In my last podcast I discussed the possibility of next-gen consoles being released without optical drives, this is something that doesn’t sit well with businesses that rely on used games to keep the lights on.
Just a decade ago, it would have been laughable to imagine that anyone would consider removing optical drives from a gaming console. We have changed the medium many times since the first true gaming console hit the market back in 1972, but we have never seriously considered completely removing physical media until recently. The idea is simple, the gaming industry asks that we download all of our content digitally and then they can control the pricing of the game over time as it eventually gets older.
So how will consumers feel about this move? Based on the recent reaction to the new Apple desktop line up, which no longer includes an optical drive, it would seem that there are still quite a few people out there who would be very upset at the removal of an optical drive in next-gen consoles.
Can you blame them for wanting a disc? Unfortunately, there are many people out there who have a poor connection to the internet, some people are still under a 1 Mbps. Slow internet speeds combined with overall much higher internet traffic could lead to consumers having to wait days before they can complete a download of their favorite game.
There is more to this story though, it’s not just about the optical drive. Even if console makers decide to stick with physical media, the used game business may still suffer. Although it’s still just speculation at this point, there are multiple reports that mention next-gen consoles moving to a system that will only allow you to play your game if you’re connected to the internet and logged into your account. If this idea ever comes to fruition it will permanently lock a game to a particular console, therefore making it impossible to trade in later.
This is clearly a good way to keep software piracy at bay, at least until they figure out a way around it. What impact will this have on the industry? I can tell you one thing for sure, gamers will be unlikely to play along. There has to be some compromise here and it could likely appear in some type of registration system. Perhaps we could simply activate and deactivate a particular game to work with our specific hardware and maybe the ability to do this would be limited to a certain number times in a month or year. This is a system that is already in place for many software titles in the desktop/laptop world. For instance, Adobe software enables you to activate and deactivate the software which allows you to move a product between separate machines, a feature that works really well.
Using the in-store credit system at one of my local used game vendors, I was able to go a full year without ever having to pay more than $10 for a new game title. Granted I only bought a few new games that year, about five, but that’s still a heck of a deal. I kept playing games, beating them and the turning them in before they lost a lot of value. After awhile I was able to keep a stockpile of points that allowed me to get any title for dirt cheap. This all would disappear in a heart beat if the industry takes a rigid approach towards digital downloads.
The success of an all digital system or an online-only system will depend greatly on its implementation. Clearly there should be a way for users to re-sell their games, even if it means redeeming points through Xbox Live Arcade or The Playstation Network. Maybe we could have some type of online used games channel that would allow us to swap games with others right on our consoles. We will just have to wait and see what happens, hopefully we can meet somewhere in the middle.