Update May 5th 12:51: Xbox has acknowledged that the server outage problem is not completely fixed. In a tweet, the Xbox support team says it has seen "significant improvement" to the server issues, and that a new update rolling out in the next few days should rectify the problem completely. Original story follows below.
Over the weekend, Microsoft server issues prevented many Xbox gamers from accessing their games or purchasing content from the store. Microsoft has claimed the problem is fixed, but it seems like players are still experiencing issues.
Why are Microsoft server outages stopping people playing games?
This problem began on Friday, when the Xbox support team tweeted its acknowledgement that gamers were having trouble accessing content on their Xbox consoles or purchasing new content from the Xbox Store. Subsequently, Xbox tweeted that the problem was fixed, but it seems users are still having issues connecting to the service. Several Twitter replies from disgruntled Xbox gamers suggest that the issue persists, at least with some users. I'm able to confirm this, too; for much of yesterday, I was unable to play Xbox Game Pass games, despite being connected to the internet (I'm in the UK). This was after Microsoft suggested that the problem had been resolved. The latest tweet from Xbox Support claims that an issue preventing European users from accessing their content has been resolved, but some of the users replying to it with rebuttals are European, so this may not be the case after all.
So, what's causing this problem? Well, according to Twitter gaming preservation platform Does It Play, "a majority" of Xbox titles have a DRM check-in which means that they need to verify you're their owner before you can play them. Your Xbox console (or PC) needs to be online in order to make this check, which means that if Microsoft's servers go down for any reason, you're out of luck. According to Does It Play, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch games, including multi-platform releases that do have DRM check-ins on Xbox, don't have this problem; they'll work offline provided that you're playing on the account on which you bought them and the console is working.
It's worth noting that there's a possibility the issues currently being experienced by users aren't directly being caused by server problems. It's entirely possible that users' consoles may need to be reset or reconnected to their networks after struggling to find servers over the weekend. Microsoft may well have fixed its server issues, but end-users could still be feeling the aftereffects of the weekend's problems. Until we get further updates and confirmation from Microsoft, we won't know exactly what's going on.
What does this mean for Microsoft and Xbox?
Given the noises Microsoft and Xbox have made in the past about preservation, as well as adjacent rights issues such as right-to-repair, this online requirement comes across as rather hypocritical. It's especially interesting given that Microsoft was heavily criticized for initially requiring the same thing when it introduced the Xbox One in 2013 (a commitment it then walked back on). Remember, this problem isn't the same as when Microsoft sunsets servers for online games, as it did for Halo on Xbox 360 earlier this year. In those instances, the single-player campaign (or any offline component of the game) is still playable, but when Microsoft's central servers go down, content is completely inaccessible.
Servers go offline all the time, and for lots of reasons. Games like Roblox and Among Us sometimes experience server issues for reasons as diverse as DDoS attacks, technical faults, or any number of other things that server experts can't immediately diagnose. In this case, though, Microsoft's servers going down potentially prevents access to thousands of games for Xbox gamers, so it's arguably much more severe than an outage for a single game. We're currently working on an in-depth report regarding this issue and will be reporting more on it soon.