The Morning 'Joe: Console-Based DRM

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

Kotaku, as they are wont to do in their never-ending search for cheap hits, has speculated about the next Xbox system. In talking to people around the industry, one of their speculations is that Microsoft is going to make the online pass a thing of the past by forcing all games to either require an installation code, tie a game’s unique ID to the first system it runs off of, or force everything to go digital. However it were to happen, the intention, should this come to fruition, is the same: it would intentionally and decisively destroy the used games market by making them physically impossible.

Reaction has been strong, with people—sober analysts—saying that Microsoft would shoot their own foot in doing this. The majority of the reaction online, via Twitter, Facebook, forum posts, and commentary, falls along the same lines. However, gamers have shown throughout the years that what they say and what they do are often the exact opposite.

This week’s question:

If Microsoft or any other console manufacturer actually makes a system that renders the reselling or lending of games impossible, would you buy that system? Bonus question: will anyone else?

Crystal Steltenpohl: Simply put, I can’t afford to game like that. Back when my grandparents worked full time, they bought everything for my cousins and me new, including video games, though that was probably because they didn’t realize they could buy games used. After my grandfather died and my grandmother eventually retired, video games ended up being put on the back burner, and I either bought games used or I didn’t get them at all. If Microsoft or anyone else decided that they would implement a system where you were forced to buy only new games, I could not afford it. Period. They would get no money from me, not just because of the outrage I’d feel over not being able to let a friend borrow a game, but because I don’t have that kind of money. I don’t have $50-$60 to drop on a game, and you know that they wouldn’t drop game prices even if they implemented this kind of a system. With those kinds of price tags, I can afford one or two games a year. Sorry, but if I can’t buy my games used, I can’t buy them at all.

As far as anyone else, I think there are other people in my position, yes. I think less people would buy into this kind of system because people can’t afford to, especially in this economy. But will people buy it? Yes. People who feel they need the Next Big Thing and those who have money to throw away or crappy priorities will buy these systems because they don’t care about protecting themselves as consumers and about the gamers who don’t have that kind of money. There will always be people who will buy something, and I imagine that a lot of the people complaining would still buy it. They’d complain while doing it, of course, but they’d still buy it. But if you’re still giving a company money, no amount of whining is going to do anything; they’re getting what they want in the end, and that’s all they care about. So while I don’t think it’s the greatest business move because they’ll lose money from people who just can’t afford to play that game, it’s not going to kill any particular company because idiots still exist.

Aileen Coe: Like Crystal, if a system like that came out, I would not be able to get anything for it, rendering it useless for me to buy the console in the first place. Whatever games I do buy, I usually either wait for a price drop or trade in stuff towards it. Obviously, the latter wouldn’t be an option if I couldn’t play games on another console besides the one it was first played on. Plus, services like Gamefly would be dead in the water as far as that system goes, so that also wouldn’t be an option. There’s also the question of what would happen if the console the game’s tied to broke down or got stolen: would there be a provision for such circumstances, or would the person be out of luck? While digital distribution has seen a boon this gen, making everything digital only would alienate those who either lack high-speed Internet or who prefer physical copies. Additionally, it would involve juggling games and managing hard drive space, especially given how big some games are.

There are other people who are likely in the same boat who either use services like Gamefly or buy used or trade-in stuff, so I’d imagine those people wouldn’t be buying the system, either. However, there’s still the crowd that’ll want anything new and shiny no matter how much it may cost. Whether those would be enough to keep the console afloat and counterbalance the ones who swear off the console because of the inability to buy used or borrow games would remain to be seen. However, I’m pessimistic about the chances of enough people boycotting the system to make a real impact on the company’s bottom line for it to reconsider.

Christopher Bowen: It’s all about advantages.

I’m fairly neutral in the whole PC-versus-Console debate because each side has pros and cons. For example, if I buy a game for my PlayStation 3, I know a few things off the bat: it’s guaranteed to work on my PS3, but I won’t be able to modify it. The opposite is true of the PC: there’s no real guarantee that there won’t be a driver issue or something else that messes with my game, but I know damn well that once I get in, I’ll be able to do whatever I want to the game in most cases. In most cases, the advantages are even to me, and anything I buy that has both choices is decided by more specific circumstances.

Another advantage of console gaming is that, while I effectively own something forever once I buy it with the PC, and I can’t trade it in, ever. For consoles, that hasn’t been the case ever since the 1970s. If I wanted to sell or lend my Atari 2600 version of Pac Man to Aileen, I could. If I wanted to lend her my copy of Dynasty Warriors 7, I could. But the modern console, technological advances, and shrinkwrap EULAs have conspired to limit that from happening severely. Now, not only do I have to pay $60 for a new game, but I have to enter a code to make sure I can use it online, which in many cases is the only way to make the game remotely usable. Kingdoms of Amalur has a DLC code for a full single-player game. EA takes the cake: they have all of those things, plus a freemium model that’s virtually required to not get killed online, and their $60 games are obsolete in a year. It’s a clusterfuck of capitalism.

The results of these anti-consumer practices have shown in my library: every console generation before this one was loaded with games that I owned back when they were new, all of which I still own now. In 2012, my PS3 and 360 collections are comparatively bereft of top-flight games. Of those, I usually either get them new or I’m very selective about them (e.g. you’ll never see me buy Tiger Woods PGA Tour again). I’ve already limited my purchasing in response to AAA publishers treating me like a walking wallet, half out of being indignant and half out of realizing that I’m an adult in my 30s with more important things to spend my money on. In the meantime, my Steam library has grown out of control.

So if Microsoft (and Sony since they’ll be forced by third-party publishers to follow Microsoft’s lead) puts out a console that forces people to one game, prevents me from lending a good game to someone, kills Gamefly, and treats me like a criminal before I even purchase the game, I will skip it. Why would I spend upwards of $500 or more on a console, and potentially up to $80 a game, just to be treated like I should be thankful for the privilege? (“Development costs for this new technology, increased overhead, blah blah,” say the publishers.) My backlog is already huge; it’ll take years to get that list down and it isn’t even complete. I’ll estimate that I own in excess of 1,200 video games, not counting ROMs. I’ll be able to play just my current games for the rest of my life. The only place it should be acceptable to pay to be abused is at an S&M club, not at GameStop.

The market will notice as well. The advantages of owning a console will disappear. Why buy a dedicated box to play a few huge games when the PC can grant a similar experience with more rights, more options, and more control? Even as PC gaming steadily becomes a money pit in and of itself, the costs of publishing on that platform are comparatively small when put against the cost of going through the big three, and options to go smaller or indie are better. Other than the rights of playing a few really big franchises like Madden or God of War, why would someone buy into that? Considering that today’s hardcore gamer is being replaced more often by a generation that thinks a $5 iPhone game is too expensive, the games industry is only painting itself into a tighter corner if it goes down this course.

If something like this were to actually happen, I’d go back to playing just PC games. Other than two sports games a year—one of which I should stop buying because EA won’t improve it—I wouldn’t miss a thing.

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Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.