Golden Age of Ports
This morning is going to be yet another stunning example of “Bel Wants a Thing that Will Never Happen”, but I am going to roll with it anyways. One of my big frustrations over the last several years is when I end up repurchasing the same game for a different platform. For example I owned Fallout 3 long before Steam existed, but because I wanted the convenience of being able to play that game without having to rummage for discs every single time… I ended up picking the game of the year edition on a steam sale. But more often than this there are games that I have on the PC that I wish I could play on a console, or on a console and wish I could play on a PC. Last night there was a discussion about the new Shovel Knight patch, and one of my immediate thoughts was… man I kinda wish I had that on my 3DS since I have taken recently to bringing that to work to play. Sure it isn’t terribly annoying to repurchase a $20 game, but it certainly feels it when you are talking about a $60 game. Now we get to my wish… portable licensing. What I mean by that is the ability to swap licensing between various game systems that a game is available. Don’t want to play Borderlands 2 on your PC anymore? Fine trade that license in for the PS4 copy, and when you tire of that the Vita copy.
The problem is you are immediately going to tell me… “but Bel this is how game companies make money, by releasing their game on every possible platform in the hopes that you will play pokegame with them and buy them all!” Sure that is how things seem to work currently, but is that really a good model? For years there was a significant amount of work porting games between consoles. The Sega Genesis was a vastly different system than the Super Nintendo… and we constantly saw massive differences between the games that ended up on both platforms. I took the liberty of snagging two screenshots of two different versions of Mortal Kombat II, from the golden age of porting games to multiple platforms. You can see a bunch of graphical differences between the two based on the limitations of each architecture. What has changed is the fact that console manufacturers do not have the same sort of pull that they used to. PC Gaming became a major contender as has handheld platforms, and while console manufacturers still desperately cling to the notion of “exclusivity” this is a dying concept. Systems are designed from the ground up to be essentially easy to port code to, because they know that the keys to their success is a huge library of popular games.
There are certain games out there that you know will ultimately end up on every single platform. Take the example of the new Tomb Raider game that Microsoft claims to have exclusivity over. They have not so subtly chosen their words every single time they have talked about and used the specific phrasing of “exclusive for holiday 2015”. That means a few months after Christmas 2015 you will end up with a new launch for the PS4 and PC and whatever other platforms seem to matter at the time. Essentially what I am proposing is to cut through this bullshit and simply sell licenses that you can move back and forth between the platforms. I can see this going down one of several different ways, but not all of them are terribly easy to implement. The best scenario is simply that if you purchase the game directly from a developer, you can create an account that allows you to log in and get a new license for whatever platform you happen to play the game on. That means you are paying a non-discounted rate for the game, directly to the game developer cutting out the middle man… and for that you gain the privilege of playing that game on whatever platform you happen to desire doing so. There are a lot of logistics with this one, but I could see it working for someone like Ubisoft that already has their own gaming infrastructure in the form of UPlay. That would actually turn that system from being a liability into being a positive for users, because as of right now… there is no reason for UPlay to exist other than to annoy us.
Another option would be some sort of a license swap scenario, where you trade in one license key for a new license key for the system of your choosing. This honestly would work similar to PC software that allows you to install on a fixed number of machines. In these cases there is almost always an online tool that allows you to unbind a license from a specific machine and install it fresh on another to allow for things like system rebuilds. The problem being that right now there is no real way to make sure these licenses are leaving circulation, as in once a game is granted through a system like PSN, it becomes harder to revoke the game since you are having to deal with a third party company doing it for you. The final option I would suggest is probably the easiest. When you own the game on any platform you could purchase heavily discounted copies of the game for other platforms. My theory is that you would ultimately end up paying something along the lines of 15-20% of the cost of the original game to get a new copy of the game for another platform. The problem here is that a system like this would be rife with potential abuse. What is to say that I don’t buy the game on the PS4, and then get a discount key for my friend to play on their Xbox One. The worse case scenario is after market sales of said discount keys. None of these solutions are perfect, but I feel like if someone actually solved this solution… it would be a huge marketing point for any games they produce. I have several PCs, a PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, Android device, and iOS device if you limit the search to only the more recent systems. It would be amazing to play the gamesI want to play on whatever systems they are available… without going bankrupt doing so.