Why I'm Clapping For Sony

Regardless of any allegiances you may hold, it's hard for anybody to deny how good Sony ended up looking after their press conference at E3 last week. Their stance on used games and digital rights management might be better than Microsoft's, but that shouldn't be why you're clapping.

By Tony Walter | Jun 18, 2013

Have you been paying attention for the past couple of weeks? If not, kudos. Honestly, the messages coming out of both companies have been confusing at best. After the Xbox One unveiling, Microsoft was giving lots of mixed messages. An outside observer might think different Microsoft employees had been informed of different stances on used games and digital rights management. Actually, that might have been the case. I won't bother confusing you with all the misinformation. A few weeks later, at E3, Sony took their stance on the issues as well, they too confused the situation with some poor worded messages. 

To save anybody the grief of deciphering interviews and PR statements from the past few weeks, I'll break down exactly what the company policies are.

Microsoft - Xbox One

  • The Xbox One will require a once-per-day (twenty four hours) check-in with Xbox Live to allow players to continue playing the games they have purchased. You will need an internet connection to accommodate this. 
  • Further, Microsoft has implemented tools, at a system level, that are capable of disallowing the user to play used games. This applies to rentals, games borrowed from friends, or games that would be purchased second hand from retailers like GameStop.
  • Microsoft published games will allow players to gift their games to a friend - only friends who are on their Xbox Live friends list, and have been there for at least thirty days - but the exchange is final. Loaning and renting will not be available, at least initially.
  • Microsoft will allow publishers to make their own decisions on how to use the tools provided at a system level. Publishers will be allowed to deny all used games, if they wish. They are also able to arrange partnerships with retailers to allow used games, and it is up to the publisher to allow exchanging of games between friends. It is not yet clear how accommodating the system will be for publishers who wish to allow used games.

Sony - PlayStation 4

  • The PlayStation 4 is not equipped with any sort of system level tools that will disallow the trade or sale of used games. Players are free to exchange games with friends, sell games to second hand retailers, or purchased used games from retailers. There is no required online check-in with PlayStation Network. Players are allowed to play their games with no internet connection, as long as they wish. These rules only apply to disc based games, digital products will likely see regulations similar to what we see on Steam.
  • Sony will allow publishers to create their own systems for their published games that could possibly restrict used games sales. Though, with no tools in place at the system level, one would imagine this would be somewhat limited compared to the Xbox One's regulations. A common example of this publisher implemented regulation would be the online pass - a one-time use code that allows players access to the online component of a game.
In layman's terms, Sony will be running its business, largely, the same as it is now. Though it has been discouraged by Sony executives, it is possible we see third party publishers implement more strict regulations on used games. Perhaps the one-time use codes will no longer be applied to just the online component of a game, but the entire thing. Sony's stance is not so radical that it would disallow publishers this.

I say radical, but in reality I mean pro-consumer. That's interesting. Perhaps by interesting I mean depressing. Pro-consumer, in this industry, today, is radical behavior. Sony gave us the illusion briefly that they are pro-consumer. Just listen to that reaction.

The truth is, Sony didn't do anything for us. In fact, Sony didn't do anything for anybody. Microsoft took an anti-consumer approach to the next generation of consoles, and Sony just said they'd continue doing what they've been doing. Microsoft might be the monster we chase up to the tower with our pitchforks and torches. But Sony is the one who had an opportunity to kill the monster, and ran away out of cowardice. Sony used a convenient misstep by a competitor to make us think they have our best intentions in mind. Allowing publishers to create regulations on their platform is not pro-consumer, it's just looking the other way. If they were pro-consumer they would have risked loss for us. They would have banned the use of online passes or the like on their system.

Then why am I so happy for Sony? Why did I pre-order a PlayStation 4 as soon as the conference ended? Then why did I - the guy who plays his multi-platform games primarily on the Xbox 360, the guy who only bought a PlayStation 3 a year and a half ago and a 360 at launch, the guy who's picked up every Halo game since Halo 2 the day they came out - suddenly decide that the PlayStation 4 would be my primary console of the next generation? Because, apparently, Sony can see.

Sony can see that the massive budget games that are currently sinking publishers, closing developers, costing jobs, and stagnating our medium, are not the way forward. Need proof? Go to any major video game website and, at least once a week, you can count on seeing news about a publisher going bankrupt after putting out a failed big budget game, a developer being closed after their big budget game didn't meet expectations, or any number of other studios cutting their staff because they can't compete with the cost of a modern game.

Perhaps one solution to that is not placing all of your bets on the next big shooter to carry your business model. Independent developers have proven time and time again that they can be very profitable, while not sacrificing the progression of the medium at the same time. Look at Minecraft, two guys who are now multi-millionaires. They're not alone. Undead Labs, the creators of the recent hit State Of Decay, just discovered that they created the fastest selling game on Xbox Live Arcade. Do you think the cost of making these types of games is anywhere near that of something like Call of Duty Ghosts?

Sony gave one of the most exciting, touching, and encompassing conferences I've ever seen from a major console developer. Not because they're pretending to be pro-consumer. But because they're creating an environment that allows independent developers easy access to self publishing their games on a console. That, inadvertently, might just be more pro-consumer than anything else they've done.

Why am I clapping for Sony? It's not because I don't have to check-in on PSN once a day. It's not because I can play used games any time I want. It's not even because the system is a hundred bucks cheaper than the Xbox One. In fact, I might not even be clapping for Sony at all. I'm clapping for Supergiant Games. I'm clapping for Klei Entertainment. For Tribute Games. For 17-Bit, Just Add Water, Ragtag Studio, and Switchblade Monkeys. I'm clapping for the students at DePaul University who got to play their game on stage at E3. I'm clapping because there's still hope for the future of console games, and Sony sees it.

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