Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Industry and Used Games: Is the Used Game Market as Harmful to Sales as Piracy?

Up to this point this week I've been dealing with game stores of both the physical and digital variety. It's hard to talk about the competition between the two without mentioning one of the greatest differences between them: used games. Most people have probably seen the different deals that shops offer: trade in three get one free (provided the games you trade in are actually on the list of games that the store considers valuable...) things like that. It's the one advantage that physical stores might have over digital ones, because while places like Steam are impressive stores no doubt, once you buy and install that copy of whatever, it's yours, forever.

And it seems that that's the way publishers and game companies want it to be. Because according to them, selling your previously played titles makes you almost as much of a harm to their wallets as the people that pirate their games. That's right, selling used puts you on par with the guy cracking keygens and playing a game without ever paying a dime. Now, I can't be the only one that thinks there's some discrepancy here.

There is a reason the developers and companies tend to take a hard line on used games: to a developer someone selling their used game to a store, at a garage sale, or even to a friend represents no profit for them; the sale occurs strictly outside of their purview. Lionhead Studios mentioned shortly before Fable 3 came out that "second-hand sales cost us more in the long-run than piracy these days." which is a clear indication of how most game companies feel about the used game market. However, I can't help but feel that them saying that used gaming is as costly and thus ultimately as harmful as piracy is a blow below the belt. After all, when someone pirates a game, they're illegally taking someone that doesn't belong to them and not paying a cent for the enjoyment they get out of it. If someone sells a used game, then it's a game that for all intents and purposes has been bought either by them or on their behalf by a parent or whoever else. The developer thus did at least see a profit from that game as opposed to, you know, none at all if it would have been pirated.

Still, some companies are either offering incentives to keep their games, try to make some money off the second-hand market, or in the worst cases just kind of hose people that want to sell their own property. The aforementioned Lionhead Studios for example, sold Fable 3 with a free code for some DLC. Now, if the original owner turns around and sells that after they've used the code, the next person will have to pay $10 for another code if they themselves want the DLC. It's not really a perfect strategy, but it is unobtrusive at least: if the person doesn't want the DLC then they don't have to shell out the extra $10 on top of it, and if they do then the amount on top of the fact that they likely paid a good deal less than retail means that they can probably afford it. Some companies though, are starting to dabble in a somewhat more underhanded way of keeping used gaming to a minimum.

Capcom recently earned some resentment when they revealed that their Resident Evil 3DS title would not be able to be reset. This meant that if someone bought it used there would be no way to undo the achievements, high scores, weapons earned, things like that. Essentially what this means is that once something in the game is unlocked it's unlocked forever, which of course in some cases is going to diminish the overall value of a game where the only point is to progress through the game (this RE title is basically the Mercenaries side-game from the series just turned into it's own game) because someone else has done the work for you and whether you like it or not you have to keep it. While certainly annoying and obtrusive, this isn't really a bad deal... yet.

The problem with measures like the ones Capcom is taking is that they will eventually lead to games where even if you buy them for a console rather than PC and have them on disc, there's going to be countermeasures in place to ensure that you can't sell the game off to anyone else. You could wind up with games on consoles that like their PC counterparts, are essentially bound to a system or game account. Now, for digital copies of games this makes a certain amount of sense, but when I've already played the crap out of the latest action game, or want to trade in a 'blockbuster' that under whelmed me in order to get a new title I should be able to do so, dammit.

Perhaps it is a case of self-entitlement, but at the same time compare the steps that the gaming industry is taking to make sure that no one else profits off the secondhand market. Now compare it to someone selling their secondhand, well, just about anything. Books, movies, comics, hell, even cars and homes. Universal Studios doesn't show up demanding you pay them retail price because you sold your copy of Knocked Up at a garage sale to your neighbour Jim for $5; the very thought of them doing that is utterly ridiculous, and yet it's essentially tantamount to what the developers want to do with your right to sell the games that you already own.

1 comment:

  1. See, from an ethical consumer standpoint its entirely wrong, but from a corporate standpoint, it could be considered a proper way to defend the value of a company. I do find such countermeasures as getting rid of resets as a poor idea, I could understand in principle what they are intending. I don't completely agree with it, I'd prefer that they continue to go about things the way they are since, hey, they make loads more than other entertainment enterprises.

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