The next-gen consoles aren’t here yet but the first battle in the upcoming war has already begun. Sony planted their feet first, hosting a massive press conference in February for press around the world to unveil the PlayStation 4, ensuring that this time around, they’d beat Microsoft to the punch. The unveiling came with several game announcements and information on a lot of concepts, but the console hardware itself and its interface were nowhere to be seen, resulting in criticisms, including a few shots from Microsoft reps themselves.
Last week it was Microsoft’s turn and the Xbox One was unveiled. We saw the console, the dashboard and many of its home entertainment functions, but Microsoft’s lack of consistent and concrete details offered to media in attendance regarding its always-online policies, used games and hardware, resulted in a PR nightmare of sorts, and Sony couldn’t be happier. The reactions from the Xbox One reveal may actually be affecting Sony’s plans for the PS4.
You can see it on Twitter, across news aggregates like Reddit and N4G, and even here in the comment sections of Game Rant of each Xbox One article we write – some gamers aren’t happy with the news so far about the Xbox One, and not because of the overzealous focus on TV and sports, but because of how it may take away a lot of freedoms gamers are accustomed to.
Focusing on just used games, Wired first discovered from playtesting the console that console discs on the Xbox One must be installed. During installation, the games can be played so there’s no direct negative impact on gamers from this changing reality. The issue is what happens when we let our siblings or friends play on their consoles, or publishers forbid, we sell or trade the game. Various sources and interviews explained that if a gamer takes a console disc to someone else’s Xbox One, it’s free for them to play it so long as the original owner is logged in. If not and you want to let your friend/family/whoever play it, they have to pay a “fee” which we later learned may be the full retail price of the game.
All Microsoft’s Director of Programming, Larry Hryb (Major Nelson) would confirm is that there’s no fee to play the game while you’re signed in, implying that there’s definitely a few for when you’re not. Depending on the cost, with this concept, Microsoft could effectively end the used games market for Xbox One titles and cut out retailers like GameStop entirely. That’s not the case however, but Microsoft couldn’t offer a straight answer, although one source says there may not be any fee at all, just an authentication requirement to ensure ownership ends with the seller/first player and begins with the buyer/new player.
After the heated debates and mass confusion literally worldwide about the Xbox One’s used game support, Major Nelson took to his official blog to offer a tad bit of clarification, promising answers at E3:
“The ability to trade in and resell games is important to gamers and to Xbox. Xbox One is designed to support the trade in and resale of games. Reports about our policies for trade in and resale are inaccurate and incomplete. We will disclose more information in the near future.”
The singular reason any reports are “incomplete” is because no one at Microsoft can answer our questions. Why would any of this be a secret at this point? Any inaccuracies stem from the Xbox One presentation and interviews afterwards, interviews where outlets including Kotaku and Eurogamer were called back to re-interview Phil Harrison for clarification and in some cases were emailed followup explanations.
What we know is this: Microsoft has some sort of scheme in the works where they and/or publishers can charge some sort of fee in the transfer of ownership of a used retail game, but they aren’t ready to cut out the GameStops of the world yet – they can if they wanted to however. Playing your game digitally anywhere, so long as you’re signed in, is free of course, but letting a someone keep your game and play on their account is simply not allowed. They have to buy it in full or pay this myterious “fee.”
What does this mean for Sony? Sources of Spike TV’s Geoff Keighley indicate that while Sony is embracing the “white knight” feeling from not being the ones taking the blunt of the used games controversy heat, he’s heard Sony may have similar plans to enforce restrictions on used PS4 games. NeoGAF PlayStation information leaker FamousMortimer however – who accurately leaked details about the PS4 unveiling – claims that Sony does have a system to deal with used games but they’re dropping it in response to the Xbox One unveiling:
“The [gist] of it is that Sony is listening to the backlash that Microsoft (MS) is getting and they are basing decisions off of this. I would assume MS is also, but I don’t know that for sure. But I can say, for sure, that the past week’s PR nightmare for MS has not been lost on Sony and they, in fact, do have a used game ‘solution’ working and have been going back and forth for months on whether to use it. This past week is pushing them strongly into ‘Yeah, let’s not use that.'”
The poster has also started a rally of sorts, asking gamers to reach out to Sony PlayStation execs via Twitter to share their concerns about blocking or restricting used games on the PlayStation 4, using hashtags #PS4NoDRM and #PS4USEDGAMES. They even managed to get a fun response from Scott Rohde, SVP of Product Development, SCE Worldwide Studios America, SCEA.
Sony is listening and not taking the situation lightly, especially with mainstream print/TV/online media outlets highlighting the controversy and confusion surrounding the Xbox One unveil. While we don’t have concrete details on how the PS4 or Xbox One will handle used games just yet, we’re just two weeks away from finding out at E3 2013 – and the last thing either can afford to do, is piss off gamers around the world in the same year they’re launching head-to-head.
Let me know on Twitter @rob_keyes if used games will affect your console buying decision!