Microsoft is looking at ways to “validate” Xbox discs for consoles without a disc drive

Xbox Series S, as placed next to an Xbox Series X.
enlarge Xbox Series S, as placed next to an Xbox Series X.

While Microsoft’s Xbox Series S gives a lot of gaming horsepower for its priceOne thing it doesn’t provide is a disc drive to access any of the physical Xbox games you may own. However, Microsoft seems interested in getting around this problem, as the company has filed a patent that “provides software ownership validation of optical discs using [a] secondary device.”

That mouthful of a title describes a patent application that Microsoft first filed in November 2020, but which was published last week by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (as noticed by Game Rant† And while it looks like the patent hasn’t been granted yet, the filing offers: more evidence that Microsoft is trying to find a way to bring games that are stuck on legacy drives into gaming is becoming more and more disk-free future

Some technical options

When it comes to the technicalities of how this validation process would work, the patent application is so vague as to be practically useless. The only constant in the examples is that there are two separate devices, at least one of which has a disk drive that can read “an optical disc containing the electronic content” and “validate the user’s ownership of the electronic content” ( e.g. Xbox 360, Xbox One or Xbox Series X).

Access to that “content” is then provided on the other device, which does not need to have a disc drive (for example, the Xbox Series S). In practice, that means “a digital version of the electronic content may be downloaded or streamed to the first device from the second device or from the external device or service,” as the application puts it.

An image of a patent application showing one configuration for authenticating a game CD on a secondary device.
enlarge An image of a patent application showing one configuration for authenticating a game CD on a secondary device.

Furthermore, the mechanisms for performing that validation and access transfer are unclear. For example, the two devices could be on the same LAN, two different LANs, or simply connected via the Internet or another “distributed network system,” according to the application. The two devices can also be connected through a single user account or multiple accounts of one or more users. And the validation itself can be done entirely on the device or through the use of “an external video game service” such as Xbox Live.

As for how long that initial disk validation takes, the patent application also offers a few different options: as long as both devices are “on the same local network”; while the disk is actually physically present in the disk drive of the first device; and/or “while a digital version of the electronic content is available to the external device or service.” Interestingly, the patent also mentions the ability to “stream and/or download content”. from local network devices to prevent/limit internet costs and bandwidth problems [emphasis added],” suggests options that don’t involve Microsoft’s centralized servers to transfer the disk data itself.

A necessary problem

While the details are still amorphous, the application spends a lot of space describing why Microsoft sees this as a problem to be solved in the first place. Because “many current game consoles… are built without optical disc drives,” players “cannot play their previously acquired optical discs on current game consoles,” the application states.

That’s a problem because, over time, many gamers have “accumulated extensive libraries of physical video game media and other video game paraphernalia.” [that] represent a significant financial (and emotional) investment for video game device owners,” the application continues. Players seeking access to old games on disc on new hardware are forced to “buy back the digital version of the video game content for the next-generation video game device,” writes Microsoft.

In addition to the financial aspects, the application also addresses the emotional reasons why many players may want to stick to physical games:

Many physical video game media owners have emotional ties to their physical video game media. These owners simply appreciate the “feel” of dealing with the physical video game media and/or the nostalgia that comes with the physical video game media. In addition, many of these owners consider their libraries of physical video game media and paraphernalia to be valuable collections, akin to rare coin collections, baseball card collections, etc.

That’s a surprisingly resonating description in what is otherwise a pretty dry patent application. What’s more, it’s yet another indication that Microsoft is at least taking the feelings of its disk-based users into account, even if it focuses on all-digital options like Game Pass and game streaming in the cloud

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