Opinion – Xbox One’s Digital Game Errors Are Unacceptable

When Microsoft announced Xbox One back in 2013, it boasted an interesting approach to sharing digital games with family members and friends. However, this proposed feature came at the expense of being able to play those games while not connected to the internet. While community uproar eventually forced Xbox to rescind these unpopular policies before the platform launched later that year, it’s clear that remnants of the approach are still present, and Microsoft needs to do something about it.

Following the backlash it received in 2013, Microsoft stated that player feedback matters, and that both digital and disc-based games would be fully playable without relying on a player’s online connectivity. “After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc-based game without ever connecting online again,” an Xbox blog post reads. Later, the post says, “If you choose to download your games, you will be able to play them offline just like you do today.”

This week, however, players have been barred from their digital games on an intermittent basis. Disc-based games continued to work during these windows, but players trying to access digital titles were greeted with an error message saying their ownership of the game could not be verified or tethered to the profile that purchased the content. While it makes sense that Xbox wants to authenticate that the correct player profile is trying to access the digital title in question, if those authentication servers go down, it should not all but brick the console as it has for digital game owners this week.

On Monday night, the support team at Xbox took to its Twitter page to confirm that issues existed with Xbox One digital games and that Xbox engineers were looking into it. Fast-forward seven hours, and the issue was finally resolved. Unfortunately, it has reared its ugly head once more at the time of this writing, showing this is not just an isolated incident. If Microsoft truly rolled back its unpopular policies from launch, then any server-side problems it has should not affect offline experiences.

The games players cannot access during these times are not streamed from another server, but rather titles that are owned and downloaded to each player’s local hard drive. Regardless of a platform’s server problems, it should stand to reason that players should be able to play their local games offline. Microsoft apparently does not agree.

Simply put, if Xbox’s servers go down, I shouldn’t expect to lose access to my single-player games. In the past, platform-based server issues have only prevented players from accessing single-player content if the developer has installed some form of server authentication process like 2013’s SimCity and Diablo III – both of which were roundly criticized for this restriction. However, with Xbox One’s recent issue, players are left unable to play any games.

When you purchase a game digitally, you own a license to play that game, rather than own the actual game. It’s a distinction that most gamers may not give a lot of thought to. Even with this caveat of ownership, it should still not be expected that a system-wide failure would prevent players from accessing single-player content.

These issues are flat-out unacceptable. It’s absurd that a platform holder’s technical issues can render a player’s entire downloadable library useless. Microsoft needs to not only explain to its users why this is happening, but make a definitive statement on the actions it is taking to ensure this cannot happen again.

We reached out to Xbox for comment on what caused this problem and what the team is doing to prevent it from happening in the future, but the company did not fulfill the request before the publication of this article. Should Xbox provide comment, we will update this story.