locked in” feeling as compared to physical media.  This problem already exists for downloading DRM movies, and music, but is now going to start increasing impact to games.

With physical assets, it’s pretty simple to determine who can use it by nature of possession (excluding pirated materials of course which have been cracked of course).

Now that we are moving further down the digital delivery models, how do vendors protect themselves from abuse, but still allow flexibility of use by the consumer?

As I am a consumer of both Xbox Live media, and Zune media,  and have multiple people within my household also consuming media,  I am already seeing limitations of the current options available.

I’ve always been against the Apple iTunes/iPod model because it is built on a monolithic library that is not easily shared within a family,  so I hope Microsoft is spending time to improve upon their DRM usage strategy.

This was  a post I made on a conversation around how to resolve having multiple Xbox’s in a family to allow the media to be shared, but still be personalized.

This seems so “easy” to resolve to me….

  1. Establish Family/Household account ability – A GamerTag can be identified as a Household master account, similar to how Family Settings work.
  2. Device and GamerTag allowance – Give the ability to add multiple devices and GamerTags to the family account.  What is a good number?   4 devices, and 5 GamerTags for a yearly fee to cover the household.  The fee would be MORE than your $49 Live fee to cover the multiple devices, but less than it would be to have that many GamerTags each have to pay $49.   Maybe $99?  If you want to add additional devices/GamerTags provide an additional fee per unit.   Market research would have to determine the cost/value pattern consumers would accept and still be profitable.
  3. Device and GamerTag management – This Master GamerTag controls the what devices and GamerTags are included in the Family bubble.  You would register the GamerTag and device serial number to be included.
  4. Media portability –   Games/Media could be downloaded onto any device registered in the bubble, and could be used by any GamerTag on that device.    Media could be downloaded and played by a registered GamerTag on a non registered device, but no other GamerTag could use that media on the device without that GamerTag using it. (IE going over a buddies house to play a game)

Some issues this brings up though….

  1. Media Graduation to another Family Master account –   If I am living in my family home I can use the media in the bubble.   If I want to move out and establish my own family account, how do you take media with you?  This problem happens today with Shared ITunes and Zune Accounts…
  2. Xbox Co-Ops – A bunch of people will go in on the Family price to share across households, but are not in the same family.  This leads back to who really owns the media if the Co-Op dissolves and people go separate ways.  If you had a bunch of DVDs you could take some or give some for others.   This was happening with Napster awhile back I believe.   While I am sure people will abuse the Family accounts by registering their friends Xbox,  would the increased number of people choosing Xbox due to it being a better value offset this? How does Microsoft mitigate abuse, but give more freedom to the consumer?
  3. DRM implosion –  As with any DRM,  if the vendor stops allowing it to play you don’t have squat!  I believe we already understand this though, so this is not new.

I have complained about the personalized experience issues with Microsoft’s DRM strategy before, and I believe it’s only going to get worse as they offer more personal experiences, but tie it to a single entity.

Adding Zune into the mix will really complicate this, since usually music libraries are personal, and may not have interest to other members of the “family”, so you don’t have a shared Library, but you could have a shared Family plan allowing each GT to download it’s own personalized choices.

My thoughts on the Zune problem around this:

Microsoft is missing the Value of Xbox Gold and it’s services.    For a family of 4-5,  it does NOT make sense to pay $49 per person per year.   You can only “Achieve” something once per GamerTag so by forcing sharing GamerTags they are devaluing the experience.  I don’t want the same suggested media as my son or my wife, which you need different GamerTags to provide that personalized experience.