The Truth Behind Family Sharing on the Xbone One

It’s the feature we’ll never get to see! But maybe that’s a good thing.

In the wake of Microsoft’s DRM reversal yesterday, one Microsoft employee has taken to the internet to write a detailed personal response to the move as somebody actively working on some of these features.

Family Sharing has been considered one of the ‘losses’ that came as a result of Microsoft’s reversal. The feature would allow you to share your game library with a group of ten ‘family’ members, who didn’t technically have to be family. It was more a set limit on the people closest to you who you’d be happy to share your games with. The feature was seen as the replacement for physically loaning games to your friends – you don’t need to hand the disc over anymore, just give them free access to your library! – and in that regard it seemed like a decent idea. But in expressing their disappointment over Microsoft’s move yesterday, this anonymous source has outlined the way this feature really would have worked.

‘The premise is simple and elegant, when you buy your games for Xbox One, you can set any of them to be part of your shared library.  Anyone who you deem to be family had access to these games regardless of where they are in the world.  There was never any catch to that, they didn’t have to share the same billing address or physical address it could be anyone.  When your family member accesses any of your games, they’re placed into a special demo mode. This demo mode in most cases would be the full game with a 15-45 minute timer and in some cases an hour.  This allowed the person to play the game, get familiar with it then make a purchase if they wanted to.  When the time limit was up they would automatically be prompted to the Marketplace so that they may order it if liked the game.  We were toying around with a limit on the number of times members could access the shared game (as to discourage gamers from simply beating the game by doing multiple playthroughs). but we had not settled on an appropriate way of handling it.’ (emphasis added)

So you wouldn’t be sharing the full game with your friends (er, family) after all. Rather, it would be a timed demo of the game that could go for as short as fifteen minutes. This is described as a way to combat the sales losses experienced by developers whenever people loan games out or buy used. The intention was to use family sharing as a way to give these games exposure, to spread them via word of mouth and a brief demo before asking the player to consider purchasing the game if they wish to keep playing. It’s sort of like those full game trials currently available on the Playstation Store.

‘The difference between the family sharing and the typical store demo is that your progress is saved as if it was the full game, and the data that was installed for that shared game doesn’t need to be erased when they purchase the full game!’

But we have to wonder, just how useful would these demos be? If you consider that these demos are actually the full game, and you’re playing them from the very beginning, how accurate a judgement can you make on the first fifteen to forty-five minutes of the game? Most games start with a lengthy cutscene and gradually build from there. The Assassin’s Creed series in particular has quite a slow buildup as you run through a refresher course on the modern day plot and fiddle around with Desmond Miles for a good twenty minutes. As opposed to a demo, you’re not getting a proper showcase of the game in a predetermined segment of the game (usually somewhere near the end of the first act of the game). You’re playing through those early stages where very little is actually available to you.

Is it possible to be sold on a game from there? In some cases. I think if you gave me forty-five minutes to play the beginning of The Last of Us I would absolutely be sold. But if it was Assassin’s Creed, I don’t think I would be. Not every game is going to work out that well. It’s a flawed system.

All that said, anonymous source and what have you. This could be fake. But it’s certainly an intriguing thought. And it’s an incredibly interesting read to see someone so convinced in these features be so saddened by their removal.

One comment

  1. Oh man. I wonder if we’ll ever find out whether that source was legit, and this is how it would have actually operated. Given that their PR message was so garbled and mis-interpreted on the stuff they actually could give detail on, it’s very possible that this is legit.

    Maybe they didn’t try to go on the hard-sell with family sharing because they knew that if it was revealed as a glorified way of allowing people access to demos, the internet would erupt louder.

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