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Is Sony Looking to Kill Used Games, Too?

As details of Sony’s PS4/Orbis console emerge, the disturbing specter of not allowing used games again rears its ugly head.

 

Recent days have seen information come out on all three next generation consoles. The Wii U finally seems to have a launch date (November 18), and the ‘Nextbox’ is rumored to require a constant Internet connection to play even single player games.

But the big news is the first round of rumors of what we may expect from Sony’s fourth console, codenamed Orbis.

As usual, Kotaku helped lead the charge in providing the rumored information to the successor to the PS3 console. And unfortunately, it seems that once again a console manufacturer is almost going out of its way to anger its customer base.

So what are some of the reported basics?

  • It’s either called or codenamed Orbis. If it maintains the PlayStation branding, it may not be called PlayStation 4, but might be PlayStation Four. While that seems like six and one half-dozen of the other, the Japanese numeral 4 is a homophone for a pronunciation of a character meaning death, making it their 13; writing it in Western letters really makes a difference.
  • It may use AMD Southern Islands graphics cards. These are from their family of higher-end cards for gaming PCs, so they pack some oomph.
  • The system will be able to put out graphics at a 4096x2160 resolution. This is truly gaudy as TVs/monitors capable of that output run in the five figures, pricewise. But since the system is targeting a holiday 2013 release window, maybe by 2017 they will be more commonplace and the system will be able to take advantage.

Those are all great things to hear, and not much of that is unexpected when considering that new consoles typically vastly outperform their predecessors.

But then two shoes fell, though sadly neither of them was that surprising, just the slap of expected inevitability across gamers’ faces.

First came the news that the new system won’t be backwards compatible with PS3. Console manufacturers usually take pains to have new systems maintain the functionality to allow gamers to play their back catalog of games—at least going one generation back.

The PS2 played PS1, Xbox 360 plays Xbox, and Nintendo’s DS played GBA titles. And at the start PS3 played PS2. But concerns that people might spend money on PS2 games instead of PS3 titles led Sony to stop offering that nicety as the console aged. Now word is coming out that Orbis won’t ever offer the chance to play PS3 games.

That will leave people with large PS3 collections that they’re not done with to hold on to their PS3s—and hope they don’t break. Once the PS3 stops working, they’ll be left with an expensive set of drink coasters.

The second slap came from Sony’s dealing with the used game issue. When it was reported that the ‘Nextbox’ would feature anti-used game measures, gamers were split into two camps: those who were resigned to Sony likely announcing they’d be doing the same, and those who had faith Sony would seize at the chance to get some competitive advantage and proclaim used games would be welcome on their next console.

Predictably, the pessimists/realists were proven correct, as used games will be heavily restricted.

Part of it will stem from the simple fact that even retail releases will be available for download off PSN, making moot the ability to trade the game back. This may very well be the last console generation to even have physical media.

But reports are that even games bought in a traditional store on Blu-ray will be bound to a user’s PSN account, potentially even restricting taking the game to a friend’s house to play. The game will be hobbled if played on a different machine, perhaps restricting itself to a tutorial/demo unless payment is made to activate it.

In other words, consumers lose out, and GameStop loses out. Gamers with limited budgets will have to shop with even more scrutiny knowing the game they buy won’t be able to be used to help defray the cost of a future game. Meanwhile, GameStop will see their extremely lucrative used game sales dry up even faster than they were going to anyway from the shift to digital media.

Admittedly, Sony has yet to confirm—or deny—any of this, from the benign specs to the anti-consumer aspects. But rumors, leaks, and anonymous reports tend to have a lot of truth to them. Will Sony surprise us and announce that they’re embracing the used game market? It could be, but remember they also make games and also feel they’re losing out on sales each time a game is traded back to a store or sold on eBay.

While there are a lot of rabid gamers with a burning passion for their pastime and its continued affordability, ultimately, the decision to restrict used games or not will be made by cold, unemotional numbers and analyses. If projections show more profit gets made by shutting off the spigot of used games, that’ll be the end of them.

Jeff is currently playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3; follow him on Twitter at JKLugar.

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