The popular Modern Vintage Gamer has come out with a video report over the past 24 hours which has certainly caused quite a stir on social media, focusing around a reportedly "serious problem" with DRM issues on Xbox Series X. The video in question has prompted one Xbox developer to come forward and shed some light on the issues at hand.
In his video, MVG highlights that the Xbox Series X in particular has a "heavy-handed DRM measure in place" that makes using the console offline more difficult than ever, explaining that Xbox One and Smart Delivery disc-based games don't always run if you're offline, typically due to requesting some kind of initial install or update.
He also highlights that the Xbox Series X, like the Xbox Series S and Xbox One, requires an internet connection in order to set up the console for the first time, which in theory would render unused consoles "useless" once Xbox Live is eventually shut down in the distant future.
Over on the ResetEra forums, one Xbox developer by the name of OscarK has responded to the video in question. In his lengthy response, OscarK states that the main takeaway from the video is that Xbox needs to improve on its "on-console error messaging."
"Having watched the video and read through the discussion here, my main takeaway is that we (Xbox) need to improve our on-console error messaging; the very generic and unclear error messaging clearly adds confusion and can lead to mistrust of the system. There is actually an effort internally to revamp licensing related error messaging, and I will ensure that this feedback is heard internally to continue driving that effort."
In a rather long response, OscarK explained how different generations of Xbox games require different methods for installation. For example, an original Xbox game needs to be online to install the files required for the emulated version. Perhaps more interestingly, and less well known, is the difference between physical versions of Smart Delivery titles. As detailed by OscarK, there are a variety of reasons why applicable games require different installation processes.
Smart Delivery discs vary in content for a variety of reasons:
- Discs like Forza Horizon 4 were pressed years before Series X|S existed. Repressing discs is expensive and doesn't actually help anyone since it'd require the user to repurchase anyway.
- Discs like FIFA 21 were pressed with a stub of the X|S version as that version simply was not ready at the time that discs were pressed.
- Discs may not be able to contain both versions of the game for space reasons. Which versions are pressed is up to the developer, but I would expect that it will generally line up with whichever was the primary version developed; for now cross-gen titles are primarily targeting Xbox One, but that will change over time.
In MVG's video, he also points out that although setting your system as your 'Home' console rectifies many issues, he's still had trouble getting games such as Ori and the Will of the Wisps to run offline. The reason, as OscarK explains, is a "one-time connection required for compatibility", meaning the game needed to be played online once. He explains the process, but in layman's terms, it's a registration step.
Despite the explanations, he did acknowledge that Xbox needs to find a better way at communicating these processes. In a final comment, OscarK added, "licensing is a complex area especially with discs and external HDDs and we can do better informing the user; I will take this away to the team and ensure we internalize this."
Similar issues have been around since the start of the Xbox One days. They're the remnants of the architecture in the console, which was originally intended to be an always online device. That being said, the fact that Xbox acknowledges these issues and has accepted they need to improve their error messaging is a great step.
What are your thoughts on the Xbox Series X's DRM? Let us know down in the comments.