In preparation for an upcoming Bitstory article, I’ve been gaming a lot on my Nintendo NES. And when I want to, I can just take a cartridge and slide it into the front of the machine and, you know, play a game.
Nintendo was the first game company to do DRM, but it wasn’t a hedge against consumer misuse of their products. It was made to control the whims of the developers of games for their systems, a way of controlling the quality and pace of game releases so that the market didn’t become glutted with inferior products for Nintendo game machines and thus avoid the shakeout that felled the entire North American video game industry in 1983-1984. When you gained licensee status for the NES, Nintendo would manufacture your cartridges, and during the process the company would put a key chip into the circuitry, which would communicate with the 10NES chip inside the console and allow the game to be loaded. In this way Nintendo controlled what made it into their games ecosystem.
DRM or Digital Rights Management these days are restrictions on what users can do with digital product, be it movies, games or anything else. It’s nice to be able to insert a cartridge into the NES after 30 years and play it unfettered. With Microsoft’s next-gen console Xbox One, this ability could literally become a thing of the past.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 as the hep cats like to call it, is underway in Lotusland. It is here where game makers flaunt their upcoming wares to industry insiders, and this year the show has a particularly keen edge due to the unveiling of the next generation consoles for Sony and Microsoft that will hit the market later this year. Yesterday, the stage at Sony’s E3 press conference was awash with a series of uncannily wise moves by the company.
It’s exciting for a video game historian to watch as a new generation of game consoles is unveiled, as so many have been before. For sure, we all want to find out about the specs under the hoods, and about the new games that will use all that fancy tech to bring new experiences to our screens. New IPs are marvelled at, and continuations of old favourites are warmly welcomed. Amid endless sturm and drang, systems and games are paraded across giant screens to the accompaniment of driving soundtracks amid flashy stage lighting, all designed to get a rise out of the crowd. The biggest audience reaction, however, came during the Sony E3 conference. For a lot of people, E3 2013 was Sony’s show to lose, after Microsoft had unveiled their new console, the Xbox One, earlier in the day. The reason? Not a lack of hardware specs on the new Xbox’s part. Not a dearth of exciting games.
No, the talk of MS having already fumbled this next video game console cycle comes because of the draconian DRM system for the Xbox One. While video games may not stir passions quite as much as Mel Gibson’s famous speech in Braveheart, the people in the audience watching Sony explain the lack of any extra DRM on their machine, and likely those around the world watching the live stream, were standing and cheering their freedom. The freedom to trade in, buy and play used games without additional fees. Freedom from being denied the ability to play your games, even in single player mode, if you lose your internet connection or otherwise can’t authenticate your honesty with a company’s servers. The freedom to sell or lend your legally bought game to a friend. They may take our free multiplayer, but they’ll never take our FREEDOOOOOOOOM!!!
Even President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America Jack Trenton seemed suprised at the visceral reaction of the crowd. The other devastating broadside Sony launched at MS towards the end of the conference, that the PS4 will be $100 cheaper than the Xbox One, was the only other announcement that got a similar response. It goes to show that while gamers want the latest and greatest in games, they also want the ability to play those games. Without onerous restrictions.
In this day and age, with the twisted type of “free market” capitalism we’ve grown accustomed to, where there never seems to be anything approaching a level playing field, there always seems to be fair amount of industrial collusion going on. This time, though, Sony is not playing ball. They came on strong at E3 with a big FU to DRM, and I think Microsoft just got Xboned.
Here is video of Sony’s E3 2013 press conference. The fireworks start at 1:24:24.
Nintendo’s latest game console, their first shot across the bow in the next generation of video game machines, was released yesterday. The hook is once again a re-imagining of the gaming controller, although here, instead of motion control, the Wii U taps into the gaming tablet rage by having a large screen embedded into the controller.
There seems to be a lot of potential here, including allowing one player to influence the play field on their screen while others struggle against his influence with regular Wii controllers, or even being able to move the game completely onto the controller while someone else watches the TV. It comes off as a mish-mash to me, however. Do we want motion control in our controllers, or do we want a big screen? Also, I’d be very worried handing over a controller with a screen to my 4 and 6 year old sons.
At any rate, here’s hoping the Wii U boosts Nintendo’s sagging bottom line, and doesn’t become the company’s Atari 7800. As always, for more information on the history of Nintendo, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.