The upcoming PS4 game Driveclub (currently scheduled for release in October 2014) is making waves for reasons that have nothing to do with its gameplay or development status. In a new video, the company has spelled out its free trial and upgrade policies, and the requirements are a doozy. First, the good news -- PlayStation Plus subscribers will be able to download a demo of the game that contains a few maps and one trial area, India. If you choose to upgrade that version, the full title will cost you $50. Here's the catch -- that purchase is tied to your Playstation Plus subscription.
In other words, if you stop paying Sony the official $49.95 a year for PlayStation Plus, you lose your $50 game. This is completely at odds with how PlayStation Plus membership is supposed to work. It contradicts Sony's official FAQ, which states that:
Q: So while I can only access games downloaded free as long as I’m a Plus member, what about games and other content I purchase with a Plus discount? A: Any content you purchase with a Plus discount is yours to keep, regardless of you membership status.
The video below explains the two versions:
So much for the whole "Keep your games" schtick.
The Ugly Side of Digital Downloads
This is the latest in a long series of moves from major companies designed to make media content increasingly difficult to consume or re-use, all in the guise of being "consumer-friendly." Once upon a time, digital downloads were heralded as a technology advance that would decisively undercut Blu-ray and DVD costs thanks to efficient distribution. In reality -- and you can check Amazon and iTunes if you don't believe me -- it's often cheaper now to buy the physical media than to buy the digital versions.
In exchange for saving $10, the Driveclub team has created a system in which you're stuck paying Sony a further $50 if you have the misfortune to buy the wrong version of the game. In fact, since the $50 upgrade is tied to the free trial, there's no doubt what's happening here -- Evolution Studios and Sony want you to download the free trial (fine), decide to buy the game (fine), click through the purchase data, and then be locked into paying for PlayStation Plus.
For decades, it's been an established legal fact that we don't actually own physical media or software, we simply pay for licenses, but moves like this are the content industry's attempt to turn the screws on what they can and cannot enforce thanks to digital license agreements. The problem here has nothing to do with the quality of the PlayStation Plus service, which enjoys millions of presumably happy customers. The problem is that the customer's right to access a game they already paid for is now contingent on being willing to pay Sony a monthly fee to retain that access. There's no option to keep the single-player version of the game -- drop your PlayStation Plus subscription, and you lose the whole package.
Reader response on the official PlayStation blog has been anything but positive -- here's hoping Evolution Studios listens to its fans and drops this bone-headed policy maneuver. If it doesn't, we'll know the PlayStation Plus FAQ isn't worth its digital ink.