What a shame.
That's about all I can say about Microsoft's game-changing decisions regarding the Xbox One.
It could have been worse, but the damage is pretty severe as it stands. The act of borrowing games is on the cusp of becoming history. The used games economy is about to be changed significantly. Independent video game stores will likely be shutting down in droves. GameFly just had its death sentence handed down. And, oh, if your Internet connection goes down for more than a day? Your Xbox One is worthless until your ISP fixes the problem.
I was hoping that this scenario wouldn't happen, from a consumer standpoint. I wanted to think that Microsoft would reconsider after the anger and complaints from consumers around the Web. It wasn't too late to change, or to step back and reconsider, or to think about how to approach a decision like this with the public before making it final. Unfortunately, Microsoft has chosen its path—a path where publishing partners have been prioritized over consumers and where there are acceptable losses when it comes to who won't be able to use the Xbox One.
Perhaps the strategy works out for Microsoft here. Maybe we're making too big a deal of not being able to borrow games or being limited as to where we can trade our games in. Maybe a majority of prospective Xbox One buyers won't care about these things. It'll be interesting to see how Microsoft can overcome the overwhelming amount of negativity and if the games can sell the hardware in spite of these limitations. I certainly will not actively dissuade anyone from buying the Xbox One, even though I'll be staying far, far away from the platform as a consumer. Each individual person has his or her own driving factors when it comes to deciding which console(s) to buy, and there's no right and wrong there.
I'm just sad. Sad and disappointed. Rentals, borrowing, and relatively effortless trade-ins or purchase of used games have been staples of console video games for decades. Sure, the rental model has changed, as the Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos closed and gave way to the GameFlys and Redboxes… but we've always been able to borrow games from friends or relatives without restriction. We've always been able to trade in our games at video game stores or sell them to pawn shops, at tag sales, online, or even donate them to a good cause. All of these things—all of them—are on the cusp of changing forever.
I wrote recently about how the used games economy helped me to stay current in console gaming. Had I not traded in my Dreamcast and all of my games at my local independent video game store after SEGA unceremoniously dumped the platform, it would have taken me a lot longer to buy a PlayStation 2. In this new scenario, I would no longer be able to do that; I'd have to go to a "participating retailer" or be stuck with what I had. If trade-in values tank because of this new deal with Microsoft, what choice does a consumer have? Either trade it in and accept the price given, keep it and continue using it, or shatter the disc into a million pieces. There won't be bargaining. There won't be bartering. It's Microsoft's way or the highway, play along or don't play at all.
I've said before on Twitter than GameFly has been operating on borrowed time, and this development will likely prove me right. The idea of "rentals" will change. One scenario I envision is timed digital rentals (an hour for $5), with an option to unlock the game fully for $55 more on your credit card, debit card, or with funds added to the user's account from point of sale cards purchased at retail. Rentals will go on for those who are connected, but physical rentals will be gone in 2-3 years. Jobs will be lost, facilities will be closed, and a service will become a part of gaming history, like the XBAND or the SEGA Channel. More than 20 years after rentals successfully won legal challenges from the console video game industry, the game industry gets the last laugh.
As for borrowing games, I've never done it much… although I have lent out games to friends and co-workers in the past. I never considered that my actions were costing the industry money, but here we are. I thought I was being a good friend, spreading the word about great games, or building interest in gaming with my social circles. Thankfully, I can still let friends borrow my older games, but retro games don't have the Internet acting as a lock and key. They can be played anywhere that there's a console which can play them. No connectivity checks, no worries about the games not working if my ISP tanks.
The Internet has given us much since it was tied into console video games. It's shortened the distance between friends, allows us to find playing partners or opponents any time of the day or night, provides us with fixes for game problems or expansions once we think we've finished with a game, and more. The Internet also has taken things away. Servers get shut down, certain features or functionality can be locked behind paywalls or activation codes, and now… the illusion of game ownership that consumers used to have is about to be dispelled. Thanks to additional controls that Internet connectivity gives console makers and publishers, we'll soon realize that we buy licenses with limitations. The publisher still owns the game after consumers pay $60; you'll just be granted access to play it. The argument about owning games versus being given a limited-use license to access what is on a disc or cartridge has been around for a long time, but with thanks to the Internet, it's no longer an argument. Consumers own nothing. The game they buy is never theirs. It's like going to a concert or sporting event, you pay a price to get in and you get to enjoy that event. You can take pictures and enjoy the experience, but it does end and you do eventually leave. With this new generation of games, you pay a price and get access to a game, but it's a finite experience and when it ends—when you're done—that's it.
I could be angry about this, but there are plenty of others who have already taken that approach. I'll admit that I was angry about it earlier, but I've come to realize that there are some things I just can't change. I'm more comfortable than ever with my decision to skip this generation of consoles, seeing the direction that this business is headed. It's nothing to be angry about. I did that for years and nothing changed. I'll enjoy watching this generation unfold as a neutral observer without a personal horse in the race, and I'll hope that those who do upgrade get the most bang for their bucks.
The end of an era is approaching, whether we like it or not. It's disappointing. It's sad. But all good things… well… they do come to an end. It was a good run for rentals, for borrowing, and for smaller, independent video game stores. When the inevitable book is written about the second 25 years of video games, or The Second Quarter (a follow-up to Steven Kent's excellent work), we'll look back with fondness on these things.
- Consoleation: All good things… - November 15, 2013
- Consoleation: The death of the College Football video game - September 27, 2013
- Consoleation: The war on used games—Xbox One, Consumers Zero - June 8, 2013