If there is one thing that can be said over the course of the last few weeks, it is the fact that Microsoft knows how to keep the people talking. From the day of the Xbox One’s reveal to the constant back-and-forth, flip-flopping on digital rights management, the requirement of a consistent online connection and the ability to play used games, journalists everywhere have had no shortage of material to dissect and analyze. I suppose I should thank Microsoft for providing me plenty of material for nearly a month now.
While their PR department continues to prove themselves more useless with each passing day, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: we no longer have the same concept of owning a video game that we possessed less than ten years ago. The rise of digital marketplaces like Steam, the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade has eliminated the physical media we once referred to as “our copy” and in a publisher’s perfect world, there will be no such thing as a disc-based game.
That dystopian anti-consumer future that so many science fiction movies have told us about? It’s here.
The image you see above you is an internal memo from the Canadian corporate offices of EB Games, affectionately known in the United States as Gamestop. In 2011, Canada followed suit with American locations and eliminated any real in-store distinction between the “new” and “used” sections for copies of video games, placing emphasis on their own potential for profit and steering attention away from factory-sealed, brand new releases…unless, of course, you are considering pre-ordering one.
Giant publishing houses have to contend with a number of cost factors in this world, and while piracy is always going to be a high priority, it was not until Fable developer Lionhead gave an interview with Eurogamer that someone finally stood up and specifically stated that the secondhand game market was worse. We have seen the ramifications of this in online passes and downloadable content restriction. PC games are subject to online authentication, replacing the days of CD keys and in the case of the newest SimCity, requiring the player to remain online.
Don’t act like you didn’t see this coming.
Understand this: we do not own much these days, especially in the way of media. The pictures you post of your drunken parties on Facebook are licensed out to Zuckerburg and company, becoming their property just as much as the SD card where the photos originated. Most people I know possess more digital songs than albums, a word which is becoming more and more of a relic than a way to distribute music. We are now watching as games head down the same path.
Before the Xbox 360 debuted, the previous generation of consoles and all before it had a simple business model. When you wanted to purchase a game, you left the house, walked into a retail store and purchased your personal copy of the game, granting you total and unlimited access to everything contained within the cartridge or disc. As time went on and broadband access became commonplace in households, digital distribution crept into the marketplace and presented an alternative to the laborious effort of going outside. Gamer stereotypes aside, this gave publishers a new way to deliver content while minimizing costs and maximizing earnings.
What started as a convenience has turned into a problem that has only now generated real discussion: how exactly do you hold onto your digital purchases? The short answer, in the case of the Xbox One, is that you do not and can get fucked if you think otherwise. They have already made it clear that no purchases from the Live Arcade on the 360 will transfer or play on the new system. Furthermore, whether or not people will be able to play used games on the Xbox One has been left entirely up to publishers in a complete clusterfuck of an answer.
Naturally, people have pounced on Microsoft for being a contradictory tornado of indecision, and they deserve it. They look like assholes, plain and simple. What should also be troubling, however, is that while Sony is likely reveling in the anti-Xbox publicity, they have yet to publicly state their intention to not instill the exact same policies.
Should it come to pass that an entire generation of Sony and Microsoft is spent avoiding consumer backlash, we could be headed for a mass exodus of the console market. It is becoming less and less frequent for major releases to not see life on Microsoft, Sony and PC systems. If people wise up to this and decide to seek shelter on their computers, I happen to know a company that would see a complete resurgence after the dust settles.
While idiotic “writers” continue to question how much longer Nintendo can stay in the console race, Nintendo continues to turn a profit. The Wii U has not been the hit that its predecessor was, but the 3DS has exploded and software sales continue to remind people that there is no shortage of quality software on a Nintendo platform.
What is lacking on the Wii U and 3DS is a restriction of any kind on used games and the need to be consistently online. If, in fact, Sony does announce Xbox One-like requirements and a collective “fuck you” is uttered to both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, guess who stands to reap all the benefits and invite jaded console gamers back to the place where it all started?
Think about it. The Wii U still has a mountain of untapped potential, having been on the market for less than a year. They have exclusives from both Nintendo and third party developers lined up. One major meltdown in the world of console gaming is all they will need to recover, and if there is any gaming company that has proven time and again they can weather a storm, it’s Nintendo.
I have no interest in the Xbox One and I am remaining optimistic about the PlayStation 4, although I am reserving any unwarranted praise on Sony themselves until we get concrete information on what exactly is needed for me to play a game on the PS4. If things get truly grim, I may have to seriously consider my own personal PC build and simply rotating between a keyboard and a Wii U Gamepad, something I hope to own soon anyway.
Xbox One: Major Nelson’s Blog
GS Memo: Kotaku
Zuckerburg 1984: PJMedia.com
Mario Troll: Operationrainfall.com