Piracy vs. Opportunity

There are always multiple ways of looking at a problem.  The entertainment software industry sees the used game market, embodied by GameStop, as a bad thing.  As THQ’s Cory Ledesma put it in an interview over at CVG:

We hope people understand that when the game’s bought used we get cheated

And Penny Arcade got in on the act and made the “used games = piracy” association.

I wrote 1,500 words on the subject, but tossed them because in my mind it all comes down to a simple choice.

You can say “screw you” to those who purchase the used version of your game, as THQ did in that interview:

I don’t think we really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset they don’t get the online feature set I don’t really have much sympathy for them.

Or you can figure out how you can turn them into a customer.  Here is somebody who has an interest in your game.  Getting that far is most of the battle.

Couldn’t you just tell them that if they want to access the online content they need to enter the code that came with the box, but if that code has been used or missing, they will have to purchase a new code for, say, $10.

$10 seems like enough to keep from rewarding the market from buying used.

Sure, you’d want to tinker a bit with what people got.  Maybe the original code gave you a little something extra, some sign that you didn’t buy used.  But you would want the second-hand purchaser to have access to all the functionality.

But if you work that out, it makes that person your customer in fact.  You made a sale that had very little overhead, the customer having provided his own box, disk, and manual.  It gives your marketing department another name and email address.  And I am going to guess that a certain percentage of such buyers will feel invested enough to buy your next game new.

It isn’t that I think THQ’s point of view is not legitimate.  They do have a point.

But is their response necessarily the best one?

12 responses to “Piracy vs. Opportunity

  1. I read a few other opinions on this issue. I get that buying used doesn’t benefit the original author, but that goes for books, clothes, cars, pretty much everything that is resold. I think your idea to have publishers offer premium content to the original buyer and offer similar up to the used buyer for a price is brilliant. If someone really enjoys a game, they’re going to go for that extra content.

  2. Words aside, that’s what THQ is actually doing, charging $10 for a code to get online if you didn’t buy the box new. Bioware did the same thing with Mass Effect 2, there was a code in the box to access the Cerberus Network which was what you needed for DLC. If you bought the game used then you could buy network access, although I don’t remember for certain what the cost was, I think it was $10 as well.

  3. Personally I feel that if I buy a game at full price and only get a couple of hours play before I realise that I hate it, then I feel cheated too.

    Or in other words, if I get the chance to wait and read reviews and then buy a game cheaper, it reduces the risk for me. Plus being able to resell is one of the perks of buying at full price in the first place. If the devs really hate it, then maybe they should offer refunds to people who don’t like their game :)

  4. I have zero issue with companies monetizing the secondary market and I doubt that anyone does. I have no issue with adding incentive to buying games new. I doubt anyone does there as well. But there are ways to dot that without screwing the secondary market. Harmonix is a paragon of how to do this well; RB2 includes 20 free tracks. Lego Rock Band gives you a code to pull the tracks into your main library(extra fee, but still). Epic and Microsoft are another wonderful example with how Gears 2 handled it; Flashback maps are free for anyone who bought the game new.

    With all that said, taking core functionality out of the game for people who buy second hand is garbage. Calling people who buy second hand pirates is disingenuous at the least. The costs to the company don’t change if someone buys a game secondhand because the original purchaser has given up their rights to them and passed them to someone else. If THQ or EA or anyone isn’t budgeting support for the life of the game into the initial purchase price, that’s their own damn fault. From their end, there should be no difference between the initial purchaser playing a game from day one forward or it being passed down through multiple individuals.

  5. As others say it is disengenous at best to compare purchasing a used game to piracy — the was after all paid for by someone, not stolen outright. The ownership rights were simply transferred — and that transfer really should be done easily.

    I am also very cynical about game developers and publishers who make these sort of complaints: can they honestly say that they have never purchased a used book, album, furniture, etc? Never shopped at a garage sale, nor sold at one themselves? So long as that is not the case they don’t get to complain about someone purchasing their game used either.

    Personally, I rarely buy a book, cd, or game used that I can find new, now. But I’m middle aged and make a good salary, a salary that affords me the luxury of purchasing new on small entertainment items. But I certainly do purchase items at all price points used as well, and have sold some myself. Furthermore, 20 years ago I did the bulk of my book/cd purchasing used, because my salary was not as good, and it helped me stretch my entertainment dollar. Had the original IP owners of those used purchases railed at me then, I would be less likely to by supporting them by buying new from them now.

  6. What I take exception to is the idea that they are getting ‘cheated’ when someone buys used. What about when a retailer buys your crapware and has to discount almost immediately because no one will buy it? What about when I buy the crapware and immediately regret it? THQ has turned around in recent times in that regard- but I still remember when theirs was a name to stay away from because of the poor quality of their games. And quite a few people wouldn’t buy the game if not used- so how is that cheating you? I have no problem with EA adding DLC to Mass Effect 2/Dragon Age to get you to buy new… or pay to get the DLC. But to remove an integral part of the game… especially when you don’t even support servers or anything… just seems wrong.

  7. My original post went all over the map on piracy, tales of my youth, spending hard earned money on crap games, and who is going to end being your best customers in the long term.

    But I think I could shorten it even further than my actual post. Here it is, Don’t be a whiny and resentful when speaking to the press. How does that sound?

    And, as I said before, it isn’t that I do not sympathize. Being in software, I’ve seen companies I’ve worked for screwed by the publisher, the distributor, the retailer, and the customer on a regular and consistent basis.

    But complaining so publicly… well, THQ is now the company that thinks you’re a pirate if you buy used.

  8. No, they really don’t have a point. Used markets are available in everything. Are libraries and used car dealers bastions of piracy and theft? Of course not.

    Guess what, if they created games with staying power, there wouldn’t be so many people anxious to resell their games. Before it was re-released, used copies of Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri/Alien Crossfire would go for $100+, because few people want to sell.

    Incidentally, part of the reason people are willing to pay $50-$60 for 20 hours of play is the ability to resell it after they’re done.

    First sale doctrine is well-established, and for all the attempts to get around it with via “software is licensed not sold”, whining about is really pathetic. It annoys reasonable customers, and emboldens actual pirates who claim “companies only care about customers for their money, so why should we support them?”

  9. There is one vital difference between the used market for games and other used goods: other industries don’t have to support those products long after the initial sale. Many games have morphed into online services. No one expects a service to be transferable unless stated in the original agreement. People should keep that in mind when they make comparative arguments.

  10. @Anjin: I absolutely agree with you. That’s why I don’t feel the copyright law as it’s applied to books, movies and other intellectual property fits very well with software licensing.

    Consider that a software product is maintained long after the initial purchase has been made in the form of patches and so forth. And then of course there is the consideration for any online services said software product also provides.

    Should the rights to this ongoing support and online services be transferable as well?

    I think not.

    And clearly THQ thinks that it’s not implied that they need to provide these services for free to people who buy through the secondary used market.

    If you buy it used, you buy it unsupported. All things considered, I think that’s more than fair.

  11. I don’t think the makers of game owe us the opportunity to re-sell. It’s a simple value decision. If Game A is roughly as good as Game B and I’ll get £15 for reselling Game B but nothing for reselling Game A then B is effectively £15 cheaper and better value.

    It’s another of these times where gamers need to vote with their wallets if the fuss they are making on the internet reflects their principles. And that’s something we very rarely do.

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