The Diminution of Consumer Rights Accompanying the New Generation of Consoles
I posted a comment on that recent article about why PS Plus is better than Xbox Live, or in other words, why it isn’t hypocritical for customers of Sony to embrace PS Plus’s evolution into something more akin to Xbox Live, when they previously berated such a system. This is the same comment, greatly extended, and in blog form because I figured I was pretty late to the article and no one would see the comment. It's kind of evolved into something bigger I think.
PS Plus is obviously a superior service to Xbox Live because of all the benefits that accompany it. You get tons of free games, (that of course have a limited licence, but you're certainly given more than enough time to play them many times over) and loads of massive discounts. Not to mention the subscription itself is super cheap.
However, with PS Plus, Sony are kind of committing the same crime as Microsoft. Microsoft need always on drm and 24 hour checks because they've enabled disc based games to be fully installable onto the drive, and without licence checks, people could just take their friend's game and install it on their own console cost-free ad infinitum, which would directly and heavily impact sales. However it all feeds into this initiative to do away with disc based software, which enables strict control and regulation via the internet. Possessing something material like a disc means you own it at least at a material capacity (Sony or MS can't kick your door in and repossess it, and they can't remotely make the data on the disc unusable as far as I know), whereas immaterial things can elude ownership principles.
Sony has made PS Plus more of a necessity by making subscription to it necessary to play games online- a feature MANY people will want. In turn, this will lead to loads more people buying software from PS Plus than before at discounted prices and fully installed on the console (merely because they now have a Plus account and want to get the most out of it). Thus more people will own games immaterially than in disc form, and will be subject to the ownership overriding ts & cs of Plus. I think MS is being a LOT more aggressive about this, but I'm pretty sure Sony has a similar outlook to them.
People who let the games available win them over to the X1 are of course idiots - it's just being mesmerised by flashy, largely mediocre products and selling your consumer rights for a chance to experience them. However, it's not so different with Sony. The difference is we're being mesmerised by what Plus has to offer, and selling away our rights of ownership that way. Sony are making it seem like they're more pro-consumer than Microsoft by retaining certain features that MS has removed, but it's totally possible that Sony is just being more cautious and patient about it - gradually unfurling their plan, unlike MS who have gone in all guns blazing and have received an unprecedented backlash for it. All I'd say is don't buy into Sony's shtick too much - don't let your guard down.
Also worth mentioning is that we already know that Sony is leaving it up to third party developers to decide for themselves whether or not they want to support resale of their game, in which case they’ll arrange some sort of business plan with retailers. Microsoft is doing this too. In both cases, this is perhaps to encourage third parties to develop for the platform, offering them the ability to profit from both restricting resale and also from its alternative. However, in the latter case, this will impact how much of a saving we make off of buying used games because third party publishers will probably want to negotiate fairly sizable cuts from the used game sales. If publishers opt to not support game resale then, they’d be doing this to ensure achievement of their prospected profits and perhaps even more. In both cases we’re seeing diminution of the consumer’s power and choice, while corporations play their own little money games.
I mean, think about how people were cheering so passionately at e3 for Ps4 features that have already been a mainstay of every previous generation of console. We shouldn't be cheering for these things - these things are a part of our consumer rights. We shouldn't be treating them as Sony rewarding us or introducing innovative new features. How long before always-online rules the world of electronic entertainment and we're cheering for Sony's retention of 2 month long rentals on digitally downloaded games, while MS only allows a week? What could be happening is a gradual diminution of our rights as consumers, and more and more unstoppable profiteering on the part of big corporations. I don’t even want to think about the ramifications this could all have for creativity in the industry as the profit motive completely eclipses all.
Also worrying, is this strange coincidence that both Sony and Microsoft are touting cameras for their machines in the form of the Playstation Eye, and the admittedly less ominously named Kinect. Again, it seems like Sony are playing it in a more calculated fashion by not including it with the console or making it mandatory, but, quoting Shuhei Yoshida, they're choosing "to let it spread gradually rather than making it mandatory." Like Plus as a service, they're making the peripheral necessary for CERTAIN things, not the entire experience like MS, and are thereby perhaps intending for it to gradually be adopted by gamers. We already know how suspicious MS' camera peripheral is, and how it can't be turned off during play, only reduced to a low power state. Why is this? I literally can't find any good reason for this, and it's deeply troubling. Of course, by being more careful, Sony has come across as angelic - as saviours of the videogame industry. However, it's my belief that, based on their philosophy, it;s possible that their business model is built around the idea of slowly injecting ideas into the industry, with much the same final vision as MS, who have foolishly put all their cards on the table. Who knows, maybe people will finally succumb to the allure of the Eye's 'location detection' facility (among other uses) perhaps by how it's implemented in their favourite games from their favourite developers that they feel they have to buy. Maybe then, the Eye will become more widespread. A simple firmware update could potentially turn it into another Kinect. This is all obviously worrying because of the elephant in the room: surveillance. Not to sound conspiratorial, but there's a real use for such a thing in corporate practices. It provides a facility for data mining, and there's millions of dollars to be made from such information, which needless to say is highly unethical. This issue is compounded by the recent NSA controversy, and doesn't seem to be a coincidence. This is a practice that corporations and government agencies are actively making use of everyday to establish different kinds of control, one political, the other economic. Sony and Microsoft of course count as such corporations.
All this makes Sony’s recent pro-consumer patter seem really disingenuous – makes Shuhei’s giving of his game to Boyes seem sinister by virtue of the fact that he doesn’t actually let go of the game in the last moments of the video. Not to mention Jack Tretton’s comments about making people happy being the best part of all this. I’m afraid I just don’t buy it at the moment; there are still a lot of things that could pan out for the worst. I’m not even being pessimistic, I’m just looking at this in terms of the nature and logic of big capitalist corporations, in which it’s all about representation – all about advertisement and marketing and putting contrived ideas about what’s good in consumers heads. By its very nature, and the fact that it’s governed by the profit motive, corporate advertisement cannot reveal any of its product’s shortcomings. It’s an intrinsically deceptive practice, and is structurally narcissistic. There are realities that are deliberately obfuscated in the process.
All that said, I'm not an online gamer, so none of this really affects me. I'll continue to buy disc based games, and I won't be signing up to Plus. I also rarely buy used games as it is. Hence if I had to choose between X1 and Ps4, I would without question or hesitation settle on the Ps4. I just hope physical media doesn't actually phase out, and I hope camera peripherals don't phase in, because that'll be when these entertainment corporations assume a dangerous amount of economic control within their corner of the market and beyond. Unless the hackers can help it of course.
Edit: I should mention that I nevertheless do find Andrew House's remarks here: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/co... - to be very encouraging, but it all remains to be seen.