With Microsoft's recent announcement of an almost complete reversal in DRM policy, we've also lost one of the actually exciting and interesting aspects of the next generation. Improvement to distribution, in how people get in and out of games, and generally bringing the way we consume video games up-to-date with what we expect from pretty much everything else.
In a world of instant streaming Netflix, 900,000 apps available for almost instant consumption, Spotify, iTunes, iPlayer, Steam. All these instant and convenient ways of consuming music, video, games and console gaming is sticking with the same old clunky and slow methods. Gamers have shunned increased competition in the digital space. The move to digital is accepted as inevitable by most sane individuals, but that has been pushed back a fair few years now, and if it does come this generation we won't enjoy the same level of competition that we'd have if Microsoft had stuck to its plans.
Steam is a great service from a distribution perspective for more than just its own store, it is great because you can buy many boxed games that also redeem on steam, so you get the price advantage competition of regular retail stores, and the advantages steam offers. The problem is, not even close to a majority of games support this. The Xbox One would have supported this 100%, for every single game. We wouldn't have to rely on good digital prices on the Xbox marketplace, because we could buy our game from another retailer and benefit same old price competition among them.
I am sympathetic to those who don't have the same preferences to me, but I can't care about something that doesn't affect me. Don't tell me it does, because it does not. I own over 300 games on Steam, me choosing to take the stance that Microsoft's policies were "anti-consumer" despite being far more generous than Steam's would be hypocritical of me. Steam comparisons are often ignored because "games are cheap", but that seems like such an odd position to take "Our consumer rights are important! But uhh.. for the right price I'll forget about them". I understand why it is hard to accept for many, because many are happy with what they have, they don't feel the industry needs to move to this.
I've been complaining about the old, slow and clunky game distribution methods that consoles centre around for a long time now, and a big part of my excitement for the next generation of consoles was the idea that this was changing, it was bringing it up to date with the rest of the tech landscape. With the realisation that Sony's distribution would be largely the same, at least on the face of it, it looked like Microsoft were the only ones willing to look forward a few years. With that gone, I'm struggling to get all that excited about these next generation consoles as an improvement to how I play games.
The good news? At least Valve seem to be adopting some of Microsoft's old policies in the form of lending your digital games to other people:
With a new console generation, I typically expect many of the innovations the games industry has come up with on the PC over the past 5 - 6 years. And of course, we're still seeing lots of that in the next generation, but mostly in the form of "social gaming". Consoles normally enjoy a small period where they are on par with most major features of modern PC gaming, now? They're starting off behind.
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