By: Colby Martin
I keep seeing stories around the web talking about the new XBOX and how it won’t allow used games to play on it. While this is completely a rumor and it seems to only be that (there’s no solid evidence to prove it’s real), there sure seems to be a lot of recent support over the matter. According to a recent interview on IGN, David Jaffe (Formerly of Eat Sleep and Play) mentioned how he would love to see used games go by the wayside, but at the same time he understood the market and that there needs to be a middle ground. When he was asked about Season Passes/Online Passes becoming the norm he hesitated. He seemed very unsure but said that was a viable option but not one he was a fan of. If anything is certain, Jaffe has often been outspoken against Online Passes and even mentioned that he wasn’t in favor of the Online Pass for Twisted Metal, but in the end it was Sony’s decision and not his.
Jaffe isn’t the only one to hope used games go away. Jameson Durall of Volition Studios and Saints Row: The Third developer said he would love to see used games end. In his blog Durall states that he buys all of his games new from Amazon.com and doesn’t pay shipping or tax. I’d normally make a rude comment about his no tax comment, but I’ll assume he’s a good-natured person and actually claims his tax at the end of the year. If not, then that’s another story for another site to handle, not a game site. Reading the blog it appears Durall is willing to make some sort of deal with consumers. He believes rental services are fine, but not used games. He argues that rentals are purchased games from the publisher that allows consumers to try the game then purchase it if they enjoy it enjoy. However, he thinks that Microsoft will rent games through their consoles instead of retailers existing. Many of these points can be argued, and you can see his blog over at http://altdevblogaday.com/2012/02/02/i-feel-used/.
My personal feelings on this matter is where this becomes an opinion. Firstly, I’m largely in favor of smaller studios hating used games sells. I understand that not a lot of people spend money on new studios, indie games, or fresh new IP. What I do know is that large companies like EA, Activision, and Take2/2k have a solid IP list that consumers regularly purchase. If EA, Activision, and Take2/2k stopped making new IP’s and only made Madden, The Sims, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto they wouldn’t hurt much, consumers would flock by the millions to buy copies.
This is where their argument begins. For every million copies purchased new, millions more are purchased used. Many would argue the amount of used games purchased is much higher than we realize, however every used game was once purchased new. I credit that to three things, 1) poor economy, 2) lack of new quality IP’s, 3) lack of quality post-launch support. The economy reason is simple, recent reports say that almost half of all Americans live at or below the poverty line. This means that income levels are simply not high enough for us to spend $60 or more on every new game we want due to our money going to bills and other necessities. An unstable economy wouldn’t support the move to end used games. If anything, I’d imagine piracy would go up while sales go down. If we don’t have the money to buy new games and we really want to play them, people will find a way. Just ask SEGA, people could easily find new games for the Dreamcast it was just much cheaper and easier to download the ROM (I know I just compared apples to oranges, but there is validity in what I’m saying). Because let’s face it, the consumer wants what is best for them, and what’s best for them is softening the blow on their already tight finances. If it costs the average consumer the price of some DVD-R’s and an internet connection to get a new game, compared to $65 after tax, most people would choose the cheapest route and not the legal route. And no, I’m not calling us criminals or crooks, I’m saying when the going gets tough we find the best way to get what we want. If you’re lost in the woods starving to death you’re going to kill the first thing you can eat even if you don’t have a permit to hunt deer or anything else. My point is, we do what we do to survive and while gaming isn’t food or survival needs, we still apply these rules to our shopping habits.
My second opinion is the lack of new quality IP’s. Let’s face it, a majority of the new games released last year were sequels to hit sellers. Battlfield 3, Call of Duty MW3, Killzone3, Uncharted 3…and so on, you get the idea. This year it’s not a lot better. Although they are considering Twisted Metal a new IP, it’s a followup to critically acclaimed Twisted Metal Black on the PS2. Also releasing this year are games like Mass Effect 3, SSX (they call it a reboot but it’s a sequel), and Grand Theft Auto V just to name a few. This isn’t to say there aren’t new IP’s launching, this week we see Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning release. It’s a brand new IP with a lot of potential, and one I’m happy to say I bought new. However, if you notice it’s not the small publisher bringing it out, it’s EA. It’s still a gaming powerhouse. It might be 2 small developers producing the game, but it’s publisher EA has the financial assets of to lose a few dollars over a new IP. Smaller companies don’t have the finances to risk. This leads to the repetitive cycle of sequels. Gamers stop buying the newest edition because most sequels don’t advance much technically or quality wise. To be honest, the biggest games guilty of this are in the Sports Genre. Games like Madden, NCAA, NBA 2K, and MLB The Show release on a yearly schedule only to slightly advance in quality and in some cases go backwards in quality. Gamers don’t see the value in spending $60 on a new game when they can get last years edition for $30 or less. With the fact that roster updates and slider sets are readily available online, it’s easy to see why these companies start killing their online servers. This essentially forces users to buy the new game if they are all about authentic rosters (unless the take the time like many others do to update the rosters).
Lastly gamers don’t hang on to games long, thus they encourage the used game market to grow. This isn’t because games suck, but because after they beat it they have no reason to hang on to it. If you eliminate the option for consumers to sell their old games, you’ll create a whole lot of trash. This isn’t my argument, nor where I’m going right now. What I’m saying is that consumers hold on to things that have a value, things that they can continue to use. If it has no use, they need to make room (and money) for their new item. Look at used books, used cars, used appliances, clothes and so on. Look at the value in its market. The only reason why many people don’t use these markets, is often the prices of the used material aren’t much lower than the new item. Plus, new items in these categories(minus books) tend to work better and last longer than used items. A consumer would hang on to a 5-year-old car if they could apply new parts and accessories to their used cars if it would make it even with a new model. An avid reader of books wouldn’t sell their old copies of Tom Clancy books if they could have new stories applied to their current books. If gamers were able to get new and valuable content delivered to their old games at a reasonable price, they would surely buy that material and keep their games. This isn’t to say that DLC isn’t striving. Some have said it made $1 Billion last year for game companies. This money often comes at a small cost to them too. Many companies have been notorious for putting the DLC on the retail disc (Battlefield Bad Company 2) or taking a completed game and cutting pieces out only to sell the later as DLC (Assassins Creed 2). These two examples were fantastic pieces of DLC, unfortunately they were shady practices that do not please the consumer. We buy a game at $60, we should be able to access all of the content on that disc, we shouldn’t have to pay more for it. This would be like a magazine only allowing you to read the first 2 pages of an article and not being able to finish it without paying an extra fee other than your subscription cost to see the rest. These practices are absurd and punish the consumer.
What game developers need to do instead of these practices is more post launch support. And no, I’m not saying they should release DLC weekly, but perhaps once a month, or maybe even tweak and change the game monthly. Instead, most have the DLC finished by the time the game launches and begin working on their next title as soon as the current one ships. Thus leaving the consumer waiting weeks, if not months, for fixes to games that are often left broken and incomplete. These things didn’t survive in previous generations. NES users didn’t play many games with bugs so bad that it broke the game. This isn’t to say there weren’t broken games that generation, just that the ratio of broken games to completed games were much lower. One could argue that it’s due to the size and scope of the project, but I call foul on that. The truth is game developers and producers spend much more on games today than they did in yesteryear. They also make more money than they used to, this leads me to believe that they could spend more on post launch support and pre-launch fixes. If the game comes complete, there are many post launch DLC packs that are affordable and not 1/6th or more the price of the original game, consumers may hang on to the games longer.
Then there’s always the but. But this, but that, but..but..but. Yeah, there’s the but here. Gamers might hold on to their games longer, but it doesn’t mean they won’t want to part ways eventually. And this is where publishers cringe. They hate used games, and not because it kills their revenues, but because it cuts into the millions they possibly could have made. Unfortunately, they don’t give the people who made the games as big as a cut. EA is notorious for not paying taxes, hiring a lot of small devs to make new IP’s, but then parting ways when the going gets tough. EA and Activision are both notorious of cutting staff, closing quality studios, and stopping post launch support. Sure, these companies make a lot, but the little guy gets hurt.
So what am I suggesting? Not much, just a compromise. There’s a way that both can exist. Killing used games will not only hurt a lot of retailers, but it could cost thousands (maybe even millions) of jobs. This isn’t something we can afford at a time like this. I also don’t believe we can go all digital. For one, many people around the world lack quality internet. They are either too slow or rarely work, thus killing a persons willingness to purchase new games off the web because it would take several days to download or it wouldn’t download at all. Also a lot of digital distributors tie games to a console with DRM. Look at some of the DRM practices on the PC side and you’ll understand why PC gamers cringe over strict “Broadband Internet Required to Play” DRM authentication practices. Do this to console gamers and many will walk away never to come back again.
If there is anything we can do, it is find the compromise I talked about. Perhaps we can do like the Auto industry does. Many dealers who strive off of used sales also have higher stocks of new cars. Manufacturer specific garages typically have just as big used lots as they do new. They know that both can survive because people ditch their used cars for new cars. Many manufactures also get a small cut for the used car sale. This is a practice we can begin in gaming. If Gamestop were to increase used games by say $2, each of those extra dollars could be given to the developer per their agreement. This would increase revenues for them. Not only would they receive the revenue from the original sell of the game, but also $2 for the sale of the used game. This wouldn’t punish the consumer and it will reward the developer of the game. Tie in DLC and online passes, and it’s a win/win situation. Consumers spend less money on a game they want allowing them to spend more on post release material, and as some consumers such as myself can say, are more likely to purchase the companies next game new if we are pleased. It’s not much different from the rental service that Jameson Durall seemed to enjoy so much. Because in reality, used games have existed since gaming has existed. Developers have bigger budgets and consumers have less money to spend. Unfortunately, if developers get what they want, they’ll only hurt themselves when the consumers decide to spend their money on more useful things.