Before I begin talking about this, let me be up front and tell you that I was inspired this morning watching Jim Sterling mix it up and give his own views in his latest Jimquisition. This is an amazing commentary series and one I highly recommend my readers keep up on. If you want to watch his latest, you can see it here. But this time, while I agree with a lot he has to say, I can’t say he covered the topic quiet as much as I would like… let’s begin, shall we?
A few years ago, game publishers in mass began to cry and complain about used games and how they were cutting their profits down. As a response, they came up with online passes to get something out of people who buy used instead of it all going to the the retailer.
Like other opinionated gamers of the day (though outnumbered by other opinionated gamers of the day), I honestly felt some sympathy with them. I could see how seeing the biggest most influential single entity in the retail industry (read Gamestop) building their entire business model based on getting a minimum number of copies of a game on shelves and then reselling the game almost constantly to the consumer for exactly $5 less then whatever the going price was would piss off and rob the developer as well as fleece the consumer for something they really should be getting for probably about half the price of the new version. In console-land (where used games exist) this means Gamestop is charging you on average $55 for a used game that came out in the past month or two, while the game is $60 for a new copy. They are NOT doing you any more favors as a consumer then they are the publishers with this model.
It was also rather eye-opening to see how much even their return policies are built to encourage the end buyer to buy used over new. A new opened game could only be traded in for another copy if it didn’t work, and even then ONLY if you bought it within the month. But HEY! Not only do you get that with used games, but if it’s within the first week you don’t need any reason what-so-ever to return a used copy! Didn’t work? Didn’t like it? FINISHED IT IN A WEEK?!!!?!?!?! Turn it in for a full refund and get your next game! These kind of policies are literally designed to make the used copy more enticing then the new one, which in turn cuts the publisher out of the sale.
So when publishers began using the “online pass,” I was not one of the gamers who began crying foul. I was sad it came to this, but I understood it. This was not a fight between us and the publishers… this was a fight between the publishers and Gamestop, and sadly, we as the consumer of what one mass-produces and the other sells, we were just kinda stuck in the middle.
But just like everything else, there is a balance to be struck, and with their next gen machine basically killing the used game market, Microsoft has just gone over the edge. The fact of the matter is, used games are NOT the problem. The issue was (and still is) instead, with the business model of the biggest game retailer that abuses them to the detriment of both the consumer and the publisher, squeezing one for every dime it can while cutting the other out of every dime it can.
In fact, used games are necessary for the console market to truly thrive and for gaming history to be preserved in any meaningful way. Right now, I'm sure a lot of X-Xbots and SFD members are smacking their collective foreheads that I feel I have to say this and saying “well duh!” But I have to. That MS has people backing their decision and saying how used games going away would be a good thing means that clearly it needs to be said.
First off used games offers a way for people to get extra cash to play and get new experiences from their gaming time. This is a very important point to keep in mind since from the hobbyist point of view, this is exactly why we play games. This won’t matter to the people who basically buy Call of Duty or Madden and that’s the game they play all year, but to allow more into the hobby, used games are a very worthy thing.
But perhaps more important to me personally, is need preserve console gaming history. Used games are the primary vehicles through which this is done. Look in any local Gamestop and you can still find PS2 titles you may have had an interest in but just didn’t get to. True, retail doesn’t go back much farther then this and the last generation, but that’s why things like Half.com are true champions here, where games as far back as the NES are findable. And while some classics are available as download titles for consoles, they are the outliers as a lot of games are lost once their disc or cart is gone. When consoles stop supporting a used game market like MS is doing, this no longer takes up to a decade or more, but is instantaneous, as the only way to get your hands on an old game is hope you have a friend who bought it so you can via their disc… and even then it will be a digital sale at a retail price that is unfair to you as a consumer.
And anyone about to tell me that digital works for this and point to Steam, shut up and sit down. You are wrong and the reason is very simple… competition. The PC is probably the only platform in the world that can get away with preserving it’s history without a used game market because it is the only real open gaming platform in the world. Steam is competing with things like gog.com, Gamersgate, and yes, even Gamestop, so they need to stand out to be noticed. Between their tools for gamers to use with their games, their library, and their prices, they are clearly doing this right. (Even if despite what others might say, they are NOT the biggest digital retailer in this list.) If this were attempted on a console, the results are retail prices online well after physical prices drop or physical copies disappear entirely. In short you are being SCREWED. And where does this leave us? With no reasonable way to play our history…
A real shame Microsoft doesn’t give a dick about that… or being fair to their audience.