Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Bargains Are for Cheaters

Shamus Young | 27 Aug 2010 17:00
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The conversation began here, when THQ's Cory Ledesma stated that buying used games "cheated" developers. Then it picked up steam when Penny Arcade made a comic about it, as they do. Then it turned into a discussion between PA artist Mike Krahulik and a number of other people.

The thrust of the thing is that when a gamer buys a used game they might save themselves a few bucks, but all of that money will go to GameStop and none of it goes to the developer. You save five, but the developer loses forty-five. (Or however much of the purchase price they normally get from a new copy.) The conversation has taken the shape of a battle between Developers and Gamers. This is a shame, since there are three actors in this equation. I don't like the idea of painting a Snidely Whiplash mustache on GameStop and declaring them to be our villain, but we should at least list them in our cast of characters.

I think this situation is shaped by three simple facts:

  1. Developers and publishers want to earn a living.
  2. Gamers, like any consumers, want the most value for their dollar.
  3. GameStop has taken advantage of the fact that used games are - in a gameplay sense - indistinguishable from new copies.

Ledesma is talking about a real problem. An unknown (but obviously large) portion of the money being spent on games is ending up in the hands of retailers instead of going to where it can fund more games. But the language he's used to describe the problem is really unfortunate. I'm not "cheating" a manufacturer when I buy a used television, car, dishwasher, or whatever. People buy and trade used music and movies all the time. (Although those media producers would love to put a stop to it as well.) Bob has purchased something he doesn't want anymore. I want it. I give him money, he gives me the thing. We're both better off and neither of us "cheated" the guy who made the thing, because that guy has already been paid.

But videogames are in a uniquely bad position. Like movies and music (and unlike books and cars) a used game is indistinguishable from a new one. (Provided you don't damage the disc, obviously.) At the same time, videogames are really crazy expensive. I don't bother with used movies and music because it's generally not worth the hassle to save 10 percent of the purchase price on a $10 item. But when the item is six times that amount? Yeah. I'll take whatever savings I can get.

In response to this, publishers have come up with different programs to encourage people to buy new by punishing everyone who pays for games. EA's project Ten Dollar is a great example. They lock away a portion of the game - characters, weapons, levels, whatever - with online activation so that only the initial buyer gets the thing. Everyone else needs to pay ten bucks. The gamer who buys used is going to have to make two transactions: One to buy the game and another to buy the rest of the game. And everyone has to muck about creating accounts and typing in registration codes and dealing with the added DRM infrastructure that manages all of this. Note the only person who isn't punished by this system: GameStop. Nice one.

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