As a gamer growing up in the 1980's and early 90's, I have fond memories of lending and borrowing NES and SNES games with friends. How else would I have been able to experience so many fine games when I was limited to a $5 per week allowance?
Game trading, whether peer-to-peer or through retail, is a part of gaming culture. In this digital age, however, it's not as black-and-white as handing a game cartridge over to a friend. These days, games are largely stored on optical media or are digitally downloaded and stored locally on a hard drive. Because of this, gaming piracy has increasingly become a concern.
2013 is signalling a move to the next generation of video gaming - one that technically began last November with the launch of Nintendo's Wii U. Later this year, Sony and Microsoft are launching their own next-gen systems and the two companies couldn't be any more different when it comes to how to deal with the potential piracy problem.
The way Microsoft is going about things with Xbox One has been rubbing the majority of consumers the wrong way. While the company has been rather light-lipped about the exact details of the home entertainment system's DRM workings, what the company has stated has seemed to have injured the reputation Microsoft has with the gaming community.
As it stands right now, Xbox One requires owners to have the console check in online with Microsoft's servers every 24 hours. Should an Xbox One console fail to do so, any and all games on that system is said to cease working. Furthermore, Microsoft is manipulating how the gaming community deals in second-hand games whether traded among friends (which can only be done once and only if the receiving person has been Xbox LIVE "friends" with the original owner for at least 30 days) or bought used from a retailer.
Sony, with it's PlayStation 4, is going the opposite direction by imposing no such sanctions upon used and traded games and instead leaving that decision up to the game publishers themselves. The PS4 also lacks the mandatory 24-hour check-in for games to be played. In other words, Sony, like Nintendo with the Wii U, is not trying to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the nature of second-hand/borrowed games.
Respected analystMichael Pachter sees where Microsoft is coming from.
"I think Microsoft has done a few things that maybe show great vision and maybe shows they're a bit cocky," he told News10 after Sony's press conference Monday night. "I think Microsoft had a bold vision to make [Xbox One] instant. That created a DRM problem which means you have to log on once per day and that created the whole used game controversy because now suddenly Microsoft is monitoring what you do with their disks."
He continues, saying thatSony was smart to jump at the opportunity to one up the Seattle-based software giant.
"Sony seized the opportunity to exploit the difference and effectively all Jack [Tretton] said today was 'Status quo - we're just going to do the same thing we've always done, which is sell you a disk. If you want to take it to a friend's house, you want to sell it, you want to give it away, go for it'. You don't have to do DRM because you're playing off of a disk."
On the game creation side, there's a bit of a different view of the DRM policies (or lack thereof) of the next-gen platforms.
"Whatever the hardware manufacturers decide is what they decide," said Daniel Suarez, VP of Production on Activision's Call of Dutyfranchise. "For us, you know, we'll adapt and build the game to support the infrastructure that those manufacturers develop."
In other words, for game developers it's a case of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo setting the ground rules by creating the hardware and the game software companies playing by those rules.
"We have to adhere to those technical requirements when we deliver those games," Suarez stated.
Microsoft's Xbox One is set to release in November for $499 with Sony's PlayStation 4 retailing for $399. A release window for Sony's machine has yet to be determined. Nintendo's Wii U, which has no apparent DRM or used game restrictions, retails for $299 or $349 depending on hardware specs.