This week’s reveal of Microsoft’s next-gen console, the Xbox One, is best described as a mixed success. We were impressed by some of the new technology on display, but a little disappointed by the lack of focus on video games and the emphasis placed on the ability to watch TV on a gaming console. Another fairly major chink in the Xbox One’s armor is the fact that independent developers will not be able to self-publish their games on the platform — a decision which stands in stark contrast to Sony and Nintendo’s current policy of enthusiastically chasing the indie market.

One of the most pressing questions – and one of the most difficult to get an answer to – is fundamentally a simple one: “Will you be able to buy a used game disc, take it home, put it in your Xbox One, and play it?” There has been talk of the new Microsoft marketplace charging a fee in order to activate a used game on an account, but the latest details seem to suggest that the “fee” might actually be the retail price of the game.

When asked by Eurogamer to clarify the issue, Microsoft representative Phil Harrison replied:

“Our goal is to make it really customer-centric, really simple and really understandable and we will announce those details in due course.”

Which, you may notice, isn’t an answer at all. Eurogamer reported that Harrison was being pretty cagey in the interview, but when pushed to address the issue of borrowed and used games in an interview with Wired, he expanded a little on the nature of the actual game disc:

“You can take your game around to your friend’s house just as you would today – that’s assuming you have a physical disc – and what we’re doing with the new Live technology is that… with the disc, it’s just a repository for “the bits”. You can put that disc into his drive, you can play the game while you’re there, and then you go home and take that disc with you. But actually, “the bits” are still on his drive. If your friend decides that he really likes to play that game, then he can go buy it instantly, and it doesn’t need to download again. It’s already there. Once he’s paid for it, it’s immediately there.”

GameStop - Power to the players

Here’s the bottom line, as far as we can make it out. You can use an Xbox One game disc to install a game onto as many different machines as possible, but in order to play the game you must pay the retail price for each different account that it is installed on. You could lend your disc to a friend, but they would only be able to play the game if they were signed into your account, or if they paid full retail price for the game themselves. Logically, that means that if you buy a pre-owned disc from GameStop or another video game store, you could use it to install the game on your machine but would have to pay full retail price in order to access it.

That means it would technically be possible to play a used game on the Xbox One – but you’d have to pay the combined cost of the used game disc along with the full retail price for the game, making it more expensive to play a used game than a new one. This is at odds with the recent response given by GameStop president Tony Bartel, who told Games Industry that Microsoft has promised to support used games, though he admitted that GameStop is letting Microsoft “take the lead” on the issue.

Microsoft’s Director of Programming, Larry Hryb, attempted to clear up the matter in a statement on his blog, which confirmed that you will only be able to play your game at a friend’s house so long as you’re signed into your own account. He did not deny the fee for activating used games, and could not explain how used games and trade-ins would work with the console. Though he mentioned the ability to trade or resell games, he did not go into details about exactly how the Xbox One will work with games that have been resold.

“We know there is some confusion around used games on Xbox One and wanted to provide a bit of clarification on exactly what we’ve confirmed today. While there have been many potential scenarios discussed, today we have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail.”

“Beyond that, we have not confirmed any specific scenarios.”

“Another piece of clarification around playing games at a friend’s house — should you choose to play your game at your friend’s house, there is no fee to play that game while you are signed in to your profile.”

We’re trying to stay positive about the Xbox One, since it’s still a long way off from launch and we’re expecting a lot more details to become available at E3. However, if Microsoft does decide to charge full retail price for used games on the Xbox One, it’s guaranteed to alienate gamers and retailers alike. It’s possible that GameStop’s used games section could survive thanks to sales on other consoles, but that just means another advantage that the PlayStation 4 would end up having over the Xbox One.

Microsoft representatives are not stating outright that the Xbox One won’t support used games, but the information they’ve reluctantly given points to the same conclusion: you’ll pay a fee (which seems to be the full retail price) for each game on your account, no matter how old or new the disc is. If this isn’t the case then Microsoft would do well to deny it and provide a full, detailed explanation of their new used game policy. If it is the case… well, you can hardly blame them for not wanting to say it out loud.

The Xbox One will launch in fall 2013.

Source: Eurogamer, Games IndustryWired, & Larry Hryb