I’m not an engineer.
Oh, I’m a tech head as much as the next guy, but I do not have strong electronics skills, nor do I possess the time to build a special coupling that allows me to hook up a Wii to my PC for the purposes of backing the files on the built in memory board.
What I have is an understanding of technology and imagination, and it is armed with these very lethal weapons that I write this article.
I had been chatting with Bert, a long time listener with whom I’ve developed a personal relationship. We had started talking about when the next generation of consoles would come out and threw around ideas of what type of system they would be. We both realized that without some major changes in the hardware, piracy would still be a major concern for console makers and software developers.
The average gamer bemoans any DRM. They beg, plead, and cry to publishers how it’s not fair to consumers to have to deal with bloat in order to play a game. Some developers have introduced the finger to these cry-babies, others have listened and complied.
Perhaps they should have used the finger.
EA’s The Sims 3 is in the wild and it’s never going back in the bottle. The actual release date was June 2 for North America, but it’s already out and being downloaded across the globe.
How’s that for a “thanks EA for not putting DRM on it!”
Now, if I were a game developer or publisher, I’d be loading up a shotgun and tracing every IP I find hosting or sharing the files. Because, right now, threat of physical violence appears to be the only thing that will quell this rising tide of stupidity that’s going to implode an industry I love.
Alas, violence — while fun — is not really the answer here. What is the answer is something no gamer is going to like: The end of physical media.
Physical media is the weak link in the gaming chain. With it anyone with half a brain can figure out a way to copy and then distribute it. Encryption doesn’t work; hackers are too smart to have that hold them back for long. If I were a console maker this would be the first area I would tackle.
In fact, if I were a console maker, this is what I would do:
The console, out of the box, would include both a wireless and wired internet connection. It would include a 300GB hard drive that is detachable similar in style to how the Xbox 360’s hard drive detaches.
The hard drive would be formatted using a file system not used on any PC currently — custom built from the ground up specifically for a console. This would render the hard drive incompatible with any of the current operating systems out there and make attaching it to a PC nearly useless.
The I/O operations for this hard drive are controlled by the console’s main CPU, not by a separate chip. The operations code would be embedded and encrypted within the CPU making it much harder to pull out the source code. In short, the hard drive does what the CPU tells it to do, and without the CPU the hard drive will not function outside of the console.
Finally, the I/O connection itself would be customized to the console with no PC counterpart. The hard drive would, for all intents and purposes, be like a regular SATA hard drive but it would lack the normal connectors and power inputs that you see on laptops and PCs.
Games would be tied to your user account, Gamertag, Friend Code, PSN Name — whatever you want to call it for the console in question. The account tracks all purchases you make and will allow you to re-download at any time. Since the hard drive is removable, you could easily replace it should you want to have any game readily available. The only major problem in this imagined console would be cost to purchase additional hard drives, these prices would need to be very competitive or the idea will not work.
Like Steam, games that you “pre-order” will automatically “pre-download” up to a week before release, then “turn on” at 12:01 a.m. on the day of release. Games must compress to a single file that will have a maximum size set to it. This size will be determined by the minimum amount of space available on a memory unit (for this example, we’ll go with 30GB of space). Unzipped it could be as big or little as a developer wants, and there will be an option to “archive” a game on your hard drive to save space.
Each console comes with a 30GB memory unit that contains your user account information. This allows you to bring your account to a friend’s house and, more importantly, to purchase games.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say Left 4 Dead 2 is coming out next week. You’re listening to a new episode of GameHounds, and GamerEdie is raving about the demo she saw. Commander Tim bemoans the lack of a mouse and keyboard on consoles, and Hawkes is whining that he couldn’t be there. You like what you hear and decide you want to buy the game, but you live in a “broadbandless” area and have no means of “pre-downloading.”
No problem. Hop over to Best Buy or WalMart, walk right into the gaming section, plug your MU into the kiosk there, and purchase Left 4 Dead 2. The game will download to your MU, calculate the time between now and 12:01 a.m. on release day, and encrypt the information on the drive. WalMart thanks you for the purchase (they get a cut) and gives you a copy of the instruction manual for the game.
You go back home, put the MU into your console, and it automatically “pre-loads” the game. Don’t get any smart ideas about changing the time either. Hooking the MU into the WalMart kiosk tells the MU what time it is, and the MU is now keeping said time. When it installs, it will update the console’s clock to match the time, and it will compensate if you add or subtract hours to your consoles internal clock. Oh you can change the time on your console, it just won’t release the game earlier for you.
And that’s it, that’s your next generation console coming soon.
Now I’m sure you’re thinking, “It’ll never work,” or, “No one will buy without physical media,” or, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Of those I only agree with the last part; I really am just making this up; no inside information, no more than the next gaming podcaster.
Let’s take your objections point by point:
It’ll never work: It technically already does and will be more so soon. If the PSP Go is what it is rumored to be, you’re looking at the pilot program for the next generation of consoles. Xbox Live Arcade, Wii Ware, and PSN all have games that are doing very well without physical media, and did you hear about the billions in sales of non-physical media iPhone/iPod Touch applications?
No one will buy without physical media: See above; people already are. XBLA, iTunes, PSN, WiiWare — it’s all over the place now. All I’m talking about is the next step.
Do I like this? Nope, I absolutely hate it, but I’ve resigned myself to this type of gaming future because for gaming companies to evolve they need to stop spending time worrying about piracy and DRM and just focus on making games.
We did this, we all did this. I doubt there’s a single listener or reader of this site who hasn’t at one point or another downloaded a game for free. It’s the internet, it’s easy to find, easy to do. The temptation is too great, the chances of getting caught too small, the reward too high. I understand giving into the temptation, so you might just as well enjoy it while you can because, trust me, it’s the beginning of the end for gaming piracy.
I no longer will listen to people complaining about DRM. I hate it too, but it’s our own damn fault. We either have allowed the pirates to continue their practice or turned a blind eye to it, and therefore we are as much responsible as if we ripped the disc ourselves.
So this is our console future and it sucks, but we’ll get use to it. And besides, it’s not so bad. Once the next next generation of consoles hits, we’ll be so used to it we’ll wonder what were complaining about.
Only the pirates will be complaining then.