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Microsoft's Xbox One policy answers raise even more questions

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Earlier this week, Microsoft finally clarified some of its policies regarding the Xbox One — specifically, privacy concerns surrounding the always-listening Kinect; whether the console is an always-on device; and the ability to play used games on it. The company had dodged questions about those issues since unveiling the console two and a half weeks ago, causing a mounting wave of speculation fueled by mixed messaging from Microsoft officials.

But Microsoft's three-pronged information dump left some questions unanswered, and raised a few more, continuing the widespread consternation aimed at the Xbox One's online policies. It's possible that Microsoft will offer further clarifications at E3 next week, but for now, here's what we know and what we don't know about the Xbox One.

Used Games and Software Licenses

What We Know

  • Microsoft won't charge any system-wide fees to consumers, game publishers or retailers for trading in or reselling disc-based games. Users will be able to trade in first-party Xbox One games — i.e., games published by Microsoft Studios — at "participating retailers," and buy and play used copies.
  • Xbox One users will be able to permanently give first-party retail games to friends, as long as the giver and recipient have been Xbox Live friends for at least 30 days. The transaction is permanent because a single copy of a game can only be transferred in this manner once.
  • Third-party publishers — everyone except Microsoft Studios — have complete control over the aforementioned practices for their own games; everything is optional. Third parties may choose to disallow trading, reselling or gifting of their games. And even if they enable the practices, they can charge consumers for the privilege, and set up deals with retailers like GameStop to give them a cut. For example, EA may have discontinued its current-generation Online Pass program, but the publisher could charge $10 to anyone who wants to play a used Xbox One copy of Battlefield 4.
  • Giving disc-based titles to Xbox Live friends will be the only way to share games with others, because users can't loan games to friends. Game rentals won't be possible, either. Microsoft said it is "exploring the possibilities" of allowing both in the future.
  • All disc-based Xbox One games will also be available to purchase as a download on their release date.

users can't loan games to friends. Game rentals won't be possible, either

What We Don't Know

  • What if you want to trade in a game to a store that isn't a "participating retailer"? Is there any special process a store has to go through to become one?
  • How does the Xbox Live friend-based gifting process differ from trading in a game at a store like GameStop? Do you have to deactivate a game on your account before you trade in the disc?
  • Do these policies leave any hope for rental services like GameFly and existing resale marketplaces like eBay?
  • If every game is available as a download, will all games have demos?

Always-On Connectivity

What We Know

  • The Xbox One must be connected to the internet at least once every 24 hours so it can "phone home" to ensure that a user has the license to play particular game.
  • Users can sign in to their Xbox Live accounts on any console and access their entire game library. But if they're playing their games on a console that isn't the one those games were originally installed on, the system will phone home once an hour.
  • Up to 10 family members can be given access to a user's shared game library. This feature supports up to two people playing at once: the original user, and no more than one of the other family members.
  • If a console is offline for more than 24 hours, users won't be able to play any of their games until they re-establish a connection to the internet. They'll still be able to watch live TV, Blu-rays and DVDs while the system is offline.

the Xbox One must phone home once every 24 hours

What We Don't Know

  • How does the authentication work — does each retail copy come with a unique code, like a retail Windows PC game with a Steam key?
  • Can you install a game from a disc and begin playing if you don't have internet access at that point, or does the Xbox One have to check in with its authentication servers before you can play for the first time?
  • Is a 1.5 Mbps connection necessary just for checking in, or is that the recommended bandwidth for playing online games?
  • What happens, exactly, when your 24 hours of offline gaming time are up? If you're in the middle of a game, does the system just kick you out to the dashboard?
  • Do users have any recourse when Xbox Live is down?
  • Are there any exceptions to the always-on requirement, such as for deployed members of the military? Do people without internet access have any other options, like a check-in by phone akin to activating a copy of Windows with a phone call?
  • Does the 24-hour check-in requirement vary by region?

Kinect and Privacy

What We Know

  • The Xbox One will not run without a Kinect sensor plugged in.
  • When the console is off, Kinect is listening for one command: "Xbox on," which will turn the system on. That voice command can be disabled.
  • If you don't want to use Kinect, you can "pause" it, which will disable its body- and voice-sensing capabilities. The Xbox One won't require the use of Kinect, although some games, apps and features might.
  • The Kinect setup process will walk users through personalization (like the choice to have it recognize your face and automatically sign you in) and privacy options, including "clear notifications about how data is used."
  • Your "conversation" with Kinect isn't being recorded or uploaded to the internet, and any data that the sensor might collect — such as photos, videos or heart rate — "will not leave your Xbox One without your explicit permission."

"Xbox on"

What We Don't Know

  • What are the default privacy options if you don't take the time to set up Kinect?
  • Does any aspect of Kinect require cloud-based processing?
  • Is Kinect-collected data used for targeted advertising?
  • Could Kinect be used for features like restricting the watching of video content depending on the number of people in a room?
  • What does the Kinect and Microsoft do with aggregated, "anonymous" data?

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