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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When Ownership Isn't Ownership

If the rumors are true, Sony and Microsoft may do what growing up and getting a career could not: make me quit video games.

You see, both Sony and Microsoft's next consoles are heavily rumored to have some pretty restrictive anti-piracy (DRM) and anti-used game (B.S.) measures, including requiring a constant internet connection to even play a game, as well as locking each specific game disc to a user's account (so long, GameStop, Gamefly, and rentals in general). The studios that make the games you and I play say measures like this, as well as the already troubled "online pass" measures on consoles and DRM measures on PC, are to protect themselves: they don't receive money from the sale of used games, therefore they believe it's hurting their business.

In other words, they've never spoken to car manufacturers. Or book publishers. Or Hollywood in general... all three have their work sold used, borrowed, and so on, and yet they're all fine. In most cases, thriving, actually.

The truth is these measures are part of an increasingly disturbing trend of anti-consumer practices being pushed by game studios and supported (apparently) by Microsoft and Sony. These practices are even apparent in both console manufacturers' latest terms of service agreements, which (as we pointed out on an episode of The Geek Cave) basically say you don't own the games you've purchased -- what you own is a license to play them that can be revoked at a company's choosing.

They argue that used games mean people playing on an online server they haven't paid for. True, they haven't paid for it, because the person who bought the original copy of their game did. They're just taking that person's place. The company has already received the money for that spot on the server, they just want to double-dip.

They argue that if something's not done, used games will continue to snatch profits away, making them less likely to have enough spare cash to try taking risks with future (and unproven) IPs. Too bad that used games have literally been around for as long as console gaming has, and yet, the market didn't die when people started borrowing and loaning NES games. Or SNES, Genesis, PlayStation, Saturn, Xbox, N64, Dreamcast, PS2, and Gamecube games, for that matter...

What's especially troubling with the trend of "online passes" is that for those who actually do go out and buy a game new, glitches and problems on the companies' end can sometimes keep those "legitimate" customers from actually being able to access the content they paid for, while the pirates that these companies claim to be fighting with these restrictions are already playing, online, on the very companies' servers, because these measures DON'T. STOP. PIRATES.

When Nintendo announced the Wii, Sony and Microsoft didn't take them seriously. Who would? A childish invention, with lower graphics, and a lower price tag? That didn't have all the bells and whistles as the PS3 and Xbox 360?

Yeah, we know how that turned out.

And if these practices continue, the only system that's not being mentioned in the rumors -- Nintendo's Wii U -- may be primed to repeat history.

It also may be the only place gamers can turn to if they don't want to be suspected of thievery every five minutes.