Sony on Game Ownership: Taking a Populist Stance

12When the details about the restrictions Microsoft has placed on an end user’s ownership of a game and the need for a persistent connection in order to play games on the Xbox One, the backlash was tremendous.  For those of you unaware, here is what we know about Xbox One’s new take on games and game ownership:

  • Microsoft has left it up to publishers to determine if they want to support used games.
  • Loaning games to friends or renting games is unsupported by the Xbox One (at least at launch; other possibilities and partnerships may be explored/established in the future).
  • Games can be gifted to other Xbox Live users once; however, this can only be done once, and requires that the recipient exist on your friend’s list for at least 30 days.
  • Xbox One needs to communicate with its servers to verify, essentially, what you’ve done with your system (e.g., what games were purchased, what updates are required, who you gave games to, etc).

sony-ps4-playstation-4-logo-official-black-001-630x354Essentially, Microsoft is redefining product ownership; no longer does the purchase of a physical Xbox game afford someone the right to do what they want with it.  While I understand Microsoft’s stance on the issue of used games, game rental and lending; their push to digital distribution; and the benefits of a persistent connection, the requirements and restrictions they’ve implemented on the Xbox One sort of  “punishes” the very people they need to buy and support their system: gamers.  Sony, on the other hand, is singing a completely different tune with the PS4, one contrary to the arrogance they once showed in 2006 (not unlike Microsoft’s current arrogance with Xbox One) when they released the PS4 with a new proprietary format and a price that alienated most gamers.  The dichotomy is clear: Microsoft is trying to convince us to buy into their definition of the future of game ownership; Sony isn’t changing a thing.

In Sony’s mostly underwhelming (from a game’s perspective and not counting the amazing glimpse into Bungie’s Destiny) E3 Press briefing, Jack Tretton stole the show when he announced that the PS4 will support used games, game rentals and game lending.  In addition, he explained that the PS4 will not prevent you from playing games offline if the PS4 doesn’t communicate with Sony servers periodically.  The emphatic applause that followed his statement served as validation of what could potentially be the Xbox One’s biggest misstep with their new console.

xbox-one-logo-wallpaperWhile there is so much to say on the issue (and while much has already been said), Sony – taking this contrarian, populist stance – is disrupting Microsoft’s position on game ownership (and any publisher who supported the idea wholeheartedly) by simply maintaining the status quo.  If Sony, instead, adopted a model even marginally similar to Microsoft in terms of game ownership and the periodic system check-ins, the future of game ownership would move in the direction dictated by Microsoft.  Sony’s “defiance” makes Microsoft vision of the future (in terms of game distribution) a bit more nebulous.

Leaving the briefing, I ran into a gentleman who helps to bring gaming experiences to special needs kids.  He explained to me that their internet connection is inconsistent.  With the Xbox One’s need for a persistent online connection (Let’s be honest, having to login every 24 hours in order to play a game offline is pretty much the same as needing a persistent connection) the special needs kids he works with would never get to play the newest Xbox.  It doesn‘t feel right.  Sony, however, is doing the right thing.   Nothing explains that better than the most powerful statement made in Sony’s Press Briefing on Monday by none other than Sony’s current president and Group CEO, Andrew House: “Concepts like true consumer ownership and consumer trust are central to everything we do.”  If principle, alone, was dictating the winner of this new console generation, my money is on Sony.