Ubisoft and EA Weigh In on Used Games, DRM, and the Price of Next-Gen Games
With the intensity of the conversation (and potential backlash) around DRM and used games currently rippling through the industry, publishers have been very careful about broaching these topics. After Microsoft's attempts to shift responsibility for used games policy onto the shoulders of publishers, many companies seem to have taken a vow of silence until they can develop a comprehensive strategy. EA and Ubisoft, on the other hand, have recently decided to dip a toe into this volatile pool, and the first indicators of their long term plans are beginning to emerge.
During a recent conversation with press, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot was asked a volley of questions about his company's direction regarding used games. While his answers were definitely guided by the deft touch of PR, they sounded largely pro-consumer (and eager to redirect some responsibility back to platform holders).
"The manufacturers are setting the rules on the console," Guillemot said. "We didn’t know exactly what Microsoft would do. Lots of people are buying games and reselling them and then buying new ones. It gives customers the possibility of buying many games. Instead of two or three games and only a few experiences, it gives them a chance to play more games and make some mistakes from time to time. I think it has been good for the industry. We have to make sure that there isn’t too much money lost in between.”
Guillemot was careful to emphasize that he was pleased Microsoft wouldn't be taking a cut of any used games transaction. “It will give us the option to look at what service we want to give and decide what we have to bring. It’s a good thing that Microsoft is not taking any fee. We come back to what we use to have. The shops can do their trading as they used to.”
While subtly referencing the higher cost of providing online services for games that are being passed through multiple hands and being serviced longer as a result (with no new income for Ubisoft), his comments largely reflected a willingness to let the used games market continue to exist and thrive.
When the conversation turned to development costs and how they might effect the price of games on next generation consoles, Guillemot was optimistic that, at least for the first few years, costs both for developers and at retail would remain stable. After that, due to the technical demands of developing better looking and more complex titles, he expected that development costs would inevitably rise, though that wouldn't necessarily correspond to a rise in the price of new games.
EA has been clear in their messaging that their used game and DRM policies are still a work in progress. Speaking at a meeting of investors during E3, president Frank Gibeau said his company was still "formulating our policy" in regards to used game restrictions, but went on to emphasize that any policy decisions would be made with the best interests of gamers in mind.
“EA has a position of looking at used games from a user standpoint and a gamer standpoint. We will definitely be looking at gamer-first and creating an opportunity to have a relationship with used games such that it’s a positive experience.”
Gibeau also claims that EA has learned some difficult lessons from the overwhelmingly negative reaction to their Online Pass program, with the company recently shuttered. "“The policy we do come out with will have that in mind," he said in a later interview. "A nuanced and sophisticated approach is important instead of a blunt instrument.”
Chief Operating Officer Peter Moore concurred about the failures of EA's previous approach. "Online Pass was more trouble to the consumer than it was worth," he told Polygon. "It was a mistake. The consumer's feedback was that this thing gets in the way of a good experience so let's get rid of it."
Moore also addressed the company's philosophy regarding the used game ecosystem, and allegations that pressure from publishers like EA heavily influenced Microsoft's DRM policies on the Xbox One.
"Absolutely incorrect. As the guy who is the chief operating officer of Electronic Arts I can tell you that EA did not aggressively lobby for the platform holders to put some gating function in there to allow or disallow used games. I am on record as being a proponent of used games."
Both Moore and Gibeau indicated that a firmer policy regarding used games would be shaped in the coming weeks and an announcement would be forthcoming.