Microsoft's Xbox One DRM policies - as muddy as they may currently be - aren't a particularly encouraging sign for consumers. They hint at a future of games tied to individual user accounts; of control over the pre-owned market; and a complete lockdown on disc sharing. But Microsoft may not be the only one making strides for such a future. Though it has yet to declare its stance, comments from Bonus Round host Geoff Keighley suggest Sony may be considering such options for its PlayStation 4, too.
"The one thing that is amazing to me is that right now we're not hearing a lot from the game publishers about what their view is on this," he said. "The console companies are becoming the bad guys. And, you know, Microsoft is being beaten up a lot on it. Sony, I think, has been seen as this kind of white knight so far that's not going to restrict used games. Based on some of the things I'm hearing, I don't think that's entirely true, because I can't see publishers allowing one system to do one thing and one do another."
Keighley's comments left many fans angry and upset - spurring one man, Pete Dodd aka 'famousmortimer', to make a stand. Dodd launched #PS4NoDRM, an awareness campaign - and protest of sorts - designed to stop Sony from implementing the same DRM techniques into PS4 that Microsoft appears to have proposed for Xbox One.
"I had heard from a couple of friends in the industry, separately, that Sony was moving on the [DRM] issue," Dodd tells VideoGamer.com. "I saw an opportunity to help guide them to what I thought was the correct answer."
Dodd launched the campaign on games industry forum NeoGAF, but within hours the initiative had spread across social networking channels, catching the attention of thousands of other like-minded users disappointed with Microsoft's policies and keen to stop Sony from following the same path. At the time of writing, the initial NeoGAF thread had attracted over 7,000 responses and, according to Dodd, the #PS4NoDRM hashtag has been tweeted tens of thousands of times.
"The response has been off the charts crazy," he says, admitting that the traction the campaign has gained "was not a part of the original plan. My plan was hoping for 100 tweets. Instead we are likely over 20k." A website set up to aid the campaign - ps4nodrm.com - is currently closing in on 10,000 views a day, Dodd says, and the initiative has received widespread media attention from the global specialist press."There was just so much help and none of it was ever asked for. It was all done by people who felt compelled to help."
Part of the campaign's success, Dodd speculates, is down to "perfect timing". "I've made several thousand posts on NeoGAF and I figured this would be like any other," he tells us. "A couple pages of talking, maybe some lurkers joining in on the Twitter thing and that was that. Instead people were responding to the post and tweeting like crazy basically from the moment I posted it. I didn't see this at the time but looking back on it now I think it was just perfect timing. People were angry at Microsoft, they were worried about Sony doing the same, and they didn't know what to do with themselves. Suddenly my little post gave them something to do."
#PS4NoDRM won't have gone unnoticed by Microsoft or Sony, then, even if company figureheads have avoided referencing the campaign directly. Nevertheless, senior Sony officials appear to have responded kindly to it on social media. "This is why I love PlayStation fans - the passion bucket overflows," tweeted PlayStation's head of hardware marketing John Koller in the hours following the campaign's launch, with SCEA's VP of publisher & developer relations Adam Boyes later adding that the campaign is "working pretty well, much better than a few letters would. We're seeing the message loudly, and it's immediate".
But the question is, what will the platform holders do about it?
"We all hope both Microsoft and Sony back off on plans to mess with DRM and revert back to what they offer in the current gen," says Dodd. "On a personal level though, I can't let a Sony decision decide whether I did good work or not. So for me, the goal was taking a two person dialogue (Sony and [third-party] publishers) and inserting ourselves into the conversation."
Though Dodd acknowledges that the decision over DRM policy ultimately lies with the platform holders, he also believes that third-parties could be pressuring the two companies into making their decision. "I know publishers want this and I understand that most of the known universe thinks the pressure is all coming from them. But the truth of the matter is that Sony and Microsoft have the most to gain by controlling the used market.
"First off, they both are enormous publishers in their own right so they benefit from their own games," he continues. "Secondly, as platform holders, they get a cut of every third party game sold - so more new equals more money. And lastly, if they decide who you can sell your games to and charge a fee to do so you can be certain they will skim off of that as well. So while I think someone like EA really wants this, their payoff is nothing like the console holders."
Despite the criticism, though (and by Dodd's own admission), Microsoft's alleged proposal for next-gen DRM "sounds a little more permissive" than those offered by rival platforms such as Steam. "On the PC you obviously can barely ever sell back a physical game and on Steam you never can," Dodd says. "The Xbox One sounds like you might be able to but it will be with publishers and Microsoft getting a cut. Steam is just like any other digital storefront: no returns, no trading in."
So with that being said, what makes Microsoft's proposed plans so controversial? "The thing about this comparison is that I think Valve is a special corporation that does not operate in the same manner that most do," he continues. "I'm not naive enough to think that if Microsoft or Sony had a Steam style marketplace that they would ever try to make it nearly as user friendly in terms of sales and pricing as Steam."
Dodd tells us that he hasn't yet received a direct response from either Sony or Microsoft in regards to the #PS4NoDRM campaign, and doesn't expect to, either. "I think this is a big issue to both companies judging by the outrage [following] the Xbox one unveiling. I also think that Sony is in the driver's seat here. For whatever boneheaded reason, Microsoft decided to be the first to talk about it and all of the focus is on them. And as luck would have it, Microsoft goes first at E3 with so many hours of fielding questions afterwards (where I assume it will be discussed) before Sony [presents]. With that in mind I never thought there was a chance, for or against, that Sony would respond to us."
If either platform holder does decide to listen to its consumers, though, Dodd hopes it's Sony. "I've always favoured Sony by a pretty large margin," he says, "but I owned an [original] Xbox and Xbox 360 on launch day as well. I have my preferences and they tend to lean [toward] Sony, but I don't think I'm a crazy person.
"About this issue, at least."