If Microsoft are to lock games down to a single user and require an always-on internet connection, then Sony have everything to gain from what has to be a considerable misstep from Redmond that’s likely to cost them a good share of the next-gen pie. It sounds almost ridiculous – copy protection gone too far – but that’s what rumours are suggesting today.
But first, some balance. Whilst the sources are apparently solid (“we’re confident they are,” Edge tell us) I’m still struggling to consider that the two main factors – tying a game to one individual and needed a constant green light from your router – aren’t just options available to the publisher or developer. Like region locking, for example.
Surely Microsoft isn’t crazy enough to enforce such systematic restrictions on every Xbox 720 game they rubber stamp. I can’t see that happening.
Yes, the mechanics are simplistic enough – the game box will come with a redemption code that’ll be typed into Xbox LIVE and then the game will be locked to that user – and I can see how this is a natural (unnatural?) extension of the Online Pass system that permeated this current gen, but surely they’re not expecting consumers to just roll over and accept this?
And whilst I appreciate that publishers and developers may well have been requesting such a feature since games were first sold, these aren’t 69p iPhone games (which at least fulfill one of the two protection measures, although apps can be shared between five devices) and they’re not Steam games, titles that are regularly subjected to almost laughably irresistible sale discounts. We’re talking £50 full-priced games, games that you won’t be able to trade in once you’re done.
Microsoft’s last E3 press conference lacked a little of the wow factor. Hopes are high that this year both Sony and Microsoft will step it up a notch.
Think of the recently recovering GAME (and its US counterpart, GameStop, which sees pre-owned games making up nearly 28% of all sales and 48% of profit) – pre-owned sales are vital to the infrastructure of the high street chain and this won’t be good news for them. Indeed, GameStop saw its shares drop dramatically today following the news – if this is true this’ll hit hard, and not just with the retailer, the end user will simply not be able to buy games if they’re not brand new.
At least, not Xbox 720 games.
Of course, we don’t know the technicalities of a system that is still yet to be proven to be true, or at least as comprehensively widespread as Edge seem to think. There’s enough conjecture to warrant caution, but there’s also unanswered questions: could another user simply ‘buy’ another license (like you can with an Online Pass) from Live for a reduced fee, for example. Even with that in mind, though, the second hand market will suffer greatly.
And that’s without mentioning game rental companies, who’ll be hit harder than anyone else if this comes to fruition. Nobody is going to splash out on a user account license for a game they’ll only have for three days.
Then there’s the other angle – the requirement of an internet connection at all times. That’s fine for the majority of Xbox 360 users – figures point to approximately 80% of console users having an internet connection – but what happens when that connection goes down, either by the end user or the service itself? Look at Ubisoft’s similar attempts: they scrapped their always on DRM last September. Presumably this DRM is to ensure that the game isn’t being used by a third party, but it does seem like it’s not going to be met with much enthusiasm.
Sony is expected to reveal its next gen console on the 20th of this month, just two weeks away.
And Sony? For all Sony’s faltering over the years with the PS3, the company has stayed true to providing free online play for the system (and, of course, for the PSP and PS Vita) and their recent push towards PlayStation Plus indicates that they’re really trying to ensure their customers have plenty to play. Doing everything right? Perhaps not. But in the face of these rumours, Sony – unless they follow the same path – will look nothing less than saintly.
And let’s be honest – if Microsoft’s hand has been forced by publishers, surely those same publishers will want the PS4 to do the same job.
Sony aren’t alien to the idea of locking out second hand games, too. Their system doesn’t require an internet connection, but they do have something – even if it’s just in patent form at the moment. And without being flippant, I’d place doubts over the PlayStation Network being consistent enough just now to have to rely on it being available 24/7/365 to ensure that my game licenses are validated.
There will, naturally, be many other factors that will ultimately all tally up. The relative power of the two systems; the exclusive games available; the price; the controller. But being able to sell on your games is surely right up there.
In some ways, Sony now have this to lose. If they launch the PS4 around about the same time as the Xbox 720, the latter surrounded by what appears to be highly anti-consumer measures, they have to be onto a winner. This single news story will contribute to who comes out on top next gen. That might sound like hyperbole but – if Edge’s sources check out – Microsoft might have played a card they probably wanted to keep up their sleeves a little longer, but it’s still a rotten card.