What were MS offered to sell out the gamers ?
After neatly packing away the DRM issues in a sturdy cardboard box and placing it in the attic at Redmond it does seem that Microsoft have snuffed out at least one group of dissenting voices that have already plagued their PR since XboxOne was announced. They do of course have a great deal of other community enraging issues to attend to – but what caused this sudden urge to lock everyone down to their own retail copies, stop used game trading and generally poke a finger in the eye of gamers worldwide?
Let’s just set the stage here so you can see where my conclusions come from. First of all I find the inclusion of DRM not to be led by the platform holders themselves, they have very little to gain from it and as we have seen in Microsoft’s case – a great deal to lose. So if no the platform holders then it must be the larger publishers pushing for it. I doubt very much that there is much concern or opposition to a year old game being sold at car boot for a few pounds as this really shouldn’t impact on a publisher in any negative manner – it could in fact be a little benefit as it may introduce a new customer who moves on to buy the latest game in the franchise.
What publishers don’t like is a new game such as (picks a title out of the ether) FIFA14 hitting retail shelves at an RRP of £50, being bought and played by a customer and then sold back to the same store by the gamer a week later. The store of course sell the title again at a discounted second hand price of say £40. I have personally seen FIFA13 last year in a local supermarket on sale as a second hand title at only £4 less than the RRP within a few days of release. The publisher of course doesn’t make a single penny out of the second sale of their product and this is obviously their problem. Wouldn’t it be great if they could get into bed with the platform holders and stop this from happening ? You bet it would!
The next obstacle to overcome is for the publisher to convince the platform holder that it’s going to benefit them too – this is big business and nothing happens unless it rewards everyone involved. The publishers almost certainly would have approached both Ms and Sony with their DRM request, probably telling each that “the other” was hot for the idea and would be working with them on it. So lets pretend we are MS right now, a large publisher is telling you that their 10 million selling title is going to be on the PS4 because of the DRM, you already have a good relationship with this particular publisher and have benefited enormously from their DLC hitting your platform first (and sometimes even exclusively). With an arm around your shoulder and smile on their face, the publisher is telling you that if you want this to continue you’ll have to offer DRM as well or they might just make a new deal with Sony that places you at a disadvantage in the early and crucial stages of the battle for console supremacy. Can you afford to take the risk right now?
OK! let’s go with DRM then, never mind this “one” publisher,lets get around all of them and offer it to them in return for exclusive content, titles and early access to DLC. That’s the carrot for MS here, something extra to win the war for peoples cash and brand loyalty in this next generation. Sony for their part went ahead without the DRM and went as far as making a big deal of it in their press conference. Perhaps they had been unable to secure concessions from publishers in return for their co-operation, maybe they had other reasons or simply realised just how strongly consumers would (or could be influenced to) feel about it. Whatever the reason behind their decision, it certainly paid off big time.
So as we know this left MS sitting out in the being sniped at from all directions and though I don’t imagine there would many would feel actually “sorry” for them there must be some who could possibly sympathise with the position they had found themselves in – promised everything and left with nothing. Whilst I don’t personally feel that going with DRM in place would have spelled the end for the XboxOne it certainly was going to hurt. could they afford to give customers an added reason to go PS4? probably not. Could the publishers afford to champion one console over the other when it blatantly wasn’t as popular? again, probably not. Another arm goes around the shoulder of XboxOne policy creation and the publisher behind the smile says “You know that DRM thing ? Let’s leave it for now eh?”.
Whilst none of this is based upon real facts and is of course just a work of opinion and thought mixed with fantasy there is one thing we do know for sure. DLC is going to become even more ingrained in the life of gamers. It has to go on beyond the levels of giving you an extra weapon, a new player skin or shiny new in game item, it must become an essential part of the game that you cannot do without (if it hasn’t already). It has to become a map pack that you need to play online with your friends (who all have it as well), it has to become a “game mode” that you simply can;t do without. It has to all these things that you buy and add up to a decent chunk of retail goodness for the publisher. From their point of view sure, you can sell your game on second hand, but it won;t be any good to the person who buys it unless they put their hand in their pocket and purchase from publisher the DLC they need to make it even work anything like they want to.
For now, DLC is all the publishers have got to protect their sales, but it won’t stay that way forever, they’ll hit upon a new model, a new way to lock it down for the good of their shareholders – and on that day, the cardboard box will come back out of the attic once more, get dusted off, be given some sparkles and presented back to you again under another guise.