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The games industry does not like the used-games industry.

The used-games industry quite likes the games industry, but likes selling games it got for nearly nothing at a high profit more, and often points to the fact that the car industry and the used car industry are fine.

The used car industry doesn’t kill the new car industry, partly because cars degrade, so people want used cars less. But also, because they *all* degrade, and while a car manufacturer won’t get a penny from the sale of a used car, they do get a steady income from people buying parts for one. In fact, there is a trend towards custom components and apple-style sealed engine units so that not only do mechanics have to get the parts per car, they also have to be specially trained in how to repair each new model.

You could argue that DLC fills in this niche somehow, but until you require DLC to continue your game, I’m not sure it fits. The things that fit into that “must do this to use the software” hole would be patches.

So, by this logic, they sell the new games, don’t care about the used ones, and charge per patch. Or per league update (hello, EA Sports).

The argument usually boils down to “Used games mean the developer doesn’t get paid” vs “New games are too expensive for me”. This is not a solvable argument because both sides are completely true, it depends on whose side you stand on, and you won’t generally shift people across the line.

Personally, I stand on the no-used-games side of the line, not because of any copyright issues, but simply because if games producers aren’t getting money for selling games, something is wrong.

So, as as a thesis: game producers should get some money out of used games sales.

How should that happen?

Below the producers, there are three transactions. The producer sells to the distributor, the distributor to the store, the store to the customer.

A used game sale is between the store and the customer, the distributor has done their job, and so isn’t on the hook here. This leaves three people to possibly give the producer money for a used game sale: Producer (zero sum game), the store or the customer.

Currently, the producer is attempting to get it out of the customer by one-time DLC charges (Project $10) that don’t negate the game entirely, but do provide an incentive to buy it new (and, by the side, a disincentive to buy it used. Most games multiplayer community doesn’t last long enough for the used discount to be more than $10, so used game + multiplayer >= new game inc. multiplayer.)

Other ways they could do this would be with a non-transferable code that gives you a permanent 30% off all DLC and downloads for that game. So there’s nothing in the box you that changes between free and used, but the new buyer has an incentive to be so apart from the aesthetic “Shiny clear film to open” reason.

The second option would be to charge the store, the producer to get a cut of every second hand game sale. This would enable the publisher to track used sales (and possibly prove to each other that game prices *really are* too expensive). On the plus side, this takes the cost out of the consumer and means the evil corporations don’t make as good a profit from selling second hand items, but on the minus side it’s completely illegal in most places due to the aforementioned legal rights to resale, which mean that the store is under no obligation to enter into such an agreement, cannot be contracted to do so, and therefore won’t.

  1. A fine argument in principle – but this would be the massive, healthy and nicely profitable games industry, yes? They’re hardly (corporately) starving in the street.

  2. And were this just the AAA million pound market, I’d agree, but right now there’s hardly any middleground between AAA multi-million dollar titles and indie shoestring ones, which – not having any retail presence – don’t suffer from this at all. It’s not the blockbusters that are suffering, it’s the risks, like Syndicate, Dungeon Keeper and such were.

  3. Producers are also getting out of it, on the PC side of it at least, by tying sales to accounts of services such as Steam or Impulse. Note that you can now install Steam on your PS3.

  4. That’s a different argument. I currently _can’t_ preorder some games on Steam (Arkham City, for example) because retail shops refuse to sell them if Steam allows preorders.

  5. The lack of used sales is a side effect of the main point of Steam and such, I admit (which is a form of DRM), but it certainly helps it along. It would be fairly trivial for Valve to create a system where you could transfer ownership of your games to others (indeed, the system is there for the occasional ‘gifting’ of extra copies when you buy an update to a game you already have), but they don’t and probably never will.

  6. Let me offer you an alternative analogy: the used-book industry. Somehow authors and publishers manage to survive: the danger to them is not from second-hand book sales but from alternative means of content distribution. Salman Rushdie remains entirely unthreatened by the fact that I can pick up the collected works of Enid Blyton for a couple of quid on eBay.

    The difference of course is that use of the book is tied to physical possession of the book – hence DRM for games. Once DRM is in place to prevent *copying* of a game, there seems no reason to prevent *transfer*. No other form of goods blocks re-sale or transfer. If I buy a book, I can sell it or give it to a jumble sale. If I buy a biscuit, I can let someone else eat it!

    If the worry is that people will buy a game, play it once and then sell it on, then perhaps the industry should focus developing games with high replay value so the customer actually wants to keep their (singular) copy.

  7. EA have introduced a new code that you need to use to access the online/multiplayer versions of FIFA. This can only be used once, so the person that purchases the game new gets it, but those that purchase the game second-hand will have to spend $10 on a new code so that they can play online.

    This seems fair to me – if the original purchaser has sold the game and is now playing a newer version, then this doubles the bandwidth required, but at least compensates EA for providing this in a small way.

  8. I think Arkham City has gone down the non-transferable code route – the basic game can be resold, but the Catwoman mode requires a one time code, which comes in the box for new games, but can be purchased if you’ve got it second-hand. The game even bugs you to enter the code when you first start it, which would presumably encourage people to go buy the code if they picked up the game second hand.

  9. I think you’ve also missed out the traditional mainstay of the games industry (and bugbear of the used-games industry) – the budget title market: selling older games, but selling them “new”, which attracts those people who are usually attracted by the used-game market.

    Other than that, I’m with Peter Ellis on this – the book industry is a much better analogy.

  10. At that point you’re essentially saying that the game is like a performance, non-transferable. I accept that the indie games makers want to make money rather than having their game bought once and played by thirty people.

    But I think what will work better for them is making people want to buy their games from them, because they’re so good you want them immediately, because they have multiplayer, because you want to support the producer so they make more awesome games, and because it doesn’t cost that much anyway. And I think those things are viable for the indie games makers. Look at the success of the Humble Bundle releases.

    Essentially, I don’t think the top level producers need the extra cash, and I think the lower level ones will benefit more by other means.

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