There’s been plenty of buzz today about the unveiling of the Xbox One. Boasting updated hardware, revolutionized Kinect integration, and the ability to become the central entertainment hub for a living room, Microsoft is certainly pushing the envelope on gaming as we know it. They’re not only doing this through raw processing power or ease of use, they’re shaking up one of the cornerstones of gaming: used games.
Now it’s been known for some months that the Xbox One requires a constant internet connection, but according to Microsoft, Xbox One will not always have to be connected and using bandwidth. Even still, this point is moot because without an internet connection a large host of features will be rendered useless. It may not be necessary to remain connected to play single player games, but if a user wants their game data synced to the Azure cloud, updated, or anything that involves getting online such as unlocking Achievements, a connection will remain mandatory.
So where does this leave used games? How will they be implemented in regards to the Xbox One? Microsoft has stated that all games will be installed from the disc onto the hard drive of the respective console. From here the game will be registered to the user’s account and if they decide to share the game with a friend, that friend will have to, in effect, purchase the game for their own account. (Microsoft has officially stated that there will be a fee, but whether that fee is synonymous with “full price” remains to be seen.) Now they’ll only have to pay the fee if they decide to play the game on their personal account instead of the friend’s. So in theory games can still be borrowed, but only if one condition is met. The account that the game was originally registered to must be used in order to play the game on a different Xbox One console. This requires that the owner of the game either be present while the borrower is playing or that they share their credentials. Otherwise the borrower has to foot the fee, as mentioned earlier.
Honestly, this is an extremely sloppy and ineffective solution to the question of used games for the next generation. For decades games have been exchanged between players. Friends, family, and acquaintances have shared games for much more than just to experience new titles. These interactions have pre-dated the mass marketing of game reviews that we see currently. Word of mouth was and still is pivotal in what gamers decide to play. Even with the billions of dollars companies and corporations pump into advertising a product, the integrity of said game hinges upon the opinions of individual gamers and how they relay this to their fellow players. This unofficial forum through relational interaction is one of the few unsolicited mediums through which gamers can get honest opinions regarding titles.
That being said, inhibiting this core element of gaming only further increases the power of mass marketing influence that publishers wield. It’s bad enough the average consumer, hardcore gamer or not, is bombarded with a slew of flashy advertisement for many hours a day. These are same adverts that appear in every arena the consumer may find themselves in such as browsing the internet, watching television, listening to the radio, or even in print media and magazines.
Another force that is eroding this foundation of players-informing-players is games journalism itself, especially in regard to reviews. While it’s not true that all games journalism websites lack honesty and fairness in their reviews, a growing number of sites are succumbing to the pressures of publishers. In particular, we have sites that are receiving funding from a number of publishers and companies that in turn expect great reviews for products regardless of the quality. And said companies may issue ultimatums by threatening to pull advertisements. This life blood of new sites and existing ones may be at stake if a review highlights some key issues that could impact sales. Publishers and companies can put the squeeze on such critical funding, essentially coercing reviewers to adhere to certain standards.
So when you have few games journalism outlets that are staying completely honest about games and companies that are drowning consumers in bright and colorful advertisements that may not reflect the final product, who is left to turn to for a second opinion? Consumers, and by extension gamers, are the ones who will offer the most honest criticism because they’re all in the same situation for the most part. Here’s X game that looks attractive, fun, and worth $60, but is that the truth? Reviewers are raving about it, giving the highest scores, but is that the whole story? The power of the players and used games comes into effect because through this medium of exchange, gamers as a whole and as a community can actively see what companies are producing the best games. As a whole they can see what publishers are sticking by their word in regards to DLC or future updates. As a whole they can see what companies and developers really care about players and offer something that’s worth investing money and/or time into.
The path Xbox One is taking is not in the interest of gamers although it may seem the contrary. It’s bigger than publishers and developers disagreeing with used game outlets like Gamestop that solely profit off such a market. It’s about controlling the market in such a way to ensure that many games, regardless of caliber or quality, are just pushed and sold. If the game remains popular for multiple years and support is dropped for it, gamers on the Xbox One will be pigeonholed into buying it in full anyway. Sure the price may be slashed after some time, but more often than not there will be a sequel or updated version, so why even bother? A large part of video games has become a popularity contest where whoever markets the best and the most will push their games. The way Microsoft is handling the Xbox One will perpetuate and intensify this. Games without the ability to market aggressively will inevitably fall through the cracks.
And this is the true power of used games. The ability to give nearly all games a fighting chance to be played has been present in the used game arena for years and has allowed many developers to convince publishers to produce similar games based on such “inside” reception. Beyond Good and Evil, Shadow of the Colossus, Grim Fandango, Heavenly Sword, Bayonetta, and a plethora of otherwise “obscure” games have been brought into the spotlight by the grace of players who picked up these games and made it point to spread the word. With the type of protocol Microsoft is purporting with the Xbox One, they’re attacking a fragile and important piece of gaming that everyone benefits from. To remove this is to remove reflection on the past, something that has aided the evolution of video games from a niche hobby in the late 80’s to a world-wide phenomenon currently.