Microsoft is taking a lot of heat for implementing an online check-in system that will allow publishers to explicitly block the resale of used game discs on the Xbox One. But it’s the publishers themselves that will have to decide whether or not to take advantage of the ability Microsoft has given them. So far at least, no publisher has been willing to go on the record definitively stating that they are for or against the existence of second-hand game discs on Microsoft’s next system.
This might be because these publishers were seemingly caught flat-footed when Microsoft announced its policy a couple of week ago. “We have not received anything from Microsoft until today on this one,” CD Project Red co-founder and Joint CEO Marcin Iwiński told Eurogamer just after Microsoft’s licensing policy was announced. “Before we form any definite opinions here, we would like to have this process explained in details by the platform holder.”
(Later, Iwiński defended CD Project Red’s decision to release on Microsoft platforms despite the system’s online check-ins. “We couldn’t simply not release The Witcher 3 on Xbox One. We want to make sure that every single player will have access to our game…”)
Bethesda Softworks told Gamespot last week that the company “[hasn’t] had time to fully understand and evaluate their policy.” And Electronic Arts’ Peter Moore told Polygon that the company had “not internally even begun to sit down and answer those questions [regarding used games],” also suggesting that the major publisher didn’t know about Microsoft’s plans ahead of time.
So if publisher pressure was part of the reason for Microsoft allowing used-disc-blocking in the first place, EA wasn’t part of it. “As the guy who is the chief operating officer of Electronic Arts, I can tell you that EA did not aggressively lobby for the platform holders to put some gating function in there to allow or disallow used games,” Moore said.
What about the PS4
Despite the strong statements supporting used games at Sony’s press conference , Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO and resident Jack Tretton admitted later that there’s technically nothing stopping a publisher from adding its own DRM to games on the PlayStation 4 (even if Sony doesn’t require any kind of online checks at the system level). Still, Sony Worldwide Studios VP Scott Rohde told Polygon that it would be “surprising” if publishers decided to go that route on the PS4.
“Technically they could do something, but it’s the standard we’re setting that we believe is the right standard and I believe that’s the way it’s going to work,” he said. “All those publishers were sitting in [our] press conference last night. When Jack [Tretton] gave punch after punch after punch and the house almost came down with all the cheers, they heard that. They heard it loud and clear and they saw the reaction to what our friends in green talked about. I think it’s pretty clear that we’ve set a nice precedent.”
At least EA’s Frank Gibeau told The Wall Street Journal that EA would be announcing its used games policy on the Xbox One within the next couple of weeks. That’s more than companies like Konami, Namco Bandai, Warner Bros., Sega, and Capcom have said, instead offering blunt “no comments” on the matter in various press accounts. Capcom went so far as to blame the lack of concrete information on the fact that the company “has not announced any titles for Xbox One,” as if its games wouldn’t be coming to Microsoft’s system sooner than later.
While other publishers also refuse to go on the record on the issue, a few at least seem willing to hint at which way they’re leaning. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told Gamespot that they “haven’t decided yet” whether they’d allow used games and that it was “too early to take a real position.” But while he suggested that “lots of people are buying a game, reselling it, and buying another one… It has a very positive impact on the industry,” he also said that “we have to make sure that there’s not too much money lost in between so there’s good efficiency there.”
Take-Two hasn’t publicly commented on the matter since Microsoft’s announcement, but in an investor-focused call last month , CEO Strauss Zelnick stated that “our view about used games has been, as opposed to whining or figuring out ways to punish the consumer for buying used games, we’ve figured out we better delight the consumer.” That said, he acknowledged that “if Microsoft has figured out a way to tax used games, then we should get paid, too,” leaving a bit of wiggle room for the company’s position.
At least one developer has been willing to speak out against used games, though. “You cannot have game and marketing budgets this high while also having used and rental games existing. The numbers do NOT work people,” former Epic developer Cliff Bleszinski tweeted last week . “The visual fidelity and feature sets we expect from games now come with sky high costs. Assassin’s Creed games are made by thousands of devs,” he continued. “Newsflash. This is why you're seeing free to play and microtransactions everywhere. The disc based day one $60 model is crumbling.”
For all the rigmarole around the issue right now, industry analyst Michael Pachter doesn’t think any publisher will be foolhardy enough to actually take Microsoft up on the opportunity to block the sale of used game discs. “In our view, any publisher that disables used gaming risks a backlash or boycott of its titles by gamers, negatively impacting sales,” the analyst said in an investors note last week. Analysis firm DFC Intelligence, on the other hand, said that Microsoft’s whole strategy for the system is “deeply flawed” and lowered its sales expectations for the Xbox One while raising those for the PlayStation 4.
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