Talking Point: Used Games and Durango - Seeing Sense
Posted by Ken Barnes
Our Cards On The Table
As we wait with baited everything for concrete information from Microsoft about their upcoming console, some of the rumours that are being taken incredibly seriously are somewhat laughable. With no thought and little to no proof barring a chain of whispers, some outlets are reporting on things that could be somewhat damaging, were they to filter down to the layman.
According to some, for example, the next generation Xbox will entirely prevent users from playing anything that they haven’t purchased as a new product, via always-on online DRM. Depending on which rumour you read, it is said that when you put the disc into the Durango drive tray and fire it up, that machine will then betray you and tell Microsoft that you have loaded up that exact disc on that exact console. The two serial numbers are then tied together, forming a bond that can never be broken. If you then sell or lend that game to someone, when they put the disc in the drive, the new console checks to see if it has already been “activated” on another machine and if it has, it won’t boot.
We’re just going to step back and take a look at this so far entirely unfounded rumour – which has been refuted by a number of high profile developers and a number of “insiders” that the usual round of news sites seem to have no problem quoting verbatim when they have new information to pass on about the new machine. For unknown reasons, denials from those same sources about this particular rumour seem to have been entirely ignored by those same outlets. That means that the rumour grows, gathers mindshare, and eventually gets to the point where Microsoft will have to put a sticker on the console box that says “Honestly, it plays used games!”
So, what do we think about all this? Well, we honestly don't see it happening.
Not only would the rumoured system ultimately prevent the sale of used games, but it would also entirely prevent rental services such as LoveFilm and GameFly from providing game rentals to consumers. Those rentals - believe it or not - do generate sales. It would also mean that if you were lucky enough to have one console for you and one for your kids in a different room, your game would be locked to your machine or account, meaning that little Johnny wouldn’t be able to play it at all. How about companies that use final retail copies of games at trade shows, or at PR events? They’d literally have to throw the discs away once the show was over, as they would be all but worthless.
Aside from all of those, there are a few other reasons why locking out used games is a somewhat unlikely move from Microsoft.
Firstly, Sony are unlikely to do it from what we hear, and with Durango likely to launch in a similar window to the PS4, Microsoft are going to want to avoid doing anything that portrays their console in a majorly negative light.
Secondly, in a world that’s permanently attached to Facebook, it would be absolutely fatal to overlook the value of recommendations, and what losing them would do to game sales. Preventing gamers from borrowing games from their friends, or from being able to take the new game that they’ve got to a regular games night with all their pals would be like throwing away free advertising. If a game is good, these close-quarters recommendations do a great deal to prop up long-tail sales and in some cases, help further sales down the line by getting gamers into new or previously unexplored genres.
Third off the bat, is the loss of the less affluent consumer. The harder core will are likely to give up something else in order to buy their games at full price, if that’s the only way that they can get them. But what about those whose priorities have to lay elsewhere? Would parents with less disposable income buy a Durango console for their son for Christmas, knowing that every time he wanted a new game, it would cost them £45 a time, and that he wouldn’t be able to borrow games from his friends? If the choice was between one console that locks out used games, and another similarly priced console that doesn’t, the one that doesn’t would win out every single time.
Fourth up is an argument with the “always-on” part of proceedings. Many companies (Ubisoft being the highest-profile one) have fallen foul of DRM that kills your single-player game stone dead just after you’ve defeated that tough boss, simply because your internet connection was unstable for a minute or two. With Microsoft looking for a seamless entertainment environment that is as user-friendly as they can hope to make it, they’ll be looking to avoid any class action suits from teams of gamers that are unhappy with products that drop them out every time their sister checks her email, or their partner fires up Netflix on their laptop.
Finally, the main reason we think this would be unlikely in the form that is being mooted, is that the majority of the rumours insist that the disc itself is somehow “tagged” when you first boot it. If this was the case, it would drive up manufacturing and duplication costs. Every single copy of every single game would need a different serial number or other identifying code loaded either as rewritable portion of the disc (which would make the drive more expensive to manufacture also) or as part of the code that’s included on the disc itself. This means that the standard Blu-Ray or DVD duplication practices that are in place would need to be modified. No matter how little that rise would be, it would still have to be accounted for as a part of somebody’s cut. Whether it comes out of the percentage earned by the publisher, the developer, the platform holder, the retailer or, worse still, is added to the recommended retail price, Microsoft would be looking to avoid this. Especially when the console is liable to be sold at a loss at launch.
We are firmly of the belief that Durango will play your used games, borrowed games, rented games, and brand new day-one purchases.
Even if - as the remaining rumourmongers are saying - the DRM was a purely online deal where you have to enter a code before you can unlock any of the on-disc content, you’re looking at every single publisher having to employ Microsoft to generate authorization codes that allow players to access the game. Then you’ve got support queries to worry about. What happens if a game doesn’t authorise for some reason? Does the gamer call Microsoft, or does the publisher have to go to the expense of hiring a bunch of new support staff to deal with the higher call volumes? If Microsoft doesn’t control the authorization servers, what happens in three years when a publisher (THQ, ahem) goes bust, and millions of dollars’ worth of unsold titles are still sat in retailer’s stock rooms, waiting to be shifted as part of the next seasonal sale? After having to dump that stock at firesale prices (or just throw it out) - would the retailer order as many copies of the next big game and risk being burned again?
With all this in mind, and despite all the rumours and speculation, we’re firmly of the belief that Durango will play your used games, borrowed games, rented games, and brand new day-one purchases. Microsoft knows all of this stuff. You can rest easy, as we reckon that the worst that’ll happen is that content passes for online play will become a little more common.
Well, we hope that’s all that’ll happen, anyway. If we're wrong, then we'll have to put this one under the old "you can't win them all" heading.
What do you think about the rumour? Would used games being blocked affect your purchasing decision? Drop your vote below.
If Used Games Were Blocked, Would You Still Buy Durango? (13 votes)
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