Hey, bro, can I borrow your game?
While we still don't have every bit of info and we're still being told to "wait for E3", the firestorm caused by the Xbox One announcement is putting a lot of doubt in people's mind. Specifically, people are worried about game ownership. Will we OWN our games? Will we be able to freely sell, lend, rent, or switch our games to another system, or will there be a system in place that tells us what we can and cannot do with our games. As we continue on in the 8th generation, used games are going to be a hot-button issue just like "online account systems" were a hot-button issue with the 360, Wii, and PS3. Lines were drawn and loyalties were made based on who had the best online account system last gen, and this generation, the treatment of used games may be a similar issue.
Why does this matter? What if you never buy, borrow, or rent games anyway? How does this affect you? Well, in simple terms, it affects the flexibility you have as a consumer. You may not want to buy a used game right NOW, but what happens if you miss a game that goes out of print and the only way to get it is to buy a used copy? I'm not going to get into the "almost always online" thing, but if your system requires an internet connection, what does that mean in the future if internet connections change, or if the servers go down, or if your account is closed? Ultimately, it is about whether or not you're willing to let go of your consumer right of First Sale Doctrine.
Let's start with Nintendo's Wii-U. Why? Because it's already out and we already know how it works. Currently, the Wii-U does not block used, borrowed, rented, or otherwise "second hand" games at all. And as far as we know, the technology to do so simply isn't there to support such an infrastructure. Keep in mind that last gen, Nintendo was the least restrictive on used games. I cannot think of a single Wii game that required an online pass (I doubt the Wii even had the system in place to enforce such a thing). The only "restriction" is that Wii-U's backwards compatability with previously-purchased eShop games (notably, the Virtual Console games) is a bit wonky. Unlike, for instance, buying a PS1 game on PSN and playing it on your PSP, PS3, PS Vita, and (I assume) your PS4, Wii-U does not have such a system. Now that we have a general idea of what some third parties (EA, Activision) think about the used-game fee, it sheds a bit of light on why the Wii-U is getting shafted by third parties. Is Wii-U getting passed over because the other consoles were willing to implement a used-game fee? Maybe.
VERDICT: Wii-U does not block or require an extra fee to play second-hand games.
Moving on, the Playstation 4 was originally rumored to have some sort of used game restriction based on patents that were filed. However, Sony was asked the used game question several times and responded with some straight answers and some vague answers. We were told that "PS4 can still be enjoyed old school with no internet connection at all" (here: http://www.officialplaystat... and that a "used game block would be anti-consumer" according to Jack Tretton (here: http://gamerant.com/sony-ja... When asked about "always online", Yoshida says "Did we consider it? No, we didn’t consider it. The main reason being that many countries don’t have robust Internet connections." (here: http://www.vg247.com/2013/0... In another interview with Yoshida, we learned following: "When asked whether games would require online registration, Yoshida noted that that decision was up to the publisher. When asked if Sony, as a publisher, would require games to be registered online, Yoshida said, "we are not talking about that plan."
Now, that last line "we are not talking about that plan" was accepted and passed over months ago when the interview first took place. Keep in mind that the issue of used-game fees and always online for the PS4 has more or less been laid to rest. These questions only came back up after the Xbox One announcement. Unfortunately, because Microsoft was silent after the Adam Orth incident and then later those rumors ended up being true, people are looking at Sony's ambiguity and assuming the worst. However, let's consider a few facts. First, the PS4 can be played offline. It would be impossible to implement a system-wide used-game fee for people who play the system offline, pure and simple. In some cases (since it is up to the publisher) a game may be unplayable offline due to an always-online requirement, but that's about it. People see that line "we are not talking about that plan" and think "Oh, Sony was going to have a used-game fee all along". I would like to propose a different scenario. Sony and Microsoft have been engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase for the past several years as they both continued developing their 8th-gen system. Sony has done a pretty good job so far of misleading Microsoft: they leaked that they couldn't afford to do 8 gigs of RAM because it was a more expensive type, and then they did it. They patented several multimedia functions but then announced their "all about the gamers" focus when they revealed the PS4. They patented a used-game block and then later said they are not going to block used games. They leaked that they weren't ready to reveal the PS4, and then they caught everyone off guard in February. Time and again, Sony has been misleading Microsoft. This line, "we are not talking about that plan" may have been yet another deception meant to imply to Microsoft that Sony was considering the option, encouraging Microsoft to continue with their always-on, used-game-fee plans. We will know more as we get closer to E3, but I'm not assuming the worst.
VERDICT: online isn't required, used game blocking is "anti consumer", no used game block confirmed, used game fee/registration is still up in the air.
Lastly, we have the Xbox One. Plenty has been said over the past several days, but one thing is clear: Microsoft has a radically different view on how used games should be treated. At a bare minimum (conflicting accounts are still being circulated) we know that the good ol' days of selling a game to Gamestop and picking a used game out of the bin with no strings attached are over. Microsoft has said on several occasions that they are "partnering with retailers" and "will have options to sell back your used games online" but the fact of the matter is that Microsoft is inserting themselves into the process of buying, selling, trading, renting, and lending games, pure and simple. Now, how much are they getting in the way? Great question. To be honest, it is still hard to say what is or isn't going to happen. However, do not fall into the trap of "the launch date is still a long way off. PS4 and Xbox One might change between now and then". That is a naive outlook on reality. Xbox One isn't going to ditch their infrastructure this late in the game. We do know a couple of things. If you bring a game over to a friend's house, you can still play it at no extra cost by logging into your Live account on his/her system. That is good. However, once you leave the house, that's when things get muddy. If your buddy could log into your account, I suppose he/she could keep playing the game, but here's the thing: you log into Live using your face/voice through Kinect. Microsoft has established the fact that there is no need for a manual log-in. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that you'll be able to simply "profile swap" as a method of sharing games. So, for now, we know that lending games between friends is a no-no. Phil Harrison made it clear that in order for your buddy to continue playing that game you brought over, he/she would have to pay the full price of the game (a price set by Microsoft, of course). Though it was not explicitly said, this same fee will likely apply to multi-console families who own two or more of the same console in different rooms. Microsoft, however, has confirmed that all profiles will be able to play any games that were originally installed to one console. So, if you and your roommates want to share a library of games between multiple consoles, too bad. If you and your roommates all play on the same console, you're in the clear.
When it comes to other second-hand games, that's when things go off the rails. We still don't REALLY know how it is going to work. Can I rent a game (if rental stores and boxes even offer these games)? I don't know. There's a possibility that you would be able to do that through the new Xbox Live store (no official confirmation) sort of like the 1-Hour Trial offered to paid Playstation Plus users. Can I sell my game to Gamestop? Yes, you can. The exact details are fuzzy but it seems as though stores like Gamestop are going to get a MUCH smaller cut of the used-game prize, which means that you, the kid who comes in to trade games, is going to get a much smaller trade-in value. Buying used games is going to get complicated, and we still do not have concrete details on how exactly the swap will occur. There are hints that Microsoft will also allow us to buy, trade, and sell online (presumably through Xbox Live). This is interesting, but it is yet another way for Microsoft to step into the used-game market. What will the buy-back price be to deactivate my game? What will the price be to purchase a "used" game (really, just a download) online? We don't yet know. While Microsoft keeps assuring us that this new method buying and selling used games is being worked out with retailers, what about rental stores and rental boxes? I highly doubt these low-cost, high-volume business models of buying one game and renting it to hundreds is going to be something allowed by Microsoft. The other big no-no is that you won't be able to sell or buy games "under the table", not based on what we know. The days of buying games from indidual people on eBay, craigslist, or through the daisy-chain of your friends is over, no question about it. While stores like Gamestop, Best Buy, and Amazon will likely be able to sell used Xbox One games, I imagine there is a rigorous registration and licensing fee attached to ensure Microsoft is getting their cut and customers are getting an "activated" game. Such restrictions will make it impossible for smaller sellers to participate in the used-game market (a fact that may have encouraged Gamestop in particular to agree to this whole scheme). Similar to the example above of lending your game a friend, the only way that new person will be able to play the game is if they purchase their own verification code. E3 will hopefully bring more details
VERDICT: the traditional way of buying, selling, trading, borrowing, and renting used games has either undergone plastic surgery or is dead on Xbox One. More details to come, I'm sure.
Well there you have it. If control over your game library is important to you, if you buy a lot of used games, if you plan on having a "legacy" console or if you own multiples of the same console in the house, hopefully the above information will help you decide which console to buy in the 8th generation.