By Larry Frum
Special to CNN
(CNN) — With E3, the world’s biggest video game expo, approaching, Sony and Microsoft are getting ready to wow the entertainment world with their next generation consoles.
But some features of the new iterations of the Xbox and Playstation — be they announced or just rumored — are driving a wedge between the gaming giants and some of their fans.
At the heart of the issue in both cases is whether gamers will be allowed to play games they buy on more than one console. That impacts everything from reselling games to taking them over to a friend’s house to play, but that could be at odds with game creators’ desire to make sure everyone playing their games have paid for them.
Microsoft’s pre-owned game policy for their new Xbox One console has been a source of confusion and contention. The company has issued conflicting statements about whether installing a game on a second console would require a fee, or whether doing so would lock the game on the original console.
The company’s latest statement still leaves questions.
“We know there is some confusion around used games on Xbox One, but we have confirmed that we designed it to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail,” the company said, with no elaboration, in a statement to CNN. “Beyond that we haven’t confirmed any specific scenarios.”
The phrase “we’ll have more details to share later” seems to be a common refrain from representatives, with the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo opening in a few weeks.
At Sony’s event announcing the PlayStation 4, they showed off many new features for games and home entertainment. However, fans are now similarly clamoring for details into the company’s plans for digital rights management and the impact it will have on playing used games.
The company hasn’t said, but that hasn’t stopped a preventative movement of gamers who have taken to forum threads and Twitter, where they’re using the hashtags #PS4NoDRM and #PS4UsedGames to reach out to Sony executives.
In game console terms, DRM is a code that allows users to access a game’s content. It’s designed to assure developers and publishers that only the person who paid for the game can play it.
Sony has responded, saying they hear the concerns and are overwhelmed by the passion. They have previously made statements about not wanting to damage their relationship with their fans. But does that mean a DRM-free PS4? Only time will tell.
Microsoft has also tried to reach out to fans.
Larry Hryb, a director of programming for Xbox Live perhaps best known by his his gamer tag,”Major Nelson,” responded to a post on his blog with comments that gave some hope.
“We’re fully aware of what is going on,” he wrote. “I am also working on a few things to address it. I can’t say much more right now. But we ARE listening.”
He attached Twitter-style hashtags: #XboxOneUSEDGAMES and #XboxOneNoDRM.
The reality is that Sony and Microsoft aren’t the ones who would benefit most from DRM or used-game restrictions. Independent game publishers want to make sure they are getting paid for their work, and that includes the secondhand market.
Given a recent spate of studio closures and financial difficulties at others, it’s not hard to see where that desire comes from.
As shown by a slow start for Nintendo’s Wii U, gamers base a lot of their decisions about which console to buy on the games that are available for it. Nintendo was dinged by some gamers for launching with a slim lineup and is currently launching a new spate of new and already popular titles in hopes of making up ground.
In the end, it’s unlikely that large publishers will agree to one set of rules for one of the new consoles and another for the other. And that leaves worried gamers with a conundrum: which new device do you buy if they both are released with DRM and used-game bans?
And that, some say, could open the door for Nintendo, which does not have digital rights management on its games.
Penny Arcade Report senior editor Ben Kuchera recently wrote suggesting gamers buy a Wii U as a message to Sony and Microsoft about how important the issue is to them.
“Rewarding that behavior with a boost in sales would be ridiculously effective, and send a much louder message than you ever could on Twitter,” he wrote. “But that requires a change of behavior.
“In other words, no one should expect this to happen. We won’t see the true will of the players, for good or ill, until preorders begin.”
All the gaps in information are likely (we hope) to be cleared up when each company holds its annual showcase at E3, which begins June 11.
Then we’ll see whether used games are truly important, or ultimately irrelevant, to gamers being asked to open up their wallets.
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