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Will Microsoft's next Xbox Be the End of Used Games?

News about some of the impressive specs in the Xbox 360’s successor was overshadowed by rumors it may restrict pre-owned gaming.

Last week a number of articles hit the streets about what to expect performance-wise from what is for now popularly called the ‘Nextbox’ or ‘Xbox 720’ in the absence of an official designation.

Some of the rumors were a cause for excitement or acknowledgement that expectations were being met. Another felt like a sucker punch to the gut of budget-conscious gamers everywhere.

Both IGN and Kotaku were among the first to have the rumored details. There was a lot of good news to be found:

  • It will utilize Blu-ray discs. DVDs can hold 9GB of data; Blu-ray can hold 25–50GB. In practicality, this was expected and pretty much mandatory since PS3 supports Blu-ray now and next generation games will need more storage capacity. Even if they don’t use Blu-ray, they’ll need something with an equivalent ability to hold data.
  • The new Kinect system will be bundled from the start. The second generation unit will include its own processor, making it faster and more accurate.
  • The controller may be smaller than the current one. While many don’t mind the comparative heft of the Xbox 360 controller, anyone who shuts off their 360 to play a PS3 game knows the feeling of almost accidentally flinging the Sony controller across the room due to the suddenness of picking up something that weighs only two-thirds as much.
  • The graphics capability may be around 6x that of the 360, though some at Microsoft claim they’re hoping it’s close to 8x the power.
  • The first chips to go in dev kits have started being produced, with kits themselves going out late in summer, and a potential product release in late fall 2013. The time frame fits precedent as PS2, PS3, Xbox, and Xbox 360 all had late-October to mid-November launches.

Those are all great things to hear, but even if it’s all 100 percent accurate for now, a lot could change in 18 months.

But then there was one other tidbit of information that was like getting a new Porsche and having it immediately keyed by a jealous ex-girlfriend: Nextbox may “incorporate some sort of anti-used game system.”

Ouch! While it felt like a blindside, when one stops to think, it’s really not surprising at all.

Consumers love purchasing used games. You can get the same experience for a few bucks cheaper, plus the market’s existence means you can trade in games when you’re done with them to defray the cost of the next one. And the pre-owned market is often the only way to get a game that’s several years old or was a niche game that had relatively few copies made. Toss in the lower price being a way for some to bite on trying a franchise they were unsure of and it could lead to sales down the road of new games.

But game publishers hate the concept of second-hand gaming. They view it as a lost sale in pretty much the same way record companies viewed songs downloaded from Napster. They also claim that someone using multiplayer is straining their servers without having paid to do so (though it can be said the original purchaser is now no longer accessing their servers, so it’s kind of a wash).

Jealous of the profits places like get from used game sales, the concept of online passes in multiplayer games to capture some money from the secondhand market became pretty much entrenched with alarming speed. A push by publishers to prevent used game play at all hardly seems a stretch.

Of course, that tiny “anti-used game system” phrase leaves a lot of room for guesswork as to how such a system would or could be implemented:

  • Would this just regulate the online portion of the game, or would copies of games be somehow tied to consoles and/or accounts even for the single-player experience?
  • Would this mean the end of renting games via services like GameFly?
  • What about someone who wants to take a game to a friend’s house and use it on their console?
  • What if your console breaks down and needs replacement? How would that affect this system?

It’s just four words, but they’re causing a lot of worries.

And the other big question is whether the next PlayStation console would also have such a feature, if I may use the term loosely. If Microsoft has thought of it/had it suggested, then the same almost has to be said for Sony.

It could set off an interesting battle if ‘PS4’ did not use such a scheme, but Nextbox did. Would publishers be more likely to grant exclusives to Microsoft if they had that benefit of not seeing their games be sold after use? Could we face choosing between A) a PS4 with fewer and not-quite-as-anticipated titles that we could play used or B) a Nextbox with more and hotter titles that we couldn’t play used? And if Microsoft were winning the sales war in that scenario, would Sony cave and patch anti-used gaming to its console?

Of course, if both systems have such a technology, any discussion or griping becomes moot. Hardcore gamers have little interest in the Wii U, so our choices would be to buy one of the two systems or not. And Sony and Microsoft know full well we will. We’ll say we won’t, but the pressure to not be left out when friends have it will be too much to bear.

And the inescapable reality is that the used game market has limited life left to it. As games move increasingly from physical distribution to digital distribution, within a decade there simply may no longer be such a thing as a disc to resell, making this plan just a speeding up via greed of what technology is going to make happen anyway.

The most important thing for now, though, is not to get too worked up about it. It may not be true at all. It could be a purposefully leaked rumor meant to gauge consumer reaction (hint: it’s been negative). So until official word comes down from Microsoft, all we can do is wait and hope.

Jeff is currently playing Metal Gear Solid HD Collection; follow him on Twitter at JKLugar.

James Boyle January 31, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Freezing out the used game market would be a huge blunder. It infuriates me when big-money companies try to make it harder for the average consumer to save a couple bucks. My GameFly account has saved me hundreds of dollars wasted on dud video games.
john gerlach January 31, 2012 at 09:27 PM
I will not buy any system that ties my disc games to my gamertag . I have had my gamertag hacked and I am dealing with trying to get it back . I was told it may take up to days by Microsoft. I have also had 5 different Xbox 360's and its a pain to re download all my games and add ons . I would buy a wii_u instead of the next Xbox or ps4.

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