New Xbox could destroy used games market

In what would surely be one of the dumbest decisions in entertainment tech history, there are rumors that the next generation of the Xbox won’t allow owners to play used games.

With a release expected to be about 18 months away, we’re at the point where Microsoft is likely firming up the final specs and planning production. That’s led to a flurry of speculation that may be a little more credible than previous rumors.

On the hardware side, it appears the console’s graphics processor will go into production later this year and will be at least six times as powerful as in the Xbox 360.

A couple of other rumors both seem to make sense: that the new console will support Blu-ray discs, and that it will ship with a new version of Kinect. In the latter case, Microsoft may well intend to include the motion control system by default, but events could come in to play. If Sony releases a new PlayStation around the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft give buyers the choice of getting the new Xbox without Kinect to keep costs down.

It’s the reported ban on used games that could be biggest story however. Microsoft has already described the claims as “rumor and speculation”, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn Microsoft has surreptitiously put the idea out there to see what response it gets, without publicly committing to the idea.

That response has certainly been highly negative, with serious skepticism about the theory that a drop in overall sales would be outweighed by a higher revenue for game producers from new sales.

It would also mean a serious threat to the business models both of used games stores and online rental companies. And whatever technical method was used to enforce the rule would inevitably attract hackers, who’d probably gather public support. It’s easy to attack people who are trying to rip-off games to avoid paying for them whatsoever, but it would be hard to demonize people who wanted to play a used game that they’d legally purchased.

There’s also an important point made by Computer & Video Games’ James Jenkins: forcing gamers to pay full price for every game would be a serious deterrence to trying out unfamiliar or offbeat titles, likely leaving developers sticking to mainstream blockbusters and annual series sequels.

(Image credit: Francesco Falciani via Creative Commons license)

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