The used game market sits precariously on the edge after Microsoft announced that there will be an unspecified fee for gamers that have the gall to try to use a used game on their Xbone. The fee was unspecified. While Microsoft hates used games almost as much as it hates the handicapped, Sony has been silent so far about their policy on used games for the upcoming PlayStation 4. A Twitter campaign using the hashtag #PS4NoDRM has generated over ten thousand tweets to Sony executives in the hope that the PS4 will not join the Xbone in locking used games. Gamers enjoy being able to have the choice when it comes to used games, but there are some in the industry who view used games as evil.
Used video games are not evil. Certain companies that sell used video games may be quite evil, but used games are not. Used games often serve as the gateway for a person to experience a new series. Used games also serve as a means for those with less disposable income to purchase newer titles a few months before the developer finally decides to lower the price. Despite this, certain game developers are not shy when expressing their disdain for used games and the consumers that buy them. Some developers have even gone as far as to label purchasers of used games as pirates. Denis Dyack, always known to be level headed and intelligent when voicing his opinions, claims that used games are cannibalizing the industry. Some developers resort to forms of on-disc DLC as a way to punish secondhand purchasers. New copies of many games include a one-use code to unlock disc-based content, but those who bought the game used are forced to shell out varying fees to unlock this content.
The major opponents against used games have been the developers that produce titles with astronomical budgets. While used games are viewed as guilty of destroying the gaming industry, the actual guilty parties are the same companies that bitch and moan over used games. As an example, the yearly sports releases from the beloved EA should be priced about a third of what they are currently. The games themselves only slightly differ from one year to the next, however huge marketing campaigns to go along with mammoth licensing contracts add to the overall cost of development. These marketing dollars are largely wasted as games like Madden have audiences that are mostly unchanged from year to year. Keeping development budgets in check would allow games to be profitable at lower sales numbers or potentially bring game prices down to more reasonable levels.
Cutting prices of games a few months after release is another way companies could keep new copies selling. GameStop thrives on purchasing used copies of just released games for around a third of their original price. They then put the game on sale for five dollars less than the new copy. However, due to the low buyback price, GameStop is able further drop the price as the months roll past. At the same time, the new copy of the game sits on the shelf with its same sixty-dollar sticker price. While a five-dollar difference in price will not sway most people to buy used, a twenty-dollar difference can do a lot more convincing. Dyack has said that nearly all sales of new games occur in the first three months of release, then they are lost to used games. Perhaps a ten-dollar price drop after three months could help sales beyond that initial sales block. Continuing to drop the price to levels just above used can keep consumers purchasing new over used as the price difference becomes nearly negligible.
There are many ways that developers can live amicably with used games. The big developers have painted themselves into a corner. On one hand, they desire profit margins of years past, but at the same time they blow millions upon millions in licensing, graphics, and advertising. In an effort to make up the gap, these same developers divert money from story and gameplay, things that can sell a game on their own. Instead, these companies release Assassin’s Creed: Pirates and Call of Duty: Doggy Edition, titles that are shallow, iterative, and still sixty dollars. Still, companies sit back and wonder why millions resort to cheaper used titles rather than shelling out full price to own what is just a copy of last year’s release.
There is a breaking point in this whole equation, and the Xbone aims to make sure it is consumers that break first. While Microsoft looks to introduce some type of solution to their self-generated problem, Sony’s top executives have taken notice to the #PS4NoDRM Twitter campaign. Whether this means they will not follow Microsoft is anybody’s guess at this moment, but at the very least it does appear that they are considering the voice of the gamers. Despite the good that used games have done for the industry, it seems that they have worn out their welcome. Stopping used games will not save the industry from destroying itself. In the end, I can easily see banning used games having the opposite of the intended effect, however this does hinge on gamers standing by what they believe in. The unfortunate truth is that unless the big developers realize the error in banning used games, they will continue to look for ways to exploit them even if Sony and Microsoft do not facilitate it. Perhaps one day, both sides can come to an agreement that benefits developers, consumers, and the used game market. Yes, I did have a hard time maintaining a straight face while typing that.