It’s an issue that the games industry will have to address sooner or later, and Sony’s PlayStation 4 has been rumored to do just that in some controversial ways: used games. Even when Sony Worldwide Studios’ Shuhei Yoshida stated that the PS4 wouldn’t block used games, he did so using some particularly evasive language.
So which is it Sony? Blocking used games, or putting the consumer experience above all else? The company isn’t clearing up their plans just yet, but is promising that they intend to do right by both the developers/publishers, and the gamers.
The first shot across the bow of used games outlets like GameStop (mostly GameStop at the moment) came when reports surfaced of a patent filed by Sony specifically to restrict or deny playing of a pre-owned game disc. The patent filing followed on the heels of earlier rumors that the console would be built to recognize used games, and was enough to drop GameStop’s stock by 5%.
Speculation and concerns have run rampant since Sony’s PS4 event failed to touch on the subject, with Sony Worldwide Studios’ VP Michael Denny the latest to weigh in in an effort to calm the fears of used game owners. Speaking with CVG, Denny claims that the used game market is too big to ignore:
“It’s a massively important issue and I understand why it’s one that keeps coming up and will keep coming up, because people want to know what the exact stance is…At this moment in time the announcements have been about our philosophy and vision for PlayStation 4, our motivation to put the gamer at the heart of it and why we’ve got the development community on it.
“In relation to points like that, of course we’re mindful of what the game development community wants and what the wider industry issues are with those things. I think in good time that will become clearer.”
While Denny’s decision to repeat the press conference’s theme of ‘putting the player first’ presents a strong sense of corporate cohesion, savvy readers will notice that he didn’t actually address gamers’ concerns. But even though the company isn’t ready to talk specifics, Denny is asking fans for a bit of faith:
“It’s not something that I feel I have any further announcement or comment to make on, other than to acknowledge with you that it’s a massively important issue and of course we are going to do the right thing.”
Perhaps Sony is only now realizing the drawbacks to being the first console manufacturer to announce, as games media and press outlets are all too aware that both Microsoft and Sony recognize the used games market as a problem that needs to be fixed. Whatever Microsoft chooses to reveal at their rumored event this April, it will be interesting to see how they handle the ‘used games’ compatibility question.
The dilemma is easy to understand from the publisher’s standpoint: a wholly digital marketplace is not yet feasible (the words of EA CFO Blake Jorgensen), meaning physical retailers and discs are still required to meet consumer demand. As long as there are physical copies of the game, the ecosystem of returning those games for future credit thrives, and retailers can sell that used game to another consumer for a lower price, and take the profits of a game they did not make (repeatedly).
Manufacturing a console that recognizes a pre-owned game and either forbids play, or simply requires a transfer of ownership (at a cost) tackles the issue by ‘punishing’ the consumer, not the retailer – the retailer that puts the game on its shelves, making sales possible in the first place.
Regardless of when Sony decides to either form or reveal a plan, it’s clear they’re making decisions that will polarize some parts of the community. No transferring of PSN purchases, no need for an always-on internet connection, tiered PSN subscription types, and a brand new piracy prevention plan all show they’re interested in far more than games for the foreseeable future.
Where do you fall on this debate? Leave your opinions in the comments.
The PlayStation 4 is expected to release come Holiday 2013.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.