Friday, June 21, 2013

XBox One: Playing a Bit of Devil's Advocate

People act like what Microsoft did with the XBox One's intended policy for game ownership was a transparent cash-grab that came out of the blue. In truth, we already have virtually the same system in place with games on PCs. Since consoles are really just PCs in a smaller box, why the different system? If Microsoft would have said "Every user has to buy a unique CD key to play a game," people would have understood what Microsoft was trying to do. They want the ownership of a game to be tied to accounts (ie, individual people) rather than to a physical copy of a disk. Instead, we're going to continue to have a system with two different methods of ownership:

1. the disk-based version will continue use the physical presence of an official disk to make sure the company got paid for the game (meaning you have to have the disk in your system to play, even if the game is installed on your hard drive).

2. the digital version will be linked to account ownership, meaning everyone who plays it on a different account will have to buy a unique copy (since it's the only way to make sure people using torrents or file hosts don't just share the game with ten thousand of their closest friends without the company who made it making a red cent from it).

So to everyone saying that they don't want to have to pay separately for every account (ie, every person) to play a game: you're already doing that for digital games. The only difference is Microsoft wants (or, I suppose, wanted) to extend that system to all games, regardless of the physical presence of a disk. They don't want to continue with two different methods depending on whether you installed the game from a disk or through digital download. (And maybe, just maybe, we could have gotten to the point where we could play on a console without having to have the disk in, meaning no more disk-swapping.)

I know what you're thinking (because it's what I'm thinking when I'm not playing devil's advocate): having a physical copy of a game disk is a fairly good way of ensuring that only one person gets to play a given copy of a game at a time ("fairly good" because of disk copying and no-disk hacks; no system is perfect). If we do away with that, we lose several staples of gamer culture:

1. The brick-and-mortar store. Physical stores are already in trouble because of not only digital distribution but gamers buying even disk-based games online. Not only will all those gamers (our own people!) lose their jobs, but we'll lose a little oasis where gamers can gather to chat, meet other gamers, find out about and try new stuff, trade in old games, and buy used copies.

2. Loaning a game to a friend so he/she can try it or play through it in a weekend, then give it back. How else are you going to foist your favorite old game on all your friends?

3. Waiting for a game to be out for a while so you can buy a used copy at the above-mentioned brick-and-mortar store, or even at a garage sale, eBay, etc. Instead, all prices will be mandated completely by the distributor. Don't want to pay ten bucks for a game that's been out a decade? Too bad. They control Arrakis, and spice must flow.

I can (and do) sympathize with all of these arguments, but in all honesty (and no longer playing devil's advocate), it boils down to this: it's a matter of time. Brick-and-mortar stores have been fading for a decade. It might not be this generation of consoles, but the writing is on the wall. Some may survive, but the large majority of games will soon be paid for and downloaded online. As for the disk-based format of game copy protection, it's archaic, and (in addition to my above points) it limits games by the size of the disk. You could argue that there are no games yet that take up 50 GB (the size of a dual-layer Blu-ray disk), but that's short-sighted. There will be.

The shift has already happened on computers. Practically all new games now require some form of digital registration linked to an account, and gamers aren't blowing their stacks over it. Isn't it time we stopped living in the past and accepted that Microsoft isn't trying to pull one over on us: they're just trying to catch up to where PCs have already been for years?

1 comment:

  1. The CD player on my computer stopped working for a while, and I didn't even bother fixing it until I needed to reinstall NWN. PC gaming, woo!