DRM compared: PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

By Swapnil Mathur | Updated 19 Jun 2013
DRM compared: PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
  • We take a look at the various 'explosive' issues surrounding the next-gen consoles and what they REALLY stand for.

So, E3 2013 is over and if you are even remotely into gaming, you would know that Sony pretty much pummelled Microsoft’s Xbox One into the ground. Never has one statement so unanimously caused so much joy that when Jack Tretton, President and CEO, Sony Computer Entertainment America said “…for instance, PlayStation 4 won’t put any new restrictions on the used PS4 games…”


He went on to confirm that when a gamer buys a PS4 copy of a particular game, he has the right to do whatever he wants, including trading the game or lending it to a friend. Sony apparently trusts its users. Microsoft, unfortunately, doesn’t happen to be such a good storyteller. There’s been a huge hue and cry over Microsoft introducing DRM with the Xbox, while Sony is keeping its PlayStation 4 DRM free, but let us assure you, there are a lot of unseen forces at work here – and a lot more to the picture than the initial glance.

As of now, Sony has maintained that they will be keeping the PS4 DRM free, while Microsoft has chosen to go a route that has been tried, tested and proven successful; the way of Steam. Steam had its fair share of nay-sayers, haters and some who downright “lost it” when Steam implemented what then seemed to be a draconian DRM system.


The Xbox One is no doubt doing something similar, but if you talk to any PC gamer, they will most likely swear by Steam. There are many misconceptions floating around about how both the consoles will deal with DRM and used games and trading/lending of games, so we’re going to give you the short and sweet of it.

Thou Shalt Not Share: The DRM Lockdown
Microsoft has said that you will not be able to lend and borrow games from friends anymore like you used to be able to (with the Xbox 360). You will only be able to give you Xbox One game to ONE friend and one friend only (and that person may not give it to someone else). First thing to understand about this move is that this lockdown has been implemented by developers, and not by Microsoft.


Steam on the other hand does not allow you to trade or lend or resell content AT ALL. If you’re thinking “well, Sony won’t put me through that crap,” there is a possibility you are very wrong. In an interview with Game Trailer, Jack Tretton said that “The DRM decision is going to have to be in the hands of the third parties, yeah, that’s not something we’re going to dictate or control or mandate or implement.” Sony later did clarify that this would only apply to the online multiplayer segment, but what’s to stop a developer from reaching farther?

Besides, it’s not like the Xbox One doesn’t allow you to share your games. It’s actually quite the contrary. Every game that you buy (and therefore associate with your Xbox Live ID) will also be available to 10 family members, without having to pay anything. Along with that, your games library is stored entirely in the cloud, meaning that you can access your games on ANY Xbox One. This also means you could potentially share the games with three family members and seven friends. We’re going to leave it up to you to get creative.


The Mandatory Online Checks
Sony’s not implementing any of this on their infrastructure, so you’re not required to get online every few hours to make sure your console keeps functioning. The Xbox One requires you to get online at least once in 24 hours so it can validate your library and game licenses. Steam’s online check happen anytime between the three to four week period, or at the time that it is updating.

This is how Microsoft makes sure that you are not reselling games or trading them with other people, a move that was implemented to ensure that the developers remained happy. The 24-hour online check is Microsoft’s way of ensuring that the developers don’t implement their own ways and means of online checks. It is a one-stop centralized that does away with the various online pass systems and what not. In the long run, it’s a system based on convenience, and let us face it, how many of us actually live in a house without an internet connection? These checks also ensure that Microsoft always has your game library up-to-date, in case you decide to access it from a friend’s Xbox or something.


Reselling and Trading, like a BAWS!
One of the biggest bones of contention Microsoft has had in the last few years with the trading business of games has been the fact that retailers would buy the game off a person for a fraction of the original price, but sell it to someone else for a much higher one. The profits get pocketed by the retailer. All Microsoft claims to want is to ensure that a part of that profit also makes it to the developers, who work incredibly hard to bring you the games you so love to play. However, while this seems quite altruistic of Microsoft, we wonder why the sale of used game titles is any different from the sale of any other used products, whether digital or otherwise, where the manufacturer is completely left out of the reselling process.

Microsoft’s solution is that you still be able to trade in your games, but only at authorized retail outlets. Here, the games can be traded the right way, with the developers getting a cut of the profits, ensuring that everyone is happy, at least in some capacity. We even heard a rumour that Microsoft might set up an online portal where gamers can trade used games, eliminating the middleman completely (or becoming one itself).

Now let’s talk about trading, which is one aspect where Microsoft does take some flak. An Xbox One game can only be loaned out to one person only, and that is also up to the developer. If the dev chooses, they can disable the loaning of a game altogether. Sony does not face this issue, while Steam does not allow you to share your content with anyone at all. Steam on the other hand, doesn’t allow sharing of your games at all. Once you buy a game from Steam, it is forever associated with your account and you may not resell or trade it with anyone.

Sony has not implemented mandatory online checks on the PS4, which means you can continue playing offline for as long as you want. The Xbox One, on the other hand, will need to go online at least once every 24 hours to validate your game licenses and if it can’t, you’re out of luck. So, while the Xbox One will be bringing the Steam model of periodic online validation to consoles, the ‘a once a day check’ on a physical console, is a more impractical than Steam’s ‘once a month check’. It is unfair of Microsoft to assume network connectivity on a daily basis, when a loss of connectivity could be by choice, error and faults, or just poor infrastructure. Microsoft does provide some more features than Steam though. For starters, all of your 10 “family members” will have unconditional access to your entire game library.

You can still trade your games in for cash and also loan it out to one good friend (and for the others, you can just add them to your console as “family”). Not to mention, what’s stopping you from logging into multiple consoles to have your profile and game library available across various consoles at the same time?

Lastly, let’s not forget that Sony has left the DRM aspect of the games up to developers, meaning, the game studios are free to implement their own DRMs in their own ways on any of their own titles. Sony has promised that their self-published titles will remain DRM free, but we’re not so sure the developers would echo the same sentiment, especially if they’re putting DRM on the Xbox One version of the game.

As of now, everything we know about the DRM on the Xbox One and the lack of DRM on PS4 is just well crafted words by public relations executives. It would seem like Sony’s got a better PR team than Microsoft, but the reality of the situation will only unveil itself once the consoles hit the market. Since that’s not going to happen for another five months, we strongly advise not getting too emotionally worked up over the issue.

Swapnil Mathur
Digit's resident camera nerd, (un)official product photographer and the Reviews Editor

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