As more details trickle in about the next generation of game consoles, there seems to be a growing elephant in the room:
What's going to happen to the used game market?
It is becoming abundantly clear that both Microsoft and Sony are moving towards sales models that don't need physical games. The PSP Go eliminated the UMD drive, and the PS Vita relies on flash memory storage of games. All current-generation consoles have also seen success with their downloadable content stores. And with rumours that both the PlayStation 4 (codenamed "Orbis") and the Next Xbox will outright block used games, the days of picking up a game at discount from your local stores are likely numbered.
In a recent CNET story, Jeff Bakalar suggests that console gaming is headed to an Orwellian future in order to combat piracy. The practice of shipping games with one-time-use codes that ensure the player has access to the game's full content is going to hurt multiple game-related businesses, Bakalar says. Rental services like GameFly will have to re-work how they send games from person to person if players want full access to content (which, presumably, they do).
The impact on used game retailers like GameStop will be two-fold. In 2009, it was reported that approximately 42% of GameStop's business came from used game sales. The company has said they aren't worried about the shift to digital versions, a Reuters story reports, even though selling used games is such a significant part of their business model. Where the shift away from used games will likely be felt more is in the pockets of gamers.
Many gamers who purchase a game new are likely factoring in the money they'll get back when they sell it back used in a week or two, the CNET story states. Remove the ability to sell those games back, and suddenly the price of buying a new game has just jumped by $20 or more.
According to the latest rumours on the PS4, all games will be tied to your PSN ID — so if you're unable to connect to the Internet, chances are you won't be able to access games in their entirety, either.
Kotaku's Luke Plunkett does his best to calm the angry masses and assure everyone that the rumoured next-gen anti-piracy measures won't be the death of the used gaming market completely. He theorizes that there will be measures in place to keep both publishers and retailers happy without totally destroying the gaming market as it currently exists. But even he acknowledges that his ideas for how publishers could reasonably implement anti-piracy could be completely wrong, and gamers everywhere might be in store for the greatest blow to the gaming community yet.
The practice of sharing games between friends is likely to be the hardest hit in this anti-piracy fight. Even if workarounds are made available for game retailers and rental services, physically sharing a game between two people is the original form of "peer-to-peer file sharing," which is exactly what publishers would like to see come to an end.