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Editorials Used Games

Published on July 26th, 2013 | by Briana Jordan


In Defense Of: Used Games

There’s been a lot of grumbling about used games lately. As part of Eject Disk’s ongoing series on the topic, we’re going to grumble some more. They’re bad for developers, they’re choking the industry, they’re a cunningly-crafted scheme of Lucifer’s own design to destroy everything you hold dear. You’ve heard the arguments and so have I. But do they hold any water? Are used games really cannibalizing developer profits, or is this a long-perpetuated myth rooted in sheer, shameless greed?

Well, technically neither, but it sure as hell leans more closely to one side than the other.

No, developers don’t see any profit from a used game sale. Not directly, anyway. Certainly used sales represent the opportunity to explore a new title at a lessened financial risk, thereby resulting in interest and loyalty if the title happens to be good, which just so happens to be the building blocks of a successful franchise and support for future projects, but there is no immediate monetary benefit to a developer from a used sale. That is a cold, hard truth, and it isn’t one I’m wild about.

I want to support developers. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t. But you know what? Consoles make that very, very difficult. Games are sixty bucks a pop. Should three titles you’d like to play drop in one month, that’s $180 plus tax. I don’t care who you are, that is a considerable chunk of change to drop on luxuries. Now yes, I know devs don’t set prices and that is utterly beyond their control, but the reality is there are very few people with the disposable income to buy every new title they’d like to support. It’s not going to happen.

Enter the trade in market.

When a big title drops, a consumer of limited means digs up an armful of games they haven’t played in ages and drags them down to their local GameStop. That consumer could trade them in for cash, but they’ll get quite a lot more – as much as 50% more – if they opts for in-store credit. Suddenly that $60 title is now within reach for $30, and they are able to justify a purchase that would not have been feasible without this system. In the vast majority of trade in transactions, this is exactly the aim of both retailer and consumer.

Please tell me how this doesn’t support the developer.

In an interview with Gamasutra, GameStop president Paul Raines has commented on this exact transaction. According to him, some 70 percent of what consumers net in trade-in value is then spent on new games, resulting in $1.8 billion dollars of revenue that devs and publishers otherwise wouldn’t see a penny of.

Whether you believe his statistics or not, this is a crucial component of console sales. This is a driving force behind the financial feasibility of gaming. This is important.

But what I would like to know is why the game industry gets some kind of magic pass that absolutely no manufacturer of any other good in the world is granted. I bought my car used. Did the good folks at Toyota see a penny of that sale? Absolutely not, but when the original owner of my car bought it off the lot, it became his to do with as he pleased. Sell it, crash it, drive it till the wheels fell off – he purchased a physical unit and it became his property. When faced with rising piracy and dropping physical sales, the music and entertainment industry didn’t start throwing a tantrum about used CDs and DVDs ripping food from the mouths of executives. They invested in new, more affordable options for legally obtaining the goods they were producing, and lo and behold, iTunes, Netflix, and companies like them were born, cutting down on piracy and dramatically increasing revenue for producers, manufacturers and artists alike. So why is it video games that are exempt from all notion of property and ownership? Why does this industry get to demand total supplication from its consumers without any attempt to meet their changing needs? Why is this okay?

If game makers are incensed by their consumers trading and selling the goods they have purchased and legally own, that is just too damn bad. They want to change the way games are bought and sold? Fine. Give us better options. Give us any other avenue. If digital distribution is the future, then by god, make it work for us. Don’t tell me you have to charge me the exact same price for a digital copy of a game when there is no distribution overhead, no risk of overproduction, no chance of being stuck with a warehouse of unsold games. Don’t point to Origin as if it solves anything. It doesn’t.

The console gamer already suffers an almost total lack of agency in their transaction. Tech is fixed. Prices are set. Refunds are almost never given. Buy a terrible game? Well that’s just too bad – GameStop doesn’t authorize refunds for products removed from the original packaging, let alone played. If digital distribution for consoles can address these concerns, by all means, bring it on. But if you are going to continue to sell me a physical product while making no attempt to modify an unsustainable production culture, you really have no right to complain when I engage in the free market that you have built.

Don’t shame me for doing what I want with the property I own.

Once I slide my debit card and hand you sixty of my hard-earned dollars, what happens to that disc is no longer your concern.

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About the Author

Commonly known about the darker corners of the internet as "Oxers" for some reason or other, Briana is your garden-variety game nerd with only moderate delusions of grandeur. She's particularly passionate about the evolution of the indie genre, good RPGs, weird titles with unusual mechanics and really good bundt cake. Like, holy crap, does that girl love bundt cake. Follow her inane chatter @HeyOxers.

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