It's a me, barrio!
This week, rumors surfaced anew that the successor to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 would require a persistent internet connection, and that its games would only work for the original purchaser. The implications are chilling— players won’t be able to resell their games or lend them to their friends. The Kambyero writers discuss the possible effects of such a system.
[Co-Op Ed is a regular roundtable on relevant gaming news.]
DRM is always awful, unless it’s discreet, reasonable, or Steam (which is another can of Kentucky Fried Problems I don’t want to dig into just yet). If Microsoft’s trying to cash in on the Steam success, will they also be willing to hold ridiculous holiday sales as apology for their allegedly sleazy corporate decisions?
Used games make it possible for budget-bound folks to play games they’re super boned out for. There is a thriving used game scene here in the Philippines. Local web forums and IT communities are jacked up with used video game listings for the discerning and honest gamer. These are decent folk who just want to share games they’ve played— and possibly get a bit of coin in the process. If these rumors are true, Microsoft is guaranteed to alienate that sub-market. I don’t think another batch of Halos will mend that bridge (but seriously, it probably will).
And what about the hundreds of thousands— possibly millions— of people who have shoddy or no Internet connections? Always online? In a country where our main ISP is essentially two cans connected to each other by string, this will be hilarious. “Aw yiss, together with my bros and my muscles, I stopped those Gears of the Wars from ever turning aga—what? No. No! Disconnected again? One-seven-ooooooone!”
Job pretty much said what I think of the always-online deal. And if there’s one constant in the video game industry, it’s that pirates always find a way to circumvent DRM!
As for games working only for the original purchaser, the issue is muddier because the first-sale doctrine that could be used to defend the consumer’s rights doesn’t quite jive with digital products. This doctrine says that a customer can do whatever the hell they want to with a product they bought except reproduce it. That includes the right to resell it.
The thing is, video game companies can argue that the products they are selling aren’t exactly the games themselves, but that they are giving customers the license to play those games via the physical discs. This can be seen in the oft-overlooked end-user license agreements (EULAs) that come with games. Therefore, customers who pay for these games are technically not granted ownership to the games, and thus they could be argued as infringing distribution rights by reselling such games.
Oh, and there’s also the fact that GameStop makes almost half of its profits from selling used games, amounting to the billions. It’s easy to see why the actual creators want to put an end to that business where they don’t see a single cent off those huge profits.
It’s a sad fact that “Third World” gamers are more or less an invisible minority in the gaming scene. Between piracy and game sharing, we don’t really factor in the overall profit margin of game and console developers. They’re making games for the “legit” market— those guys who can get in line for midnight releases.
But Third World gamers (to be fair, let’s include financially challenged “First World” gamers in on this too) are still an undeniable presence. Games will be played in the Third World, by hook or by crook, because gaming— like film and music— is a cultural experience, something easily accessible in the information age. While game developers cater mostly to gamers who can shell out the gil to buy their games, the pirates are cornering the Third World market because the pirates make games more accessible to this particular sector.
So this whole notion of pirates and game-sharers stealing profit from companies is a sham! It’s the companies that try to marginalize a substantial slice of the audience, limiting our access to games, and shrinking their own market.
This is sad news indeed. This draconian scheme to disable game-sharing in order to rake in profit is akin to squeezing blood from stone. It might just turn potential gamers away from console gaming entirely, crippling the industry.
With this rumored DRM system, Microsoft is creating a PC-like console without any of the benefits of PC gaming. The used-game market is practically nonexistent on PC, precisely because of online DRM like Steam and unique activation keys. People sell their Steam accounts, sure, but that’s a different beast altogether (and may not entirely be allowed, or legal). However, these restrictions are offset by the open, upgradeable nature of PC and the lower price of PC games in general, which is further helped by regular Steam Sales, GOG, and Humble Bundles. Also, the graphics.
The concept of “game ownership” is a tricky one. Joseph talked about the EULA earlier, which may or may not be legally binding, depending on your location. In the Philippines, where pirated games and software are openly sold in even the most upscale malls, re-selling original games is a non-issue.
The used market is completely different here as well. DataBlitz and iTech, our local equivalents of GameStop, only sell brand new games, with no options for trading in. Instead, we use online marketplaces like the aforementioned TipidPC and dedicated fan forums such as Pinoy-N and PinoyPS, to buy and sell secondhand. The two forums in particular are proponents of original gaming, and on our budgets, sometimes buying used is the most realistic option.
We’ve laid a solid framework for discussing the culture surrounding original games and piracy in the Philippines. While gaming is a privilege, and not a right (like all art), we have done our best to adapt to systems never designed for us in the first place, such as prices completely disproportionate to our standards of living. However, with these new restrictions, unless the games for the next Xbox are dirt cheap, it’ll be dead in developing markets before it even launches.
[Header image by Michael Kwan.]