Jerry Holkins, Tycho of Penny Arcade fame, penned a comic (shown above) and an accompanying blog post in defense of THQ’s recent comments regarding purchasers of used games. The quick recap is that THQ doesn’t care if used game buyers are upset that purchasers of new titles are going to get a bunch of “free” stuff that a used game buyer is going to have to pay extra for, and Tycho doesn’t think it’s appropriate for these used game purchasers to get angry at THQ over it.
What bothers me about Tycho’s commentary is that he comes across as sounding more like a privileged industry insider rather than the civilian commentator everyone has come to love, and I don’t think he meant to be taken that way.
“The idea that THQ is somehow ‘disrespecting customers’ with this kind of rhetoric misunderstands the situation as completely as it is possible to do so. In a literal way, when you purchase a game used, you are not a customer of theirs. If I am purchasing games in order to reward their creators, and to ensure that more of these ingenious contraptions are produced, I honestly can’t figure out how buying a used game was any better than piracy. From the the perspective of a developer, they are almost certainly synonymous.”
Let’s remind ourselves for a moment that the average gamer isn’t the most eloquent person on the face of the planet, and not sit so high on our horses mocking their inappropriate use of words, because in doing so Tycho runs the risk of misunderstanding the situation as completely as it is possible to do so.
Gamers don’t purchase games to reward their creators. They purchase games to play games, and the games are expensive. StarCraft II’s recent pricing at $60 rather than the traditional $50 of PC titles is probably going to set a trend for all PC games in the future, and when the next generation of consoles finally come out, one can imagine that the average price point per title will continue to rise.
To be fair, games are not cheap to develop and publishers are entitled to make their return on investment. When a genius piece of work like BioShock is developed for $15 million, however, and we then look at other budgets in the industry for products of far lesser quality, there’s a fair argument to be made that the publishers have been pissing money away like drunken sailors for years on bloated development costs and needlessly huge ad campaigns, and the consumer doesn’t deserve to foot that bill.
Activision threw a huge party with Eminem at E3 2010 which had nothing to do with video games. If Activision starts charging for online Call of Duty the way Michael Pachter keeps arguing they have to, how much of that extra money gamers will be paying for something they used to get for free will go towards the next big, meaningless, and expensive PR function at an industry event that tells us nothing about what Activision is working on?
GameStop pays shit prices for used titles, but the chain gives gamers the opportunity to get something back in their pockets for games which can very quickly become collectors of dust after they are purchased. Perhaps the game has been sucked dry to its marrow due to a short campaign, lack of any meaningful DLC, or shoddy multiplayer. Perhaps the video game media once again abrogated its responsibility to let the consumer know that the game really wasn’t as good as all the hype, and that they should wait six months for the price to come down to a more reasonable level.
Getting $35 for selling back a game you paid $60 for five days ago is surely a rip-off, but it is also half of another, new game. It’s a 3-for-2 deal for people who turn games around quickly in periods of high new release volume, and that’s not something to just piss all over, which is what I feel Tycho is doing when he compares the used games market to piracy. Even in the context in which he’s making the comment, it sounds ridiculous. Piracy is outright theft and malevolent in its intent. Selling a used game is not.
When THQ, EA, Sony, and Ubisoft all start making noises about trying to kill the used games market without simultaneously addressing the conditions that created it in the first place, I understand how it might sound pretty disrespectful, if not outright dismissive, to some of their customers. For some people, the used game market is a lifeline to getting games which are new to them, whether they are still encased in the shrink wrap or not.
GameStop has become an industry giant directly as a result of the high prices set by publishers and their failure to spread major releases throughout the year. If you want to criticize the used games market and suggest that it’s doing harm to developers by taking money out of their pockets, at least address the publishers who created that market in the same breath. Even if you’ve said it before, it’s worth saying again in this context.