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Sony Will Do to GameStop What Netflix Did to Blockbuster

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At the Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday, Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) unveiled "PlayStation Now," an upcoming, cloud-based video game service that, if successful, could ultimately devastate GameStop's (NYSE: GME  ) business.

While Sony wisely took advantage of the PR backlash caused by Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) embrace of digital gaming in 2013, the Japanese giant has gone further -- its new service takes digital gaming to an entirely new level.

PlayStation Now -- The next evolution of digital game distribution
With PlayStation Now, Sony has essentially created a Netflix for games. Pricing and release details haven't been finalized, but Sony has laid out the basic workings of its upcoming service: PlayStation Now customers will pay a subscription fee to access a catalog of games released for prior PlayStation (1, 2, and 3) consoles.

These games will be cloud-based, streamed over the Internet to subscribers' PCs, mobile devices, Sony HDTVs, or PlayStation 4 video game consoles. Subscribers will not actually own any of the games -- they'll simply get access to them as long as they pay for a subscription. Some video gamers may resist the service, preferring to continue buying games individually, but many others will embrace it -- one low monthly fee will give them access to a vast library of games.

Microsoft envisions a digital future
Sony's vision is, in fact, a more radical version of Microsoft's original plan for the Xbox One. When it first announced the console, Microsoft drew the ire of the gaming community for a number of design decisions. As planned, Microsoft's Xbox One would've required a regular Internet connection to function, and buying or reselling used games would've been difficult, if not impossible. Microsoft later relented on its plans, shipping an Xbox One that was not so restrictive.

But Microsoft, like Sony, obviously sees a gaming future that's built around digital distribution. With its dedicated Azure cloud-computing servers, Microsoft could eventually follow Sony's lead. In fact, Microsoft has been rumored to be working on its own cloud-based gaming service, while it continues to push digital video game sales. One of the Xbox One's launch titles, Killer Instinct, cannot be purchased in any store -- it's only available digitally.

Physical game discs will become ancient relics
The rise of digitally distributed games is nothing short of a deadly trend for GameStop. Shares of the retailer fell more than 8% on Tuesday, and with good reason. GameStop derives nearly all of its revenue and profit from the sale of physical games. If games go digital, GameStop will, quite literally, have almost nothing to sell.

Sony's service is even more detrimental to GameStop because it cuts out hardware sales -- there's no need to buy a video game console from GameStop when your Sony TV is capable of streaming games from the Internet.

I own put options on GameStop stock because I believe, fundamentally, that we're witnessing a trend that's played out in retail many times before: Like iTunes bringing down Tower Records, or Amazon putting Borders Books under, or Netflix sending Blockbuster into bankruptcy; like those retail giants that depended on media sales before it, GameStop is facing a grim future as its product goes digital.

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Read/Post Comments (48) | Recommend This Article (16)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 12:07 PM, Burstedbladder wrote:

    -And I'm still not buying from either of these companies. These two MS and Sony have gotten way to big and need to be brought to their knees by the consumers that need to stop purchasing their products. The bigger these two companies get, the more control they will have on your lives and your homes.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 12:11 PM, throwintre wrote:

    No thanks. EA refused to refund my money on Simcity because I downloaded the game instead of buying a physical copy. I learned two lessons, never buy another product from EA again, and don't trust downloaded games.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 12:26 PM, Hjin wrote:

    Not really. I have yet to see a single digital game on PS Network cheaper than the price at Gamestop.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 12:29 PM, ewro wrote:

    The problem for Microsoft is lack of content. Even if they launch a digital cloud platform what games would they have to offer? Nobody is going to pay to play a 10 year old version of Halo when current shooters are so much better.

    You have to have a library of exclusive classic games that tell a story and that is where Sony wins. When it comes to digital distribution content is king.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 12:29 PM, ewro wrote:


    You don't need a PS4 for this service.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 12:37 PM, Vitabrits wrote:

    The point is, the Playstation Now is completely OPTIONAL! M$FT tried to force people into the diskless DRM which is what angered gamers. Now if you could buy some of the games for a nominal fee and save the digital copy too to your PSN account instead of a subscription, then it could be a major boon for Sony.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 12:44 PM, Ebby720 wrote:

    No they won't.....inane uniformed thoughts.....Gamestop appeals to those of us who play games, have kids and want to trade them in and buy used......Sony won't buy my games will they.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 12:45 PM, chrisphr wrote:

    I think Gamestop might be at risk as a result of accellerating technology which may eventually trump physical games, but not necessarily because of Sony's service.

    While I don't know the numbers, I would expect that video games lose their popularity much faster than movies due the the consumer expectation of technological advances in the games themselves. Thus, offering older titles in a subscription service isn't likely to hurt Gamestops sales of new and recent releases. While it might impact the sales of used games, the impact would be proportional to the age of the game. The longer it takes to be offered in a Netflix type service, the less it impacts Gamestop. Also, the older the game, the less Gamestop depends upon it as a revenue source.

    I think Gamestop and this new service can co-exist profitably.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 1:25 PM, theshmf wrote:

    Sounds like Mr. Mattera has never heard of 'Steam' before - created a decade ago by a former Microsoft genius in fact - which has been doing this for years & already revolutionized the independent gaming industry ages ago... but not being a publicly traded company I guess it doesn't exist, right?

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 1:38 PM, peace1999 wrote:

    Mmmm.... Mr.Writer! First of all, this was Microsoft's idea to introduce digital gaming when the entire world and all the negative media (most likely paid by Gamestop) had them change their plans!

    Secondly, digital gaming is the future so Gamestop is a 'goodbye' any ways! Just like we stopped inserting CD's into our car stereos, we'll stop inserting them in our gaming consoles as well!

    If Microsoft hadn't changed their original scope, Gamestop was a goner!

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:08 PM, marcus0202 wrote:

    "Sony has laid out the basic workings of its upcoming service: PlayStation Now customers will pay a subscription fee to access a catalog of games released for prior PlayStation (1, 2, and 3) consoles."

    This article seems to conclude that Sony will soon discontinue physical games. But the only fact cited in support is that Sony will be selling PS1-3 games in digital format. Well, they sold games in digital format on the PS3. I digitally downloaded some PS2 titles on my PS3, for example. But Sony did not stop releasing physical copies of PS3 titles. I'm not saying Sony won't discontinue physical games, but the mere fact that they will be selling games in digital format is no different than thier past practice on the PS3.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:16 PM, qqnore wrote:

    It's about time someone did something about Gamestop. Talk about the sealerships of the video game industry. It's sad that I take my little ten year old brother in there to buy recent titles for his Christmas money, and they're wanting $40 and upwards for Nintendo DS games that have been out for release for more than three years! If you took the exact games to them though, they may offer you $10! I totally miss electronics boutique, the better company of the two. Glad I own a PC and not one of these $500 bricks.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:21 PM, MaxxTheKatt wrote:

    Sony may be right on the money with this. The Cloud is going to eliminate CD's and DVD's and physical hardcopy downloads. So folks, don't stand still. You will get run over by technology expanding at light speeds.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:28 PM, scalan15 wrote:

    If you like playing cloud gaming with MAJOR Lag, use Playstation Now, you will only be able to use the service if you have a super fast Internet connection speed. Gamestop will be fine, Sony is only 1 of the 3 major consoles. People will always want to purchase games and then trade them in, with Digital content you cannot do that. Everyone probably thinks Sony will price their service like Netflix, maybe $15 to $20 a month? WRONG, they will charge you $40 per game for most games you purchased already. This thing is going to bomb big time

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:47 PM, starflyer59 wrote:

    The thing I don't like about this is if I drop $60 bucks on a game i want an actual disk. I want to see and hold the case, the manual and smell that new game smell when you take the wrapper of the case and open it up for the first time.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:50 PM, speculawyer wrote:

    Oh Pfftt. Digital distribution will eventually kill off gamestop. But it is not Playstation Now that will do it. That will just be a laggy service that lets you play old PS3 and PS2 games with some latency due to streaming. Get a clue.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:50 PM, normgarry wrote:

    The future of gaming is digital downloads. The only reason it hasn't arrived yet is because these games are 30GB and up nowadays - which takes around 20 minutes per GB to download. America's pathetic infrastructure can't handle thousands of people downloading this much data randomly.

    Thing is: XBOX ONE and PS4 already are pushing digital downloads of both full games and DLC. For consumers with FIOS and high-end cable it's no problem to leave the system on at night and wake up to a full game download.

    Gamestop can't handle a digital DRM environment, but when you think about it, Gamestop specializes in game sales wherein Walmart and Best Buy don't. The reason Best Buy and Gamestop can survive online sales and Walmart is because they SPECIALIZE in electronic equipment, while Walmart generalizes and online sales simply don't give buyers the immediate gratification they demand. No other store could deal with the loss prevention required to insure they don't loose millions of dollars each year in internal theft.

    Hardware will always necessitate a "Gamestop" while software will not.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:55 PM, spinod wrote:

    How? Blockbuster rented movies/games, Gamestop SELLS them. Digital buying has been around for years and GameStop hasn't slipped.....

    This new service is to rent games, not buy them. TBH GameStop and physical games dissapear, I will probably go with them as a consumer.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:57 PM, Soakee wrote:

    Personally, I can't justify paying a monthly subscription to play PS3 games (I stopped playing PS2 games years ago), unless the monthly subscription is ridiculously cheap (five bucks or less, but somehow I suspect it will be a lot more). Unfortunately, it takes me months to play through a game. It makes more financial sense for me to continue purchasing used discs so I can take my own sweet time playing.

    A suggestion to Gamestop: get into the streaming business and offer Sony some competition.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 3:05 PM, jasonveraSC wrote:

    I don't really see streaming video games viable for the near future at least. I've already ran into problem with data caps from my provider from 2 internet heavy users; I have 250gb data plan. Until internet providers update their system to allow for significantly higher data usage streaming will remain non-viable.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 3:21 PM, Njancek wrote:

    No, it won't. Because unlike Netflix, which is obviously multi-platform, you would need a Sony product to use its service.

    And, as much as a lot of people love Sony products, not everyone owns them. Gamestop, caters to all the gamers however, and will still thrive. Not to mention pre-orders.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 3:40 PM, DisplayName wrote:

    Because Onlive took off and didnt highlight the problems with streaming games, also because near every internet provider in the nation hasn't implemented or planning to implement restrictive data caps on their service.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 4:00 PM, JohnathanKatz wrote:

    It won't really do anything, sure some people like the digital distribution method but there are more people that would rather have a physical disc.

    Like myself, I like the box art and stuff, actually holding the game in hand, if it's digital then I can't really do that.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 4:49 PM, Wisdom2014 wrote:

    The customer will never agree to a web and subscription based only copy of their purchased content.

    Why would anyone pay to have limited access to a game that they own and pay for, only to have to continue to have to pay a subscription or loss their purchased property. That is stupid. I can purchase a game and have a disk or download it to my machine and play it or sale it or anything else. Why would I choice the stupid option? That is what Microsoft and the Xbox One morons tried to pull on the gamer community and that is why their was a huge backlash.

    It might happen in other industries but that will not fly with gamers.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 5:02 PM, ohjay wrote:

    Hasn't anybody heard of Gamefly?

    Same deal as Netflix except it's for games. It's a great service if you play a lot of games and like to try them out.

    And I'm pretty sure they haven't hurt Gamestops bottom line at all.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 7:16 PM, octagramt wrote:

    Cloud Computing:

    A convenient interface to allow another entity to control your media experience on their terms, their prices, and according to their limits.

    you are giving up more control than you are gaining in convenience.

    bah bah black sheep

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 7:53 PM, Schulp wrote:

    I doubt it will be a low monthly fee and it will be in addition to the cost of upgrading you ISP to get the game in a reasonable amount of time and without hitting the caps that they started to implement now.

    Another thing I'm always wondering is why the authors always call it "digital" if something is delivered w/o media?

    Music is delivered "digital" on CDs since 1982. Games were always digital, be it on a cartridge or a disk. Only that the media is left by the wayside doesn't make it more digital.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 8:20 PM, BarbarossaDSS wrote:

    A lot of gamers I know use gamefly but also the redbox for shooeters that only feature 13 hours of gameplay...

    I remember the days that it took a 100+ hours to beat Balder's Gate 2... granted, I've still never beaten it.

    A PC company try a per streaming service a few years ago, the idea was you could play a requirement intensive game like Crysis on an older machine because the servers were doing all the processing. Not sure what happened to it.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 8:22 PM, lordraptor1 wrote:

    I don't care how gamestop goes under as long as they go under, the price savings from used and new are not even worth the drive to GS, second if one can order a NEW xbox360s power supply from online for 37.00 why would one go to gamestop and pay 39.99 for used and more than that for new?

    I agree with another poster that BOTH sony and MS have gotten to big for their britches and need to be put in their place but other companies also need to have this happen such as hastings and how they now open every new game they get in essentialy making it a used game while still charging you a retail premium to buy new ( NEVER buy a "new" game at hastings especially ms games because hastings breaks the MS factory seal). used game prices I have found to be at places like second hand sports, and other smaller places but big time game and entertainment places are a straight ripoff just as the xboner fail and POS4 should be avoided.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 8:33 PM, lordraptor1 wrote:

    here is something for those that are pro digital downloading of games, and I ask those people if they remember DIVX?

    not divx the codec but divx the media.

    the idea for divz was you paid for your movie and got it on disk then you could watch it as much as you wanted for 72 hours after that you could not watch it again until you shelled out 15.00 for another 72 hour period, needless to say the idea was a complete and utter failure just like any digital download should be.

    sad part is the companies are out to make sure you purchase new over used so they can kill the used game market while at the same time taking away your ownership of what you paid for. as an example say you buy a game digitally, and the company ends up shutting down the cloud it is on ( poof ) no more game for you, second reason is say you download the game to your console and you end up buying a few games it wont take long especially with the size of today's games to fill up your console requiring you to either delete games or purchase another hard drive ( which is not possible on the xboner fail due to it currently not having a user replaceable hdd,and no support for external HDD's, there is also no MS external for the xboner fail and honestly I see this as what ms intends to do so they can rape you for even more money from accessories like an ms branded external HDD

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 8:42 PM, Cyborger wrote:

    Dude, what?! How is this remotely the same thing? What about people who don't have a PS4? What about people who aren't for the digital distribution thing? Speaking of, this seems to be an article that once again is saying that it's the future of games. I, once again, disagree. I don't know how many games are downloaded this way each year or how many actual gamers are for it. But I just don't see it being the only way to buy games. Not just yet anyway.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 9:28 PM, AvidGamer wrote:

    Gamestop is selling "recent", "used" games. "Recent" is the key because no one (or close to insignificant market) play ancient games.

    Sony is not selling, but asking people to pay more to subscribe. Sony is not going to sell games cheap like Netflix do to movies. Gaming industries already have Steam on line.

    Unless Sony allow people to sell "used" game subscription to others, at least if not sell, but "share", it is no comparison to Gamestop. And it is apple to orange comparing what Netflix do to movies. Blockbuster doesn't focus on selling used movies. The writer of this article seriously doesn't know how game works.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 9:31 PM, sbhatta04 wrote:

    Streaming a game directly to your TV? Does this mean the TV will have a GPU capable of handling the demanding graphics requirements of today's games? I think not. Direct streaming to a TV is preposterous. Gamestop is safe.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 10:52 PM, jlenoconel wrote:

    No, no, no, and no. As much as I love Netflix, I don't want the same thing that happened to movies to happen to games. I love being able to go out and buy games from my local game store. If you shop around, either in your town/city or online, you can find some pretty good deals. I don't want empty shelves with no games I can pick up and play. Plus, if servers go down, which they will, I won't be able to play the game because the server is down. Plus, I don't think games will be available on servers forever, so if I want to play, say, Metal Gear Solid V, I will be sh@t out of luck because I don't have my own hard copy for the game.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 11:08 PM, rockstar7x7x wrote:

    what about downloading the entire game on to the hard drive??, that way there is no constant streaming needed between servers unless you're playing multi-player.. just need more memory which is getting cheaper by the day.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 11:27 PM, rockstar7x7x wrote:

    Answered my own question, Sony employee responding on a the, lots of excited users btw:

    With PS Now, you can rent by title for specific games, or you can choose a subscription that delivers additional value with a wide variety of genres. For example, you can try out a game by rental first, before deciding to actually purchase the full game and download it to your console. We believe this streaming game service will add tons of value to dedicated game consoles in addition to packaged and downloaded games, and in doing so, we will open up a new world of possibilities across PlayStation platforms.

    Of course, one of the big reasons we are offering a closed beta is to get feedback on all aspects of the service, including of course the experience with rentals and subscriptions, so we look forward to hearing more feedback from our community as we move through the beta.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 11:30 PM, altizar wrote:

    I think Sony has a good idea. Games like God of War that take 3 or 4 hours to play through, I have regretted buying. I would love to have "rented" them, played them and then moved on. However games like Skyrim, Fall Out, XenoSaga, FF VII, I would go out and buy again to play whenever I wanted or pass on the next generation and let my grandkids play that really ancient game that has such awesome storylines.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 11:36 PM, ff7legend wrote:

    First they said console gaming is dead after this generation & now they're saying physical media is dead. Wrong on BOTH counts! Not everyone has access to high speed internet for digital downloads for starters. Not everyone out there can afford a top notch gaming PC either, though they have gotten cheaper in recent years. At the current rate of sales for both Microsoft & Sony, there will be plenty of money made via profits that there will most certainly be yet another console generation to follow the current one. What Motley Fool fails to realize is the fact that consumers' wallets do the actual talking, not these so-called "financial/professional market analysts" at Motley Fool. There will always be a market for physical media discs since not everyone wants to sit around & wait for 2 hours or more for a digitally downloaded game to finish downloading when one can slip a disc into the drive of a console/PC to play a game almost instantaneously once the installation of said game completes.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 11:51 PM, RobertM86 wrote:

    Yeah... no. One, not everyone wants an all digital collection. I sure as heck am not going to ditch all my PS3 games just to have it all in "the cloud", not knowing what will disappear from it at any given moment. Two, a lot of people buying games at GS are doing so because they don't have access to digital at home. Lots of families and low income folks who aren't particularly internet savvy or enabled that need GS to find nice, cheap discs to pick up and play. Three, this writer is forgetting that used PS4 games will be on discs. Didn't Sony make headlines by doing the OPPOSITE of Microsoft's initial used games nonsense? A move that ingratiated them with gamers everywhere because they'd be able to keep getting games at GS just like they always have? Off the mark, pal.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 1:59 AM, NokReject wrote:

    I dont get all the hate on this i dont even own a sony system but would love for microsoft or nintendo to do this you are not renting a game like gamefly you will be paying a fee around 15$ a month and having access to a library of older classic games streamed like Netflix to your system and played off the cloud this is great for families or people who love the classics think about paying a small fee and being able to play all the mario or halo games plus a library of 100's of others it just makes more sense to me than paying gamestop 20$ for just 1 game that probably gonna be in the library anyways

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 11:05 AM, nemisis0 wrote:

    This would be a bad deal for gamers if everything went digital. Companies would have total control of your games not you. The great thing about gamestop and physical copies is once you are done with a game you can sell it and also buy used from another person who sells. If you totally get rid of hard copies of a game then you will not be able to do this which would make you have to buy only new at full price and nothing else, this would be a seriously blow to gamers who don't want to shell out top dollar for games that doesn't deserve it.

    Not to mention if you just happen to not have an internet connection for some reason and you need the game then you are screwed. A physical copy is the best way to go, there are soo many pros for the owner that it's not even an argument whether a physical copy or a digital copy is better for a buyer. Only the companies have to gain from making you buy digital copies only and it gives them all the power to do anything they want, if they want to make you pay extra to be able to download your game a second time because you lost it the first time on your system then they could easily do that if this became a main stream thing. Don't give companies that much power, it's worth it for a 5 dollar movie, it's not worth it for a 60 dollar a pop game.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 11:55 AM, NErnst79 wrote:

    This seems like a cool feature, but I don't see it making a meaningful impact on GameStop's business, considering that this service doesn't offer games on the current console generation, and that is the vast majority of what Gamestop sells.

    And gamers are going to result the 'full digital transition' for probably another decade. We saw what happened to MS when they revealed their 'plans' for the Xbox 1...there was so much negative backlash that they had to change EVERYTHING.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 3:45 PM, logan2x76 wrote:

    Hmm, I guess the author does not realize that there already is a "Netflix" for games, it's called Gamefly, and you can download games direct to your console with this service.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 4:12 PM, Slate99 wrote:

    Digital distribution is where things are going. It's only a matter of time, regardless of how it impacts consumers, before the used game marked dries up.

    It's big $$'s for GameStop and Publishers/Developers are not going to let them keep making that kind of money on their products. Not when they can tie everything in and make it themselves.

    Tired of a game or finished it. Offer it up on PSN and other users can pay Sony a "License Transfer" fee.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 6:01 PM, nemisis0 wrote:

    Digitial downloads in major high end gaming such as ps4, xbox ect.. won't be popular anytime soon. High end games can be 25 gigs in size and history tells us that will only grow. Imagine having 20 games x 25gigs ='s 500 gigs of downloaded games on your system *which isn't a whole lot for some people* and then your hard drive fails and you have to download and install all 500 gigs of games again over your cable connection because most households do not have fiber and won't have it for many many years to come. Your service provider would just love you. Good luck with that. Something like netflix online and what not is streaming content, you can't stream a video game, you need to download the entire thing in order to play it which again even on a fast connection it can take some time and you better hope you don't have a single hiccup in the middle of the download or your line is being slow or it could take all day perhaps just to get one single darn 20 gig game completely loaded corrupt free.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 9:34 PM, kevsterogg2001 wrote:

    Won't work. Gaming can NEVER go fully digital, and one group will ensure of that. And that group is HACKERS!!!

    Hackers can delete your game and leave behind a bug that says you never bought the game and force you to shell out more money for the same game.

    I for one don't like the idea of being mandated to have an internet connection just to play.

    Netflix may have come, but people are still buying DVDs and Blu-Rays, because they don't want to be tied to an internet connection just to watch a movie. The same will go for video games.

    The only service this may dry up is sales of used systems. By making available to play old games on the new systems, it'll only dry up the used system market.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 10:33 PM, MikeY7381 wrote:

    60 bucks for a download, or 60 bucks for a disc that I can later sell back to partly pay for another game. Why would I download? And you can't buy used downloads. I just bought a used game at Gamestop tonight for 31 bucks that was 60 bucks new. ANd I can sell it back for 15 or 20 bucks later on. Can't do that with downloads.

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 1:34 AM, kuntlicker wrote:

    The only one going out of business is Sony! All you losers who think otherwise is a complete idiot!

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