Four months ago, Sony filed a patent that would essentially make used games for a new system (read: the PS4) non-existent. Two weeks ago, the internet found out, and of course lost its collective shit.
So what’s everyone worried about?
The basic idea of the patent, US Patent 20130007892, is this:
…right. In English, what’s happening is that a tag is generated that will lock a copy of a game to one specific system, rendering used games, borrowing games, and passing games down to friends completely useless.
Boy, that sounds awesome right?
But I get it, Game Industry. You don’t like the used game market. (And let’s be real, that means Gamestop.) You want the sale – any sale – of your games to allow you to see money. After all, it’s your game being sold, right? And because of the trade-in shenanigans happening out there, companies have created this whole market that you simply can’t get your hands into. Irritating, I’m sure.
Let me first make this very clear. I support game developers. I have never pirated a game. (Seriously.) I don’t mod systems. I buy new games. I buy supplemental products to support developers I love. I buy downloadable content to continuing playing games by said developers.
But I’m the same girl that still buys cds to support the traditional music industry that is slowly going the way of the buffalo. The majority of people don’t care about having a physical copy of a cd; they don’t care about the art and design, and they don’t care about the pleasure of having a real, tangible collection of every album by an artist. (Well, maybe my fellow NIN fans understand this…but we’re certainly a dying breed.) With music moving almost exclusively to a digital format, the big record companies are suffering, but bands are now able to be in total control over how and where they distribute their music without depending on their big record deal to get their name out there. They’re just cutting out the middleman (and using the internet instead).
And the game industry is going that way. If the success of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead and That Game Company’s Journey are any indication, we’re going to end up in a download-only environment relatively quickly. And while Journey was published by Sony, Telltale Games not only developed but also published The Walking Dead, obviously to great success. So if digital distribution can decrease the cost of publishing, why wouldn’t developers want to start self-publishing more of their games? I know there are other costs publishers cover outside of just manufacturing; there’s advertising, distribution, market research, licensing, and you know…the whole funding of development in the first place.
But my point is, if you remove manufacturing, that’s one less thing a developer has to rely on a publisher for. Same as the band not relying on the record label, it’s making it more possible to just do it on their own. Game developers no longer need publishers; they have a choice. And if they choose to do things themselves…well, the less money a publisher makes.
If the choices to combat both piracy and used games are moving to an all-digital model or figuring out a way to lock content on disks, well suddenly it makes more sense why publishers may want things to stay on-disk just a bit longer.
So publishers have worked themselves into a funny little corner. They want to keep disks around, but they don’t want people to copy them. Or resell them. Or share them in any way because that means someone’s getting money when they’re not. So what to do? Lock them down so they’re one-time use, obviously. It works for the PC right? (Except not really…because I think we all know how absurdly easy it is to torrent almost any PC game out there.) Valve found an amazing DRM model through Steam that I support, and you know why?
Because it doesn’t make you feel like you’re forced to use their system because you can’t be trusted to not steal their precious games. It lets you buy things easily, install them whenever and wherever you need to, and not worry about losing the physical cd and key. It’s not perfect but it’s sure as hell a pretty solid model, and it makes you feel like they’ve put this system in place to make things easier for you. And even though I’ve (legally) lost the ability to pass a game on to my friend when I’m done with it, Valve’s not immediately treating me like I can’t handle the responsibility of having a freaking game.
If the reason to move to a digital platform is due to ease of distribution, convenience for the user, or the ability to speed up the development process by bypassing the manufacturing phase in order to get games into the players’ hands quicker…then that’s totally acceptable to me. If the reason we’re doing it is to destroy the used games market, I’ve got more of a problem with that.
Here’s the thing. If I buy a new game from Gamestop, that publisher and developer have gotten their money. Say I pass that game onto my buddy. Sure, they didn’t get more money, but what did they get? A new fan, potentially. Someone who will play a story and then purchase DLC, pre-order a sequel, participate in online discussion about the title, spreading the word and getting the game more publicity. And that’s ok, right? I don’t know of any devs that have complained about fans passing their games onto their friends.
Now say instead of just passing on that game to a friend, I go back to Gamestop and trade it in. I take my credit and put it towards a new game, and my old copy gets resold to another gamer. That gamer gets a bit of a deal, and that extra money in their pockets may mean that they may be more likely to go home and grab that DLC if they like the game. So the dev doesn’t get any money from that used game sale, but where does the money for DLC purchases go? Not to Gamestop, that’s for sure.
When a car is resold by a used car dealer, does the manufacturer expect to make money off of that? No. At the risk of sounding entitled and ignorant, why should they? They made their money on the first purchase. Now I’m not crazy; I know that a $60 game does not equal a $30,000 vehicle, and the car has deteriorated over time while the game has not, but it’s the principle of the matter. Why should games be so different? What other industry gets a profit from secondhand sales?
And in all of this, while the industry is vilifying Gamestop for making a profit on their used products while they make relatively little on new product, where do services like Gamefly come into play? Gamefly, the service that purchases games with an additional license in order to allow subscribers to play games totally risk free for a marginal fee, and send them back when they’re done with zero chance of buying DLC unless they decide to buy that now used game from Gamefly or they (heaven forbid) want to play the multiplayer content that’s been locked onto the disk unless you pay $10 for an access pass. Somehow that’s less of an offense than Gamestop?
Doesn’t that just scream, “We don’t give a shit about the consumer” to anyone else? Aren’t all these access keys and multiplayer codes à la Gears of War 3 and Dead or Alive 5 kind of ruining things? If the only way for a publisher to make sure their game is useless to its second owner is to put multiplayer on it in some way, regardless of need or quality (I’m looking at you, Ninja Gaiden), it’s going to kill single player gaming. Time, money, and effort that could be spent on really fleshing out an awesome campaign is going to be split in order to get some kind of stupid multiplayer mode onto every freaking game.
I don’t get it.
This is just me scratching the surface of the used game discussion, but when it comes down to it, this new Sony patent may not matter in the least. Hundreds of thousands of patents are filed that never actually see production; they’re just good ideas that companies want to make sure they have rights to in case they want them in the future…or to keep it out of the hands of their competitors. So while I think it’s unlikely we’ll see this in the PS4, it doesn’t mean we’ll never see it.
But I do think we’re gonna see some kind of push in attitude from publishers to kill the used games market. Time will tell if it’ll also kill the experience for the gamer community, too.