Wednesday, 21 September 2011

"The Future is Disc-less?" Week Part 3 - What Happens to the Secondhand Market?

Yesterday I talked about how the notion of disc-less systems could end up putting a major strain and may even end up rendering the physical game store obsolete. There is another huge aspect of the gaming market that stands in just as much of an unknown and perhaps nonviable future: used gaming.

As it stands right now the industry isn't in love with the idea of the secondhand market, and never has been. Game developers and studios say that the sale of used games -- which they see no profit from -- costs them millions of dollars a year. Recently one of the developers behind Heavy Rain claimed that the studio lost somewhere in the realm of 10 million dollars due to people buying the title used. In the 1up article on the subject Guillaume de Fondaumiere claims that:

"We basically sold to date approximately two million units [of Heavy Rain], we know from the trophy system that probably more than three million people bought this game and played it. On my small level it's a million people playing my game without giving me one cent. And my calculation is, as Quantic Dream, I lost between 5 and 10 million [Euros] worth of royalties because of second hand gaming."

Now, the debate between how exaggerated the claims might be and how much damage the used games market is actually doing is still a highly contentious debate that would take much more time than a single person running a blog could hope to solve (although admittedly I did try to take a crack at it in a previous article). Putting all that aside though, there's the real possibility that game studios, developers and companies at large probably see the disc-less system as a very tidy solution to what they consider the problem of used games.

Right now digital games are often sold for cheaper than their physical counterparts, not counting things like sales in both the physical and digital sides of things. However, no digital distribution service currently allows people to trade used games that they have bought access to. It is true that the Steam Trading system allows people to buy games for trade, but with the caveat that they cannot play the game themselves. If they choose to "open" the gifted game, then it becomes part of their gaming library and no longer a viable trading item. It is difficult to speculate as to whether any system will allow users to eventually be able to rebrand their games as gifts for a small price, or if there will be some method developed in the future that will allow used digital content to be traded, but currently digital content is completely prohibitive towards the second hand market: once you've got a copy of something it's yours for good (with certain exceptions that are best talked about another day) whether you like it or not.

Right now, having it "forever" isn't an issue with the majority of the console game market. Certainly there are people who make a majority of their purchases from the consoles online stores, but a good number of people still go down to the nearest physical store and pick up a hard copy of the game; something which allows them to later sell said copy back to a store or to another gamer for profit. The game industry itself isn't in the wrong when they say that they want some of the profit that the secondhand market sees, but to date there simply hasn't been a good method developed to ensure that is the case. Disc-less consoles may make the point moot anyways, since from the industry's perspective it is probably easier and simpler to cut the used game market entirely, rather than trying to find some way to compromise with it.

It's extremely hard to say what the future of used gaming might be when this change comes to pass. Perhaps something will be worked out in the interim. It's also possible that even with disc-less consoles that there will still be a market for used games. Gamers are a clever bunch when we want to be, after all, and someone may figure something out; whether or not it will be completely legal or not is another matter. One thing is certain, as much as the industry may dislike the used market, it plays a valuable and indeed crucial role in the current gaming infrastructure and economy. Without the secondhand market, it's hard to say what the future of gaming might turn out to be. We may however, be finding out sooner rather than later just what the repercussions might be.

1 comment:

  1. As of late, partly due to financial hardship and partly to stop old hoarding tendencies, I've been parting with everything -- including games -- I don't absolutely, positively NEED or WANT. Similarly, I've only been buying what I absolutely NEED or WANT.

    I must admit I've been gravitating towards electronic copies of books and games, and even wishing more titles were disc-less.

    Ironically, it's those same discs that are now making me money on classifieds and the occasional pawn shop visit.

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