It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the All-Digital future that gaming publishers are pushing us into. It’s not just a question of having a display case or the feeling of having something physical, but rather one of ownership. When someone buys a game they might not own the Intellectual Property of the game, but they own that specific copy of the game. If laws regarding other media are anything to go by, just as a person is able to pick up a book and read it and write on it whenever they feel like it, people should be able to play (or mod) a game whenever they feel like it. And yet, it seems that now game publishers are eager to (once again) take away that freedom.
Kotaku recently reported that “in a few weeks, Minecraft: Story Mode will be impossible to download.” In our All Digital Present, this means that if someone paid for a STEAM copy of the game, they will no longer have access to that game. The publisher is essentially breaking into your home and stealing your copy of the book; except that because it’s just your STEAM account and it’s just a game it’s somehow ok.
Note: On the second half of the post, I propose a mode for physical and digital distribution of games that, I think, is the most interesting part of the post. If you’re one of the three major hardware companies, feel free to use it. Also, if you’re Steam, feel free to take some ideas from it.
Turns out that Microsoft backpedaled on its decision to implement 24 hour DRM and region-locking the game. As a gamer, I’m fairly OK with this. As a technology enthusiast, I’m also pretty OK with this too. The thing is: I see a future where games are digital-only, but the way Microsoft envisioned it isn’t the optimal way of approaching this. I’m glad they went back on their policy. This still doesn’t make the X-1 a first day buy for me, as I’m really not a big fan of the forced Kinect, but if Microsoft decides to put out a Kinect-free version, THAT would persuade me to make a first day purchase. As it stands, I now see Microsoft as a contender. As it stands, if a few good exclusives come out after the first few years, I would buy the console. I think that a few Lost Odyssey sequels would do it for me. But anyway, that’s an irrelevant rant, really. What I want to write about today is what Microsoft tried and failed to do, and the reasons why it failed so horribly: pushing for an all-digital future.
Let’s start with the message that Microsoft put out versus what, in a best case scenario, Microsoft envisioned and should have said.
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.
Last night I wrote a bit about how the PS 4 has already won the 8th Generation console war without it having even started. As more information comes out, the PS 4 seems to e hands-down the console of choice. Today, I woke up to an article stating that the PS 4 will not be region-locked: players will be able to play imported games on their US consoles. Of course, the PS 4 will let users use Netflix and Youtube apps without the PS + membership (which I might get anyway). The only thing that’s missing for this to be a truly ultimate machine is backwards compatibility with all other Sony consoles. The PS 4 sounds great indeed.
But here’s what I really want to say: Microsoft, please step up your game. I was a big fan of the X Box 360 – I like it more than the PS 3. While I use the PS 3 for media streaming (watching Netflix with the family), I use my 360 for gaming. I have all multi-platform games on the 360 , and with the exception of some PSN Indie titles (Unfinished Swan, Journey, etc), I think the 360 is a better gaming machine with better games. The XL indie market is thriving thanks to XNL, some of the more professional indie games in XL are of incredible quality (Dust comes to mind), and with very few exceptions the 360 exclusives are more interesting than the PS 4 exclusives.
I want to like the X-1, I really do. But with 24 hour DRM checks, anti used-game policies, limited game showing, always plugged-in Kinect, and a focus on non-gaming, I really have a hard time liking it. So, Microsoft, please fix it.