Alright, this is where I show what an old curmudgeon I really am. News continues to circulate that for Microsoft’s next generation XBox console an always-on internet connection will be required and the system will not play used games. Before I begin with the “Back in MY DAY….” ranting, let me say that I can see some potentially good things about this idea: (1) games COULD become cheaper if they go fully digital (they should, but I doubt they will anytime soon) and (2) the console gaming market could become more like Steam. So yeah, there are some potentially good things about this IF (AND ONLY IF) this is handled properly and Microsoft’s PR guys explain the benefits in a way that not only logically refutes player counterarguments but also calms fears that many may have. That said, let the ranting begin.
Always On Internet
Okay, this seems to be no big deal, right? I’m always connected as it is. I have my entire apartment set up for sweet, fast wifi. So, why complain about it? Well, it won’t affect ME much, other than realizing that if I want to be anti-social and play a game privately, I will have to have some way to make me invisible to my friends list. I have those bad days where I just want to play a game, unwind, not think about socializing, and kill pixel people to calm down. I don’t want to be connected to the internet. I just want to play a game.
Also, I can see parents worrying about their kids picking up “worse language than in school.” I find that highly unlikely, but I can see parents wanting to restrict internet use and time online. Plus, the main reason I don’t play games like Call of Duty is because I get tired of muting the random vulgar morons who spout of a slew of monosyllabic words to insult everyone who either kills them (and clearly doesn’t deserve to) or isn’t as good as they (think they) are. And while I’m a huge proponent of parental supervision and parents playing video games with their children, I know that my ideal won’t ever become universal reality. Therefore, some form of corporate supervision, monitoring, and/or interaction limiting will be necessary to reassure cautious and concerned parents that their kids will be as safe as can be. And even then, this might make many parents too nervous to consider buying the next generation console.
No Used Games
Ok, fine, the world is going digital. I know that. I get that. However, right now, digital sales of new major games on either console do not offer any significant advantage to going to the store and purchasing the game beyond they feed my laziness and lack of a car. So that’s good, but the price is still the same – or maybe $5 less. So right now, digital game sales are mostly tax-free (that will change, trust me) and help me reduce my carbon footprint by not driving a car (I don’t particularly care about that, so no big deal). So why ban used games?
We all know that next generation console games will jump in price. I’d wager that the average price will be around $80, which is a $20 increase from this generation’s current price for new games. Let that sink in. Video games are expensive. Currently, the discount for buying a digital license of a game is not significantly cheaper for the average consumer. Used games allow players to pick up games they either missed (I’m sorry I can’t buy every game I want when it’s new, I do need time to work and write that dissertation), pick up games they wanted to buy but couldn’t afford, and/or pick up games they thought looked cool but weren’t sure if they’d like.
Let’s examine that last one. And while I’m not going to talk about things like a video game Payola, we can’t negate that such things have been known to happen in the entertainment industry. And just because critics give a game high reviews, does not necessarily mean that the player in question will agree. I keep seeing how Mists of Pandaria is the best WoW expansion yet according to reviewers, and I can say that the only things I find enjoyable about it are Pet Battles and the Monk class. I find the rest of it rather uninspiring – especially compared to the fun I had in Wrath of the Lich King. I’ve been playing two games on Steam (Velvet Assassin and Dream Killer) that are poorly rated by Metacritic but I thoroughly enjoy. So ratings must be taken with a grain of salt. That said, buying a new game at $60+ is a gamble, and if you have a limited gaming budget, that’s a big risk. The ability to trade in games and buy games used helps alleviate some of the financial risk in playing games you think you’d enjoy. So if we go full Steam-style store and always-on internet in the next generation, video game prices will need to drop significantly from what they are now to alleviate such economic issues for gamers.
I don’t think that these requirements will be the death of console gaming. However, I do believe that there are some serious issues with the market that need addressing. Who plays games? Who BUYS the games? How do people play the games? Which demographics do we want to exclude/repulse/worry? How do people interact online while gaming? If steps are taken to assure parents that their kids will be safe, if the price of buying a digital game becomes significantly lower so that it doesn’t feel like buying a new game is both a major investment and like playing the lottery, then Microsoft’s plan for an always-on internet and no used games requirement for their next generation XBox might not be terrible.
The future of gaming continues to change faster than I ever thought it would. But with each change, new fears and worries arise and need to be dealt with. And making such an announcement in this current economic climate is probably not the best idea that Microsoft has had – unless it wants to give people more reasons to not purchase the next console. I don’t think that was the intent, but I also don’t think that much planning and forethought went into it. We’ll see how this plays out in the months to come.
Until then, Game On!