The future of digital content fair rights

I noticed that a lot of the online angst about the Xbox One, apparently being referred to as the “Xbone”, which is hilariously awesome, is based on the fact that it will limit resale of used games on the platform.

While I understand the angst, I think it’s short sighted because Sony has been creepily quiet about this issue on the PS4, most likely because they’re going to do the same thing. Basically, digital content is inevitable. It’s only a matter of time before all content is digital and subject to the same rules.

I’m also generally against resale of used games because none of that money goes back to the creators of said game, and it enables a profiteering class of middlemen like GameStop who make tons of money for creating exactly nothing, just exploiting gamers by buying new games for pennies on the dollar and reselling them at huge markups.

And it’s not limited to console gaming either. Take digital content of any kind: book, movie, TV show, music, game, whatever, you name it. It’s 100% digital no physical artifact whatsoever. You bought it, it’s yours to do … what with? What do you “own”? What rights do you have?

I think what would be fair is the right for the original digital content owner to:

  1. Transfer ownership of their digital copy to another user – once, ever, for the whole life of the item. For whatever reason they want. Donate, sell, who cares. Ownership transfers. The item can never be resold again to anyone else though. You obviously can’t pass down your single digital copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to 50 generations of your progeny over the eons.

  2. Lend their digital copy to one other person for a fixed period of time. Once the lending period is over it could be re-lended, but there might need to be a cool off period (you can’t have an item lent sequentially to every citizen of the USA) otherwise… exploits. Obviously there would have to be some kind of exception for libraries.

Seems reasonable, yes? So then why isn’t this happening for digital content today?

You can sort of lend some Kindle ebooks which is awesome, but just try to do anything like #1 or #2 with digital anything and fuggedaboudit. Can anyone provide widespread, common examples of any digital content, other than the aforementioned Kindle lending, that you can do the above with?

I have some theories about this.

The industry(ies) aren’t that enlightened. After having no control with analog stuff, now they have full control with digital content and they are basking in their newfound power. Given that as I said above, these changes work to put more money in the pockets of more creators, and not middlemen who create exactly jack and shit, I am mostly OK with that.

Even if the industry(ies) were enlightened enough to want what’s morally right for the user, this stuff is complicated. Very. Just the technical infrastructure to make what I described above happen is … far from trivial and implies some seriously powerful centralized mechanisms for tracking everything, that work universally all the time with no serious exploits or technical breakdowns.

So yeah, good luck with that angst over limited resale of used games, guys. The upside is, more money goes to creators and not middlemen. The downside is, with the inevitable transition to digital items, the plethora of cheap used physical crap is kind of going away. Forever. It’s starting in our lifetimes, and it’ll be a stone cold fact of life in our children’s lifetimes.


You can sort of lend some Kindle ebooks which is awesome

The implementation tends to be silly, which annoys me to no end. My wife shares a book with me, and she can’t read it - or even glance at a single page while I have it “checked out.” It’s actually easier for us to share one account, which is unfortunate. Additionally, we’ve had to contact Amazon a few times so she could actually re-gain access to a book after the lending period was over.

I understand and the ease of exploitation of licensing is the real issue, but it drives me crazy that the industry turns a blind eye to actual real-world usage such as sharing content amongst family members. It’d be much better if you’d get more functionality with what you can share — but as you said, perhaps a long cooldown before re-lending, or a specific limit.

I think the basic reason we don’t generally have legal digital sharing or ownership transfer is because no one distributing content has wanted it to be that way, ever - even before the internet. If publishers could self-destruct physical content to prevent lending, they would. In a sense digital distribution re-captures all the money they’ve “lost” through sharing - so as long as they can maintain their existence and fight self-publishing, they’re beyond happy. As you said, it’s their favorite new power.

Essentially piracy is the best model for sharing physical content - it’s the only one that at least functions somewhat similarly to real-world sharing. Unfortunately there’s just no way to control the scope of it like you can by having a physical item.

I’d be surprised if Valve didn’t have something in mind for sharing/transferring digital licenses at some point in the future though, they already have a substantive marketplace and trading system for digital items within games through Steam — so it’d be somewhat natural to see that expand further.

The funniest thing about this is that everyone loves Valve, a company that entirely prevents any sort of used marketplace from existing. I guess PC users are just kind of used to it.

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I think the reason the community gives Valve a pass is the way they massively reduce prices on games as they age, and have regular sales where older games are just a few bucks.

And they also run crazy experiments, where they found that lower prices led to more sales, in absolute dollars, than the higher prices did!

Sales of Team Fortress 2 went up 106% following a free update to the game. Retail wasn’t left out in this case, with sales jumping 28%.

The massive Steam holiday sale was also a big win for Valve and its partners. The following holiday sales data was released, showing the sales breakdown organized by price reduction:

  • 10% sale = 35% increase in sales (real dollars, not units shipped)
  • 25% sale = 245% increase in sales
  • 50% sale = 320% increase in sales
  • 75% sale = 1470% increase in sales

Furthermore, Valve has hired an experimental psychologist to maximize the excitement of Steam sales and other marketing opportunities. According to Newell, one suggestion by the psychologist was to provide one free copy of a Valve game to every 25th buyer of Left 4 Dead.

These experiments (and the low low low prices on older games) are a big reason why I trust Steam.

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Interestingly, the other shoe dropped, and Sony’s PS4 apparently isn’t going to restrict sales of used games – or require an Internet connection every 24 hours to play.

Go figure.

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I’m still curious if it’s going to really matter. I don’t mean to be pessimistic or dismissive: all those gamers getting angry will add up to something. But Sony’s not exactly in a position of strength, business-wise, and I don’t think all the people saying that these units are going to live and die by also being set-top boxes for streaming content and the like are wrong. (I guess I’m one of them!)

That said, when the best I can say is that the rights limitations on Xbox One don’t affect me but are generally pointlessly shitty, that’s not a very strong defense.

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Agreed, and as I said on the Twitters:

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I’d venture to say that in the long run the average consumer doesn’t care one way or the other. Unless Microsoft completely botches everything on their end it’s just not going to affect most people.

I will be interested to see how things do go on their end. There’s a big potential there for massive service outages that would prevent people from playing any games - and if they’re not on top of their shit on the few weeks following launch it’ll be one big torpedo to their side. They could Sim City the whole thing.

In the end what I think won my preorder was that the strong support for indie developers and the fact that the PS4 is region-free. The DRM was a thought that crossed my mind, but as mentioned before - I’m already pretty used to the Steam model, so honestly I don’t care all that much as long as there’s some stability there.

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This is totally not a PS4 versus Xbone topic, but I’m all about the Kinect. The prospect of Yet Another Console does nothing for me whatsoever – I love the physical Kinect games and I’m excited to see what kinds of new gameplay the higher resolution, faster, better, Kinect can enable.

But if you just want “a box that plays next-gen Call of Duty and GTA well” then there’s no question PS4 is the better choice. It’s also slightly more powerful and cheaper!

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Wow, Microsoft does a total 180 on Xbone and DRM:

Unfortunately, that’s kind of a step backwards in some ways. I wish modern consoles would just have the guts to drop optical media entirely, otherwise they’re just recreating all the problems of the past rather than forging ahead to the future. That seems important for a box designed to last 10 years…

But maybe console fanboys and fangals aren’t ready for that yet?


I think this article does an awesome job at explaining what just happened

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The rumor is that they will still leave the option for publishers to push such restrictions on a game by game basis, but after what happened with the XBox… we’ll see. I’d much prefer to see the Valve model you mentioned above become dominant - Creators get paid and we all have more games than we know what to do with.

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