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Microsoft patent application may allow disc owners to access digital games

Document suggests Xbox Series S owners would be able to validate their ownership of games via another device

A patent application by Microsoft has surfaced that hints the platform holder is seeking a way for Xbox owners to access digital games if they can prove they own a physical copy.

The application, spotted by GameRant, appears to have been filed in November 2020 -- incidentally the same month Microsoft launch the Xbox Series X|S -- and discusses "software ownership validation of optical discs using [a] secondary device."

In short, the idea seems to be that if a user places a game disc in one device (examples including an external disc drive or an older Xbox console), this would validate the user's access to its content and enable it to be played on a second device (for example, a digital-only Xbox Series S).

Microsoft's suggestions on how this could work include the two devices being linked to the same network or if they are linked by the same user account. Once validated, the second device could either be download (presumably from the Xbox Store) the game or stream it from the first device.

There does not appear to be any indication whether users would still have access to the digital version if they then sell the disc.

When explaining the rationale for such a system, Microsoft described a situation where the owner of a previous generation games console buys a next gen device without an optical disc drive (the company gave no names, but an Xbox One owner buying a Series S is the obvious example), they are unable to play any physical games they own and must repurchase the digital version.

Microsoft deemed this scenario "undesirable for multiple reasons," noting that games represent "a significant financial investment" for people and "it may be difficult for some people to justify repurchasing a video game they already own and have already played or completed."

As with all patents, all examples given are somewhat hypothetical and it's impossible to tell whether anything will come of this.

But with the rise of digital-only consoles, and the level of 'ownership' consumers have over their digital content frequently in debate, it's interesting to see Microsoft lay the groundwork for a potential solution.

Microsoft found itself at the heart of this debate as recently as last week, when a long outage of Xbox's online network prevented players from launching games they owned on disc or had fully downloaded to their console.

It was also just shy of ten years ago that the company attracted heavy criticism around the unveiling of the Xbox One, which was originally going to lock each physical copy of a game to a specific console so the disc could not be resold or shared.

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