Used games, Twitter complaints, and Sony: Why the Xbox One “backlash” doesn’t matter
It’s important to remember that the things we don’t know about how the Xbox One will handle things like used games and accounts outnumber the things we do know. Many are outraged, and some are taking to social networks to let Sony know that they want support for used games, and they don’t want any form of DRM on the PlayStation 4.
They’re fighting a losing battle
Let’s get a few things out in the open before we start. Sony is sure to offer a similar system to whatever Microsoft will ultimately announce. Sony executives danced around this issue during their own reveal, and their strategy of letting Microsoft take the heat on this issue has proved effective. Microsoft is taking a massive PR hit right now, and Sony is comfortable sitting back and letting that happen. Right now, they look like the good guys.
But the restrictions that Microsoft is talking about placing on how we will buy and sell games aren’t a bright idea that Microsoft thought up in a vacuum. These are concessions made to publishers, the companies that will benefit the most from these moves, which many see as anti-consumer.
This is why EA was comfortable removing the online pass for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 games moving forward; the publisher knows that both companies have their back. If Sony doesn’t give publishers the same protections as Microsoft, publishers like EA can just put their focus on Microsoft’s systems.
Sony may be gaining a reputation for being friendly to small developers, but if they don’t make sure to make themselves just as hospitable to large publishers the game is lost. EA has already all but pulled support for the Wii U, and Microsoft has locked down the timed exclusive for Call of Duty: Ghosts DLC. Everyone is playing favorites and striking deals. Support is not a sure thing.
The PlayStation 4 could be over before it begins if Sony loses the support of the mega-publishers, and right now those publishers have Sony over a barrel. Whatever Microsoft is doing with used games, expect at least an analogous solution from Sony. This could be bad, it could be good, it could be somewhere in the middle. We simply don’t know yet, and it’s unlikely either company is going to detail these strategies at E3; that event will be focused on selling us on how good the software will be for both systems.
This isn’t a backlash
The second thing we have to remember is that a hashtag and a few blog posts isn’t a backlash. No one at Microsoft or Sony cares about what you post on the forums of your favorite gaming website. I hate to be the bearer of bad news in this regard, but right now the reaction to the possible used game restrictions amounts to a fart in the wind.
What matters is consumer behavior, and we don’t have any data points to show us how things have changed. Well, we know that outlets are reporting Blockbuster pre-orders of the Xbox One are “record-breaking,” but we don’t have a good idea of what that means, nor if that behavior will translate to other regions and other retailers.
Companies don’t care about what you say, they care about what you do, and right now no one has had the chance to do anything. From Sony and Microsoft’s point of view, you haven’t reacted to this news at all. Twitter is noise, they care about what you do with your wallet.
If you really want to scare Microsoft and Sony, you’d buy a Nintendo Wii U, the only “next-generation” console on the market that is letting you buy and sell games with no restrictions, and is backwards compatible. Rewarding that behavior with a boost in sales would be ridiculously effective, and send a much louder message than you ever could on Twitter, but that requires a change of behavior. In other words, no one should expect this to happen. We won’t see the true will of the players, for good or ill, until pre-orders begin.
Hell, the price for both systems could simply be too high, and sales will flag for that reason. There are so many variables at play that it’s hard to make any guesses about what will happen.
Will there be a backlash? It’s hard to say, and there is usually a gulf between what we say we’re going to do and our real-world behavior. Will players really not buy another console if both platforms place some restriction on used games? It’s doubtful, and Sony and Microsoft are aware of this fact.
You can move to the PC if you have a problem with the new way games will likely be sold, but the dominant PC platform is Steam, which is another closed platform that doesn’t allow games to be sold or borrowed. The walled gardens tend to win when it comes to actual customer behavior, even if the noise that surrounds them grows to deafening levels.