Whether you’re one of those eco-warriors recycling for the planet, or, like me, you simply wade through games quicker than you earn money, you’re probably pretty familiar with the second-hand section of your favored game store. Well, make the most of it, because if some of the greedier publishers get their way, buying used games in the near future could prove more awkward and expensive for you, and more profitable for them.
Inevitably, the balance of game sales tipped a little further in favor of used titles during the recession, with Gamestop generating a monumental $2 billion in revenue through sales of second-hand games in 2008 alone, equating to around a quarter of its total revenue for the year. Clearly the used game industry is rather lucrative, which is undoubtedly why developers and publishers are once again lashing back, protesting that second-hand gaming is damaging to the industry. Could this perhaps be due to the fact they don’t get a penny of used game profits?
For years now publishers have argued, perhaps rather drastically, that buying used games is tantamount to piracy. What they seem to forget is that the trading of second-hand goods isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s a factor that exists in all economies, and by this reckoning surely the evil folk who buy clothes from Oxfam ought to be imprisoned. And maybe if they lowered the price of new games, people would be more willing to spend money on what is essentially an extravagance.
Whilst the argument between publishers and consumers has thus far been little more than verbal tennis, devious methods – including various forms of DRM (digital rights management) – have begun to emerge that compromise the simplicity and cost of second-hand purchases. Here are some of the underhandedly shrewd tricks publishers are pulling from their sleeves:
The digital distribution of software seems like an efficient and cost-effective method of trading – particularly for publishers – and one that may well become the norm in the not-so-distant future. Services like Steam, PSN and Xbox Live, which facilitate the downloading of classic and modern titles, have become a startlingly successful method of distributing games, considering each download (which is invariably priced higher than a used title) has absolutely no resale value.
As each game is attached to the account itself, there is little you can do with a completed game other than simply keep it or send it to the digital afterlife (though you can download it again free at a later date). If hard copies were done away with altogether, gaming could prove to be an expensive pastime and it could be the end of second-hand game buying and trading, rental stores, and simply borrowing games from friends.
Single-use Access Codes
Not content with raking in the fortunes of one of the most anticipated and fastest-selling games of recent years, EA shipped Mass Effect 2 with a single-use code that allows players to access the Cerberus Network, which contains free items, side missions, and characters to download.
Buy the game used, however, and you’ll have to fork out an extra $15 to access the network. This is a pretty sneaky way of collecting a cut after subsequent sales of the game. Xbox Live and PSN are already becoming littered with overpriced downloads and extra content, and this method of using this market to capitalize on the second-hand industry could easily become commonplace.
Mass Effect 2 isn’t the first time EA has incorporated DRM into a AAA title, however. Each copy of Spore, one of the best-selling games of 2008, could only be authenticated on up to 3 machines. What this meant was that if your computer needed replacing or upgrading a few times, you were left with a copy of something that’s of more use as a coaster than as something you can play or sell.
EA were forced to upgrade the DRM to allow 5 installs after they were predictably plagued with complaints. Hilariously, 2,016 of 2,216 of Spore’s initial ratings on Amazon.com gave the game 1 out of 5 stars – most of which stating the DRM was to blame for the low rating – which almost seems like the consumers’ way of sticking a middle finger up at EA’s greed. According to Chris Harris, former Maxis developer, the DRM was a “screw up” and a “totally avoidable disaster”.
Perhaps one of the most audacious methods publishers are adopting to profit from used games is to charge users for online functionality. Take the PSP’s recently released SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3, for example: buy the game new, and access to the online multiplayer will be free; buy it used, and if it has already been registered you will have to pay an additional $20 (straight into the publisher’s pocket) if you want to take the shooter online.
Publishers argue that for every person who buys a used game, one potential new sale is lost, and that as profits drop so too do budgets, and the quality of future titles could therefore be compromised. Are these examples of restricting the second-hand industry cases of corporate greed, or are they entitled to a cut of subsequent sales of games?