The worst of both worlds

Stephen Totilo, for Kotaku:

I’ve heard from one reliable industry source that Microsoft intends to incorporate some sort of anti-used game system as part of their so-called Xbox 720.

Wired’s Chris Kohler reacts:

What we are possibly looking at now is an interim period in which the disc as a delivery method is still around but it becomes more like a PC game, which are sold with one-time-use keys that grant one owner a license to play the game on his machine.

I’m sure Microsoft loves this idea but for consumers, it’s the worst of both worlds! We give up the ability to rent, lend or resell our games, but with none of the advantages of digital distribution. Physical games sold by middlemen retailers are still more expensive and less convenient to use than their digital counterparts.

Kohler observed some time ago that used sales and trade-ins and new game purchasing is more symbiotic than publishers might like to admit, and hypothesizes that Microsoft will come up with a way to split used revenue with Gamestop:

GameStop sold used copies of [Batman: Arkham Asylum] along with new Catwoman download codes, which is presumably purchased in bulk from the publisher. Thus, the publisher gets its cut of the used game sales, which is all it’s really after. I would not be surprised to see a similar deal, wherein GameStop pays the publisher to get a new code for each used game it sells. If you’re wondering where all that money would come from, you need look no further than your own wallet. GameStop will simply pay customers less for each game disc that they trade in.

Again, great for Microsoft, great for publishers, great for Gamestop, utter bullshit for consumers. The trend of requiring what amounts to serial numbers to access multiplayer or other game content is already making it more difficult try out new games. Consider the customer experience for buying a copy of Battlefield 3 on release day. I have to drive to a store somewhere, ask for my preordered copy of the game, tell the cashier repeatedly that no, I don’t want a strategy guide or magazine subscription, and drive home. But I’m not done! I then have to key in a 25 character code on a video game controller to access the multiplayer mode, which in this case, is pretty much the reason anyone buys the game.

Instead, consider Square Enix’s Chaos Rings for iOS. This is not one of Square’s top efforts, but it does have production values are roughly on par with the 3DS or PSP. Despite being a rather expensive iPhone game, it costs roughly a quarter of any comparable PSP or 3DS game. Buying it on release day is easy - I pull out the pocket computer I have with me at all times, tapped App Store, searched for it, and then tapped Buy Now.

Cutting the advantages that come with physical needs to come alongside new advantages for consumers, but what Totilo and Kohler outline here makes it the barrier for entry to console gaming higher and prop up a consumer-hostile business model that is doomed to failure.