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PS4’s ‘Answer to the Pre-Owned Games Question’ is Still Just as Unclear as Xbox One’s

We’ve all seen a lot of flak hurled at Microsoft for its lack of a satisfying answer to the question of used games and DRM even for disc-based games. Even I’ve decided that the fact that Microsoft has to actually work out a policy for such things is a strong indication that they’re taking an anti-consumer approach.

Frankly, trading and buying used games shouldn’t require any kind of “solution.” It should be possible and practical by default because they’re based on physical freaking media that can serve as its own DRM if companies are really concerned about people simply installing and giving their discs away. Why does it have to be any more complicated than “if you want to play media installed from the disc, you need the disc”?

Microsoft isn’t alone in being horrendously vague and unclear about the “solution” to pre-owned games – implying of course that pre-owned games are a problem that has to be “solved.” Sony’s contributed its fair share of non-answers to the discussion as well.

Just following the PlayStation 2013 meeting, NowGamer specifically asked PlayStation UK Managing Director Fergal Gara about PS4’s policy concerning pre-owned games:

Well first of all, we haven’t stated that second-hand games…we haven’t made a statement on the second-hand games question. There was a lot of reaction to a patent that was filed, which is a matter of course for a technology business like us, to file various patents at various times, many of which many never see any application but they are good to have depending on ideas that might be building.

So what we’re here to do is offer the best value and the best gaming experience for gamers. The answer to the pre-owned question isn’t clarified just yet and we’re working through that and we’ll announce our position in more detail as and when we can.

fergal-garaDon’t read too much into the stammering in the first part of that quote. I’m sure the question caught him a bit off-guard. That he seems to have stopped himself mid-sentence doesn’t necessarily mean he’s got anything to hide.

The more telling concern is that, like Microsoft, Mr. Gara treats “pre-owned” like a “question” that Sony even needs an “answer” to.

Sony VP of Worldwide Studios Michael Denny delivered a similar statement, but went a little more in-depth on the variables at play:

It’s a massively important issue and I understand why it’s one that keeps coming up and will keep coming up, because people want to know what the exact stance is. In relation to points like that, of course we’re mindful of what the game development community wants and what the wider industry issues are with those things. I think in good time that will become clearer.

The bolded part should send up some red flags. It’s clear from their attempts at publisher-based DRM that “the game development community” seriously wants to restrict used game sales. While many have praised the likes of Ubisoft and EA for beginning to step away from their draconian DRM schemes, could it be that their conversions to the light side are in fact a PR ploy because it is in fact no longer necessary for them to enforce used game sale restrictions now that they have game consoles that can do it for them?

Denny went on to add the following:

It’s not something that I feel I have any further announcement or comment to make on, other than to acknowledge with you that it’s a massively important issue and of course we are going to do the right thing.

“The right thing.” That sounds nice. But “the right thing” for whom, exactly? For publishers? For consumers? Some kind of compromise between the two?

shuhei-yoshidaSony’s President of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida gave a slightly less vague statement to GameSpot:

When you purchase the disc-based games on PS4, it should work on any hardware. So that’s what I’m saying.

That might almost be reassuring if Microsoft didn’t technically also fulfill this. You can play Xbox One discs on any Xbox One console… as long as you’re signed in to the original account.

To make matters even more concerning, Mr. Yoshida mentioned in a roundtable discussion that publishers can require activation codes for secondhand games, a similar DRM measure to the one we expect Microsoft is using with Xbox One to ensure the appropriate transfer of software between owners. When asked whether Sony will implement such a measure, he simply replied that Sony wasn’t ready to talk about it.

If you’re thinking of jumping ship from Xbox One to PS4 because of Xbox One’s DRM for discs, you’d better wait until Sony reveals its full hand. From the sound of things, PS4 could implement the same restrictions.

You’ll notice that amid the jabs Sony took at Microsoft on social networking, the backlash about used games still hasn’t come up.

On the bright side, we do have a voice out of Sony that offers a clear response on the issue: Jack Tretton of SCEA. Apparently he told Michael Pachter that he’s “completely opposed to blocking used games”:

He said, ‘for the record, I’m totally opposed to blocking used games. I think it’s great for the consumer that they can buy those. We have a customer that buys our console late in the cycle, pays less, is looking for value priced games, and I think it would be anti-consumer for us to do that.’

But he’s just one man, and that statement – if it is real, and if Mr. Pachter really is reporting it correctly (why does he have to be the one to share something like this anyway?) – sounds more like a personal opinion than a clarification of company policy.

Still, it’s good to see someone from one of the console makers calling such policies what they are: “anti-consumer.”

What about Nintendo? If you recall, Nintendo Executive VP of Sales Scott Moffitt was able to give a very frank answer to this issue as it related to Wii U when CVG asked him about it last year:

It is a reality in the marketplace. We haven’t incorporated any features that will discourage used game sales at this point. We’re not trying to circumvent that.

nintendo-wii-u-scott-moffittNo political maneuvering. No vague non-answers. No contradictions between Mr. Moffitt, customer support, and the rest of Nintendo’s PR team. Just a straight up “we aren’t doing anything to discourage used game sales.”

Guess what? They weren’t. You can pop in any Wii or Wii U disc into any Wii U and play it then and there. No mandatory account-based registration, transfer of ownership, or second system fee required.

By the way, Scott Moffitt also said in the same interview that he didn’t even know whether Nintendo had a policy on used games. As it turns out: Nintendo’s policy, while it doesn’t really have much love for the used market (and, amusingly enough, doesn’t realize how important the used market is for other media either), seems to be not to specifically restrict resale but to make games that people don’t want to trade in:

Reggie Fils-Aime: More and more retailers are experimenting with the used game model. We don’t believe used games are in the best interest of the consumer. We have products that consumers want to hold onto. They want to play all of the levels of a Zelda game and unlock all of the levels. A game like Personal Trainer Cooking has a long life. We believe used games aren’t in the consumer’s best interest.

I think that’s a “solution” that every gamer can agree with.

Thanks to Marleyman at NeoGAF for rounding up the quotes from Sony.