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A Victory for Physical Media Doesn’t Have to be a Loss for Digital Innovation

I think it’s safe to say that I feel pretty happy with how the last few weeks have worked out in this hobby so many of us love so much. I won’t spend much time rekindling the story, we all lived through it. In short, I made a thread at NeoGAF, people responded, Sony listened, Microsoft didn’t, Sony came out of E3 on fire, Microsoft’s preorder sales were dire and they then changed course. We did this. If we hadn’t made noise, if we hadn’t made DRM a central topic in this console war, if we had just stayed quiet and “waited on the facts,” we would be in a very different spot right now. I think we should be proud of what we have accomplished.   I also think we should give a round of applause to the games’ media- 250+ sites covered this story in 22 different languages. They got our message out to the world at large and the world at large didn’t like what was going on either. This is why Microsoft eventually pulled a 180 – and we caused that.

While I’m very pleased with how it turned out, it should be pointed out that there are many other things in gaming that need to be fixed. Access to customizable controllers for the disabled is not a money maker for console makers but it’s the difference between someone getting a bit of escapism where they get to play the hero and them feeling left out. DLC has issues that need sorting out. Again, I don’t need to cover all of this stuff now… but the point that I want to make is MAKE NOISE. We tend to think we exist in a vacuum and what we do doesn’t matter, but this movement is proof that is not true. I know people are upset about Nintendo’s region lock; make noise! Make a lot of noise! The internet is immediate and it can be intimate. Corporations love the Internet because it lets them interact with customers with the hope of selling us more, but the other end of that deal is that they now have to listen to us. We don’t need to start a letter writing campaign.  You can gather people and get things done. I know this; I’ve done it.

The one thing I do worry about with this reversal is that Microsoft and Sony are going to go too far in the other direction. I think that would be a mistake. Many of us embrace an all digital future. There were many good ideas in Microsoft’s proposed system. It just had the central problem of changing the way rights to physical property work. But there is no reason that they can’t continue these good ideas with digital games.  I mean if they hadn’t reversed their position, it’s pretty safe to say that games bought digitally would be added to your library and accessible anywhere you sign in and be put in your Family Sharing Plan, right? So why get rid of that functionality for digital games now?

The endgame for Sony and Microsoft is to get us to buy software through their online stores.  It’s just a matter of how they get us there. Microsoft was trying to bash our face in with a hammer, while Sony was giving us good reasons to go digital with sales, PS+ and day one digital.  I assume that Sony and Microsoft still want us to shop in their digital stores, so give us a reason to. Implement cool stuff like family sharing.  It sounds like Steam has something cooking that involves sharing. Lower the price of digital software. Run aggressive sales like Steam and other PC stores do. This will get us in your stores and buying digital software. Physical media, for the people who still prefer that, will exist for them.  It’s win-win.

I fear that Microsoft is going to drop every good idea they had, and that’s a shame. I hope that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all give us more and more reasons to buy digitally. Steam isn’t as popular as it is by mistake – people like what they do. What we didn’t like about Microsoft’s policy was forcing us there but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be coerced into buying software through their digital stores in other ways.

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