Xbox, Internet connection and DRM: this is how access to games works

The Xbox Live outage which happened last weekend affected a number of people and put back on the table the issue of DRM on Xbox. While Microsoft has indicated thatan update would improve thingswe now know more about how DRM works on Xbox, and how it posed a problem for accessing games.

What was the problem ?

For those who didn’t follow, the problem was that in the event of a network disruption on Xbox Live, some people simply couldn’t launch their game, even when their console was not connected to the Internet.

Concretely, a message appeared on the screen and indicated that the user had to connect so that the Microsoft servers can verify that it has the content or the game which it is trying to access. When Xbox Live is not working, this verification inevitably becomes impossible.

In the discussions that were spreading with the connection problems, some suggested that the Xbox console should be set as the primary console, the one we have at home. But some users continued to be unable to access their games with this configuration.

How does accessing online or offline games work on Xbox?

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We found explanations of how DRM works on Xbox on the Resetera forums where OscarK, a mod-verified developer at Xbox, was able to provide some explanations last year. First, it already admitted last year that error messages displayed in the Xbox interface could add confusion and lead to distrust of the system. He clarified that efforts were being made internally to reorganize error messages related to licensing, and said that he will ensure that these comments are heard internally to continue to drive this effort.

Here’s what he had to say about how different types of games work and how to install them when you’re online or offline:

  • Xbox and Xbox 360 games need an internet connection for installation because the disc is only a key that allows you to download the game and the emulator (like on Xbox One).
  • Xbox One games need internet connection once during installation to download specific configuration files (separate from actual game patches).
  • For Smart Delivery games, it depends on what data is actually on the disk. If the Xbox Series X|S version is on the disc, it can be installed offline, but if it’s just a piece, then the Smart Delivery part is available as an update for download. This then generates a hybrid installation using data from the disc and data downloaded from the Xbox Live network.
  • Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S games natives can be installed offline.

Another parameter comes into play, the one that defines which console is the “main Xbox”. This is an essential parameter for share your Xbox accountfor example.

Explanation for Xbox Home

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The developer explains that unlike Sony with the PS5, the Xbox teams have chosen not to modify this parameter when a new Xbox is purchased and activated by a customer. So if you buy a PS5 today, it automatically becomes your primary console even if you already own a primary PS4. If you purchase an Xbox Series X and previously set your Xbox One as your primary Xbox, this will remain so until you change this setting.

In theory, setting your Xbox as the main console should allow access to your games, including offline. But yet, some users still couldn’t do it during the Xbox Live outage. The reason is simple: the first time a game installation occurs on an Xbox console, a registration step occurs. This is a multi-step process that involves decrypting the package header, downloading metadata, and providing any additional storage the game needs for temporary files. Basically, it’s a check that needs internet access.

When a digital game is downloaded to a console, this registration step is also performed as part of the download. However, if you installed the content on an external hard drive and moved it to another console, that other console will also need to perform this registration step when you first launch it. “I strongly suspect that the content that failed to launch despite the ‘Primary Xbox’ configuration was on an external hard drive and was downloaded via another console”he finishes.

Although questions still remain unanswered, these explanations provided by the Microsoft developer give us more information on how DRM works and how to access games on Xbox. Hopefully Microsoft can share more details in the future as to how DRM works in all possible configurations.

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Xbox, Internet connection and DRM: this is how access to games works

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