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PlayStation Orbis rumors about used games signal changes

The rumor mill is grinding out Sony stories fast and furious these days, but reports of the upcoming PlayStation 3 successor say more about the future of the industry than they do about the games themselves.

After Kotaku cited sources claiming Sony was creating a console code-named Orbis to be shipped by the end of the year, gamers started doing backflips. The Internet slavered over the idea of a console with a 4,096 x 2,160 resolution, positing there were big plans for 3D games and even new displays far outmatching 1080p capabilities.

But a couple things stood out that will herald major changes on the business side: One is that Orbis is abandoning Sony's proprietary Cell processor technology, which isn't surprising, given the lukewarm reception the architecture received from developers. In fact, the report states the console will use an AMD central processing unit and graphics processing unit, sticking with the recent trend at Sony to farm out tried-and-true chips to run its products.

This leads to concerns that Orbis will not be backward compatible, the first console to abandon that in three generations, if I'm counting that right. It's not a terribly surprising development, of course, given Sony gave up on trying to make PS2 games compatible not too long after the PS3's release.

More interesting is the theory that Orbis (and the upcoming Xbox successor, codenamed Durango) will block used games, going a step farther than the use of online passes some publishers have been moving toward. That's an earth-shattering change, because it changes the foundation of a billion-dollar industry virtually overnight.

Kotaku's report says that Orbis may require games — both Blu-Ray discs and downloads — to be authenticated through a PlayStation Network account. That means features and gameplay could potentially be restricted if a title were bought used.

Whether this means companies like GameStop would have their hands tied or used games would be restricted with no recourse isn't officially known, but the theory is that games could be "unlocked" by Sony for a small fee. That would be fine with me, since developers see zero dollars from the used market, but GameStop and other used-game sellers would have to jump on board, ostensibly by lowering prices to accomodate the PSN fee.

GameStop CEO Paul Raines doesn't seem to think these rumors (and they are still just rumors) about used games will truly come to pass. Maybe that's because his company relies on half its profits coming from used sales.

"We think it's unlikely that there would be that next-gen console because the model simply hasn't been proven to work. Remember that used video games have a residual value. Remember that GameStop generates $1.2 billion of trade credits around the world with our used games model," Raines said, according to PC World. "So consider taking used games out of that, you'd have to find new ways to sell the games, and our partners at the console companies have great relationships with us."

But when it comes to money, it will be interesting to see who blinks first, the gamemakers or the used-game sellers. This is shaping up to be a body blow to the used market; Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have been fighting this since I was a kid in the 1980s, when companies were battling game rentals tooth and nail, but thanks to online accounts, Sony has a plan with teeth.

If the lockout of used games comes to pass, it may herald a new era: A day when buying a used game means getting the title for a fair price, and the publisher recoups some cash on its investment. I honestly can't say such an arrangement is a bad idea. But then, I don't work for GameStop.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

PlayStation Orbis rumors about used games signal changes 04/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 19, 2012 4:58pm]

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