For the last couple of years, rumours have been flying about the next generation of video game consoles. Since, at least, the introduction of the Playstation 2 and original XBox, it seems as though the balance of power (and money) in video gaming belonged to the consoles. Very few if any big games weren’t released on console. However, with some of the recent rumours about the PS4 and the XBox 720, the console manufacturers could destroy themselves to help publishers.
Currently, there is a massive ongoing project ongoing among publishers to find a way to minimize the loss of revenue from people buying or trading for used games. The most common practice right now is the use of the “Online Pass.” These games come with a code to allow them to access online content (multiplayer, free extra content, etc.). That online pass code only works once. After it’s been entered, if you want to use that copy of the game online, you need to buy an online pass which usually costs about $10.
For the next generation of gaming consoles, Sony and Microsoft are rumoured to be taking the need for the Online Pass out of the hands of the publishers and developers and taking care of it on the consoles themselves. Both the future PlayStation 4 and XBox 720 (code-named Orbis and Durango, respectively) are rumoured to have some sort of anti-used games functionality built into them.
While no specific anti-used games functionality has been leaked for the 720, the PS4 does have a specific process rumoured. According to Kotaku, the PS4/Orbis will lock a game to a specific PSN account. For some people, this wouldn’t be an issue because you’ll only have one person using a PS4 and hence only one PSN account. If you’re like me and have multiple people, each with a PSN account, using a single console, then you might all be able to play the game offline using the one account but you have to decide ahead of time who’s playing online. A Kotaku article about the XBox 720 also speculates that Microsoft would use a similar approach to replacing the online pass and giving publishers a revenue stream from used games.
Not worried about playing online? Well, I’m not much of an online gamer either apart from ModNation Racers and occasionally with the Uncharted and LittleBigPlanet series. However, it seems as though you’ll need to be always online to play your PS4.
There is some leeway in interpreting the rumours. Even Kotaku admits that the “always online” rumour might just be a misinterpretation with games only needing to be authenticated online (by linking to a PSN account) to play a game at all. If the one-time authentication is the was Sony goes, perhaps the game gets linked to that console which allows you to play that game with multiple PSN accounts linked to that particular console.
If you do buy or borrow or rent (not that you have any incentive thanks to the online pass) used games, you’re not completely hosed. Sony will let you play the game in a sort of trial mode until you pay up for the online pass. Since Sony would be the force behind the online pass, who knows how much of the pass fee they’d pass on to developers so maybe there’s hope that developers would insist that the PS4 does something else.
And all this doesn’t mention the fact that Sony’s PS4/Orbis won’t have any compatibility with PS3 games. I’ve got a large library of PS2 games that are gathering dust because my PlayStation 3 isn’t backwards compatible. And that’s a shame because it wasn’t for a year after I got my PS3 (which was about two years after the initial launch of the console) that I was able to amass any sort of game library of substance without bankrupting myself. At least I could pick up my old classic PS1 games (like Ape Escape, Final Fantasy 7, the Spyro the Dragon series, the Crash Bandicoot series, etc.) and play them to kill some time. We might not even get that option with the fourth iteration of the PlayStation.
Current rumours and media reports indicate that both the PS4 and the XBox 720 will launch in late 2013. Only Sony seems to have a developer kit ready for its next generation console which would indicate they’re more likely to reach the market in 2013 than Microsoft. That leaves us some eighteen months between now and any prospective next-gen console launch. It’s a lot of time for the console manufacturers to change their minds about how they’re going about dealing with used games (and backwards compatibility).
While I realize that Microsoft and Sony and the countless developers and publishers are all businesses and all operate in the pursuit of growing shareholder value, that doesn’t always mean pursuing every last dollar you can squeeze from your customers in order to grow your profit. Having a loyal customer base (and it used to be the case in the console wars that you were either with Sony or Nintendo or Microsoft or even Sega) who will consistently provide you future revenue is one way to grow the value of a business over time. Sony and Microsoft can make a few bucks now with this scheme but if they go through with it, will people actually buy a next-gen console at launch or wait until PS3/360 games aren’t being made anymore and then pick up a discount console?
As it stands right now, I’m thinking that I’ll be buying high-spec gaming laptop before I pick up a PS4. And I get the distinct feeling that I won’t be alone in forgoing the next crop of consoles as long as possible.