The Video Game Industry’s Biggest Enemy: Used Games

I’m sure you could ask any video game developer in the world what they think of used game sales and they would most definitely have negative thoughts on the subject. The selling of used games today is killing the industry slowly, but surely and the creators of the games feel it. The problem is the 100% of the profit from the sale of used games goes to the retailer selling them, not a penny goes to the people who actually made the game. Now it could be argued that at one point the game was new, so the developers and producers got money for it when it was originally purchased and so what if it gets sold as used after that? The reality is that if the game is bought once, then basically passed around from person to person with no money going to developers, it’s still a big loss. It would be like if you made a movie and one person bought it, then lent it to 10 different friends to watch meaning that now they wont buy it so you just lost 10 sales. 10 sales is small time, imagine losing thousands upon thousands of sales, and the money associated with those sales – it adds up.

It costs somewhere between $10 and $80 million to make a AAA title game, so it’s not cheap. In the United States, a new game runs you about $60 without tax and a used game will cost you anywhere between $5 and $50. The biggest loss is the newer games, we’ve all been into stores like GameStop and have seen the used game next to the new game. If it’s a new release the used version is only $5 to $10 cheaper than the game brand new. So the industry is losing almost the entire cost of the game new when the used version is sold, and the retailer makes a large profit. You can see how the retailers win in this situation, they get large profits for doing almost nothing except having employee’s push the used game sale hard. I used to work at GameStop, so it’s not mere assumption when I say that employee’s are supposed to push the used game over the new game. It’s easy – you tell the customer that the used copy is cheaper, and also that it can be easily returned if the customer doesn’t find it to his/her liking, unlike the new game. As an employee it doesn’t bother you because your managers like that you sell the used games and you are still getting paid regardless. Retailers like GameStop even have deals in which you buy two used games and get one free, get discounts on used games, or even get rewards such as 10% off anything in the store after buying 10 used games. All the while the game developers are hurting, and in the long run it will hurt the consumers. It’s also hurting you now, what do you get for trading in (selling back) a brand new game, $30 tops? Is it very fair that you paid $60 for a game one week ago then turn around and get $30 back for it? If the game is more than a month or two old you’ll get even less. The retailer can turn around and sell that game they bought off you for $30 and charge $55 for it, meaning they get a huge profit and it all goes straight to them. It seems like everyone but the retailers lose in this case.

Richard Browne, former Eidos developer and former VP of Core Studios at THQ and Universal Interactive, made this statement earlier this year in an interview:

“What on Earth was the point of taking the completely single-player experience of Uncharted 1 and bolting on an entirely new game to Nathan Drake’s second adventure? The multiplayer game – brilliantly executed as one would expect of the Naughty Dog team – had absolutely nothing to do with the single player experience, and from my perspective had absolutely zero interest from me as a consumer, and I’m not alone in that, take a look at the most recent Ninja Gaiden game. Why does that multiplayer mode exist? What effect did having to build it have on the single-player experience? There is no reason for the multiplayer game to exist; it makes no sense in NG’s universe. I’m not singling out Ninja Gaiden here, as the number of games that have gone the same route over the past couple of years is substantial. But is it good for the consumer? Absolutely not – in general they’re getting a poorer single-player game. But again that’s the tip of the iceberg.”

We all see the amount of DLC being released, the uprising of online passes, and the sheer amount of multiplayer games out there. These are all ways in which the developers are trying to get some money back and fight against used game sales. Releasing DLC means that the consumers will have to give money directly to the developers, you cannot buy used DLC. The online passes make is so that the consumers will be prompted to buy a game new so that the online pass (allowing the game to be played online) is basically free. If you choose to buy the game used but wish to play online, you will have to purchase the pass which again gives money directly to the developers. Multiplayer games open up a whole new world for the developers, since the DLC is easily released and it’s even easier to hook people into playing it. All of these things are the topic of complaints for cosumers. It’s annoying to constantly have DLC thrown at you, it’s irritating to have to worry about that online pass, and it’s just plain stupid that every game just has to have a multiplayer mode which arguably takes away from the single player of the game quality wise. This is the unfavorable future of gaming, the sad truth of the the gaming industry, and what we will have to expect from gaming as long as used games are being sold as aggressively as they are today. These changes wont happen tomorrow or even next month, but over time we will most definitely see a decline in single player quality and and incline in repetitive multiplayer games ridden with random useless DLC.

People tend to dislike online passes, google it for some gamer rage.

I could show examples and site sources all day, so let’s get down to the main point: What can we do to stop used game sales and change the direction that the industry is forced to go? One simple way is to not buy used games, and tell your friends not to as well. I know that seems tough when you aren’t sure of a game is good or don’t have the money to buy a game new, but if you choose to buy used games repeatedly then you forfeit the right to complain about the downsides mentioned above. It’s hypocritical to say “I hate these stupid online passes” when you are solely buying used games. Another way you can do your part in halting used game sales is to spread the word. Do some research and let others know what is happening to the gaming industry and why, knowledge is power and if more people out there know the facts then more people can continue to spread the word. Now I am not foolish or naive, I know that used game sales will most likely never go away completely but I also know that I’m not going to contribute to them any more. I have personally decided to never buy another used game, and to be honest it’s not only because of how it hurts the industry, I just hate how disgusting most of the used games look. The cases are cover in scratches and some kind of sticky stuff, the disc looks like someone cleaned it with sandpaper, and the smell of the thing is repulsive. That may be just exaggeration, but it’s not gross exaggeration. I like my games to look nice, and if it’s helping the industry as well then it’s a win win for me. In the end, we cannot expect things to get better by just sitting around and talking about it – if this issue means anything to you and if you wish to see the gaming industry thrive as opposed to crashing and burning in a menagerie of multiplayer madness then do something about it. Stand up for what you believe in and if games mean anything to you, stand up for what is right.

Food for thought:

11 thoughts on “The Video Game Industry’s Biggest Enemy: Used Games

  1. I would be more likely to stop buying used games if the price of old games came down more quickly. There are many games I enjoyed that I would never pay $60 for, and when the price on those doesn’t come down fast enough (i.e. $50 instead of $30 a year after launch), I go used. Sometimes I’ll do it because of the return policy, too. It’s nice to be able to return a game for no reason other than that fact that I didn’t enjoy it.

    If you can’t recover your development costs at a $60 price point then maybe you should scale back. Kingdoms of Amalur is a sub par game that looks and feels like a weak title from the PS3 launch window. It offers over 100 hours of remarkably generic gameplay and costs $60. As part of their distribution deal with EA, 38 Studios would have had to sell 3 million units to make any money on the game. That was never going to happen. Had they scaled back, created a tighter experience in a 50 hour game and launched at $40, I think they would still be in business today.

    Used games do cost the industry lots of money, but they are also the reason why we still have brick and mortar retailers. If you ask me, the increase in used game sales over the current generation of consoles is directly related to the quality of games produced. $60 for an open world game with 60+ hours of gameplay? Yes. $60 for a shooter with a four hour campaign and multiplayer? Goodness no. That should be a $20 PSN/XBLA game.

    All that said, I buy new when it’s a title or studio that excites me. The games I buy used are generally games I never would have played at all unless they were so cheap. There are also those times when I buy the first game of a series used and become such a fan that I buy every installment of the series new after that.

    Used games have a place in the world. If developers could partner with stores like Game Stop to create a premium line of certified used games that include fresh packaging and DLC codes then maybe they would be making extra money instead of alienating customers with DLC that exists purely to punish people who buy used.

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    • I guess the problem with pricing all comes back down to the used sales. I mean, it’s hard to make a game cheaper when you are losing money, and sadly these mass used game sales are pretty much undermining everything. But I understand that due to the prices being how they are now, it’s hard to just cut out used all together. It’s a big circle that needs to be cut somewhere along the line or nothing will change. I don’t blame game companies for doing what they do, it’s tough out there and with layoffs occurring everywhere, the game industry is taking a hard hot with the lack of money received by used game sales.

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      • It’s also hard to make a game cheaper when the developers have decided that virtually every new release, regardless of game length or development cost, will be priced at $60. Keep in mind this pricing model existed before used games were a thing. If you went to Electronics Boutique back in the day, every game was $50, even with no used games to compete with. If something was discounted, it was because no one was buying and they were trying to get it out of inventory.

        Used games came in to being because of that. In fact, the cheaper ‘greatest hits’ type re-releases and, to a lesser extent, budget titles didn’t come in to play until long after the used game market had been established.

        Studios and publishers played with fire and got burned. It’s on them to find a way out, not the consumer. Lucky for them, they already have. The next generation of consoles will bring digital distribution and DRM on a scale that will probably wipe out used games and brick and mortar retailers with them. Hooray?

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      • That’s still dancing around the subject: Used games aren’t helping the game industry – and that’s a fact. Are games cheap? No. But it doesn’t mean that used games are the only answer to that problem. I don’t mind new game prices if the game is good, but when games are forced to be shaved down and molded for the masses to make money, I dislike it.
        Also, is there any definitive confirmation on that next generation comment? I have only seen rumors and hear-say type of things, but maybe I missed something.

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      • I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

        I’m not saying used games are the only answer, but they are the answer created by the market. They are also the only answer that allows brick and mortar video game retailers to continue to exist. There was a demand for cheaper games, and publishers did nothing while retailers found a way to satisfy that demand. Good, bad or indifferent, that’s what happened.

        I don’t mind the prices of new games when they’re good, but what percentage of games released are actually good? Why should a game that cost $2 million to develop cost the same as one that cost $15 million to develop? It’s not justifiable.

        There has been no confirmation that the next generations will be DRM locked or digital distribution only, but when a player as big as EA says 100% digital distribution is the future, that will be the future. Sony and Microsoft are already pushing digital distribution for new titles through their online stores. Maybe there will be one more console generation where games are still sold on disks, but digital distribution is our inevitable future.

        Also, you can buy anything used: cars, clothes, CDs, movies, pretty much anything but food, and those industries have survived. I love video games and want good things to happen to the industry, but I don’t think the industry deserves special protection when every other company that sells a product faces the same issue.

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      • Well, the article was simply meant to point out the issue, and show what is happen whether or not the reader agrees with that issue. I’m not really trying to protect either side and say the other is wrong, I mean I have my view on the subject, but I tried to keep that out of the article. Everyone has their own opinion on the matter which is great, and I love the feedback I’ve been getting. I can’t personally change anything, and I don’t really think I want to so badly that I would do anything other than not buy used for myself. Thanks again for the input, I just hope the point of the article is getting across well enough, because if it isn’t then I made bad choices writing it 🙂

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  2. I’d like them to reward us for buying new games. I have always chosen to buy new because it’s pathetic that you usually only save 5 bucks. I will say that I bought Modern Warfare 2 used for 7 bucks, no regrets on that part.

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  3. While I agree with you that it is unfortunate that all profits from used games go to the retailers (like terrible customer sevice Gamestop) it is unrealistic to except all people to be forced to buy their product brand new. I operate like this when buying games; I purchase the ones I really want new (about 5-6 titles a year) and the rest of the games I buy used (about 7-8) as they are typically older games that have been out for at least 6 months. Not to mention all the Arcade games and DLC I buy (roughly $100 bucks a year).

    So as a consumer of games I think I give developers plenty of money each year. Just like the above person said, “you can buy anything used: cars, clothes, CDs, movies…” developers can’t expect someone to buy a game brand new that has been out for 2 years.

    Alas, next gen consoles will almost definitely have some way of safeguarding against the used game market and will make us buy new to play there games or be charged some kind of fee (like EA) to play anything besides the basic campaign. Good article though, I enjoyed reading it and damn you Gamestop and your annoying pressure sales!!!

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    • Thank you for the feedback, I appreciate it! I pre-ordered something at gamestop and as I was leaving I heard them whisper “YES!” because I gave them a pre-order. I was like wow, couldn’t even wait until I leave the store. I feel more like a number there than a customer.

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  4. Pingback: Sony’s Newest Tech Patent Bodes Ill For Used Game Sales, Among Other Things « linksaveszelda

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