The inevitable death of physical media for video games
Good news everyone, Sony has apparently been researching new tech for suppressing second-hand game sales! The way this is achieved is by binding the game disc to a particular user ID or console ID. So, if you buy a game for the, at this stage, theoretical PlayStation 4, that game will only work on the user account or console it was first activated on and no other. This means that, once activated, that disc cannot be resold as a used game or borrowed by or given to a friend or family member to play on their own console.
Could this be another nail in the coffin for the physical media video game market? What should we be feeling about all of this?
None of this kind of thing is new, we happily give away our reseller rights when we purchase video games and other media through digital distribution systems such as Steam. The difference with the research Sony is apparently conducting is that it affects physical media as opposed to purely digital downloads.
At this stage we don’t really know what Sony is really planning for this system and if it will be implemented in the PlayStation 4. However, the existence of such technology makes me ask, what would happen if Sony did implement it for the PS4? What if Microsoft followed suit with the Xbox 720? Alternatively, what if Microsoft didn’t?
If the PS4 does implement this technology, it will, of course, mean that the used game market for that console would not exist to begin with. Additionally, if Microsoft followed suit it would mean the same thing for all Xbox 720 games. This would leave Nintendo’s Wii U as the only console on the “next-gen” home console market to have used games being sold in stores and the only console to allow people to retain their rights as a reseller. It would be, in many ways, a revolution in video game distribution and would take away any real advantages physical media discs would have over their digital distribution counterparts. Would it mean greater success for Wii U from the backlash this whole thing would cause? Not really since the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 will be hardware powerhouses compared to the Wii U meaning games that are released on the PS4/720 would most likely not be released on Wii U.
If the PS4 does implement this technology but Microsoft chooses not to adopt a similar system, I can see a very large portion of gamers reconsidering their purchase of a PlayStation 4 in favour of the Xbox 720, at least in terms of multi-platform games. After all, you have to consider the different types of people with different incomes (or lack thereof since a large portion of gamers are still children and teens) people have that play games on these consoles. My nephew saves up his allowance to buy video games and sometimes he ends up buying something he decides to take back to the store to have replaced with another game. If he had a choice to make, he’d definitely choose the Xbox 720 over the PlayStation 4 otherwise he’d be stuck with a game he doesn’t even want. If this scenario occurs, it will be Sony shooting itself in the foot yet again for its new generation of console as they did with the PlayStation 3… though much worse in my opinion.
If none of this ever occurs for the PlayStation 4 or Xbox 720, then everything proceeds just as it has this generation. Of course, there will still be a push for the digital distribution method since it’s still considered the way to go for our video game future. Nintendo is embracing it, Sony and Microsoft have embraced it for quite a while now and the PC gaming market would be a shadow of what it is now without it.
Either way, companies will continue to push for any method that will allow them more control over the media they sell. Digital distribution is the best option they have to achieve this and to make the maximum amount of profit from their consumers. The days of used games and physical media are numbered, the question is, how long do we have left?