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How Sony can still screw up the PlayStation 4

Sony left E3 as a big fan favorite, but decisions made by the company in the coming months could deflate that balloon.

Sony's PlayStation 4 may be the fan favorite right now, as far as next-generation consoles go.

Sony showed off a ton of new games due to arrive on the upcoming console at E3 this week. The company also announced a used-game policy that is far more lenient than the one that Microsoft will offer with its upcoming Xbox One game console.

When Sony America CEO Jack Tretton looked square in the eyes of his audience at Monday's E3 event and proclaimed, "PlayStation 4 won't impost any new restrictions on used PS4 games," he was rewarded with the biggest cheer of the night.

But he wasn't done. Tretton drew additional cheers with a direct shot at Microsoft: "PlayStation 4 disc-based games don't need to be connected online to play, or for any type of authentication." This is huge, since Redmond's console will have to connect online at least once every 24 hours, and the audience made its appreciation clear.

We're worried, however, that Sony could very easily back down from most of what it said Monday. Here are two reasons why:

PlayStation Plus

The PlayStation 4 will require you to be a PlayStation Plus subscriber if you want to play games online. The PlayStation 2 and 3 both allow you to play multiplayer online games for free, so many naturally assumed Sony would do the same with its new console.

Gamers seem to hold PlayStation Plus in higher regard than Microsoft's Xbox Live service. Having a Plus subscription gives you access to free games and discounts on downloadable content like extra characters and map packs.

And Sony has already confirmed that prices for Plus would stay the same as they are now--$50 for 12 months--and that you'll still be able to access apps like Netflix and Hulu+ without being a subscriber.

However, we wish Sony had been clearer about its policy on free-to-play games. With that subgenre specifically, it seems that publishers can decide if their title requires Playstation Plus or not. It's an odd distinction to make, and won't be immediately clear to the average player.

Isn't the idea behind free-to-play games that you can enjoy them without paying any sort of entrance fee? Why not just make it so free-to-play titles were exempt from the Plus requirement entirely?

For what it's worth, PlanetSide 2 and DC Universe Online, two free-to-play titles from Sony Online Entertainment, won't require PlayStation Plus when they launch on the PlayStation 4 later this year.

Digital rights management

Another area of concern is Sony's digital rights management (DRM) policy. Sony earned a number of cheers at its press conference by stating that the PlayStation 4 would support used games and would not require an Internet connection for any sort of DRM validation. However, Sony later said that it would leave it up to game publishers to determine their own DRM strategies and used-game-sales policies.

This isn't the exactly great news: If history is any indicator, publishers are clueless when it comes to enacting DRM policies that don't make you want to punch someone in the face.

Gamers may celebrate the death of EA's online pass now, but its failure leaves the door open for much more aggravating DRM systems in the future--for example, requirements to have a game validated online once a week in order to play. DRM systems like the one implemented in the latest edition of Sim City might be the least of our worries.

Sony could put our minds at ease by enacting DRM guidelines for publishers, but that consumer-friendly action might not go over too well with some of the folks actually making and selling the games.

However, Sony's DRM policy for the PlayStation 4 looks like it might be an appealing alternative to the more-restrictive version Microsoft will use on the Xbox One. Let's see if Sony can keep that momentum going until the console's launch sometime this holiday season.


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