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Daily Reaction: What if Used Games Were Banned on PS4 & 720?

January 3, 2013 Written by Sebastian Moss

With Sony patenting a technique to potentially block used game sales, Daily Reaction discusses the impact a ban on second hand content could have on PS4 and Xbox 720.

Seb: It’s easy to think of what’s wrong with blocking used games, so I’ll first talk about why Sony and Microsoft would even consider doing it.

Dev costs have risen dramatically over the last gen, and Epic thinks they’ll spiral further out of control next gen. Developers are closing or moving away from the console business and publishers are investing elsewhere. As it stands currently, things are likely to get worse and worse, and the amount of games on next gen consoles will decrease. The thought among some industry pundits and publishers is that getting people who bought used games to buy new ones would help to bring in the necessary extra revenue to help keep the industry going.

Unfortunately, it’s very, very hard to work out how much money is really lost through used game sales. Quantic Dream believe that they lost between 5-10 million euros on Heavy Rain used game sales – but how many of those used gamers still would have bought it if it hadn’t been cheaper? And how many people bought Heavy Rain with money from traded in games?

A lot of people will argue that it’s not a huge amount of money, but in reality it certainly is. There’s a reason why GameStop was able to grow so large, and that’s because they took money away from the actual creators. Over the course of a year, that’s billions being taken away from the people we want to help fund so that they can make more games for us to enjoy. Lionhead went as far as to say that used game sales on Xbox has been more problematic for them than piracy on PC.

Sony also loses out on the commission they get on every game sale, which goes towards them making more games and consoles. There’s a strong argument for banning used games, but the idea has numerous, significant flaws which I’ll let Dan detail.

Dan: As much as I am a proponent for stopping the sale of used games, there are numerous difficulties that must be addressed when doing such. Given that the information regarding Sony’s patent is limited at this point, all views of the concept are vague and encompassing of the possibilities.

One of the options that have been brought up as a method to control who is able to play a specific disc to stop distribution of used games, has some inherent flaws that could potentially hurt one of the biggest pastimes for young gamers – trading games. If a specific disc is tied to a unique console or account, the ability for people who purchased a new copy of a game to give it to a friend to borrow and try out will now be a thing of the past. Having the barrier stopping gamers from using a ‘used’ game cannot show a distinction between someone borrowing a friend’s game, and those buying a used game from a store. While seemingly small, considering the loss developers theoretically lose from used sales, the inability to share games could limit the ability for younger gamers to enter into the gaming sphere at all.

Also, beyond the fact that you will not be able to share your collection with a friend, and they will not be able to share theirs with you, there are some issues that could arise for those looking to play by themselves. Given that a game could be tied to a console or an account, the possibilities of losing that console, or the password to your account, will now turn your collection into coasters or frisbees. Losing your password might seem far fetched for most of you, but having lost all of my Steam games from a 6 year old account, this is not out of the realm of possibility.

Looking past all of the issues that could plague consumers, the one issue that most seem to miss when trying to bash used game sales is our reliance on the retail market. Whether we like it or not, GameStop has had a profound effect on the games industry, and their ability to mass market gaming to everyone. The industry has flourished faster than anyone could have expected over the last 15 years, and the growth of GS and the retail market has played a huge part. If there was a method to restrict used sales on a permanent level, the bottom line for GameStop would fall out, and the gaming retail space will almost disappear. Given the introduction of shopping online, this might seem like a small price, but to those parents and loved ones shopping for a late gift, or even looking for help shopping will now have a harder time.

Seb: One actual positive benefit of having a system that links a specific disc with a specific account is what that could mean for cloud. Sony can’t give you a cloud version of every game you buy just like that, otherwise you’d buy tons of games, get them on cloud, and then sell the games. If they were linked, you could get a cloud version just like that (similar to UltraViolet, but hopefully not as awful). Currently, most would argue that that’s not worth the tradeoff, but it’s something to note as cloud gets larger. Ideally, the game could be linked to your account so you can play it on cloud, but then if someone else plays the disc it leaves your account just like the physical copy, so I can see some positive benefits of this patent.

Unfortunately, for any system that requires registration or linking, there’s going to have to be some sort of online component, and that makes me incredibly uneasy. It might not require always-on online, but even a one off online registration every time you buy a game would be problematic. Not everyone has a connected console, and I know my internet has crashed quite a lot. This barrier is one of the main reasons why I doubt Sony would embrace such a system.

Of course, if Sony is thinking about implementing this, they could only do it if Microsoft was also planning a similar move. Otherwise, a sizeable proportion of gamers would abandon ship and move over to MS.

Worst of all, this would end up causing a huge number of previously-respectable gamers to move to piracy, meaning that no one profits from the sale of the game. Widespread piracy – with many thinking it was justified – could be disastrous for the next gen.

Dan: Even though there are a number of problems surrounding the prohibition of playing used games on next gen consoles, I do think that something needs to be done from a manufacturing point. Linking a disc to a console or account will be problematic, and should only be done if there is a simple and eloquent way to handle the process that minimizes the problems for users. Sadly, that is very unlikely as it will require a number of DRM hoops that have not been received well in the past.

Luckily, even without a level of protection from either a DRM or some other form of protection, there has already been a successful way to compete against piracy and used game sales – Steam. Even though it has failed for me in the past, it has opened up the PC market like never before, and has even pushed sales during a time when almost every PC game had a pirated copy on the internet. The way it has achieved this is by having countless sales, and a seamless purchasing process that made it easy to buy, or gift a game to a friend. The one thing that can beat cost and piracy is laziness. Simply having something easier to do than going to a store or cracking a game can decrease used sales and piracy as people are always paying for convenience.

What do you think about used games sales? Should Sony try to increase revenues for developers, publishers and themselves or is the impact on consumers too severe? Let us know in the comments below, or by using us on twitter at Seb and Dan.

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