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Digital Rights Mismanagement / 14th of August 2014

I can recall when Sony first discussed their new PlayStation console and its lack of backwards compatibility last year, it was an issue that they hoped to circumvent with a streaming service that would allow PS4 owners to select, and play games, from a pre-existing library of software which would be stored centrally on their servers. While the media gushed over this prospect, I was not impressed, PlayStation Now was clearly a means through which to charge PlayStation owners a premium fee in order to play their PS3 games on the PS4 console. Now, whilst backwards compatibility is of little interest to me, evidently it means a lot to some, and PlayStation Now is, as I have asserted, little more than a scheme to take advantage of that, which itself is bad enough, but in all seriousness, it’s intentions have got absolutely nothing on its pricing structure…

To put the pricing into context, EA have just launched the beta of their new Access program on the Xbox One, this being a subscription service that users can pay for on either an annual or a monthly basis. Paying this gives gamers access to the vault, at present this is populated by just four games (Battlefield 4, FIFA 14, Madden 25 and Peggle 2), though the company have promised that this will be increased over time, and Access subscribers will also get early access to new releases, as well as discounts off of both digital purchases of games as well as additional content packs. This service was rejected by Sony on the basis, as they claim it anyway, that it presents no value to gamers, yet the pricing for EA’s service stands at $4.99 (£3.99) per month, or $29.99 (£19.99) per annum. As it stands, that isn’t that bad, it’s certainly not great when the vault consists of such a poor selection of games, but by the end of my first month with the service, I will have racked up a fair few hours on both Madden and Peggle, and I will have managed to do this by only having paid out a meagre £4. Now, imagine what EA Access might be able to offer gamers in a few months or even a year from now, and in all honesty, it doesn’t seem too bad.

From the pricing that I have seen thus far on PlayStation Now, the cheapest price that a single game was available for, was just $2.99. Not bad you might think, but that is for one game, and it’s only for four hours-it was also Killzone 3 (there are others that start at this price point). Prices varied greatly, going as high as $50 for a ninety day rental of Codemasters’ F1 2013, so it would naturally appear baffling for Sony to claim that EA Access doesn’t represent value to gamers. Gamespot recently featured a video in which they discussed, among the pricing, the performance of Killzone 3, in which they claimed that there was far too much latency, rendering the online side of the game completely inferior to the original release. Personally, I am more interested in seeing what other compromises the games have undergone, is there a drop in resolution? Has the audio quality been sacrificed? Do cut scenes display any notable consequences of compression? PlayStation Plus has been universally praised for its value for money, and yet PlayStation Now couldn’t really be any further away from this if it tried.

For Sony to make their streaming service a viable option, there is one simple solution, they should give it away for free to Plus subscribers. Now, on the UK Amazon website as it is, Xbox Live can be purchased for a considerably lower price than Sony’s alternative, does Plus really offer enough to justify this price difference? I don’t think so. Given that Microsoft now give away free games on a monthly basis on both the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One, and provide dedicated servers for major release on the One, they have made sure that Live undoubtedly remains the premiere online gaming service. If Sony truly want to be able compete with this, then providing its PlayStation Plus subscribers with access to their new streaming service will go some way towards making up for this gap. In terms of pricing, I think most gamers would tolerate a moderate price increase for this to happen, Sony would need to rake in more money in order to give developers and publishers their cut, after all. Regardless of whether Sony would choose to increase the price of their premium service or not, it would be a marvellous gesture to the PlayStation community, and a valuable bargaining chip to encourage millions of PS4 owners across the globe to purchase their membership, and in doing so, Sony would need to be universally applauded.

However, I actually have a particular dislike for both of these services because they represent a direction that the industry is taking, and it is a direction that will ultimately render the consumer with no rights whatsoever. On a personal note, I prefer the Games With Gold service on the Xbox 360 because the games that I get through it are mine to keep, they are not on loan. In addition, I do not feel that the current PlayStation and Xbox One models are sustainable because they will have long term negative influences upon game sales, invariably leading us towards the type of services that both Sony and EA are wheeling out now. They like to use such taglines as “instant game collection”, when in reality, that is an invention. Personally, I have over 180 games on my Xbox 360’s HDD, but I would hardly refer to that as a “collection”, would you? The term would have been applicable, to the range of physical releases that I had built up across a wide variety of formats from Neo Geo AES, Sinclair Spectrum, SNES, Jaguar, Sega Saturn to the current home and handheld consoles that numbered more than 1,000 strong. They were mine to do with freely as I chose, though in times of particular financial hardship, I was forced to sell of the bulk of them in order to survive, would this have been possible with a digital “collection” of loans? No, of course it wouldn’t, in fact, being unable to extend one’s subscription to such a membership service would instead lead to the loss of that entire collection without a shred of recompense.

There are murky times ahead for the industry, for years it has favoured commerce over creativity, and though the PS4 and Xbox One can provide ideal platforms for independent developers to release on, and give established studios a relatively risk free outlet for their more artistic ventures, these merely provide the silver lining to the ominous dark clouds that now gather around us. The continued move away from software being sold as a product leaves a particularly nasty taste in the mouth, and it is especially puzzling to see the pages of social media sites awash with vitriolic outbursts over the loss of privacy and rights, when they cannot see that it is happening before their very eyes where they would least expect it. The arrival of an entirely disc-less system is nearing ever closer, and when that day comes, don’t say that you weren’t suitably warned, as ultimately, the video game industry appears to me moving forward along a pre-set route, and it is leaving us all behind.

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