On the X-1, DRM, and Doritos
A month ago, Ben Kuchera wrote an article over at Penny Arcade about how awesome it is that “X Box killed used games”. He suggested that the X-1 DRM measures will be great for gaming because it will combat piracy and kill the used-games market (or leave it open but give the publishers double-dip profits), and this will, in his hypothetical and highly unlikely reality, lead to a cut in Gamestop’s profits and discounts of up to 90% in sales of digital-only, license-based games.
Now, hypothetical futures based on “PC Master Races” models are always amusing, but when those “hey, this may be could perhaps happen and maybe it will be cool” wishes come accompanied with strong claims like “Microsoft killed used games, that’s a good thing” then we have to question the accuracy of the piece.
Now, it MAY have been that, had Sony gone one Microsoft way, they could have “killed used games” – maybe. And for a while, that’s what people thought, when Trentton said that DRM policies on the PS 4 would be left to third party publishers. A few hours afterwards, however, Sony clarified that this policy applied to the online features of a game.
And so, what’s the result of this discrepancy between Microsoft’s and Sony’s stance?
As anyone can see based on Sony’s E3 conference, the enthusiastic “Sony!” chants, and the many consecutive ten seconds-long applause breaks, it seems like gamers (myself included) are actually on Sony’s side. Consumers want to own the games they pay for and be able to use them (or sell, trade, lend, or gift) without any restrictions, just as they would a car or a book.
And what is Microsoft’s response to the consumer and media backlash, the negative publicity, and the general hatred towards their policies? To suggest that people who don’t have internet stick with the 360 and to blame the video game journalists for lack of consistent messaging.
On my last post I said that I liked Microsoft and I wanted them to step up their game. I still do. I have much love for every other Windows OS (3.1, 98, XP, 7), I think that the Surface is the best tablet in the market, and I still love my 360 and most Microsoft studios. But I don’t like arrogance, and what Don Mattrick does in that video is beyond arrogant. It’s a complete snob of the gaming community. It seems to me that Microsoft has simply stopped caring about gamers (or has begun to take them for granted) and is thus shunning them in favor of whatever their new target demographic is. Nevertheless, this doesn’t represent a problem for me. I’ll simply follow his advice and not get an X-1. I’ll get a PS 4 instead. And if someone ever gifts me an X-1 for whatever reason, I’ll return it to the store or re-sell it. What’s more important than this tho, is how Microsoft blames the gaming media’s lack of “consistent messaging” for the bad press of their X-1.
Microsoft’s comments regarding the gaming press almost border on the appearance of thinking that the gaming press is nothing more than another PR arm for game companies. This has, in fact, been the case for a while. This is old news, I know, but these comments are worth remembering the “Doritosgate” incident (a stupid name if I’ve ever heard one). In this incident, a game journalist is sitting next to some Doritos and Mountain Dew with the look of death about him. The image was from a video where Geoff Keighley is responding to a highly scripted Q & A session. Rob Florence later published a piece regarding game journalism on Eurogamer which was edited and censored, regarding this issue. It was also commented on by other journalists. So what is the solution? Pattrick Garrat argues for a less cozy relationship between the publishers and the journalists. I think I agree.
The unique thing about game journalism, is that, unlike other forms of journalism, specially for those working in the review industry, it is more about opinion than about releases or investigation. Yes, every once in a while a game journalist will get some new tidbit of previously unknown information (the speculation preceeding every new console launch, this time around with the Durango, for example, is a great example of this), but the bulk of game journalism revolves around “here’s this game and here’s what I think about it”. This is one way in which game journalism differs from standard journalism. A news anchor’s job is to present the news in as unbiased a manner as possible. A media journalist’s job is to have an opinion – their job is closer to that of a commentator. Being in bed with the publishers will prevent them from doing their job ethically or credibly. Being in bed with publishers and being bought with game merchandise skews their perspectives, and – in the end – makes companies who are making bad choices feel entitled and attack the entire field of game journalism as “not having a unified message”.
But it shouldn’t have a unified message. It should have diverse opinions.
And on that note, let me return to my opinions on the PS 4 vs. X-1 DRM thing.
It’s great, I think, that the PS 4 is sticking with pro-consumer models, and while I’m glad that the X Box One seems to be taking heat from the gaming community, I’m a bit preoccupied with the REASON why Sony “won e-3”. Microsoft has DRM, Sony doesn’t. Sony won, not by doing something new and innovative, but by simply not taking away choices from gamers, as the X-1 does. Up until the end of this current 7th generation, gamers have taken for granted the ability to sell, trade, gift, or loan games. Now, thanks to the X Box One, it seems that what has so far been a standard practice has become a “feature”: The PS 4 has the “feature” of letting users do what they want with their games. I find this a bit troubling. And this, of course, goes back to the original claim from Kuchera’s article that the X-1 killed used games.
I don’t think that the X-1 killed used games. It seems to me more like the X-1 shot itself on the foot. However, it did open the door for others to try. And THAT is what is really the worst thing that can happen to the gaming echosystem right now.