Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Are Used Games the Publisher’s Enemy… Or Secret Ally?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 20, 2010

So now downloadable content (DLC) and online multiplayer are weapons used in the war against used game sales. Now, I’m a proponent of used games. About half the console games I get nowadays… well, okay, half are downloaded, but half of the BOXED games I get are used.  And the other half – well, if I’m gonna shell out $50 (or now, $60) for a new boxed game on release day, you’d better believe I want the right to sell it to someone else if I find out the game sucks.

As attacks go, cutting off someone’s access to free DLC or online playability unless they pay extra money isn’t huge and disturbing to me. It will be, once they start making 90% of the game Downloadable Content (it’s probably comin’, folks…). The publishers are free to do what they want.

Okay, let’s do the math. If I buy a used game, I know that I’m going to need to spend an extra $10 to get access to the extra content or online playability. So it’s used value, to me, drop $10. Not a big deal — eventually the used games dealers are going to have to drop their prices to meet that. Maybe not the whole $10, but probably a significant portion thereof.  So the consumer pays the same amount (or maybe a little more) for a used game as they would have anyway, but the used game dealer has to share the money with the original publisher.

Okay – sounds like a win for publishers, a loss for used game dealers, and more-or-less neutral for the used-games-buyer. Maybe a small loss.  Not too horrible. Yet.

But let’s take it a step further. What’s the used game dealer going to do? Pass on the loss in value back to the consumer.  The value of used games is going to drop. The first time I buy a new EA game and discover how little GameStop is willing to pay to buy it back, that’s going to factor into my new-game-buying habits. So this could very well HURT new game sales more than it helps recoup on used game revenues.

Then again, it’s not like GameStop was paying all that much to begin with.  They enjoy a huge mark-up on their used game sales. So maybe the impact won’t be so dire.

The problem is that these secondary impacts could be really significant and are also very hard to measure. There are so many variables and LOTS of places to throw blame when game sales begin looking less-than-stellar. Blame piracy! Blame the market audience! Blame the recession! I imagine when you are sitting in a board room trying to explain why sales of World War Ninja 4 have fallen off the cliff, it’s hard to admit to yourself and the board of directors that the cause might have nothing to do with the game itself or its audience, but the fact that customers got burned on your horrible DRM policy in WWN2 and your used game policy on WWN3 and have become gunshy about buying any more games in the series. So instead you cancel WWN5, lay off the dev team, and find some other hot property out there to buy up and ruin.

We’ll see what happens. I don’t intend to villify the publishers for doing something like this – and compared to Ubisoft’s PC-based DRM travesty this is pretty small potatoes. But especially combined with things like making people pay for demos and so forth, I think this sounds like very self-destructive behavior on the part of publishers in a mad scramble for short-term gains.

Which, as an indie, I want to say that I FULLY SUPPORT! Guys, go ahead and blow yourselves up! You’ll make it a lot easier for us to sell to gamers who are tired of finding out they’ve spent $60+ a pop on something that they aren’t actually allowed to preview, re-sell, or even PLAY except with a bunch of restrictions….

Filed Under: Mainstream Games - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • MalcolmM said,

    As you say, it’s not like Gamestop currently pays much for used games. If I buy a new console game from Gamestop for $60 and then immediately tried to sell it back to them, I think I would get about 50% back. And that’s for popular games, for the cult games I sometimes buy, I would get at most 40% back.

    If they subtract a further 10 to 20% from what they pay for used games, so that I then get about 35 to 40% of the new price, in many cases I will choose to keep the game. Which of course would suit the publisher just fine.

    The drawback, as you say, is that this will factor into my new game purchase choices, less net dollars to spend on new games.

    My preference is for more digital downloads, at lower prices. The lower prices would mean that I wouldn’t care that I couldn’t sell the game after I’ve finished with it. Steam and Direct2drive have got it right for indie PC games. Unfortunately digital download prices of major new PC releases are still too high – giving me an incentive to wait for a sale.

  • steggieav said,

    World War Ninja actually sounds like it could be cool. I’d probably buy it.
    Also, it’s always bugged me that the game industry complains about used game sales. The auto industry doesn’t whine about it.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Okay – now I know what game to work on after FK ships… 😉

    Actually, the auto industry managed to convince Congress to spend a whole lot of taxpayer money to DESTROY used cars last year, to encourage people to buy new ones. So it’s not unique to games. But there is a major distinction in that physical products do wear out, and digital ones never do… my used games are exactly as functional as if they were bought new. So I guess now they’ve got a scheme to artificially cause that deterioration, with the use of account-locked content / functionality.

  • Tesh said,

    Forget GameStop. Places like Goozex let games retain value a bit more evenly.

  • Demiath said,

    I’m all for developers and publishers making a perverse amount of money off of genuinely good games – which they don’t if everyone buys used games regularly – which means I strongly approve of code-based content restrictions (as long as they don’t go all the way up to the 90% DLC scenario mentioned in the post).

    In fact, I can’t even fully comprehend how anyone could ever want to buy a used game in the first place. Sure, it can be cheaper and you may be able to buy more games for less money…but it’s not THAT much cheaper and, more importantly, new copies of the vast majority of games can be found for roughly the same price as the used ones (and frequently even lower!), provided that you always buy them online (i.e. delivery of boxed copies, not DLC). It’s only a matter of shopping around for deals and perhaps avoid first day purchases, be prepared to wait a little longer for delivery and/or buy from reliable non-domestic online shops if necessary. I realize that youngsters without access to credit cards could find this a bit tricky, but surely they can work out some kind of sensible payment arrangement with their parents or other consenting adults?

    The whole used games market seems to me to be one of the most blatant scams in the history of business practices within the gaming world (and that’s saying something!), and in a choice between Activision’s Bobby “Take the Fun Out of Games” Kotick and GameStop I’m sure as hell going to support good old Bobby all the way…

  • Califer said,

    Personally, nearly every game I buy is bought used. I don’t have a lot of gaming time anymore and there’s a huge list of great games for the older consoles that I want to get and play. Why would I buy a used game? Because a lot of the games that have withstood the test of time can’t be found for new without being overpriced.

    I very rarely buy new because it’s so darn expensive for so little return. If my only option was to go out and get a new game for $60 and it takes me a week to beat it then that’s a bad deal to me. I’d be better off getting a bunch of books instead. I’d probably stop getting new games altogether.

    Now, if I were to look at it like Demiath, (only looking at recently released games) if it’s only 5-10 dollars difference I’ll usually get the new one on principle.

    Lastly, what if publishers just got a percentage of the used game sales? Any legal problems with that?

  • Badger said,

    It’s a matter of precedent.

    Frankly, the AAA games industry have proven time and again that if you give them a precedent, they will run with it as far as they can. If you could somehow wangle a scheme past congress to make taxpayers pay game companies (No, no game companies got the recent handouts) They would happily take it and run with it as far as they could.

    Take the recent things developing at NCsoft for city of heroes. One time they released a purchaseable ‘wedding pack’ after years of ‘free updates’ (One of their big sells and advertising points) Many people bought the pack, and that set a precedent.

    Now, the vast majority of new content coming out for city of heroes is paid content. They still provide free updates, but it’s gotten to the point where the ‘pay’ content has gotten powerful enough that people that play the original game, and don’t spend over a hundred bucks extra, are at a marked disadvantage in many multiplayer situations. NCsoft is one of the more ‘ethical’ of game companies, and yet the lure of easy money sucks them in just as much as any other AAA corporation.

    Supporting their attempts to cripple the resellers paves the way for the ‘worst case’ scenario, and it’s not a ‘can happen’, it’s a ‘will happen’.

    AA companies are, for the most part, absurdly top-heavy with management and marketting and focus-group coordinators. I am all for developers making absurd amounts of money, but this decision is basically a way for all the leeches to retain their jobs in the face of a rapidly more hostile publisher environment. Publishers KNOW that they are being forced out as the avenue between ‘developer’ and ‘consumer’ grows ever shorter, and I don’t intend to give them any precedent that they can exploit to keep their ‘piece of the action’. Not one developer is going to go hungry from resellers, it is the publishers that are getting squeezed, and I hope that the middlemen choke to death.

    Enjoy the 100 dollar games in q1 2011. (excuse me, 80 bucks plus a 20$ ‘download’ to make it actually work)

  • Calibrator said,

    Good sum up, Badger, expecially your assessment about the ruthless behaviour.
    However, the middleman getting choked to death (more or less slowly right now) isn’t the publisher – it’s the distribution chain between publisher and customer that they try to kill. The customers only need to get pushed into the “right” direction like cattle.

    All hardware platforms will try to go online-only and publishers will still be needed in this new world.
    Ubisoft forcing people to have a steady internet connection even for single-player games is the breaking of the dam and if you see how successful Steam has become it’s only a matter of time to not pay for games any more but for playing games. Gaming will be only a service then.
    The reason why this isn’t already the norm is even big companies like Sony doing royal fuckups (PSP Go) and many customers not being willing or technically ready for that (slow internet connection). The latter is being changed more or less automatically, though.

    Take for example the PS3: Sony killed off the Linux compatibility as a means of protecting the platform. For most honest gamers with no Linux ambitions no problem but for a selected few people that did movie encoding with it and other stuff this effectively prevents them to access the Playstation Network, buying and playing online games. Even if one restricts oneself to single player game bought in regular shops you are out of luck: Sony is enforcing the new system software revision, even if the newly published games have been created and tested with an older, still compatible revision. So as long as you don’t update you are stuck with the single-player modes of your old games.
    Using a “rogue system software” isn’t a solution, either, as you lose the warranty and are possibly getting banned from the online service.

    Of course there is a big difference between PS3 (or X360 or Wii for that matter) and indie downloads like Frayed Knights but the customer could be the same person – he will have to decide how far he likes to get pushed.

    I should sell T-shirts: “We are not cattle!”. Probably gonna get rich that way.

  • Badger said,

    Hey, it’s all for the good for indies. The more they cannot get their fix from the big boys, the more they will come to us, the street pushers of the gaming world 🙂