Consuming Consumers: used game deception
posted on 02.11.12 at 12:57 PM EST by (@TezChi)
Fighting for consumer rights.

With the flurry of rumors into the next generation of home consoles, one point in particular has solidified itself into the minds of gamers. Could used, second-hand games be restricted, even blocked completely from the new hardware? This much heated debate has gained further ground by certain gaming personalities assuming that such a move would be ‘fantastic’. Yet despite the ‘me too’ head-nodding of gaming news outlets, the truth is nowhere near as simple as some have unfortunately being made to believe. Indeed, navigate past the smoke and mirrors, and you will see there is nothing at all ‘fantastic’ about the wearisome war against used games.

Do as thou wilt…

As a novelist and business owner, I am fully aware of the politics behind the sale of consumer products. But the truth is this – a developer (or writer, etc), is only entitled to financial proceeds from the first sale of their item. If the game is then sold or traded in store, then this is the choice of the paying consumer and nothing to do with the original developer. Yes, a consumer does not ‘own’ the contents of the product itself, but they certainly do own the disk, manual and box, and can justly do what they please with it.

Yet drooling developers constantly cry about losing money to second hand sales. What they fail to mention is that their game has already achieved a brand-new sale, or else it would not have been traded in. That first sale, of course, is all they are entitled to, and any other trading of the game is the private business of those who bought it. Furthermore, used game trade-ins are constantly used to offset the cost of buying sealed, brand new ones. This is basic life logic – you get rid of the old, and in with the new. This is how things (not just games) have been sold for hundreds of years.

Games are expensive, and it is always possible to buy one you don’t like, no matter how much researching you do. Therefore it is essential that you are able to pass on, sell or trade the game of which you are finished with. This is even truer when we consider the wealth of short, soulless games which are not worth keeping after their initial run-through. To claim that your game should be ‘locked’ to your system, so that you are forced to either keep it forever or throw it in the dustbin (and your money with it), is the oppressive posturing of corporate ignorance. If such a thing was to be implemented, game sales would plummet beyond belief, and the very idea of an impulse buy would be rendered pointless if you cannot sell (or even give) the product away.

Digital Dross

Digital gaming is all well and good, until the point where you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Much is said about the ultimate shift into a fully digital gaming future, and supporters of the death of used gaming are among the keenest for this move. However, games on digital download services are usually bought when on special sale, and thus are purchased heavily reduced, often under the $15 / £10 bracket. Prices such as this are largely disposable, and thus it is not a huge concern if the game is no good or if you lost interest in it. The same is also true for mobile phone apps; which are specially designed to be sold for what could be described as ‘pocket money’.

This is not the case however, with full price, big budget games. Not only are the titles gigabytes in size, but come with no possibility of sale or trade-in when finished. This is often described as ‘games as a service’, rather than games as a standalone product. Now, this may be true with massively multiplayer online games or other entirely online games, but it is not the case with most other titles. It is just not sensible to buy an expensive (sometimes more than boxed retail), digital game if it turns out to be a 3 hour long, ‘muscles and mutants’ excuse that you have played a hundred times before.

Unfortunately, consumer rights are being eroded in far more ways than the obvious digital distribution. Online Passes, the latest weapon in the used games battle, are a bewildering addition to any corporate catalogue. With such systems, used-disc gamers are treated as criminals and issued punishments in the form of missing content. If they then crave their freedom once more, they must bend their knee and pay a ‘fine’ to the developer in order to unlock the content. Such practices are, from a business standpoint, absolutely ludicrous. This is made even worse by the torrents of day-one downloadable content (DLC) and the horrific fraud of ‘on-disc DLC’. Why should a willing, legal purchaser be expected to pay for in-game content which exists already on their full-priced disk?

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

It was perhaps inevitable that as online culture continued to encroach upon the video game landscape, that change would begin to show up in the industry. But banning used games, imposing online passes and DLC-o-rama is surely helping nobody, not least the developers themselves.

Unfortunately there exists no easy answer to what the future has in store for used games (or as we really mean – consumer rights). The media will cater for the milling throngs who all too often will see not the larger picture, and I see no immediate retreat from things such as packaging games with online passes. In the end, it is you, the consumer, who must make up your mind as to what you are prepared to support and put up with. But that does not mean you should put up with everything.

Developers on the other hand need simply to re-evaluate their war against the core consumer. If you do not want people selling your games, then just make sure that your game is worth keeping! A good game does not need restrictive barriers, or hordes of expensive DLC in order to make people want to keep it. No, a good game is a good experience, something you want to cherish and enjoy, and come back to again and again. Therefore, if used game sales mean so much to developers, they should be looking not to retailers, but to themselves for answers.

As it stands though, the industry is going through a foot-stamping phase in regards to the market of used video games. But used games have always existed, and when things are going well their existence and sale harms nothing but the developers’ Ego. Indeed, if you want to find something that is harming the gaming industry, look no further than the developers and publishers themselves.

This was a guest post by Gematsu reader and frequent commenter TezChi. If you have a well-written article you would like published, contact Sal at editor [at] gematsu [dot] com.

  • FinalFantasy_fangirl

    I do see both sides of the used games issue. Also with stores like Gamestop,Amazon etc. When people trade in games towards new games that something Developers forget. I don’t buy used games I don’t look down on those who do. I like to prioritize like during the summer when nothing is really released so I start planning and saving for the massive fall/winter releases.

    Well done Tezchi!! I always thought you would be great writer. I remember long ago when Sal wanted someone I thought of you first.

  • http://www.di.fm Spicy Chicken

    Great article TezChi!

    When I speak out against Online Passes (and everything they represent in the grander scheme of things) I often feel like it’s a hopeless task, and have resigned myself to simply following through my opinions with my purchases (or deliberate lack thereof), but this article gives me a small amount of hope.
    In no other industry is such a concept tolerated after all, nor should it be, so why is it that in the world of videogames it’s actually championed by the very consumers it takes advantage of more often than not? I have a few theories on that, and none of them are pleasant, but still, it’s nice to know there are others that see the bigger picture and the worrying precedent that the acceptance of Online Passes and ‘day one DLC’ etc. represent.

  • Zero

    Congrats to TezChi! I enjoyed reading this and hope to see more articles from you on the site.

    One can approach the discussion on used games, dlc, and online passes, in many different ways.

    I think a common one often forgot or kept in the dark is how these things all relate to piracy.

    (I discussed this one day with a friend, and below I will combine things I learned from that discussion and add in some comments of my own. Not everything I type below is my opinion, and mine alone. I’m only trying to continue the discussion, in a positive way.)

    Has piracy always been a problem in games? Perhaps? The point is, it really has started to make its way into the limelight in the current generation of games.

    If I could go into the future, I can imagine a book about the history of video games focusing heavily on piracy from 2005- current.

    It would also focus on the positives, and everything you mentioned in the article, but if the focus was on piracy I would not be surprised.

    Why? Well, you could argue all of the used games and dlc and online pass stuff is a result of the business growing.

    Which in many ways it is. Video games are mainstream now, it costs more to make games, and often times developers just make the deadline when they get the game out.

    One thing I’ll make clear, I’m not someone who blames the developers. I agree that games should be better, and have enough content to warrant the $60 price tag.

    You can argue against that in so many different ways though. When a developer says, we just made the deadline and got the game released, I believe them. (Other games are stuck in development hell, Versus 13/Last Guardian.)

    And how many times do we see a new release be on sale for half the price or so, sometimes as early as a month after release?

    Smart shoppers can find ways to get a new game for a discounted price.

    What does all this have to do with piracy? It’s fairly simple, piracy is the biggest problem in video games today.

    Publishers have to shell out more money than ever before to developers. It’s why we see so many sequels, and not enough new IPs.

    And when Call of Duty can release every year, and they practically release an expansion pack, call it a new game and still sell a boatload of copies….

    Of course publishers are going to tell developers, make your game just like call of duty! They care about the money, and that focus carries over to the development team in multiple ways.

    When someone pirates a game, they lose a sale. Would the person who downloaded the game ever have purchased it? Who knows? The point here is, the publishers and developers can’t really do anything about it. It is a big problem, and recent articles online have shown that some of the most pirated things last year were video games.

    They have tried to outsmart, or set road blocks in the way of hackers or pirates, or whatever we want to call these individuals. That just makes it worse in the end. (And one could even argue the publishers are as much at fault as the pirates.)

    So, they turn to used games and say, we can do something about this. Perhaps they really believe, that if they can stop used sales or find a way to make a profit with each game sold used, it could eventually balance things out.

    All the money lost from piracy, we can get it back if we do something about used games! One good way is to pump out dlc like crazy, we can hopefully keep gamers attached to the game that way. And now the online pass system, which is something new the publishers have thought up.

    I just can’t see developers like Kojima, sitting by and supporting abusive dlc and online passes with a smile. Developers want to make games, and they want to make fun games.

    Has that process become far more complicated and expensive? Absolutely. – Have publishers become even more controlling and manipulative? Definitely. – Is attacking used games and trying to micro transaction the consumer out the arse the solution, the answer? No. – Does the pirating of games connect to all these things? It’s tough not to say yes.

    Some would say piracy has everything to do with it. Unfortunately, I feel like this problem will get worse before it gets better. Darkest just before dawn?

  • FAUNA

    People, if a creator doesn’t make money off of what they are creating, they won’t be able to make it anymore. SO IF YOU LIKE SOMETHING, & WANT THEM TO CONTINUE MAKING IT, BUY NEW NOT USED. No one seems to understand this..

    • DrForbidden

      @FAUNA: And how will I know if what I am buying I will like?

  • http://www.koffdrop.com Koffdrop

    “…Yet drooling developers constantly cry about..”

    Stopped reading right there. If you want to convey a serious argument then don’t go about patronising/demonising one side of it.

    Furthermore, comparing other industries (be it cars, houses, books, movies) to the games industry is always improper as each industry has its own unique facets. Comparing apples to oranges does nobody any favours and further impairs the perception that this is a properly researched or neutral article or that all factors in both sides of the argument have been considered.

    With regards to the future of second hand games – you need only look at the past and present. The likes of Steam and iTunes have already set the precedent and proved the business model and shown the tolerance levels of the consumer.

    I’m not saying I’m for or against this. But it would be nice to see an article on this topic that doesn’t go for the easy win and pays equal respect and consideration to all sides and factors. Please try harder next time.

    • http://www.di.fm Spicy Chicken

      @Koffdrop: “Furthermore, comparing other industries (be it cars, houses, books, movies) to the games industry is always improper as each industry has its own unique facets.”

      I actually agree with this point in principle, but, to stick with your analogy, this isn’t comparing apples to oranges as such, it’s comparing apples to every other fruit known to man and asking what it’s merits are in comparison, and why it should or shouldn’t be considered by a set of rules distinct from those applied to every other fruit. Or to push the analogy even further, debating the merits of a system of sale that sees apples sold under a different set of rules to those applied to every other type of fruit.

      In simple terms, fruit is fruit, product is product, and if no other industry (creative or not) gets away with placing such restrictions on it’s consumer, why should videogames?

      I’ve yet to hear a valid argument that defines and justifies this perceived difference. The irony of all this is that I’ve only once in my life purchased a used game myself, and even then it was begrudgingly (I was late to the party and wasn’t able to find a new import copy of the game in question, this was decades ago, before the internet was even mainstream.) To this day it annoys me that I wasn’t able to get that game new actually, but I digress…

      Second hand sales are a very important part of the commercial market place, much to the chagrin of the ‘creators and publishers’, perhaps, but it’s true. And whilst it can be argued that if the creators aren’t making money from their creations that they’ll stop creating, it can also be argued that those that can afford it new and want it new will buy it new, and those who want it (or can only afford it) second hand will buy it second hand. Simple market dynamics of sale and re-sale. Furthermore, as has been mentioned previously, often the sale of second hand games is to fund the purchasing of brand new ones, and even consoles (I’ve seen my youngest brother do this twice already), so it becomes something of a chicken & egg scenario. One developer’s/publisher’s ‘perceived’ loss is quite literally another developer’s gain.
      Even worse, the Online Pass system means I can’t even gift a game to someone without it costing them (or myself) extra, even if I’m not making a penny from it. That’s just wrong on so many levels.

      And last but not least, if a game is being sold second hand, that means the creator DID make money from that copy already, and the person buying it was unlikely to purchase it new anyway (notwithstanding exceptions like my aforementioned used purchase).

      Zero makes a really interesting point though, that rather than being some extremely inept attack against piracy itself, this is all (possibly/partially) a way of ‘offsetting’ the effects of piracy in general, financially speaking. And if there’s one thing I think everyone can agree on, it’s the negative nature of piracy.
      That being said, is piracy REALLY that rampant on modern consoles like the PS3? Again, that’s a genuine question, because whilst I remember the PSOne (for example) having a huge pirate scene, I’ve seen nothing close to that on modern consoles.

      In any case, for now I’m buying brand new copies of old games/peripherals on the PS2 (and peripheral wise technically PS1 as well, hello Ascii Pad!!! :P) that I missed out on the first time, and loving it. No DLC, no Online Passes, and no risk of having to pay extra to access content on the disc, or not being able to play the game unless it’s plugged into the internet, even though it has NO online mode. Some great collections available too.

      I love videogames, and always will, but I don’t like where the industry is headed policy wise at this moment in time.

    • http://www.youtube.com/tezchi TezChi

      @Koffdrop: If this is how you saw the comment on ‘drooling developers’ then I assure you it is not supposed to be an attack. It is merely a case of Alliteration and ‘drooling’ is in the sense of drooling over money (or lack of).

      With regards, you are quite right that various industries cannot be compared in direct terms, but in terms of basic consumer rights it is good to look at other corporate structures. To take a very crude example – Jewelry manfuacturers do not complain that they are losing money from pawning and ebay sales. Such things are not their concern.

      As for showing both sides of the topic, this is after all an opinion peice and thus, by it’s nature, is supposed to contain an opinion!

      • http://www.koffdrop.com Koffdrop

        @TezChi: To respond to your points I would say:

        Your use of alliteration was at the expense of integrity of content. I’m sure that you could have chosen a better word beginning with “D” that didn’t emotively imply greed and selfishness. Perhaps, going forwards, prioritise integrity above cute literary tricks such as alliteration.

        Whilst you acknowledge and agree on the pointlessness of comparison, you immediately follow it up with a pointless comparison. It seems to me like you don’t fully appreciate the point you responded to.

        And I’m sorry to say that justifying a one-sided view as “Well, it’s just an opinion!” is a terrible and quite immature counterpoint. Leave that kind of dismissive rubbish to the likes of Kotaku.

        This is a shame as I think Gematsu does a good job of avoiding cliche and cheap, populist articles on the whole.

  • Malcolm Reynolds

    I strongly disagree with most of your points.

    I guess it helps that I am not poor or cheap.
    I buy 95% of my games new. I only buy used if it is a retro game no longer available.

    As for DLC….Dont want it? Dont Fecking buy it. No one isforcing you to buy it. Stop crying.

    Online passes…..if you buy games new this does not effect you. Stop being cheap.
    If you buy used and only want to play single player you dont need an online pass. If you want to use their servers and play online….pay the fee. Why should you be entitled to the same exact features as a new person when you are nothing more than a self entitled cry baby?

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Tezchi tries to talk a good game from his very biased shortsighted point of view but he completely contradicts himself by supporting and paying for the biggest online pass of them all: Xbox Live.

    • http://www.youtube.com/tezchi TezChi

      @Malcolm Reynolds: Oh dear.

      – To start, I really don’t see how your financial situation, or anybody’s for that matter, has any bearing on this debate. Even so, purchasing games for the best price/deal that you can is basic human nature. Just because you can ‘afford’ to buy something at a certain price, does not mean that you should immediately do so. Honestly though, I think you know this already.

      As far as buying used being considered ‘cheap’, well… whatever helps you get through the day. Also bear in mind that ‘used games’ is a sellers market as well as a buyers. Is somebody selling their chosen property also for the ‘poor and cheap’?

      I personally buy most games new as well, but I certainly do so with the knowledge that should I so desire, I can trade, sell or give the game away without hordes of hilarious legislation.

      – As for DLC, you are quite right that if somebody does not want it, they are not forced to buy it. This however is not the same as people’s concerns about ‘on-disc DLC’ as well as content they feel should have been included in the first place.

      – Unfortunately, contarary to your comment, online passes ARE used in single player games, and do not simply cover online modes any more.

      As for server costs, of course servers cost money to run. However, if we imagine that one disc equals one “place” on the server, the sale of the game simply transfers that “place” to another gamer. The original owner does not have the disc any more, so it is not as if two people are sharing the same server space. The cost has already been covered in the first sale, and continues exactly as if the original owner did not sell his game and contuined to play. Furthermore, games which are heavily reliant on servers such as the aforementioned MMO’s are a different kettle of fish entirely. (see ‘games as a service’ or ‘games as a product’)

      As for the heavy tone of Argumentum Ad Hominem present in your reply – why? Then again, if you must know, then I will tell you. No, I do not subscribe to Xbox Live Gold.

      Furtermore I am unsure what “Tezchi tries to talk a good game” means. If you mean the way I hold conversations with game disks then I’m afraid those chats are between me and the disk. (and rightly so!)

      Anyway, this article was posted in the “opinions” part of the website. My choice of personal philosophy is based on my own beliefs and is not supposed to convey anything more than that.

  • FaithlessMr

    Great read TezChi, that was really good. And I agree with pretty much everything you said. I’d just like to add one more point that I believe you missed, that shows how being able to play used games is important, especially to niche gamers like (I believe) the vast majority of those who comment on this website are (at least partly, not saying all I do is play niche games, but….well, I like ‘em still).

    Say, X company publishes Y game. Since X game is say, a japanese rpg that’s not FF or Dragon Quest, only a small number of copies are print and shipped to retailers, and these copies are quickly sold out.

    What about those who didn’t get a chance to get the games at release? Won’t they be able to enjoy the game still? Isn’t it in the developers’s interest that the vast majority of gamers play their games, so that when they do make a sequel, the publishers are able to ship more copies, and more profits turn in to both those who made it and the third parties who publish these games?

    All in all, preventing us from playing used games in the future is bad for everyone. Assuming that this won’t have an impact in the gaming world, or thinking that devs/publishers will indeed get more profit out of their products is simply not true, nothing will change really, or the changes won’t definitely translate into a much larger profit margin.

  • http://www.youtube.com/tezchi TezChi

    Thanks for the comments guys! Most appreciated.

  • Locksus

    Great read TezChi! At first I wasn’t even aware that this was your article but you should definitely do more of these so keep up the good work :)