Friday, 2 September 2011

Looking at the Steam Trading Beta - What's In Store for the Future?

So, to conclude this week's soft topic I'm taking a look at a relatively new addition to the Steam application: the Steam Trading Beta. Announced and implemented early last month, this application lets users do a couple of things: they can trade in game items (for now limited to Team Fortress 2 items) without needing to actually open the game, which is fairly cute and quite handy. However, the program also allows people to trade games for other games or in game items as well. That feature piqued my interest and got me thinking that given enough time this could be a legitimate way for people to sell used games digitally if - and it is a rather large if - the companies are willing to cooperate with it.

Admittedly right now this beta is for the TF2 community more than anything else, since currently they have the only set of in game items that are tradable through the system. But reading the F.A.Q. shows both some potential merits of the system. Currently, if a person wishes to buy a game to have as "trade fodder" they can do so, buying from the store and selecting the game to be a gift for themselves rather than someone else. These gifted games - which cannot be "opened" and played on the account if they are to remain open for trading - can then be given to other people for their games or in game items which are available for trade. There is of course an upper trade limit (in terms of the amount of items, not the monetary value thereof) but it is quite high, higher than the 10 slot trading available in game for TF2.

I first and foremost have to go on the record as saying that I think that this is a step in the right direction towards fixing the unusual hat problem that I mentioned way back (two months ago is a billion years internet time after all). People that trade games for hats - which does happen quite frequently - can now do so through official channels which decreases the risk substantially. Steam is also being proactive about potential cases of fraud, with the statement that in the event that traded games have been bought with a stolen credit care that, "the trade will be reversed and the offending account, not the receiving account, will be locked." This allows some peace of mind for both parties, who now know that if one of them is less than scrupulous that only the guilty party will be punished, and while the innocent party may lose whatever they traded for they do get their original stuff back, so there's no real loss.

Now, currently the F.A.Q. also states that you cannot sell your used games (which in this case means the games you haven't purchased as gifts, or basically anything that you've actually download and played yourself) but the potential is there. Aside from the potential logistical problem of getting all the different developers and companies to agree to let their games be sold "used" I could see some real benefits here to actually introducing selling used games over the system.

First of all is the fact that unless it is a multiplayer game like TF2 - which is free to play anyways and thus there should be absolutely no reason why anyone should be buying it new or used... - is that eventually you're going to get to a point where you're essentially done with the game: you've found all the loot, killed all the bosses including the pain in the ass secret uberboss, and you're satisfied. So now while you can free up the hard-drive space by deleting the game, it will always be there, on your account. Sure, maybe sometime down the line you'll get the urge to replay a game, but most of the time you know whether or not that's going to be the case, and for most games it honestly isn't a lot of the time. But you can't sell the game, or even give it to a friend so that they can enjoy it, it's just there, not being played.

So, why not give the player the option to resell (or in this case trade) their older games? Make it a small, set price; say, 10% of the initial cost, to 'deactivate' a game and turn it into a gift. The developer may not be seeing full market price, but consider that people will be buying new games to trade for these old titles, along with the fact that if someone likes a title by a developer that they will be more likely to check out any future works, thus adding the potential for repeat customers to the mix. It's not a perfect system, but when you consider that any amount of profit from the reselling of a game is really potentially better than just having it languish in someone’s Steam Library, lost in the shuffle, then it ultimately makes a bit of sense to allow the reselling of used digital games. Hell, if they wanted to, developers could even offer the same deals that game stores do: something like trade in three of that publisher's games to get one of their games free or at a nice discount. In this case it's not as lucrative as the physical trade in would be, but it also moves games and provides the company with good rep, which is better than having titles 'sit' on the digital shelves due to high price point.

Admittedly, it's not a perfect system, and at the moment I know there would be quite a bit of rallying against the idea. But considering that the trade beta has been out for less than a month, it's good to bear in mind that any speculation can only be useful in terms of weeding out what works and what doesn't, and I believe that if the decision is made to sell used digital games, then physical game stores will find themselves in an even stickier situation than they are presently in, and for the digital store owners isn't that exactly the situation they would want? Their clientele growing and becoming the predominant source of sales? It seems to be a good opportunity if they can get more people on board with it.

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