Long before Sony revealed the PS4 and Microsoft revealed the Xbox One, many websites were reporting on the rumors of very strict DRM on both platforms. Microsoft has taken the bulk of the heat since their reveal for a number of reasons. At first they were very coy about their plans, but since then they have “cleared the air,” but the problem has only gotten worse. They came out with confidence about most of their DRM plans, but many informed gamers are not too keen on the idea. Sony, on the other hand, is sitting back and not saying much, only offering slightly troll-like tweets and saying it’s up to the publishers. Some people have taken Sony’s major radio silence as a good sign, while others have seen it as they’re just waiting to announce the same plans Microsoft has. While DRM is not new, it’s existence on consoles is disturbing to many.
What Microsoft is doing with their console makes sense in many ways. With the system of cloud saving that they have, tying the games to the accounts is the only way to do it. They’ve also been clear that they are leaving it up to the third-party publisher to opt in or out of supporting game selling. This seems very likely to be a push by those publishers to get some of the money lost in used game sales. This could directly coincide with EA dropping the online pass, and also (along with other companies) already abandoning the Wii-U, a platform on which Nintendo does not have such a system in place.
Sony, meanwhile, is making cheeky comments and saying they’ve heard all of the DRM complaints. Rumors have also come out that they once had similar plans but have since abandoned them because of the backlash. While, in a perfect world, the complete absence of such restrictive systems would be great on Sony’s next platform, the likelihood of that is slim to none. Let’s not forget: Sony is still a massive corporation, and corporations exist to make money. If publishers are forcing the hand of Microsoft to implement the ability for them to regulate used games, Sony must follow suit to have those publishers develop for their system.
While forms of DRM like this are not new, the environment is where the problem exists. PC gamers have dealt with this for many, many years. Nontransferable CD keys have existed longer than many gamers have even been alive. Even now, Steam has an extremely restrictive DRM in place that it seems many people don’t think about. If you haven’t, the gist of it is those games you own, you don’t actually own. How do they get away with that? Dirt cheap deals. I’m okay with the potential taking away of my games on steam because I paid $1 for them. Not everyone feels that way, but it’s how they appeal to the majority, many of whom do not realize such a restriction is in place. The most interesting question at this time is how Microsoft (and likely Sony) will market their console. With the realization that they will avoid surfacing that information at whatever cost, many consumers may be trapped, should they remain uninformed. Many a casual gamer may purchase the Xbox One based on name alone, to play their Call of Duty or the like, and not even realize that will not be able to rent a game. They may not realize they have hoops to jump through to play a game at a friends house, or even that they can’t buy or sell games on Ebay. Initial sales will be interesting as ever, but seeing how they drop or rise once word gets around will dictate the early success.
So why the uproar? With arguments that PC gamers have always had these problems, not to mention mobile gamers, why should console players feel so offended? Mostly it’s change, in general, but the console market was built to be opposite the PC market in not having to upgrade hardware and a try-before-you-buy system. Taking that away in the middle of gaming becoming more mainstream than ever could severely hurt things for video games as a whole. Unless console games drop severely in price, players could be less likely to buy a $60 game if they can’t get any of that money back. In a hypothetical world where Microsoft supports this DRM, and Sony does not, the market could be splintered in the opposite direction one might think. If publishers don’t get a slice of used game sales on Playstation 4 games, it seems likely they would make their new copies cost more. We could be looking at another N64, PSOne battle, so to speak.
With the press ripping into the DRM of future consoles, the business side of video games is coming more and more to the forefront. It seems we sometimes forget that many of these publishers sink very large amounts of money into video game projects, and a large percentage of used game sales means a large percentage of lost profit for them. Unfortunately, there’s likely to be many games who cannot afford to buy a bunch of full priced games, who currently use rentals to gauge whether they want to buy a game, and who buy used games to save money and pour in money for DLC. If they can’t afford a new game, they won’t buy DLC for it.
As someone who works at a video game store, it’s very interesting to me to watch the company advertise PS4 day after day and ignore the Xbox One altogether. Even walking into a GameStop as of today, you can see this in effect. From that standpoint it seems the behind-closed-doors conversations between retail companies and Microsoft/Sony indicate Sony is the horse to back at this point, so there might be reason to believe in their DRM policy, or lack thereof. (Sony has just as much to answer as Microsoft, after all) E3 is upon us in less than four days, during which hopefully all of our questions will be answered. For now, though, we have to use the facts we have, and see how the stories change post-E3.