Weekly News Roundup (16 June 2013)
With E3 happening this past week, the news was expectedly all about gaming, and in particular, about the Xbox One’s controversial licensing changes. As a result, this week’s WNR is a bit shorter than normal, since there’s only so many articles and comments I can read on the issue before I want to pull my hair out due to the childish fanboism. And there’s only so much I can say about digital licensing and used game restrictions before it becomes a bit boring.
It can be easy to lose perspective and forget why we’re all into gaming in the first place – to play fun video games. It’s something to remember for us “fans”, and also something that game companies should never forget.
Let’s get started …
Season 3 of Game of Thrones ended this week, and while the final episode was nothing to write home about (unlike the previous one), this did not deter downloaders who managed to set a new BitTorrent piracy record. At one point, more than 170,000 people were sharing episode 10, “Mhysa”, and more than a million downloads were made in the first day alone.
This isn’t really that surprising considering the previous record had been set by the first episode of this season.
What was slightly more surprising was that of all the countries that participated in the download frenzy, Australia managed to beat more populous countries like the US and the UK. The signs had been there, what with Arrested Development fans in Melbourne making it the top city for AD downloads just two weeks ago.
The reason for this unexpected surge from down under? Well, out of all the countries where GoT piracy is rife, I would not be too surprised to find that Australia has the least attractive options for watching the show legally. Piracy is an access problem, repeat ad infinitum.
E3 promised to reveal all, and it hasn’t disappointed. Microsoft were first up with the Xbox One, and the only piece of information we weren’t really sure about at this point was the price. At $500, the new Xbox launches at a higher price point than its predecessor, as the inclusion of the Kinect camera has obviously pushed up the price of the console.
It was then Sony’s turn, and they took full advantage of the fact that they had the later reveal. Priced at $100 cheaper than the Xbox One, the also boxy looking PS4 was also officially confirmed to have no used games restrictions (at least no official support for restrictions – the news was broken at E3 to rapturous applause, and also via this rather funny official video). The PS4 definitely has the early advantage now.
The $400 price for the PS4 seems quite reasonable for a next-gen console, and while us Australian have to pay the Australian tax (the tax for no other reason other than being located in Australia), the RRP of $AUD 550 is still fairly reasonable (compared to the $1000+ launch price for the PS3).
With reports suggesting that the PS4 GPU may be 50% faster than the Xbox One’s, Microsoft’s $100 price premium, thanks to the inclusion of Kinect, seems to be a bad gamble. Even at this early stage, it’s clear that the gamer’s console is the PS4, while the Xbox One has failed so far to show why gamers and home entertainment enthusiasts alike should have to pay $100 more, or how compulsory Kinect 2 is going to revolutionize gaming and home entertainment. It’s still early though, and with rumors of deals being made with cable providers to subsidize the Xbox One (thanks to the console’s HDMI input port allowing integration with cable boxes), the best value console may yet turn out to be the one in two shaded black tones … erm, wait … the Microsoft one. Reports also suggest that the $400 price is only for the most basic model of the PS4, and how basic it is may change the value equation again.
You can’t really win a console generation war just based on launch events, but you can probably lose one, and Microsoft’s ill judged foray into digital DRM, coupled with the disastrous handling of the launch, and now a higher price too without showing any tangible advantages, looks set to give the PS4 a huge early advantage.
It wasn’t all fun and games for PlayStation fans though, as the announcement that online gaming will now require a PlayStation Plus subscription, a $50 per year commitment, will sting a bit for the PlayStation fans that have made fun of Xboxers having to pay to play online for all these years.
One thing is for certain though … the Wii U is really really up against it now.
Trying to keep themselves relevant to the discussions, Nintendo has waded in to the DRM debate as well, by claiming they don’t need to restrict the used-games trade because Nintendo games are so awesome and have such great replayability, that gamers like to keep their old games. Nintendo America President Reggie Fils-Aime also said that disc based gaming isn’t going away in the near future for Nintendo, as they don’t want to cut retailers out of the equation, as retail helps to promote consoles and games. This would be the same retailers pulling Wii U Basic stock off the shelves, one gathers.
Developers have also had their say on the Xbox One’s controversial licensing changes. Anti-DRM developer CD Projekt Red says they don’t see the DRM issue as something that would prevent them from publishing on the Xbox One, while Saints Row 4 developer Volition wants more discussions on the issue. All very diplomatic, “let’s wait and see” answers. Former Epic developer Cliff Bleszinski didn’t hold back though when he enthusiastically endorsed Microsoft’s changes, saying that the “day one $60 model” no longer worked, and that high development costs meant that there’s no longer a place for used games and rentals.
All very well, but in the end, only game sales will determine what platforms developers and publishers devote their attention to, and this depends on getting consoles into people’s homes. An interesting start to the next console wars, I have to say.
From an interesting start, to an uninteresting end. More of the same next week. So until then, have a good one!