Editor: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
Yes, I know this is a topic that has been cut up, dissected, diced, thinly sliced and in some cases, torn apart bare-handedly in recent times, but to be quite frank, what the hell is going on with next-gen? While this is more a piece on the Xbox One than the PS4 going into E3, I’m quite worried about the fate of console gaming as it stands, as the systems put forward for next-gen consoles are looking increasingly invasive and restrictive, much like that very touchy-feely airport security guard. So what is going wrong?
Firstly, there was the always-online debacle. It was rumoured that the Xbox One (unnamed at the time) would require a permanent internet connection, much like games like SimCity and Diablo III (or “It looks, smells and works like DRM but it’s not DRM” and “Error 37”, as I like to call them). While these games were fairly successful, lots of controversy was placed on their online policies and users inability to connect to Blizzard and EA’s servers, and the rumour that the Xbox One would require an always-online connection spread like wildfire and culminated in the much-mocked Adam Orth’s “#DealWithIt”, and his subsequent termination from Microsoft. When Sony later announced their PS4 would not require an always-online connection, the world cheered; When Microsoft announced their daily sign-in policy the world asked “Why?” but accepted it as a better alternative to always online.
However, this doesn’t mean connectivity still isn’t an issue, as our recent conversations on social networks have shown. Specifically Friday afternoon, when a conversation between myself and several other users on Twitter on the Xbox One and the potential of a semi-permanent online connection was promptly interrupted by possibly the best sign of the existence of a higher power that I have seen to this date – instantaneously, what seemed like the entirity of South Africa’s ADSL network crashed, making us resort to our mobile connections to get back on the social networking site and make completely non-ironic comments which implied that this is exactly what we were talking about.
Secondly, the used games policy, which is a completely delusional one in my opinion, but also the one I’m most worried about. The Xbox One already has a policy which prevents the sale of used games to someone who has not been on your friends list for at least 30 days (enough time to take a look at our 30 Day Video Game Challenge) and subsequently blocks the game after it has been registered on its second system, so it cannot be sold again. This presents 3 major issues for me:
- Families with multiple consoles:
Owning multiple consoles is quite a common phenomenon, and will continue to be as long as gamers grow older and have children who may also be gamers. This means that a game can only be registered on those consoles and can never be sold. I’m not fully versed on the policy, but from what I understand, it may actually mean that the game can only be activated on one of those systems, and can only be transferred (and subsequently blocked), but I stand under correction.
- No more lending games to friends:
Remember going to a friend’s house, playing a game with them and at some point borrowing it, playing it, and giving it back? At this point in time, two of my friends have games of mine, I have a game which belongs to another friend and a fourth has a game which I previously played and gave to him. While the one I gave a game to would still be able to play under this policy, it means that my friends would not be able to play my games without blocking me from playing it, or blocking me selling it at a later date and vice versa. This really begins to kill of social gaming, as games are no longer interchangeable between friends. While this is good for profits as more people may buy the game, it is not good for gaming in my opinion.
- The used game and rental trade takes a dive into obscurity:
The final thing that would go to the dogs with this type of system is the trade-in and rental system seen at retailers such as BT Games and video shops around the country. If a game needs activation, one resale may be suitable, but more will render it unplayable to the buyer. The same goes with rental – a video game can be rented out twice before becoming unplayable for any future rentals. This kills renting a game that got average reviews but had a nice concept, and reduces the viability of buying or stocking second-hand games, despite their affordability.
It must be noted that Microsoft has stated that restrictions will only be imposed at the behest of the publisher, although it is difficult to see a publisher choosing to ignore a setting which could potentially increase their profit margins.
While I may be harping on the Xbox One a lot, this is mostly because it is the only console that currently has been fully detailed in terms of its policies – Sony remains sketchy on their policy with regards to used games, although they will guaranteedly not require a regular internet connection on their PlayStation 4 consoles. Darryl recently wrote an article dealing with his fears on the PlayStation 4 having similar restrictions to the Xbox One, and this argument has some merit.
From the perspective of a publisher, it is difficult to see how releasing games for both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is a good option when the Xbox One can restrict their resale while the PlayStation 4 allows gamers to continue as they were in this generation. In all likelihood, this will lead to one of two outcomes: Sony will either adapt to the restrictions on used games, having to plead that they were forced into it to their fans, or Sony will end up losing third-party support for games.
If the latter happens, although the PS4 will be the paragon of consumerism and so on, the Xbox One will have the upper hand. In all likelihood, we would a more severe imposition of the timed-exclusivity deals that Microsoft often has pre-arranged with developers for new games, but what if it’s more severe than that? What if big publishers start pulling the plug on the PS4? Imagine if you will, Activision and EA pulling support for Sony’s console? This would mean no Battlefield, no Call of Duty and no FIFA on the PS4. As much as I’d like to say: “Well, that’s fine, I never liked Battlefield anyway,” it is not my opinion that counts, it’s the opinions of the mass markey, and the truth is the mass market loves Call of Duty, Battlefield and FIFA. This would put Sony at a massive disadvantage, as it means three of the acknowledged behemoths of gaming would no longer be on their side. As huge of a Sony fanboy as I am, even I have to admit that would go a long way to killing the console, despite Sony’s success with gamer-friendly systems such as PlayStation Plus, as Nintendo’s next-gen console, the Wii U… Wait, what? The Wii U? Next-gen?
Yes, the Wii U, the console which barely 6 months into its lifespan has been forgotten by the gaming community at large. This is most clearly shown by the recent specials which have gone on at retailers such as Incredible Connection and ToyZone, selling the console for prices as low as R1000. But why is this?
Well, did you hear how BioShock Infinite was on Wii U? Did you hear about the special features which the Wii U Game Pad had with Far Cry 3? Did Tomb Raider get a Wii U gamepad? If the answer is yes to any of those, you’ve either had some convincing hallucinations or you’re lying. The fact is, the Wii U has had very little support despite Nintendo’s excellent fan-service allowing users backwards compatibility, used games sales and use of the previous console’s accesories on the new console. It is quite sad to see such a promising console flop so spectacularly, especially one with the gamer and consumer primarily in mind, but it is unfortunately underpowered and under supported.
With E3 knocking at the door, all will be revealed soon concerning what policies will be instituted on the PS4, further clarification on what the Xbox One will have to offer, the fate of the Wii U and hopefully one or two pleasant surprises. Unfortunately, until that time, I will be deeply worried about the future of gaming and how I will adapt to the release of the new consoles. For now however, I’d like to hear what you think. Let us know in the comments below on your opinions on next gen.