Next Gen Blues; DRM and You

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Over the last few weeks, hospitals across the nation have reported a spike in relatively minor injuries to patient’s fingers. Experts believe that what is now being called nailbiteranticipatitous is a direct result of the upcoming announcement by Sony teasing the release of the next PlayStation. Symptoms include biting one’s nails to the stub, severe anxiety, paranoid speculation, nausea, and death.

All joking aside, the rumor mill around the next generation systems has been pretty

ridiculous. Gaming sites and forums are circulating their own ideas, each rumor being more ostentatious than the last. And why not? We’re anticipating the Microsoft and Sony to launch a new console this year, and what do we actually know? Gamers have a right to be nervous. This is the equivalent of not knowing the presidential candidates two months before the election.

Except we’d all agree; the next generation in gaming history is infinitely more important.

The situation has become so insane that even GameStop has stepped up to the plate to address the rumor concerning replayability of used games in the next generation. For those of you who’ve either been asleep since last year or just not paying attention, President Obama was re-elected and various gaming groups and developers have speculated that the next generation of consoles will not support used games. This has launched one of the largest hissy fits in the history of gaming since everyone finished Mass Effect 3.

According to Rob Lloyd, CFO for GameStop, 60% of gamers will not buy a new console that restricts the use of used games. Since the survey was conducted by GameStop, whose profit model is built on paying players little to nothing for used games, then reselling the games for $2 to $5 dollars under the suggested new game retail price, I’m skeptical that the poll was entirely objective. This seems more like the NRA polling the fan base of Duck Dynasty about their views on gun control. In fact, Mr. Lloyd’s remarks come off more as a threat than an analytical statement based on facts. This begs the question; are gamers at risk of losing used games?

So what’s the damage? If you’re asking me (which I assume you are, since you’ve read this far into my article), the answer is none. Zip, zero, zilch. This rumor seems to be as vacant as most Detroit neighborhoods after the mortgage crisis. Here are a couple of reasons I firmly believe this.

First, if game developers or publishers wanted to lock gamers out of playing a used game, there’s nothing stopping them now. In fact, it would be incredible simple. If you’ve bought an EA game over the last few years, you know this. Remember that fun online pass that you had to redeem before you could take your game online? That’s not just some magic number; it’s a code that locks you out of part of the game (ON THE DISC) you purchased. If you’re anything like me, a couple of blood vessels in your brain exploded when you first saw this.

While that’s all well and good (not really, but I couldn’t think of a better transition statement), but what if you bought the game used? That’s fine; you can buy a pass for around $10. Now let’s do the math. You save $5 by buying the game used, and now you’ll have the privilege of shelling out $10 dollars to play online. If you’re a publisher, you’re hoping gamers will do that math before getting to the sales counter.

So far this system has worked, causing gamers to second guess their used purchases, especially considering the proliferation of online multiplayer options. Ubisoft, EA, and 2K are all offenders on our list, and each is desperately trying to squeeze in some trivial multiplayer option to “enhance your gaming experience” (translated: we’re adding something to every game to ‘enhance’ our revenue ‘experience’).

Now here’s the kicker; if they can lock you out of the online component of your game simply by adding a code, what’s stopping them from adding a code that locks you out of the game entirely? PC gamers know the answer: Nothing.

To play devil’s advocate, such codes only lock you out of online content. Adding codes that locked you out of the entire game would disenfranchise the margin users who don’t have online service. However, publishers have been very vocal about losing profits to used game sales. It’s doubtful that publishers would sacrifice profits to satisfy the margin offline audience, one that has been rapidly declining from a peak of 22% of users 3 years ago. Also, while rumors have flown that alleging that the next Xbox will only work online, it is more likely that this is an effort to push digital games and content rather than lock gamers out.

This brings me to my next point; the proliferation of digital games. Both Sony and Microsoft have made it clear that they intend to expand digital gaming. It’s easy to maintain and control, there’s no disc to lose or damage, and the system creators harvest the profits that would normally go to retail stores. EA has chimed in to say they’re onboard.

This would settle the used game dispute by offering games a glass-half-full option. The developers and publishers get their games off the “Used” selves while not restricting access and looking like that hipster friend you have that refuses to wear a costume to Halloween parties. Also, publishers looking for cost cutting tactics find this to be an appealing solution. With an average game costing $3 to $10 per unit to produce, and the average game selling around 2.5 million units… well, you can to the math.

If you’re not sold on the math, think about it logically, Captain. What does Sony or Microsoft stand to gain from restricting access to games on their systems? While publishers would gain a decisive advantage, neither company has anything to gain from limiting access. Sure, the argument can be made that added locks could push gamers towards downloading digital games, but the risk still exists that gamers wouldn’t accept the changes. Also, should one system choose to use software that restricts used games while the other doesn’t, the fanboys might find themselves turning coat.

When all is said and done and the smoke clears, we’ll all look back and laugh. Or cry. Or sob uncontrollable. Maybe. Anyway, there’s a lot to look forward to in the coming months. Avoid the rumor mills. Wait for confirmed reports. Or reports that look genuine…or reports you just want to believe. Who cares? But be careful; nailbiteranticipatitous is a terrible thing to have plastered on your headstone.

Author: Jimmy Sharp

Dylan Zellmer

I split time between games journalism and making video games. My love of it’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), fitness and my family define me otherwise.