Features & News

Next-Gen News: ‘720’ at E3 and ‘PS4’ To Block second-hand games?

January 3, 2013, Author: Matt Parker

Well, it never rains but it pours. Be careful what you wish for I suppose. Today saw the beginning of what is no doubt going to be a flood of next-gen news we’ll see this year.

Firstly, Major Nelson’s blog heavily hints at an E3 showing of the next 360 and then those cheeky devils at Sony go and patent technology that could block the use of second-hand games.

Major Nelson, AKA Larry Hryb – Director of Programming for Xbox LIVE, posted on his blog today – a countdown to E3. Not very exciting, but everyone seems to be extrapolating from this that it’s a countdown to when the ‘720’ (I hate calling it that) will be unveiled. It’s a strange day and age when everyone goes crazy when someone, even if it is someone as important as Mr Hryb, posts a countdown to E3.

Now for something a little more concrete. A little more factual. As concrete as a cinder block to the head and as factual as the fact that a cinder block to the head isn’t popular.

Today it emerged that Sony has filed for a patent which could see that the use of second-hand games on the ‘PS4’ is ‘suppressed’. Of course, Sony claim in their patent files that the act of restricting second-hand sales;

‘supports the redistribution of part of proceeds from sales of the electronic content to the developers.’

They also say;

‘The development of electronic content including game applications (APs) is costly and therefore in a content business it is vital to redistribute part of proceeds from sales of the electronic content to the developers…’

Hard to argue with those statements, no doubt, and it’s possible that this is what it is – a patent and nothing more. There’s been plenty of cases where patents are filed and then never used. Does anyone remember Microsoft’s crazy glasses?

Just because you patent it, doesn't mean you'll make it...

There’s also the hard to escape fact that developers really don’t see any money from second-hand sales. Not a penny. So it’s no wonder that when a large portion of the business the games retail industry does comes from second-hand sales, we see so many developers go under. It’s also hard to argue that, if games are priced incredibly competitively, people will forget about not having access to a second-hand market. Heard of Steam? It’s doing pretty well and offers no second-hand games. Just insanely good value for purchases which developers and publishers receive a piece of the profit from.

If this turns out to be true, then Sony would really need to offer the same sort of value only currently seen on Steam (and a shout out to GOG whilst I’m at it). Whilst it’s easy to be cynical (I should know, because I often am), I’m willing to give Sony the benefit of the doubt here.

The Playstation Plus service puts LIVE to shame with regards to value and content. Then there’s the fact that Sony pulled out all of the stops to purchase Gaikai, a game streaming service. How much their purchase of Gaikai and their eagerness to prevent second-hand sales is linked, I can only guess at.

Just imagine though, that Sony are gearing up to go fully digital, offering a Steam like service through their next-gen console. It could happen, as they’ve already allowed some Steam functionality onto the PS3, they’ve got a digital distribution platform they’ve recently purchased and they’re making great strides towards being seen as offering a quality online service with Plus.

Having said all of this, are Sony really brave enough to do this? Like I mentioned, second-hand sales are a huge business. The reason they’re such big business is because that’s what the customer wants. Surely, by restricting access to second-hand games you’re refusing access to what the customer wants and therefore setting yourself up for trouble. If the ‘720’ (urgh) has second-hand capabilities and the ‘PS4’ doesn’t, which would you buy?

Great minds think alike. The difference is most likely in the bank accounts...

I thought this was an entirely original and clever deduction on my part, but a little research has made me aware of a certain Michael Pachter. He commented on this story back in March of last year, when it was still rumor and no patent was filed. He had this to say;

‘ If Sony unilaterally did this, I could see GameStop refusing to carry their console and sales of the PS4 would therefore suffer.’

‘If one does it and the others don’t, the one who does it will see a loss of market share…’

Seeing as he said exactly what I was thinking, I have to agree with him. Admittedly, he said this months before me, but still…

So there we have it. The ‘720’ (tell us its real name already!) is likely to be unveiled at E3 and the ‘PS4’ might have some technology in it that restricts the usage of second-hand games.

Excited for the next-gen yet?