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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.

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James Brightman avatar
James Brightman: James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.
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