If you’re thinking about picking up the new Wii Speak peripheral, which lets gamers on Nintendo’s console talk to their friends online, you’d better plan on keeping it forever. That’s because Wii Speak requires users to download a separate, Wii Speak “channel” to chat with friends outside of a game session. Here’s the catch, though: Each new copy of Wii Speak sold comes with one code to download the channel, which isn’t sold separately.
In other words, you won’t have much luck if you’re trying to resell your Wii Speak to another gamer. Nor can you give it to a friend if you discover you’re not using it. You can’t loan it to anyone. Most important, from Nintendo’s point of view, you can’t trade it in at GameStop, where a frugal-minded Wii owner could pick it up on the cheap, depriving Nintendo of revenue.
I’m not entirely sure what’ll happen if you buy Wii Speak, with the intention of installing it on a Wii in your living room and another in your kid’s bedroom, but all indications are that Nintendo expects you to buy two microphones. And what will happen if your Wii goes belly up and you buy another one? Will that necessitate purchase of a second $30 microphone?
MTV Games is pulling a similar, albeit more limited, stunt with its “AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack,” a standalone game with 18 live tracks from the Australian rockers. Unlike Wii Speak, the game can be used with any console. But it comes with a one-use code that allows its songs to be copied to the hard drive of one PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. In other words, you can still get some use out of a used copy of “Track Pack,” so long as you’re willing to play through 18 AC/DC live tracks, one after the other. If you want to mix the tracks in with your “Rock Band,” “Rock Band 2” and downloaded songs, well, get your butt over to Wal-Mart, the game’s exclusive retailer, and buy it new.
Microsoft got into the act with its recent blockbuster shooter “Gears of War II,” including a code so that you can download five exclusive multiplayer maps if you buy the game new at retail.
Like their counterparts in the music world, the game industry can’t be excited at the prospect of its customers buying second-hand merchandise, depriving them of revenue they’d reap if we all just acted like model customers and paid $50 or $60 for all our new games. Until this console generation, console and game manufacturers didn’t have the technology to address the “problem” of used games. But as they gird for battle with the secondary market, they risk going too far, alienating their customers and hurting sales. Time will tell how many new restrictions gamers will be willing to accept.