The Devil's Advocate

Written by Benke on the 17th of June 2013 at 15:05

Let's get this out of the way first. I'm not a fan of Microsoft's new policy for disc-based licenses. It's forcing a switch that would eventually come on its own. They're taking heat for something that would happen naturally during the next generation - and in a way they are doing so because I think they want to avoid the PSP Go scenario Sony suffered a few years back.

Think for a second of what would happen if Microsoft launched a disc drive free version of Xbox One in a couple of years. Cheaper, slimmed down, and fully digital. Now, with licenses you'd be able to upgrade to the new model and hang on to your games without any real issue. Of course, a better solution to future proof things would be to allow players to transfer over their discs to digital licenses if they wished to do so at that point. The real issue here is how invasive you make it.

Make no mistake - Microsoft and Sony both want you to buy licenses digitally. Their licenses may not be exactly the same, but basically you won't be able to sell your used digital games or loan them out. That is the preferred model for both companies. It's what nets them the most money per "sold" game. Sony boasted that 60% of PS Vita game sales happen over PlayStation Store.

However, both Microsoft and Sony need video game retailers for visibility. Without shops and displays sales would fall simply due to lack of visibility. The compromise for Microsoft is to make a console with a disc drive and disc-based games. In the case of Sony it's more natural seeing they make money off Blu-Ray sales (whereas Microsoft has to pay a license to put the tech in their console to begin with).

Is Microsoft forcing the future on us? Probably. There are upsides to digital licenses and the cloud. Theoretically your license could last you a lifetime (I really hope Sony and Microsoft are future proofing their services this time), and then you'd likely be playing your PS4 and Xbox One digital titles well beyond the date your Wii U stops working (taking your digital purchases along with it).

The future isn't necessarily a bad one. It's just a little different. And I think we need to see a few changes in pricing to fully embrace it. Most games sold on Steam sell for a fraction of the full price, Sony has fueled digital sales by charging a premium for physical games on PS Vita. A license cheaper than buying a full game - well now, that sounds reasonable. That's a future I can dig.