Xbox One Preview: What Really Happened to Family Sharing?

Xbox One Preview: What Really Happened to Family Sharing?

Was family sharing a radical new feature or just a glorified new kind of demo?

A report from an alleged Microsoft insider claims that the family sharing feature that Microsoft planned for the Xbox One was far more limited than originally believed. But looking over the publicly-available statements that Microsoft made, it’s not clear whether this new report is reliable.

As you may know, family sharing was one of several features Microsoft dropped from the Xbox One when it overreacted to complaints by some gamers that the coming console’s feature-set was too forward-leaning. Check out Microsoft Reverses Course on Xbox One Policies and Microsoft Answer Complaints but Neuters Some Key Xbox One Advantages for my take on these dramatic developments.

So what was family sharing?

In my post Xbox One Game Licensing Explained, I described family sharing like so: “Anyone who uses your console (with their own Microsoft account) can play the games you’ve purchased and installed to the Xbox One as well … Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One.”

What’s missing from this description is any sense that there’s a limit to these capabilities. But according to an apparently trustworthy but anonymous post to Pastebin, family sharing was going to be quite limited indeed.

“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 … 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 wanted our family sharing plan to be something that was talked about and genuinely enjoyed by the masses as a way of inciting gamers to try new games.”

“The motto around the offices for the family plan was ‘It's the console gaming equivalent to Spotify and Pandora.’ The difference between 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. It gave incentive to share your games among your peers, it gave games exposure, it allowed old games to still generate revenue for publishers.”

In this view, family sharing isn’t full game sharing but rather an evolved version of a game demo. Many people are using this post to justify their hurt feelings that family sharing is no longer part of the Xbox One feature set.

But here’s the thing. In its official public disclosure about family sharing, Microsoft never once even hinted to this kind of limitation. In fact, the way the firm described it originally, there were no real limits at all. In the post How Games Licensing Works on Xbox One, Microsoft literally used the word “unlimited” to describe this access:

Share access to your games with everyone inside your home: Your friends and family, your guests and acquaintances get unlimited access to all of your games.

And there’s more:

Give your family access to your entire games library anytime, anywhere: Xbox One will enable new forms of access for families. Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One. Just like today, a family member can play your copy of Forza Motorsport at a friend’s house. Only now, they will see not just Forza, but all of your shared games. You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time.

So let’s recap, using Microsoft’s own language: Your family gets unlimited access to your entire games library anytime, anywhere.

That is not the same thing described by the Pastebin poster. So either he’s a fraud or Microsoft was lying. It’s that simple.

I do agree with the poster about one thing, however: Family sharing is almost certainly making a comeback.

“At the present time we're no longer going forward with [family sharing], but it is not completely off the table,” the anonymous maybe-engineer writes. “It is still possible to implement this with the digital downloaded versions of games, and in fact that's the plan still as far as I'm aware.”

I guess we’ll see how limited it is if and when that happens.

Update: I was right to be suspicious of that Pastebin post: It's baloney. Xbox's Aaron Greenberg has tweeted that There was no time limit [in family sharing], it was as we described. Team still investing in more digital features over time." I'm not a told you so kind of guy, but... well. :)

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