A lot of talk has been circulating on the internet recently with some of the leaked rumors for the next Xbox including a mechanism to prevent the play of used games. I have been reading others articles and thoughts on the matter and would like to weigh in on what I believe the truth likely is and where used and new game sales are heading.
I do not believe this rumor is entirely true for a number of reasons. I suspect it may be misunderstanding or a twisted version of what was actually said. More likely than not, the used games market will continue into the next generation of consoles but its end is absolutely coming. What I imagine will be coming in the next generation of consoles will be a more consistent use of the “Online Pass” similar to what we have seen in games like Arkham City or the upcoming Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Portions of the games will be locked behind one time use codes that are provided with new games. Missing this content will not prevent you from completing the game, but it does shrink the overall experience and it could be used much more aggressively in the future.
I can’t say I support this move completely but I am not totally opposed to it either. Probably my biggest issue with this option is simply putting in that 25 character code on a dual stick gamepad. That is a serious turn off, even if it is just one time. But it is one time, PER GAME. To make this palatable, there could be the option of using your built in Kinect sensor, which has recently received upgrades for near field recognition to scan a code and save me that hassle. Other possibilities could be codes printed on the discs which could be scanned after inserting it into the tray as the game loads.
My idiosyncrasies aside, this method or any version of locking down games does have some unfortunate consequences. If you are a game rental service subscriber, you will either not be able to play any of these ‘locked’ games or you will be receiving an incomplete experience. That could be problematic and hurt game sales as many folks use those type of services to try before they buy to avoid buying a full price game that they just do not enjoy. The idea of lending games to friends or simply taking them to a friends house is also impacted for the same reasons. I know I am the outlier with the shear amount of games I consume in a year, but for people who only play a handful of games each year they always want to make the most informed decision they can.
Many people are upset or extremely concerned about this current trend and the rumors for the next gen Xbox, but I think they might not be looking at the big picture. With things like Steam, Origin, XBLA and Mobile devices we are already in the thick of digital distribution where there is no used games market. As technology progresses, hard drives get cheaper, bandwidth gets higher and more services move to the cloud, the time will come where buying a retail game at a brick and mortar store will be the exception and not the norm. The business model of digital distribution does bring new opportunities for game developers to offer gift codes to share say X number of hours of a game with a friend, or allow a transfer or trade of a game from one user to another as Steam currently allows. Developers could also offer buyback programs for credit towards other products and prices on games should drop if the cost of manufacturing, packaging and shipping is replaced with downloads.
All of this is of course conjecture but we are moving through an interesting transition period where we will be seeing retail and digital stores start to compete in new ways for our precious dollars. Many PC games on Steam are discounted if pre-ordered and can frequently be downloaded prior to release, allowing you to play them at 12:01 AM on the day of release, without ever having to put on pants or leave your home to stand in line in the rain for the latest midnight release. I am excited to see where we go from here.