McGinnis: What do the new consoles mean for gamers?Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
We sit on the precipice of the next generation of video games. As the 2013 edition of the Electronic Entertainment Expo — better known by the abbreviation E3 — takes place, the future of interactive entertainment is in a state of flux.
Nintendo’s newest hardware, the Wii U, went on sale in November, drawing a fairly sizeable audience in its first month of sales. But its numbers have fallen off a cliff in the months since, and a lack of games has left the once-proud Nintendo scrambling to fix what ails its new brainchild.
This leaves the other big players in the modern console game — Microsoft and Sony — yet to play their hands. Each company officially announced its next generation systems at separate events earlier this year, but in both cases, the announcements left fans with almost as many questions as answers.
In February, Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4, the latest installment in its successful series of home consoles dating back to 1995. Along with a slate of games, both from existing franchises and new IPs, Sony demonstrated the new PlayStation’s revamped controller and compatibility with its struggling Vita handheld.
But there was a lot left unsaid — and unshown — in Sony’s presentation. For all that the company was proudly presenting about the new system’s capabilities and how it was working hand-in-hand with developers, initially it was surprisingly reticent to show the actual, physical console design. In addition, there was no mention of a price point for the new system or its games, although pre-orders on Amazon are now going for $39.99.
Microsoft followed suit in late May, announcing the impending arrival of the third in its Xbox franchise of systems — the rather puzzlingly titled “Xbox One.” Unlike its Sony counterpart, the Microsoft team showed the console’s design front and center, and proudly trumpeted a lofty goal of making the system the central piece of any home entertainment system. Xbox One can be pre-ordered for $499.99.
But people buy a video game console for, well, video games, and the Microsoft presentation was rather stunningly short on titles. Only a handful of games were presented at the event, of which a mere two were exclusive to Xbox. Then there were the questions of whether the system’s rumored “always online” feature was indeed part of its setup. (The answer finally came this past week: Yes, the system is meant to be constantly connected to the Internet, and will check every 24 hours to make sure it is, or it won’t play.)
The biggest unknown, however, is beginning to become clear — and it paints an ugly picture. Microsoft’s public clarification of its new system’s policies makes it plain how the company is viewing the sale of games from this point on. You’re not really buying a copy of a game, you see — even if you purchase a physical disc from a store. Instead, you’re buying the license to use the software, and there are a ton of caveats that dictate how and where you can use it — covering loaning it to friends, re-selling used games and so forth. And Microsoft’s legalese makes it plain that these licenses can be altered or canceled at any time.
To be fair, this type of license is kind of how it’s always been with the sale of software, even on disc. But rarely — if ever — has an industry used such agreements to clamp down so tightly on what can be done with a physical product after it has already been bought and paid for. This really has nothing to do with piracy or any other crackdown on illegal cuts into revenue streams. It amounts to yet another nearsighted attempt by the industry to police the sale of used games — a perfectly legal practice. (Sony’s recently released “Official PlayStation Used Game Instructional Video” pokes fun at Microsoft’s stance and can be viewed on YouTube.)
We live in a changing market where people “buy” software that is never really theirs all the time — MP3s, movies on demand and so forth. If the goal is to adapt that market to the video game sphere, however, the console manufacturers are attempting to do so by giving consumers all of that market’s drawbacks and none of its virtues, such as cheaper prices, the ability to pick and choose more freely, etc.
A balance between the two can be accomplished — Valve’s Steam software on PC is a perfect example of a virtual marketplace where many of the same restrictions exist, but the trade-offs give customers plenty of reason to be pleased with the service. But Microsoft’s policies point toward a different path. And at a time where more consumers are being lured by cheap, simple software, if the big console developers continue toward increasing complications for their most loyal customers — without offsetting them with any benefits — they are simply hastening the demise of their own market.
Tags: Jeff McGinnis