It’s 2013. The XBox 360 has been on store shelves and in your homes for nearly eight years. So it makes sense that the rumor mills are churning, cranking out word that a new Microsoft console is on the horizon, possibly coming out by year’s end. This is catnip for console gamers. Awaiting the announcement of a new console is like fighting off sleep to wait patiently by the chimney for Santa. In July.
The new XBox, which goes by the codename “Durango,” is rumored to have Kinect, the full-body motion captioning camera, installed in every console out of the box. And according to one source, the Durango will use Blu Ray discs and will have DVR-like abilities.
No console rumor has caused more gamers to light up forums and comment sections than the yet unverified leaked info detailing the Durango’s use of always-on DRM. That makes no sense to the gamer that just wants to play a game and doesn’t care what kind of tech is in fancy plastic box, so let’s put it another way: there’s a chance that the new XBox will use anti-piracy software that disallows the player from playing a game he or she did not purchase brand new.
From a business prospective, this would be great for Microsoft. They’d potentially rake in tons of cash because their games would never hit a secondary retail market. But for the gamer, this is a travesty; games would never hit a secondary retail market.
Think about this: how many games have you played throughout your life that would you never have experienced if not for having a friend who willingly let you borrow the game they paid for? How many games have you bought simply because they were previously owned and dirt cheap at Game Stop or Amazon? When you were a kid, how many times did a friend come over to your place with a stack of games to play during a sleepover; games you’ve never played and could never own because you couldn’t afford them and all your parents ever bought you were lame educational games?
All of these moments, these memories, the exposures, could never happen in a DRM world. In a DRM world, you buy a game and whether it be through the use of a serial code or some other silly tech, that game is eternally tied down to that specific box. Want to take a game over to a friend’s house for an all-nighter? You’d better drag your massive console and all its accompanying wires and cables along with you. Want to experience a triple-A title but you don’t want to pay triple-A prices? Sorry, you can’t wait a few months for someone to sell their copy for a fraction of the price. You’re going to have to buy the thing brand new from a retailer.
What Microsoft — yet, thankfully, not Sony with their newly announced and DRM-free PS4– would gain in cash, what the game developers and publishers would gain in cash, regular gamers would lose in experiences. What would be lost is a very human connection to games. After-market sales of video games bring a real world sense of discovery, one that the games themselves attempt to provide but as of yet can’t duplicate well enough. As many of us can attest, finding a hidden secret in a game after spending hours and hours exploring every craggy corner of a digital world is exhilarating. It feels like you’ve accomplished something. But that feeling exists on a small scale when you compare it to the bigger sense of discovery; the one you get when you find that hidden gem of a game after digging through every craggy corner of a used game bin. That’s a real, far more tangible sense of discovery. You get that feeling when a friend not only recommends a great game, but pulls it off his shelf and puts it in your hands. You get that feeling when you go to Goodwill and find a game someone basically just threw away, and it’s only a couple of bucks. Sure, you can always get that sense of discovery from the game itself, but as with most digital interactions and experiences, it’s ultimately hollow. This is one of the few areas where the digital joys of video games meet the joys of real life, and this (hopefully) hypothetical situation of next-gen consoles stripping us of the ability to share and discover would also strip us of our instinctual need to share our experiences, even if it means sharing the goods we’ve purchased so that others can experience them for or at a fraction of the price.
Piracy will always be an issue, and of course I can’t provide answer to it. So far, no one has been able to stop piracy of any kind, dating back to when being a pirate meant you had scurvy and you were being hunted down by the Royal Navy. But one thing is certain: the human connection to entertainment and art cannot be removed for financial reasons simply to spite a minority of people who are hoping to not pay for anything, ever. You remove that human connection, you remove us, the people who just want to take a game to a friend’s house and without having to resort to hacking to get the disc working on their non-tethered console.
The reason people pirate and hack is because of a lack of openness. If you don’t let us do what we want, we’re going to find ways around your system and you’re not going to like it. So, Microsoft, rather than making it harder for us to do the thing we love, why not go the other way and give us an overabundance of freedom? Burden us with choice. Fill us with anxiety whenever we try to settle on just one of all the wonderful, innovative ways we can share our gaming experiences with each other. Make “too much of a good thing” a real problem. That’s all we want.