The Next-Gen: Good for Gamers?

If you follow gaming news, it’s been quite the few weeks for game consoles. Microsoft’s successor to the Xbox360, the XboxOne, has been making waves with all sorts of announcements about its new “features,” leaving many to wonder just what exactly will be the status-quo for the so-called “next-gen.” To say that Microsoft’s new console has a few restrictions would be major understatement. There are nearly too many to list, but the big ones are a severe restriction on used games (if publishers decide to allow them at all), and a required Internet check-in every 24 hours in order to play any games — even offline, single player campaigns. A decent amount of gamers and gaming sites are up in arms over these requirements, and I myself haven’t been above the occasional rant on twitter. There’s good reason for this, though – Microsoft has taken the first step in fundamentally redefining consoles and game ownership. How did we get to this point?

One word: publishers.

Obviously, Microsoft was trying to please somebody with these new restrictions or they would’ve stayed with the current system, and it should be pretty obvious we’re not talking about consumers here. Game publishers have been trying for years to discourage the sale of used games – blaming it (together with piracy) almost exclusively for their economic difficulties — never mind the fact that everyone else is living in a tough economy too. Hence, we get unpopular schemes like the Online Pass.  I won’t get into too much detail about how the publishing industry is often royally mismanaged, has unrealistic expectations, and simply doesn’t understand cost vs profit, but, suffice to say, the arguments often employed against used games don’t hold up when used with other media (like movies or books).

It’s especially odd when you consider that the Xbox One will restrict used games and require 24-hour check-ins for games, but will have absolutely no restrictions for Blu-rays or DVDs (a technology, I may point out, that is nearing its twentieth year of existence).  It’s like Microsoft is basically saying “Gamers aren’t trustworthy, we need to verify that they’re not cheating us out of money.  Movie watchers?  Yeah, they’re totally fine.  They can do what they want.”  It’s a double standard that treats gamers like second-class citizens. (Microsoft’s and Sony’s refusal to support backwards compatibility for games but support it for an aging movie format is an additional slap in the face to gamers).  Developers and publishers deserve money for their hard work, I get that, but they’re not entitled to screw consumers with policies just to make a few more dollars.

Of course, it should be noted that, while a lot of ire is rightly directed at Microsoft for its restrictions, console competitor Sony has been remarkably silent on how the PlayStation4 will deal with these same issues.  Given the huge sway that publishers have on the console market, I’m not holding my breath that Sony will suddenly go against the will of publishers and keep the current system of restrictions to a minimum.  Obviously, if Sony had no restrictions and the XboxOne had all those restrictions, there would be a huge disparity between consoles that might fracture third-party support (though it would make a remarkable control group in a grand experiment).

So, where do I stand on the issue?  If you couldn’t tell, I think it’s appalling.  These restrictions are elitist at worst and anti-consumer at best.  It’s enough to actually keep me from buying any consoles in this next generation, and I’m a die-hard console gamer.  Already, I have zero interest in an Xbox One (regardless of what exclusives get announced), and I’m bracing myself for a formal announcement from Sony on their position with regard to these restrictions.  If it came to skipping this generation, it wouldn’t be an easy decision to live by, but I believe it’s one of the few ways that publishers would actually listen.  After all, since most publishers only care about the bottom line, they’ll push the boundaries of what they can get away with until it affects their sales.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure how many other gamers would stand with me on that one.  Given how limited our options are for consuming game content — especially if you prefer consoles — many gamers simply have to make due with what publishers decide.  That’s the way it’s always been.  But maybe they’ve gone too far this time.  I don’t know, but I have seen much more anger directed at publishers over the last few weeks than I’ve seen before.

Will it stop people from buying?  Too early to tell.  E3 is this week, and Sony and Microsoft both will be attempting to make gamers forget about any misgivings they may have had towards their respective consoles.  Gamers are particularly notorious for complaining, getting caught up in the hype, and then their spending money anyway.

But this is one gamer who’s had enough, and has gone from a die-hard console enthusiast to a potential boycotter.

At least there’s always Nintendo.


EDIT:  Well, that was surprising.  A few hours after I made this post and despite my earlier thoughts, Sony came right out and took concrete stands against all the restrictions the XboxOne has taken — including with used games and online check-ins.  And the reaction was electrifying.  Not only has this left me quite relieved (I don’t have to boycott this generation’s consoles!), but it’s certainly made this next-gen far more fascinating.  It’s turning out to be Sony and the Developers Vs. Microsoft and the Publishers (Hence, we see publishers like EA pushing their games to the Xbox One first — perhaps this is MS’s reward for restrictions the publishers like?).  One thing’s for sure, I’ve been firmly pushed into the pro-Sony/anti-Microsoft camp now, and I don’t typically like to take sides in the console/fanboy war (though this one is for idealogical reasons).  Interesting times we live in.  I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts to come.


~ by digitallysmitten on June 8, 2013.

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