Xbox 720: One Step Forward (and Two Steps Back)

Reading this over at Kotaku reminded me of GTA: San Andreas – specifically when you turned to K-Rose and the song One Step Forward was playing.

Microsoft, apparently having learned from the HD-DVD debacle has decided to use Blu-rays for its next iteration of the Xbox console. They’ve also decided to incorporate a feature that will prevent the playing of “used” games. While a surprise, this isn’t without precedence: many games these days offer unique features that can only be activated per console. This varies from an extra item to even an entire game mode. In defense of game companies, well:

 There is a lot of logic there. If I were to go and pick up a used copy of Mass Effect 2, Bioware wouldn’t see a cent. Once that shrinkwrap comes off, it’s out of their hands. That’s one of the reasons why stores like Electronics Boutique or GameStop love the whole trade-and-save thing. You can trade in your copy of whatever and get a few bucks in-store credit. GameStop can then resell that game for something like $20. Everybody, except for anyone who had anything to do with making the game, wins. I’ve bought used games before, obviously. There are some titles that 1) cannot be bought new and 2) are not worth buying new. I’ve always appreciated the fact that I can buy games used to save a few dollars.

To some extent as well, the price gouging done by stores that offer this is a little sickening. I haven’t traded in a game for years because getting a few dollars for a game isn’t really that appealing to me. I’d rather sell it to a friend or just keep it on my shelf. I don’t like the prospect of getting a buck or two and then for the store to turn around and sell it for 10x what they gave me; something about that doesn’t seem right.

On the other hand, there are obviously people who do this; people who buy a game, play it in a day and bring it for credit right after. While I’d argue you’re lessening the experience, in terms of dollars you’re definitely coming out ahead of everyone else. But that’s not me. I like to savor my games. I buy a lot of games brand new, but when there’s a used option — and it’s significantly cheaper than the new option — sorry, EA, I need to take it.

While I remain skeptical of how they’d implement such a system (as does the article’s author), I’m sure they’ll figure something out, such as tying a game to a Gamertag or whatever. Digital delivery through Xbox Live or the Playstation Network or EA Origin or Steam is already the first step in that direction. It’s an interesting one because what we’re seeing is the actual removal of the product that we’re buying. When you purchase a game through a digital delivery system, you are purchasing a copy of that game.

Imagine you have some kind of form that is used on a daily basis. You don’t have a computer, but you have that form and a photocopier. Every time you want to use that form, you make a copy and instead use the copy. That’s what’s happening here, in essence. My buying Mass Effect 3 through EA Origin does not remove one copy of ME3 from the world (as it stands, I’ve pre-ordered it for the Xbox): the original copy — the master copy — still exists. Digital delivery has always bugged me for that reason. I assume that there are a number of costs that go into a game. All those costs are tabulated and they slap a few extra bucks on top so as to make a profit. If I buy a digital copy, some of those costs (such as packaging) cease to exist. That’s why eBooks are so much cheaper than regular ones — there are fewer costs involved.

Anti-used games seems to me to be a step in the wrong direction. Do what EA does and tack on extras that only new copies can get, or sell used games yourself at a reduced price. Even offer brand new games on your store at a slightly lower cost than the brand new package and you’ll up revenue. Directly block people from buying used if you want to drive up piracy.


6 Comments on “Xbox 720: One Step Forward (and Two Steps Back)”

  1. And this is why I still pirate many games. There are a few I will actually purchase, and it’s mainly because I care about a particular game series (i.e. Fallout, Civilization, Portal) and want the producing company to know I want more installments in the future. But for games that are more of a one-off, I simply steal them. Also, while I have a Steam account, I do not ever buy a game on that system unless it is drastically reduced in price (Boxing Week sales, for example, saw 50% reduction in many popular titles) – I am stumped by people who pay full price for new releases on steam when the game has no distribution or packaging costs tacked on.

    • James says:

      I kind of agree with you — I pay often, but I don’t think bad and/or really old games are worth buying. I mean, if I want to play Starcraft 1, should I have to spend like $20 because I lost the CD?

  2. Jbieker says:

    It’s the classic issue of what are video games? Are they like computer software where an End User Liscence Agreement applies, or are they like CD’s and DVD’s where first sale doctrine applies, and it is against the law to restrict the used sale of goods, at least in the US?

    Furthermore, can developers create an ELUA that restricts first sale doctrine rights?

  3. Anth says:

    Please note that a lot of these websites are speculating about the new Xbox 360. Microsoft has reported time in and time again that they’re not developing a new console. They have repeatedly said that games haven’t maxed out the full potential and on the other hand Crytek says that they’ve already reach that limit with the latest Crysis.

    There has been reports that Virgin Media wants to negotiate profit sharing with game companies regarding used games if they drop the Online Passes. I’m pretty sure if the next Microsoft console (I’m hoping its not called the 720 that they’ll use such codes.

    • James says:

      Obviously it’s speculation! But Microsoft has said they’re aiming for 2013/2014; saying games haven’t “maxed out the full potential” seems to be a pretty spurious claim… because if you told people that the Xbox had maxed out its potential, people wouldn’t be quite so happy.

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