Tuesday Pontificat’n – The Ownership is Overrated Edition

Gamestop Used Games

So, a few more cards are now on the table. I’m not going to write much (this time) about the console themselves. Matt already did a fantastic job assessing each company’s sales pitch. Do go read it, if you haven’t yet. (What I find interesting is that in a generation where both platforms are based on x86 architecture, they’ve certainly found ways to wholly differentiate themselves. Bravo!) What I’ve found fascinating to watch since the initial One unveiling and in the wake of Monday’s E3 press conferences is this love affair we all seem to be having with game “ownership,” now that console gamers everywhere are terrified of losing it.

Right now, the One’s current feature list has precisely one deal-breaker for me. The once every 24-hour check-in required for me to keep access to my games library is a non-starter. It’s a poison pill that will kill the console and I’d be shocked –SHOCKED!– if this policy doesn’t change by release (or within the first year). Take that away, however, and much of the vitriol directed towards the Xbox One has to do with the fact that it’s a blatant attempt to end the era in which we “own” our games, thus killing off the used game market as we know it. This is troubling to people who feel they’ve done quite well by its existence — Gamestop, people saving $5 on a used game, people spending $60 on a game knowing they can get a chunk back for their next purchase by turning it around right quick. It’s been a decent ride for you folks and Sony is shrewd to make continued embrace of this model a marketing point for the PS4. It’s still all going to end, though. It’s a matter of time.

Let’s pretend for a minute that the PS4 flops and when it goes, the used game market evaporates with it. (I do not think the PS4 will flop.) Do I feel for you that it’s going away? Not really. I’m a PC gamer, man. My hobby has all but already transitioned to this whole license purchasing thing. Yes there are solid alternatives, like GoG, but Steam owns the PC gaming roost and, with it, we stopped “owning” most of our games quite a while ago. And you know what? We’re all getting on just fine that way. In fact, our platform of choice is thriving, thank you very much.

Take away the check-ins and the only thing particularly new about what the One is purported to do is that it still wants the disc to be a part of the equation. I realize that’s important to your Gamestops and Best Buys, but why on earth would I buy the disc just to install it on my console and never touch it again? Why wouldn’t I just download the game as I do on Steam? (Yes, yes, exceptions for gamers not living in a broadband world. The One’s already bending you over anyway.)

Whether the One’s model works or not will depend entirely on the same thing Steam’s model relies on — offering value. Steam isn’t the harbinger of doom. It’s not an enabler for a draconian future of oppressed gaming. It’s a service that successfully offered PC gamers a trade-off. I agree to ditch the cardboard box and plastic disc and tie my games to a personal account that Valve owns and in return I get convenience (purchasing games from home), easy access on any PC device I own, and dirt cheap bargains on existing catalog. This is all good enough for me (and a hoard of others), even if I do still miss good manuals… but those went bye-bye a long time ago.

(Please note that this post has nothing to do with game quality and the impossibilities of AAA game development. That’s another story, one I’ve been railing about for quite some time. Games shown off for the One at the E3 presser that I care about? Zero.)

EDIT: Check that. One. Witcher 3. Which I’ll play on the PC. 

What it comes down to is that I can’t muster up much Internet-rage about finding ways to preserve the Culture of Ownership. More and more I feel like it’s mainly out of habit that we care so much about having ownership of such highly disposable products. For most of my life (and yours too, I’d imagine), media-based entertainment has required the acquisition of things. Music on cassette or CD (or vinyl or 8-track). Games on floppy or optical disc. Movies on cassette or optical disc. You bought it, you owned it forever or until you sold it or gave it away.

Forever.

There was something comforting in that fallacy. And make no mistake, it is a fallacy. Media gets damaged or degrades. Tech gets abandoned. It all goes eventually. And that’s okay.

I’m about to be 39 years old. When I was a wee lad playing Starflight, Wasteland, and earlier Ultimas all the way until my relatively recent adulthood I have believed that my life would be incomplete if I couldn’t go back and access these games whenever I wanted. What if 65 year old me wants to become the Avatar One. More. Time? What if nobody ever makes another good fantasy D&D game like Baldur’s Gate II? I want my kids to have these experiences! I need these games to be a part of my future! AHHHH!

Hogwash.

Sure, it’s nice to have a few choice titles on the shelf to be nostalgic about, but we don’t need to carry this stuff with us. None of it. Ownership of our media is overrated. And console fans should know that better than anybody. When was the last time you fired up a game for the original Xbox or Sega Genesis? Console games have always come with expiration dates. Not owning discs is not going to destroy gaming any more than the rise of legally downloadable MP3s destroyed music. What’s really happening right now is that the ecosystem surrounding how you purchase and play games is changing.

I remember a period in my young adult life when I would go to music shops with my buddies and pour through the used CD sections. Most of those stores are gone now and of those that remain, I really couldn’t be less interested in browsing all those scratched and cracked jewel cases. It wasn’t the apocalypse. Apple came along with the iTunes store and I thought it sucked so I ignored it and then Amazon came along with a better offering (MP3s and legitimate deals on whole albums) and I thought, “This works for me.” And it worked for a lot of people, so much so that iTunes adjusted their model too. I ended up buying and downloading a whole lot more $5 albums, at far better value than the new or used CD market offered, than I ever had in my life. And then Spotify came along and my album buying habit has all but ceased because I can pretty much call up whatever I want, whenever I want, and it doesn’t cost me a dime. True, I could lose access to all that stuff on Spotify tomorrow, but if I did, what have I really lost? The music isn’t going to go away. It’ll come out in some other form or factor and if the value proposition is good enough then I’ll adopt it. If it doesn’t, I’ll move on to something else.

And, you know what? Most people know and understand that. This isn’t really about the sanctity of the used games market. It’s about value. What really bothers people is that used games have been the place for console gamers to get value in a market that pathologically overestimates the value of games. I get it. Just don’t confuse the two. Getting value isn’t tied to the existence of used games. The Xbox One? Maybe it’ll provide a good value proposition for gamers and maybe it won’t. It probably won’t right away. But if it doesn’t, something else will and people will flock to that. Nature abhors a vacuum.

We talk all the time about how publishers need to “get with the times,” but there are times, and this is one of them, when we, as gamers, need to do the same. Yes, absolutely lobby for your rights to get good value for your gaming dollar! I’m not advocating that you throw money at bad value. (Read: the host of “shitty” dudebro games MS expected us to salivate over at the E3 presser.) Just don’t make the used game corner of your local outlet the rallying cry for your rights as a consumer. That’s a red herring. The days of you going into said shop, saying “hey” to the friendly bloke behind the register, and grabbing something off the new release shelf or browsing the used games collection? Those days are ending, just as they are for music and film purchases. And, yes, there are good things we’re going to lose when it goes, but no one ever said change was a wholly positive thing. There are costs and benefits to all change, but ideally the benefits outweigh the costs. Most often, they do. It’s precisely what motivates this sort of change.

The world is moving on. And if the world of gaming evolves into something that doesn’t interest you? Big whoop. You’ll find something else to be interested in. One thing we’re not short of in modern society is diversions. These aren’t things that require outcry, merely an even-minded assessment of the value of your entertainment and an understanding that times change. In the meantime, I’m casting off the shackles of ownership. There comes a point where having possessions means that they start owning you instead. Tossing all my game boxes and plastic discs, all this “stuff,” to the side in favor of on-demand versions of the same products that I can access where and when I want, even if I don’t truly “own” them, doesn’t make me feel repressed. It makes me feel free.

40 Responses to “Tuesday Pontificat’n – The Ownership is Overrated Edition”

  1. Brandon June 11, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    I get what you’re saying, but I still like physical copies. Yeah, I download music, but I like having the disc. The disc has utility. I can bring it places and it works. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’ve put it on my iPod for my car or whatever. Same with movies. Plus, and here’s where I use it the most, I can give that disc to someone else easily and let them listen to the music or watch the movie. In some cases, I can still do that with digital media, in the case of these games, not so much.

    I don’t care about buying used games. Except for the rare occurrence when I can’t find an older game or I take advantage of a GameFly sale, I don’t buy used games. I do use the ability to trade them in to hedge against the $60 price point and I do rent the hell out of games. Steam is great because you can get really great deals and some have said that will happen to console games with an all digital future but I don’t see it. Not with console games because console game publishers are unwilling to look at why their games aren’t financially successful and make the appropriate changes.

    At the end of the day though, what this comes down to is that if you sell me a physical object, you as the seller should have no say whatsoever in what I do with that object once our transaction is finished. If you want to go all digital, knock yourself out. I won’t be a part of it if I don’t have to be, but I’m not opposed to it on general principal. If you sell me a disc though, it’s mine. I can loan it, resell it, whatever. Yanking my ability to do what I want with a product I paid for simply because you’re too stupid to turn five million sales into a success is not my problem.

    All that being said, the every 24 hours check in thing is utter bullshit. I’m not a criminal, stop treating me like I am one.

    • Todd Brakke June 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

      Therein lies the crux of the argument. Forget Microsoft and the One. Forget the used game corner of the store. Does having the physical media, and feeling like you “own” it, really matter? I’m arguing it matters less and less and the time is coming when it won’t matter at all. (For me, it already doesn’t.)

    • ertimmer June 12, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

      I agree with Brandon the 24 hour console check rankles me to the core. What worldly reason do they have for forcing me online at an interval of their choosing? While in reality this is a mild inconvenience at very best MOST of the time; there are so many examples where the $500 Xbone you paid you can’t play because you don’t have internet. For example what if you move into a new place and your ISP cannot make an appointment for a week? It’s unbelievable frustrating to be unable to use something you paid for when you want to. Blizzard comp’d players pennies for server down time, will Microsoft do the same thing?

      With so many questions about privacy these days and who can look at what data we create by choice and coincidentally; i think this choice is an overly draconian move. I will probably miss some great moments playing with friends whom will purchase the Xbone, but I’m not supporting this bull shit.

      As a token response to physical media, I understand your sentiment as a person whom enjoys Vinyl. Maybe physical media will become an Indie nostalgia medium as it has in music, in an attempt to generate funds for the creator. Maybe they’ll include over the top instruction manuals and other goodies, it’s a curious thought.

      • ilta June 13, 2013 at 2:48 am #

        Hey, quick correction because while I don’t think English is your first language it’s otherwise really great, except for one thing, and I can’t pass up a teachable moment.

        Use “who” when the person is the SUBJECT of the sentence, and “whom” when they are the OBJECT. The subject is the main thing you’re talking about, the object is the thing that describes the subject.

        Example: “For whom (object) is this XBox One (subject) designed?” “For anyone who (subject) has a reliable Internet connection.”

        “Who (subject) designed the XBox One (object)?” “Microsoft (subject), at whom (object) we all now shake our heads in disbelief.”

        Generally, thought not always, “whom” will show up next to a preposition, like at, on, to, or for.

        And finally, if you aren’t sure, better to use “who” since most people do that anyway.

  2. webdanzer June 11, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    I just recently played PaRappa the Rapper with my ten year old son, and we had a great time. The disk was in fine shape, although it’s some 15 years old, and 5 years older than my son is. He now sings the songs around the house. We’ve also enjoyed Diddy Kong Racing together on the N64. The fun we had was not at all overrated.

    A shame a young man now won’t be able to save and share some fun and treasured games with his children because MS or ‘X console maker’ decided to stop supporting the system.

    • Todd Brakke June 11, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

      PaRappa is a PS1 game, right? I’m too lazy to check, but let’s say it is. What happens when your PS1 or PS2 w/compatiblity (which stayed on the market for like a year) goes belly up? Or the disc does get damaged? Sometimes these things last ages and sometimes they don’t. That’s neither here nor there, though. The point I’d make is that physicality is no more a *guarantee* of future usage than the all-digital path. Both have scenarios in which your ability to play a title goes away.

      And let’s say your disc was ruined and you couldn’t have had that wonderful moment with your son. Does that mean that same time couldn’t have been devoted to a different wonderful moment with him? You’d still fill that void with a memory, probably a great one (maybe better; who knows?).

      Our ability to access old media experiences (music, books, games) is fragile whether it’s licensed and rights-managed or if it comes from something physical. It’s all a crap shoot on that front, so in the here and now why not focus on what platform offers the best value and support that, regardless of the mechanism of distribution?

      • webdanzer June 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

        I agree that yes, eventually ‘everything dies,’ but I’d rather take my chances with physical media than the good graces of a for-profit company to keep the infrastructure alive to let me play my games.

        Say my disc is scratched…there are ebay and second hand stores and the like. Even if the playstation died, you can still get them online, or get them repaired. But say the PaRappa game was instead a ‘service’ that was provided to me by the original Xbox live, something NEWER than the PS1. That service is long gone, and if the games as service model was enacted then, not only wouldn’t I be able to have played that game, but all other in my library from that era would have gone kaput.

        I have a LOT of games for the current generation, and when my 360 died, I can tell you it was a lot easier to get back up and running with my disk based games than it was to get all my digital downloaded stuff back. (Redownload, reinstall, transfer rights, etc)

        For me, games as a product is obviously better than as a non-owned service.

        • zeowyrm June 11, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

          Not to burst your argument or anything, but with the advent of Virtual Console, and even PSClassics on the PSN, you still have access to these things. My son’s been playing the hell out of Parappa, and I don’t own the disc. Got it on PSN for peanuts. Yeah, physical media is good and all, but I keep them more for keepsakes honestly. Most games worth playing get re-released somewhere, somehow. GOG.com makes a good profit off that very concept.

          • webdanzer June 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

            Not all of them, though, and if I can avoid paying another time for something I already have, that’s preferable.

            The other game we played recently was Diddy Kong Racing for the N64. Is that available anywhere online? (Serious question, I don’t know.)

          • zeowyrm June 11, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

            Not online that I can see, although it looks like it got a DS release at one point.

        • Todd Brakke June 12, 2013 at 9:39 am #

          I think you raise a lot of fair points, but I also think it really comes down to personal comfort/expectation level with means of distribution. I just can’t make myself care about plastic discs anymore. I used to, just not anymore.

          Example: Most of my old game collection (I still have a large box of old games in my shed) is unplayable. They’re all on floppy or won’t run in Windows. I’m not going to go out and buy an old PC to make those run, even if the media were still good (which it’s probably not). I kept them for nostalgia, but wrote off ever playing them again. And then GoG (and Steam too) comes along and for a $5-$10 if I want those experiences again (most of them) I can have them without any need to worry about physical media or figuring out how to run DOS box myself.

          But even then, when it comes down to it, I really don’t want to play these games again, or more to the point, if I do want to and can’t, my original purchase of those games hasn’t been devalued. I got my money’s worth from them when I bought and played them. If I can still access them a decade later then great. If I can’t, it’s not that big a loss (IMO, of course).

  3. ilta June 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    I think the “value” argument is the one that will win. Like you, the reason I don’t mind Steam (besides the convenience factor) is that I can get my games very, very cheaply if I wait a few months (or sometimes, just a few weeks!). Basically any game I want, except for the giant big releases (Bioshock Infinity, the various AAA shooters I don’t care about) is well under $30 in the time it would take for me to get around to playing it anyway. For the rest of them, there is ebay, selling new codes at discounted prices from Day 1.

    I don’t honestly know how publishing companies agree to these sales, or how they release so many codes that ultimately end up on ebay and the like, but there it is. They must make it up by doing ferocious volume.

    The question is, will Microsoft essentially shutting down the secondary market lead to the possibility of this happening? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. If Microsoft is able to wrestle those publishers to the ground with frequent Steam-like sales, their $500 Orwell Machine starts looking like a much better deal.

    • ilta June 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      To put it another way — the only reason “used” means something is insofar as it means “affordable.” If there is another way to get to “affordable” then nobody will mourn the loss of “used.”

    • Todd Brakke June 12, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      Absolutely. I honestly think that’s what we’ll start to see before all is said and done. Not right away. Microsoft and their AAA-focused buddies are going to see how far they can squeeze $$$ out of people and I really don’t think it’ll work. And really, I think MS is just trying to create/own the marketplace and then put the burden of a successful pricing model on the publishers for the games. Regardless, I’m less interested in what the One landscape will look like at release than what it will look like 1-2-3 years down the road. Steam didn’t look like it does now right away, sales included. It took time.

      • ilta June 12, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

        A valid point, but Steam had the luxury of being the first to market. They could afford to wait and innovate and improve. If people are holding off on XB1 purchases for a year (or three) that’s a huge, huge loss for Microsoft, and for anybody who hoped to see some credible competition this console cycle.

        Just like your snazzy new MMORPG has to be worlds better than World of Warcraft to even register in the marketplace, even though WOW has had a decade to iterate and improve, your online marketplace has to be better than Steam if you want to compete.

  4. Michael Barnes June 11, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    About two years ago, we had some basement flooding in my house. Since we had moved, I never took my 2000 or so CDs out of the boxes we moved them in. I went down to see what got wet, and the brunt (in fact, almost all) of the damage was the CDs. Cases, inserts trashed. Soggy box sets. At first I was devastated. But then I realized that I really didn’t care. I had not actually pulled out a CD and listened to it in like two years.

    Between Spotify, Itunes, and other sources I can listen to almost anything I want at any time, and with my phone at that. I travel with the complete catalogs of Bowie, Prince, The Fall, Joy Division, a wide swath of obscure black metal, tons of old time country and classic hip hop, more or less the entire history of 1980s US hardcore and pretty much anything else I want to hear at any given time.

    I could not fucking care less if I “own” any of it. As long as I can hear it on demand, inexpensively, and with as few interruptions in service as possible. I’m the same way with comics…I have some of my favorite books in hardcover, but I’ve got thousands of digital comics…I’ll take the trade-off in terms of storage, convenience, availability, and access in exchange for physical ownership.

    So Todd, I actually completely agree with you and I also think that ilta is correct- the value proposition is what wins this argument in the end. This is why consumers have given Steam permission to enact fairly strict DRM policies, eliminate resale/trading, and to require internet.

    However, there is a vast gulf of difference when we’re talking about $5 purchased through an online vendor and $60 ones bought at a retail store.

    I also completely side with Brandon and others that are making the argument for definitive ownership of physical product, even though it’s not important to me. It’s not a right- it’s what consumers _throughout the history of commerce_ have expected in a sale (not a rental or lease) arrangement.

    The key is, as others have stated, that Valve offers very specific trade-offs and value propositions that Microsoft’s litany of “you can’t”, “will not”, and “you must” constraints do not. When a giant corporation tells me that I can only give- read that, GIVE- a game to someone that’s been on my friend list for X number of days…that’s a corporation that I am ready to tell to fuck right off.

    I’m well aware that digital distribution compounds a lot of these issues since you’re ceding physical ownership typically in exchange for convenience…with Steam, again, you do this for value. With Microsoft, you can buy a copy of a two year old game for $40…or you can buy that same game second hand on Half.com for $10. Thanks, I’ll pay $3 shipping and wait a couple of days on that.

    Another key issue with all of this is that the Xbone is almost specifically tailored to support the biggest budget AAA publishing houses, who will gladly sell you a $60 game that you do not actually own or have any rights over and access to can be stripped away if you prove to Microsoft that you are a lowdown criminal and fail to check in on a Tuesday. It’s a control issue, and specifically it’s a behaviorial control issue and Microsoft is attempting to train consumer behavior with it.

    There’s a smugness to Microsoft’s approach to all of this, almost a “well, we gotta do what we gotta do” attitude delivered with a shrug and a smirk. While in the board rooms, decisions were undoubtedly made and discussions held about forcing these kinds of restrictions into the marketplace, weathering the criticism, but training the consumers to accept them. After all, all they have to do to get many forumistas to capitulate and give in their list of strictures is to show Halo 5.

    This morning I traded a shitload of games at Gamestop…a lot of which I wanted to “own”, none of which I had even seen out of a box in two or three years. Ownership _is_ overrated. But god damn it, I want to have the ability to resell or trade something that I paid for to recoup the purchase and apply toward something new. I do this with board games all the time too- people wonder why I sell games I like, but I don’t fucking care about having massive shelves of games that just sit. I keep the favorites, play good games until I’m ready to let them go, and use them as a fluid resource to finance new games when they come out. That I may or may not keep.

    I’d be completely fucked if somehow a giant corporation told me that I couldn’t trade, sell, or loan board games. Would you be OK with having the _choice_ to do so taken away?

    • rob_d June 11, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

      I agree that Microsoft has that “smugness” to them and their whole approach in this thing. To use a wrestling analogy it seems right now that Microsoft is the heel everyone hates and Sony is the face people are cheering for. I certainly am. I gotta imagine Microsoft execs are shitting themselves a little after Sony’s presser last night. The major complaints about the XBone are a non-factor on PS4..oh, and it’s $100 cheaper to boot. Today was the easiest pre-order decision I’ve ever had to make…PS4 without hesitation. Fuck Microsoft and their shitty attitude and policies that treat the consumer like an untrustworthy criminal.

    • Todd Brakke June 12, 2013 at 10:25 am #

      You’ve got a ton in there so I’m going to cherry-pick and try not to distort your words. We’ll see if I’m successful. :)

      “The key is, as others have stated, that Valve offers very specific trade-offs and value propositions that Microsoft’s litany of “you can’t”, “will not”, and “you must” constraints do not. When a giant corporation tells me that I can only give- read that, GIVE- a game to someone that’s been on my friend list for X number of days…that’s a corporation that I am ready to tell to fuck right off.”

      I’ve no truck with anyone telling MS to fuck off if they don’t like the model. If enough people do that MS will have to adjust their model to make it a better value for people. That or they cede ground to someone else because gamers proved with the last generation that they’re loyal only to the best platform available to them. If they were loyal to a brand PS3 would’ve been a rousing success. I’m absolutely not “yay MS” with this post. (Wow, have I written those words a lot this morning.)

      “I’d be completely fucked if somehow a giant corporation told me that I couldn’t trade, sell, or loan board games. Would you be OK with having the _choice_ to do so taken away?”

      No, absolutely not. But you know that already. :) But board games *are* physical things. Video games aren’t. They’ve just always been distributed via physical things. If I buy a digital board game, say Neuroshima Hex on the App Store, I don’t own that. I can’t trade or sell it. If the App Store goes away tomorrow, I lose access to all those purchases. Yet I don’t here people complaining (very much) about the Apple ecosystem. Mostly I think that’s because we’ve all decided we get enough value from it that we can live with the down sides. It’s no different here with this new console generation. Will Microsoft/Sony offer enough carrots to make putting up with the sticks worthwhile for us? That’s the question that will determine if either of them are successful and it’ll be fascinating to see how that unfolds.

      Ultimately, though, physical media for games is going to go away. I firmly believe that and I’m fine with it. The degree to which we own or license the games is still in question, but it certainly seems to be going the way of licensing. And, you know, I’m fine with that too really because I’m just not all that worried about whether or not a game I buy today will be playable in ten years.

      I noted elsewhere in this thread that I have a cache of old PC games in my shed. They’re all physical media and there’s not a one of them I could still play on my PC (without a metric ton of hoop jumping). Yet, thanks to GoG, most of them I could still cheaply purchase and play, sans physical media, because there was enough demand for them to do the leg work to make those games available and make them compatible with modern PCs. There was a market and someone filled it. That’s a cycle I see repeating itself well into the future.

      • Michael Barnes June 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

        Would you please quit respectfully debating and cut to the hyperbolic saber-rattling? Chrissakes, Todd! This is a video games site!

        This issue of physicality is interesting. By the argument that we’re just buying the _medium_ and not the content, that means that every book you’ve ever bought you paid for the paper- not what’s on it. That also means that when you bought a record, you were paying for vinyl- not the songs.

        That just doesn’t hold up. It gets into this really hazy question of possession, use, and rights that obviously is all up in the air in particular regard to the inevitability of digital distribution.

        With board games, I think you could- using DRM logic- argue that what you are buying are the components and a container but you never actually “own” the rules and the publisher would have the right to come into your house in the dead of night and take the rulebook out of your game to limit your ability to trade, sell, give away, or even play the game. It would also make sense in this kind of cracked capitalist fever-dream to be forced to call the publisher every time you want to play so that they can confirm that you have the actual rulebook and not a photocopy or PDF of it.

        See, it doesn’t make sense.

        The problem is the ship has sailed on ownership long, long ago. When you were a kid and bought that god awful Pac-Man for the Atari 2600, did you ONCE think “I only own the limited license to play this game with X Y and Z restrictions”? Of course not. The industry was founded on video games ownership. Hell, a key selling point in the 1980s was that you could OWN arcade-like experiences at home.

        Like I said- consumers FOR ALL OF TIME expect that when they enter into a sales arrangement to purchase something, they OWN it. You can conflate that with legalese, questions of reproducability, the nature of the medium, or whatever…but if you SELL a person a package that contains a video game…they should OWN it. If they download it digitally, then I think the ownership/rights issues is a little hazier, sure.

        It’s funny that you mention GoG…that is such a brilliant service. They get those ancient games running, add some bonus features, sell it to you for pennies on the dollar compared to console games…AND they respect us as consumers by not saddling their product with DRM, restrictions, and other watch-dogging nonsense.

        It does come down to offering more carrots than sticks, I think you’re exactly write. In the case of the Xbone, what I saw was a litany of sticks and I came away knowing more about what the console disallows, can’t do, or otherwise won’t do than what it actually does.

        • Todd Brakke June 12, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

          Go fuck yourself!!!

          …Better? ;)

          I think what really f###s up the One right now in terms of messaging (beyond the 24-hour phone home) is that they’re trying to have it both ways – buy discs, buy licenses. It’s an easier sell when you can just say, here download the game, but that download is tied to your account. Telling someone with a physical disc that they can’t just play it wherever whenever, or sell it, that’s huge disconnect for people. (As you point out. And I get that.)

          That said, my argument isn’t that you’re buying the medium. That would indeed be silly. Let me try this another way. As a PC gamer the disk/disc has for decades been just the medium by which I get the game home from the store. After that I put it on the computer and the disc, if it was needed at all, was only there as a bit of copy protection and for later re-installs. Really, it was in the way. The game existed on the computer. If I can drop that part of the process out of the equation then I’m good with that. Would I prefer to own the files themselves? Sure. Do I have to? Nah. If I’m getting my money’s worth in the short term, I’m good. I don’t need to play XCOM in 2025. (I didn’t always feel that way. I resisted Steam for years for all the reasons people are talking about here. Call it an artifact of getting older that I no longer feel like I need to own all this stuff (see Brandon’s embedded Carlin vid – brilliant).

          Anyway, this is where my argument about Times a Chang’n comes in. We *are* used to thinking about these products in a much different way. But that old way doesn’t work nearly as well when we’re just talking about bits of data and not genuinely physical things (albums/books). The ecosystem is changing and we all (publishers and consumers) have to deal with that. All this noise with the One? It’s just one facet of the growing pains that come with this change.

          • Autistic Angel June 12, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

            See, I feel like the element that’s really f###ing up the One in terms of messaging is that there’s a competing console that’s going to offer about 90% of the same games at the same price, have apparently none of these arbitrary restrictions, and it’s going to cost me $100 less up front.

            You say you’d like to own your games, but you don’t really *need* to. That’s fair. You don’t *need* to own your home either, but if your weirdly invasive landlord wanted to charge you more in rent than you’d pay for a mortgage, ownership is clearly the better bargain.

          • Todd Brakke June 13, 2013 at 10:01 am #

            I don’t think it’s an apt comparison: homes versus games. We do *need* shelter, but we don’t need video games. And home ownership is generally regarded as an investment (recent market implosion aside). Also, a home can’t be reduce to a stream of bits. It *is* a physical thing and games are not.

            To stay with the analogy, however, nobody has to buy the One if the terms suck. Just like, ultimately, you don’t have to stay in residence with a shitty landlord. If everyone leaves the landlord has no tenants and will either have to make his terms more fair or make no money. Steam is a good landlord. I’m happy to have “him” own the buildings in which I play my games. Microsoft? Till the console is actually on shelves and working under actual policy (as opposed to what’s announced), we really don’t know what kind of landlord they’ll be.

  5. chuckles2000 June 11, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Todd, you are the only one that has nailed this issue. All of this internet rage is completely misdirected (except for the 24 hour check in thing, which like you, I am going to wait to see if/how it’s implemented…i don’t think MS is that stupid). It totally boils down to value. For me, Steam keeping my licenses and library for me is not a negative, it’s a total positive. Now I don’t have to keep track of that damn box/disc/key, etc. I buy a new laptop, fire up steam and, glory be to Gabe, there’s all my games that I bought when they were on sale that I haven’t got around to playing because look, there’s a new one for 75% off that looks kinda fun… If the console wants to do that, fine by me. i don’t buy used, i don’t sell (often) and the whole idea that the used market should exist kind of baffles me too. I’m pretty sure we are all against pirating/torrenting. How is buying a used game any different? I see it being a little different for the consumer, but for the publisher it amounts to exactly the same thing. One person bought the game and then a bunch of other people didn’t. Do I think DRM is the way to fight it..Nope. Like Todd I think the way we end up “fighting” it is we just do away with the physical and make it more convenient to game without it. The Steam model. Then we can all decide for ourselves if it makes sense to buy that $60 AAA title, wait for that AAA title to discount to $40, or buy something cheaper that I get better value from. And all you people who used to say “the publisher isn’t losing any money when I buy used cause I wouldn’t have bought it at all otherwise” can prove it. If enough people don’t buy at $60 the market will adapt.

    • The_Prodigal_player June 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

      How is pirating different than buying a used game? It’s VERY different. For starters you aren’t increasing the number of copies in circulation when you buy/sell a used game.

      This whole thread depresses me. I normally agree with you all on matters raised here but this is the first time I’m feeling like I’m on the other side. I don’t really feel like writing a whole wall of text to respond right now but I completely disagree with the premise and title of this article.

      I think you’ve made the best case for the position you are taking. Sometime this week I’ll write a proper rebuttal.

      • Todd Brakke June 12, 2013 at 9:50 am #

        Well, let’s be fair to the rest of the NHSers. You disagree with me, not all of them. Brandon doesn’t agree with me. Michael’s agreement is only partial. I very nearly called this the “Tuesday Troll’n” post because I figured I’d be a minority opinion on it. But I’m not really trolling. This is something I actually feel very strongly about. I just don’t care about owning physical media anymore. It means nothing to me. Give me good value for my money in the here and now – games I want to play at a price I’m willing to pay – and I’m happy. Whether that’s Steam, MS, or Sony I don’t so much care, nor am I going to worry about whether I can still use my purchases in 10 years. To me I’m no more rolling the dice with Steam purchases than I would be on a disc-based game still working (either due to the media or the OS platform) in a decade or two.

    • ilta June 11, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

      I’m going to start by agreeing with you, then work around to disagree with you. You can skip to the bottom if it’s too much text.

      I loathed Steam originally as invasive DRM, like any good gamer worth his salt did in the mid-to-late 00′s. And I grumbled when Empire: Total War forced me to install it to play. But you know what, since then I can’t even begin to count the amount of money I’ve saved, and I absolutely do NOT miss searching the Internet for the latest patch to download and make my game work. Like you, I’ve come to see Steam as a huge positive, and that 30% cut that Valve takes is well-used if they keep up the great work of running fast servers and promoting the indie scene (to say nothing of producing some nifty games themselves). And in any case, it’s 20% LESS than the cut Gamestop would take, and the publisher doesn’t even have to print, store, and ship any physical product. It’s win-win-win.

      But here’s the thing, though. I USED to pay full price for games. Heck, I pre-ordered that Steam-installing Total War game! I pre-ordered Spore (remember Spore?) and Civ IV and its expansions and the Sims II and, later, III. I paid full retail price for those, which was probably in the realm of $50 each, at a time when $50 was worth more than it is today. Before that, games were even more expensive; the original Civilization, which my Dad lovingly bought my fifth-grade self after I begged and begged and begged and kicked in some of my own allowance — that was a stunning $80 of early-90′s money (and worth every penny).

      Now, though, I don’t ever buy games at retail prices. Like, ever. I think I can count on one hand the number I’ve bought at anything less than a 40% discount, and those are almost all indie games that were under $10 or $15 anyway.

      Basically, the street price of a PC game — not the sticker price, but the price that people actually pay — has dropped precipitously since the end of the “check the manual’s page 37 for the code to proceed” DRM of the Star Control era, while console game prices have only gone up. Why? I can’t think of any reason for these opposite trends except that one-use serial codes killed the used PC market. When I buy a game on my PC, I know that I’m never going to sell it, so I want to get a lot more value for my dollar. Thus, I wait for a sale, and so do you. If I knew I could sell a game, I might be willing to pay more for it initially.

      “Used” thus supports high initial prices by allowing early adopters to subsidize later adopters, who the publishers don’t care about anyway. And, ultimately, that’s the difference between “used” and “torrented”. The publisher isn’t seeing any money from the latter sale, obviously, but they do see money from used — it’s reflected in that initial purchase price of $50 or $60 or $80.

    • Todd Brakke June 12, 2013 at 9:57 am #

      You know, I was right there with you until the pirating thing. :) Buying a used game *is* different from pirating. I know a lot of people who work for publishers or developers feel that it is and I want to be sympathetic to that, but it’s just not. You sold me a disc. It’s mine. I re-sold it to someone else as is my want. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Be that as it may, I agree completely with the rest. If gaming wants to move to a licensing model rather than an ownership model then fine. Just make sure you’re offering me benefits I didn’t get before and a value I can live with and I’ll make that trade. Owning plastic discs just isn’t important to me. (And really, digital distribution doesn’t have to mean no ownership. GoG demonstrates that effectively. If GoG could get more games I’m interested in playing, I’d happily spend more there than I currently do. The problem is, with a couple notable exceptions, they can’t.)

  6. nicthaninja June 11, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    I agree completely. While it’s nice to have used games for people laying around the house, I’m just not one of them. I don’t collect these things. I’ve also gamed enough on the internet machine to know that the idea of ownership and gaming don’t always go together.

    My hope is with this trend in console gaming we will see some of the sweet Steam like sales on the 360.

    • rob_d June 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

      “My hope is with this trend in console gaming we will see some of the sweet Steam like sales on the 360.”

      Wishful thinking my friend.

      • ilta June 11, 2013 at 11:13 pm #

        And there’s the opportunity (and the problem) right there.

        Microsoft could do frequent sales and make their platform much more palatable — basically, as I said above, it’s the only way I see this thing not falling on its face, where the one-two punch of hated DRM and a more expensive system send gamers in droves over to the PS4 (or, dare to dream, the PC).

        But Valve isn’t a stakeholder in the PCs you’re playing those games on. It hasn’t lost money on every motherboard you’ve bought, and it hasn’t spent even more money on television ads advertising your monitor. For Valve, every purchase it makes is free money it didn’t have before, so it’s very motivated to help publishers find exactly the market value for every one of their games. Right now, Rome: Total War (with an expansion!) is on a daily sale on Steam for $1. ONE DOLLAR. Even on a regular day that game is only $10, not bad considering there have been half a dozen sequels since then that are much improved in all the usual ways (though nothing beats the dynasty management we saw in Rome).

        Microsoft, on the other hand, can’t afford to undercut both the hardware and the software side of things. Their shareholders simply won’t let them do that, and they would quickly go out of business. Microsoft re-released Halo 1 (which came out it 2001) for the 360 in 2011. You know what it’s going for on their store right now? $40. The PC version, which was released in 2003 to mediocre reviews and has since been eclipsed by every shooter since then? $20. I can’t imagine either of these are selling particularly well (though I’m sure they moved units when they were released).

        The more I think about it, the more I’m sure Microsoft has painted themselves into a corner. Sure, they’ll get the dudebros with their Calls of Duty: Combat Dog Edition, but I don’t know how fun that’s gonna seem when to your left you have a thriving used PS4 market, and to your right you have a 75%-off summer sale on Steam.

        Such is the temptation, and the scourge, of monopoly pricing, and even a vertical monopoly, it seems, can be inefficient from a market perspective. Microsoft would rather sell 10 copies of Halo PC at $20, than 100 at $5, because they can’t risk devaluing the day-one sales figures like Valve can. With no pressure to find a stable market point, the title languishes.

        • ilta June 11, 2013 at 11:17 pm #

          What I mean to say is that Microsoft would quickly go out of business if they couldn’t sustain a premium price-point (and equally premium cut from the publishers) on most of the games they sell; ie the games they sell in the first few weeks after release.

          Obviously in the short term they could make more money by selling their back-catalogue at Steam-like rock-bottom prices (Halo PC for $5!), but in the long run they would cannibalize their own market, just as the PC market has all but collapsed except for low-dev-cost indies on one end, and must-have AAA titles on the other.

  7. drmcscott June 12, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    My problem throughout the ownership issue and the only real point that matter to me is can I trust Microsoft.

    After buying a 101 online titles can I trust them not to flick a switch, can I trust them to not implement horrendous DRM down the line.

    The answer is currently no.

    Will my purchases be future-proofed like owning the physical copy or owning it on GOG or Steam.

    The answer is most likely no.

    Trust is earned. Until we have some viable protection in our favour, protection that actually works (Forced offline modes perhaps), maybe some worldwide legal rights for the individual consumer, rather then the consent fight for rights for major companies intellectual properties, I don’t see how the industry will move forward.

    • Todd Brakke June 12, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      I’ve no disagreement with that at all. Believe me when I say there is no point in my post in which the message is intended to be, “Hey, let’s trust Microsoft!” :)

      If Microsoft drops the ball with the One (and they likely will; at least in the short run. One thing I think MS does well is adjust/iterate. The One platform will evolve), somebody else will pick it up. Games aren’t going away and gamers will flock to the platform that has the best games for the best value. If that’s One then great. If it’s PS4 then bravo to Sony for recovering from a total fiasco with the PS3. If it’s SteamBox then a hearty pat on the back to Valve. Who knows, maybe in a few years it’ll be GoG that takes us into gaming’s future? Whatever that future is, though, I really don’t think it’s going to involve owning physical media.

      • drmcscott June 12, 2013 at 11:01 am #

        We should all tell Microsoft we trust them, then not buy XBollox.

        The ol’ bait and switch.

        It appears we are all mostly in agreement, I do agree physical media will slowly fade away and I hope the digital content is treated like it is ours and not leased.

        Microsoft’s problems are strangely, easily solvable really. Eventually the company will go through a restructure and a new suit will tell us “hey guys” whilst leaning on a wall, tie undone, chewing a toothpick “we’ve been listening….”.

        GOG has grown in such a short space of time. Strange isn’t it. Give people an easy, honest service and they pay you actual money for it. Weird ey.

        Lastly, I don’t remember such an apathetic major console launch.

  8. Rengawndw June 12, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    To me the key issue is- With the PS4, the consumer has a choice, you can download digitally or you can go to the store and purchase a physical copy to use as you see fit, or you can download digitally, maybe at a discount if you are a member of PS+, depending on your preference. The point is we, the consumer, have a choice. On the other hand, Microsoft dictates to the consumer how the customer is going to use the product they purchase to “own”. I for one, prefer to have options.

    • Todd Brakke June 12, 2013 at 10:10 am #

      Hey, I’m very pro choice in this whole thing. :) I end up saying this over and over again in the comments, but I’ve tried to be clear that this isn’t a pro-One post. I do think it’s great that the One and PS4, despite using similar architecture, are going to end up being very different platforms for gaming. It’s fantastic and it’ll be fascinating to see if one platform becomes monumentally successful at the expense of the other.

      As a primarily PC gamer, I really don’t have much skin in the game. I just know I’m over the need to own physical media. Give me value for my dollar right now is all I ask. If I can’t play that game in ten year or whatever I’m not going to lose much sleep over it. I probably wasn’t going to be playing it anyway.

  9. Hieronymus June 12, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    I absolutely agree with you. I gave up trading in games a very long time ago, even if I had the disc any more. It just was never worth the very little amount of money I got back (I never play games on time anyway). Sure, there’s some small hardcore that won’t get the Xbro One because it can’t do used games, but that’s probably not a market they are interested in anyway.

    I’ll see what games are available and do it that way. Of course, my backlog of PC, PS3 & Xbox 360 games is so long now, it’ll be 2025 before I “need” a new console!

  10. beastincarnate June 12, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    The point that I struggle with isn’t the used games aspect of ownership – it’s games rental and the ability to give a game away. From what I’ve seen, the Xbox One will pretty much eliminate games rentals unless they come up with some fancy temporary licensing scheme. I don’t expect them to. And I’ll miss not being able to give a game away when I’m done with it. I rarely took advantage of the used market, but I have given many games away.

    I use Steam all the time on PC and I’m okay with the restrictions due to the value. I’m paying a fraction of what I’d pay in a best-case scenario for a brand new console game, so the restrictions are just fine by me. I don’t expect Microsoft to discount prices anywhere to near a comparable level, especially when Sony has zero reason to.

    The good news is that most any game I care about will probably come to PC eventually, since it’ll be a breeze to port. So, I can just invest my money there.

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