On one forum I frequent, I participated in a spirited discussion amongst the various gamers that regularly post there. Like you’d expect, most of the people were speculating over the flood of new rumors concerning the various “security features” that the new consoles will supposedly carry. While the next Xbox is rumored to require a constant internet connection the PS4 is whispered to sport everything from a lock in of disc-based games to a single account, and even used games going into a “trial” mode until users get back on the Playstation Network to pay to unlock the rest. While most of these rumors seem like financial suicide both companies (and pretty much handing the winner’s podium for the next generation to Nintendo’s Wii U) some of the people involved in the discussion thought that no matter how draconian these attempts at Digital Rights Management might get, the players would simply accept it.
The line of reasoning goes something like this. When Microsoft took the unprecedented move of charging people to play online—when multi-player up to that point hadn’t required a subscription of any sort—the market accepted it. When Xbox 360s were proven to be defective beyond reasonable levels, the market accepted it. When Online Passes and Day One DLC were incorporated into the games to combat used game sales, the market accepted it. And finally, when Bethesda consistently produced buggy games that sported glitches across every platform, the market made their games the best-selling titles of their given years of release.
The person making the argument felt that gamers were their own worst enemy when it came to protecting consumer rights. And the arguments being made are not baseless either. How many of you have seen comments on forums or news stories on websites where the various users say “EA/Activision/Microsoft is evil, and I’m voting with my dollars and never giving them money! Except for Mass Effect 3/Modern Warfare 3/Halo 4 but AFTER THAT… never again! Until the next sequel.” As gamers, our love for games seems to hold us hostage against our rights as customers. We might dislike—or even outright hate—the practices of a given publisher or hardware manufacturer, but how many of us are actually willing to take a stand against those practices if it means missing out on a new title in a beloved franchise? How many of the people that rail against Activision would be willing to sit at home and play another game while every single one of their other friends was blasting each other way in the latest Modern Warfare game?
Drug addicts often hate the people that supply them with their drug, but their dependency keeps them coming back with cash in their hands. In some ways, gamers are like that. Now that so many of us have gotten attached to our Gamer Score or Trophy Level, the idea of walking away from all of that, strictly as a matter of principle, is extremely difficult. If both Microsoft and Sony did the smart thing, carrying over existing XBL and PSN accounts over to the new consoles so that sense of progression remains intact, how many of us could refuse?
In the end, the one thing that consumers seem to respond to more predictably than anything else is price. In the current generation, the Playstation 3 was the most expensive console, and despite packing the most features and theoretical value, that $600 initial price tag was an albatross around its neck. Conversely, the Wii came in at a much more consumer friendly $250 and took a dramatic lead in sales. If both Sony and Microsoft have learned their lessons about pricing and build quality, then the average consumer might be greeted in 2013 with two consoles priced at $299, maybe $349 with decent storage, online capabilities and mechanical reliability. They might also have alarmingly draconian DRM mechanics built in, but if that’s the way all of their friends are going to be playing Madden 14 and Modern Warfare 4, are they going to care? Will the hardcore gamers? In the same way that people go out and buy an iPad even if they’re not even exactly sure what it does, can that overwhelming need by gamers to stay on top of the hottest game really be overcome by moral outrage? For all the criticisms that people may level at the herd mentality, one thing everyone can agree on is that the herd is huge, and has the biggest say voting with wallets.