Commentary on the conferences, and why you shouldn’t expect to see Xbox One games reviewed on The Horror Pages

When my good friend Anthony Ortale asked me yesterday evening to contribute to his coverage of the recent Sony and Microsoft press conferences, I was definitely down to help out in any way I could. There was one part of the project that proved difficult for me, though; the directive that my commentary was to concentrate on the information given in the conferences themselves, and not the information provided by Sony and Microsoft afterward.

This was hard because the information that was given out after these conferences, particularly by Microsoft, was a doozy. In short, Microsoft corporate VP Phil Harrison revealed that their system would incorporate a fee for the privilege of installing and playing used software. I want to reiterate that this is not rumor or speculation, this is information given directly to the press from a vice president at Microsoft. Though it’s not yet clear exactly how this would work, most speculation has it that new games for the next Xbox console might come with an access code on the disc that would be assigned to the console itself, making the software unplayable on any other Xbox owner’s account.

Some might argue that what Microsoft is doing is no different than what Valve has been doing in the PC arena for years, and while there might be some merit to that argument (and why some gamers, myself included, have chosen not to use Steam and not to purchase PC games that require Steam integration to operate), there’s an inherent difference in offering a product digitally and offering a product via physical media. A consumer purchasing a device, like an MP4 player or an E-Reader, tends to purchase that product with an understanding that they will be downloading content directly to the device and storing it there. We’re already seeing a console go that route with the Ouya, and while I slammed the system a while back for being a download-only device, at least the Ouya is up-front as a console that only plays downloaded content. A consumer purchasing a game console that accepts physical cartridges or optical discs tends to walk out of the store with their new device thinking they will be purchasing games to stick into their device and play, with the impression that the game stored on the physical media is theirs to put on the shelf and look at, trade with their friends, rent from a store, or sell back to a store. I can’t help but think that any company offering a system that has an optical disc drive, but only uses the optical discs as a vehicle for content that works the same way as digital media (with all of its associated restrictions) is seemingly intentionally hoping to play on consumer’s comfort with the physical media retail model while retaining the same degree of control over what consumers do with their content that digital distribution offers.

In addition to all of this, the news broke that privacy advocates are already expressing concerns over the potential of the Xbox One’s Kinect device to be used as a data-mining tool about customer behaviors, with one such privacy advocate calling the device a “twisted nightmare”.

On the other side, some game bloggers and journalists took the mind-blowing step of defending companies who want to stop you from playing used games, with arguments seeming to center on the assertion that if you can’t buy used games for your system, the price of new games will somehow come down. What motivation would game developers have to bring down the price of new games if there aren’t used games to compete with anymore? They don’t really seem to have much of an answer for that, at least insomuch as I could tell.

What about the next Playstation? Though the system hasn’t hit shelves yet so it’s difficult to say for sure, according to breaking reports it looks like Sony is going to be handling used game on the PS4 exactly like they do with the PS3 right now- basically, it seems Sony won’t try to stop you from playing used games on their machine, but they also won’t try to stop game publishers from making you buy a ‘season pass’ or some other ridiculous DRM scheme to play online.

The really sad thing in the midst of all this bluster and chaos is that I suspect we’ve probably already seen the best next-gen console. Now that I’ve had hands-on time with the Wii U, I can tell you it’s an utterly fantastic device. I’m excited about the games that are already out there for the system and I’m even more excited about the console’s potential- I can only imagine how mind-blowingly awesome that, for instance, a Metroid game on the Wii U could turn out, given the potential for the tablet to be used for scanning sequences like those in Metroid Prime. I really don’t care if the console gets third-party support as long as Nintendo graces it with a flood of excellent first-party titles- which I have absolute faith they will. It’s worth bearing in mind that Nintendo made a concerted effort to reach out to third party devs and encourage them to develop for the Wii U, and many of those third party developers seem to have told them to fuck off . At the time, it was confusing to figure out why that happened, but now, with the reports about DRM schemes and used game fees, it seems easy to believe that some third-party devs might have told Nintendo to hit the door if Nintendo wasn’t offering them the same degree of control, from a DRM standpoint, that other companies were.

It’s absurd that we even should have to have this discussion. The right of first sale has been a legal principle that has guided how IP is dealt with since long before any of us started playing video games. If you sell your used Rush CD to your buddy, Geddy Lee doesn’t get paid. If you sell a used Degas print to your buddy, the Degas estate doesn’t get a cut. If you sell a used Stephen King novel to your friend, King doesn’t get a piece of the action. What makes some game developers so utterly entitled as to think they deserve a piece of used game sales? Why do they seem to think they’re more important than any other type of artist that has ever existed? Where is this sense of entitlement coming from?

I don’t know, and to be entirely honest, at this point I don’t care.

What I do care about is the chilling effect that allowing game developers to get their claws into used game sales could potentially have on the first sale doctrine. If a segment of the video game industry is allowed to set a precedent in this regard, it seems logical to assume that the music and movie industries will follow in their footsteps. If things get to that point, it won’t just be gamers getting their consumer rights eroded- it will be everyone who listens to music or watches movies.

As a consumer, you have options. Nintendo is offering not one, but two fantastic next-gen platforms in the Wii U and the 3DS. If you aren’t into Nintendo’s first-party games, check out the PC, which is currently undergoing a huge renaissance, with better graphics, a wider variety of game genres, and a more open platform than any game console on the market. More into old games? The retrogaming community has never been more vibrant, with tons of options for discussion and support of just about every game console ever released- and there’s even new retro consoles coming out, like the upcoming Retron 5.

I don’t hate Sony, or Microsoft, or any of these companies. I have a massive collection of Playstation and original Xbox games, along with Nintendo and PC games, and I’m not throwing any of them out anytime soon. I just care about my rights as a consumer, and I think you should too.

All opinions above are solely those of the author. Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft, and all associated trademarks and IP’s are property of their respective owners.

~ by Redgoateerob on June 1, 2013.

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