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PlayStation Orbis: Sony, Don't Shoot Yourself In The Foot

GamesIndustry International's James Brightman reacts to the PS4 rumors

Rumors have been flying high concerning next-gen consoles and it appears that both Microsoft and Sony could be on a collision course to launch the next Xbox and PlayStation hardware by Christmas 2013. The newest report from Kotaku raises a number of interesting points about Sony's next system, which is presumably named Orbis.

The name Orbis doesn't exactly grab me, but that's largely irrelevant - so long as Sony maintains the PlayStation brand it won't matter. The PlayStation Orbis reportedly won't play PS3 games. This doesn't surprise me at all. If you look at how Sony wrestled with backwards compatibility between PS2 and PS3, this is not a shocker. The original PS3 models actually included the PS2 chipset, but then moved to software emulation. The whole concept is one of those features that a very vocal minority like to complain about when it's not there, but in the end, it's a function rarely used, especially after the first year or two of a console's life.

"Quite simply, Sony would be taking away consumer choice, and that's never a good thing"

More to the point, Sony would love nothing more than to resell you those old games via PSN, and you can be sure it will do so with PS3 games on Orbis. Judging by the rumored specs, the console will be a real beast, costing Sony a fortune yet again, and the company will do everything it can to recoup those costs.

Without a doubt the most important point in this latest report is that Sony is putting its foot down in the war on used games and positioning Orbis as a bridge to the digital future. I wholeheartedly approve the move to launch all Orbis games digitally in addition to on Blu-ray (in fact, if not for Sony's vested interest in keeping the Blu-ray business alive, the argument could be made that Orbis could be 100 percent digital). That said, giving customers the option to go fully digital while still keeping physical discs alive is a good step forward, and the company can analyze its sales data and adjust accordingly.

The Orbis feature that will drum up the most attention, however, if true, is the console's anti-used technology. If a consumer chooses to buy a Blu-ray rather than download over PSN, that game will be locked to a single PSN account. If that same title is then purchased used, the next owner will have to pay a fee to unlock/register the full game. This is a monumentally horrendous idea.

I completely understand why many in the industry loathe the used business, and with next-gen budgets probably doubling, it'll be all the more important for companies to get back as much money as possible on each project, but if Sony moves forward with this rumored plan, it'll be a huge black eye for the company from the consumer perspective. Quite simply, Sony would be taking away consumer choice, and that's never a good thing.

By implementing an additional fee to unlock the full game, Sony is effectively negating any benefit a consumer would gain from purchasing used. That's precisely the point, of course, but the plan would likely backfire and it would certainly damage Sony's historically strong relationship with GameStop.

"Blocking used games would be a great way to confuse customers, dilute the value of new game purchases and give a bigger advantage to Microsoft"

Colin Sebastian

Blast GameStop all you want, but there is some truth in the company's argument about driving the "sales circle" with trade-ins and used titles. Many consumers will indeed trade in their previous titles to save money on their next game purchase. And what about the rentals market? There would have to be a way to bypass the anti-used lock on Orbis, or else Sony will make enemies with Gamefly and others too.

Speaking up for the consumer, Hal Halpin, president of the Entertainment Consumers Association, commented to GamesIndustry International, "The only alternative for many gamers - impacted by the economy - is to try before they buy. Being able to test out a game's value before making an investment has its own inherent value... If someone can't afford to buy multiple $60 titles per month, maybe they can buy the used version. If not that, maybe renting a copy keeps them engaged as consumers. Try before you buy is a time and market-tested method of gaining - and retaining - customers."

Indeed, in business the customer is always right. If you upset the customer, you lose money. Microsoft would no doubt love to see Sony completely fumble the ball with Orbis.

As RW Baird analyst Colin Sebastian told me, "Blocking used games would be a great way to confuse customers, dilute the value of new game purchases and give a bigger advantage to Microsoft."

I seriously doubt Sony is so stupid as to cede a huge advantage to its rival. Both firms are competing for a lot more than just the gaming audience. They want to dominate the living room. Microsoft is already well on its way to doing that and Sony will want to do everything possible to beef up its entertainment options on Orbis and get as many boxes into households as it can.

A move to block used titles would be a very difficult hurdle to overcome. Don't trip yourself up, Sony.

Celebrating employer excellence in the video games industry

8th July 2021

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Latest comments (25)

Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus9 years ago
It won't matter. Gamers go where the games are. If you made it so that people would have to be branded - literaly, as if they were a cow - in order to play their favourite games, I think a large percentage of them would bite.
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James Brightman Editor, North America, GamesIndustry.biz9 years ago
You sure are cynical Christopher!
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus9 years ago
Guilty as charged. :(
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Show all comments (25)
Private Industry 9 years ago
Depends on how big the branding is and where :)
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Wesley Williams Quality Assurance 9 years ago
Considering there were rumours of Microsoft also making moves to stop used games on their next console, maybe all the big three will launch with mechanisms in place. What then for gamespot and used games?
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Didn't Steam just start up something about "trading" older games? I don't really know how that works and I'm not really interested, but if that was some experiment and it pans out, I could see that becoming a way of reaching these customers. Free demos, rentals of full versions of games for ____ amount of money for _____ amount of days, or "sell" the game back for ____ credit toward other games. Or trade your games digitally with other people.

Sounds silly, but I wouldn't be surprised if they came up with a way to make it work.
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Peter Stirling Software Engineer, Firelight Technologies9 years ago
"Blocking used games would be a great way to simplify the market, reduce the cost of new game purchases and give a bigger advantage to everyone that contributes to the making of the games"

Fixed that for you.
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David Wicks Editor / Co-Founder, Gamers Heaven9 years ago
Has anyone considered the possibility that this new feature may just be a hardware solution to the current practice of online passes? instead of a code in the box, the console writes something to the disc and unlocks the content for the first user automatically and can be unlocked via the store for second hand gamers...

i see everyone getting up in arms over the anti used games feature but everyone is thinking the most extreme cases possible and i've yet to see anyone consider it might just be a hardware variation of a system we use and accept today as a growing standard...
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus9 years ago
@Wesley - I would THINK - perfect world - that if those companies ere to do this, the FTC would come knocking with an antitrust investigation.
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This is already standard practice in most new PC games. Steam and the PC games market seem to be doing fine though....
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 9 years ago
I personally believe a lot of the recent rumours are way off the mark, and this article seems to be giving them far too much credence.

While I don't think the console-wide 'Online Pass' system is unlikely, I don't believe that Sony will disallow PS3 games to be played, as they've spent much of this generation fighting to win back consumer confidence and that would be a step back again.

I don't believe the technical specs of the next-gen consoles will be anywhere near as large a leap as we are used to - I think they'll be concentrating on user accessibility, ease of development, social aspects and online connectivity. I can't see development budgets doubling either, as that's simply not sustainable, and I don't believe publishers or developers would want that kind of environment. I think a lot of game engines will be tweaked and reused - such as Anvil Engine 2 (ACIII), Naughty Dog's engine, Killzone's engine, Forza's engine, etc - and they'll still look great.

I doubt Orbis will be the console's new name, although Sony may be moving away from your standard 'PSP2, PS4' names, as evidenced by the Vita. I imagine that certainly in Sony's case, they'll be looking to integrate a new OS to tie all their hardware together (i.e. phones, PlayStation, laptops, internet TVs, etc), although this needs commitment if they're serious about it - i.e. if I buy an Xperia Play 2 then I expect to be able to play my PSN/SEN-purchased PS1 games without the need for another purchase on top of that.

Anyway, I'm not the most technically-minded person so a lot of this talk goes over my head, but simply I think from a standpoint of winning back consumer confidence and being an attractive third-party software destination Sony is unlikely to implement many if any of these rumours. Which includes the anti pre-owned measures, although I do agree with David that it could just be an extension of the Online Pass/Network Pass scheme. I also think were they to block pre-owned games then either MS and Sony will roll this out together or neither will. I doubt either will take the risk without the other company doing the same, as although publishers and developers will love them for it, it could disadvantage them with retailers and consumers.
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Tony Johns9 years ago
I surely hope that Nintendo are not foolish enough to follow the leader of Microsoft and Sony, or else their Wii U is going to cost more and it would put off all the hard earned audience that they got with the Wii and instead drive them towards Apple's iPhones and iPads.

But even then, would those newer gamers ever remember or care about taking a game to someone's house only to find out that most features or even the entire game would not work on their friend's consoles.

What would happen when some angry soccer moms starts to launch a law suit against the game hardware publishers for not allowing their kids to play their fav games at their friend's house?

I often don't like angry soccer moms, but if there are angry soccer moms that know a thing or two about playing videogames and that playing a game at your friend's house should be part of the fair use act, then I would be interested into seeing what is going to happen in the USA if something like that happens in the next generation of consoles.
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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam9 years ago
Depending on how they implement the system, this sounds like it could be very unpopular with a lot of customers. If they don't drop the RRP of the software to reflect the loss of resale value and the increased revenue Sony and publishers *should* get from the system, it's likely to be seen as ripping customers off. Especially if Microsoft and Nintendo don't do something similar.

Personally I'd be more upset if the rumours about Sony once more failing to provide back compatibility are true though. The big difference between this generation and the last is that digital distribution has become very widespread. I now have dozens of games I've downloaded from PSN, ranging from retro classics (which will hopefully transfer to any new hardware, like they do already to PSP) through PS3 exclusives like Flower and Journey to full boxed games.

With any other system (PSP to Vita, Wii to Wii U, or upgrading your iPhone or Android to a newer model) you're able to carry all your digital content across to the new platform. Customers have come to expect this, and finding their new console can't run any of the software they've previously downloaded for the previous model might be more jarring than James gives credit for.

I appreciate the technical difficulties of emulating the PS3 on a new console architecture, but not even being able to play downloadable titles on the new console would be a major failure, and compare unfavourably with Microsoft if they're able to maintain back compatibility with Xbox and 360 titles on their new console.
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Whats to say the big three did not have a secret handshake and gentlemans agreement to do something about pre owned
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 years ago
Tony, Nintendo is well aware of the popular Wii Gaming Night whereby a large group gather at a home, library or other meeting space and have large Wii gaming sessions. I can't imagine they'd want to shut that out after having supported it and thrown their on events themselves.

And everything I've read so far about the Wii U talks of being more open to consumers and developers. Following Sony and MS into lock down territory is contradictory to previous company statements regarding the console.
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Ben Herman CEO 9 years ago
Should the rumor be true about used game fees then the question will be how much is the fee. If you purchase a used game and SCEA requires $5 to allow you to play it then so be it. Any attempt to reign in the used game market would be good for publishers. Like a rating system there should be a standard fee. Digital downloads continue to take over the market and my bigger concern is the coming portable use of tablets. Should new consoles be tablets with docking stations? Seems to me that a powerful 3D tablet will eventually be the platform. Look to the cloud for the engine.

Don't blink or we may miss a generation.
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Marcus Feital Front End Developer 9 years ago
You should take the gamestop's "sale circle" argument with a pitch of salt. It does serve them well, because keep people in and out of stores, buying new and used, but it cuts the rest of the industry out the sales tail. Does the "head" count so much that it is worth to let go the tail?
The point raised about the rent business, on the other hand, is something to consider.
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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online9 years ago
Back in the dark ages, a friend and I would each get different games for our Atari VCS, play them and then borrow each other's game - we didn't really have that much money as kids.

Even today, I'm borrowing games from friends and vice versa, because we don't have the funds to own each and every game ourselves.

If games are being locked to one console, this social part of gaming will go away.

The thing is: companies will not lose any money because the people who borrowed games didn't buy them in the first place. But they might as well lose potential profits because sometimes, after seeing a certain game from a friend, I actually bought it or the next iteration of it.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 years ago
Roland, they will eventually lose money for exactly what you said. Gamers that share, trade or rent titles are considered part of a titles reach. That reach is what helps develop a fan base which has the potential to generate more sales than a fully closed, sale only environment can.
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Mike Kennedy Founder | CEO, GameGavel.com9 years ago
Hey, at least there are dozens of operating "classic" systems and a few thousand games I have yet to play on all of them to pick up the slack when I won't be buying any current generation games. I seriously hope the console man's don't go down this road, though.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mike Kennedy on 30th March 2012 9:18pm

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David Amirian Writer 9 years ago
yeah cause all of those 1 dollar apps that people can re-sell to GameStop apparently makes Android and iOS a bad idea for gaming.

oh, wait... what?

Honestly, I don't see it as an issue. Used games are on their way out, only because the physical product is an enemy to digital distribution. The "customer wants digital distribution" has been around for some time and no one can deny we're all going that way. You can't re-sell a downloadable game! Where's the outrage there? Why would anyone expect to be able to sell a downloaded game?

You can't, and no one does. Just because a physical product becomes "locked" makes no difference. Used games do not make Sony or Microsoft or even Nintendo any money. They will make more money selling less games total if there were no used games involved at all because then people will be more liquid with buying whatever games are offered as a download.
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Dominic Jakube Student 9 years ago
Yeah exactly if MS do it so will Sony and vice-versa, neither would do it on their own.Nintendo is the wild card.
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I can't imagine an article in which this web site demands Facebook or Apple to start releasing licenses to their cheap games so that you can resell your license to Angry Birds or what have you. The basic argument in the article -- that console manufacturers should continue to let people play used games, because they've always done so -- makes less than no sense, given the multiplicity of App Store type games that functionally generate zero revenue for secondary markets.

It's 2012, the App Store/DLC model works, and consumers get it. It's time for all revenue of all games to go directly to the creators and distributors, and to let the resale market die the death that it richly deserves.
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Christopher Garratty Associate Counsel, Activision Blizzard9 years ago
Technologically how would this work? If it's an online pass to unlock the full game, then how will the millions of PS owners who are not connected online play anything? Until your install base is approaching 100% connected cutting off unconnected users seems like a silly move.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises9 years ago
It goes together well with the other rumors which say Microsoft and Sony will require their new consoles to be connected to the internet to do anything.
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