Side Notes About Used Games

There has been a bit of a controversial breeze blowing through the console news, with the rumor being that Microsoft will be putting an end to the used game market with their next generation console by simply not allowing it to play used games.

Used games and piracy are the two things that keep some big game publishing execs up at night building enormous castles in the sky with all the wealth that could be theirs if only they could be rid of these meddlesome practices.

Not that I am unsympathetic to people whose software is being pirated.  I work in software as well, and it irks.

But with the threat of a final solution to the used game problem potentially on the horizon, it was extremely refreshing to hear somebody from EA come out and say that the used games market is not 100% evil.

Basically, in their view, used games have helped prop up the traditional retail channel for the last few years, which is still an important source of game sales.

Oh, and the fact that people who buy new games can then turn around and trade them in for credit increases the likelihood that they will then buy another new game.  So the used games market might actually be boosting new game sales, at least in certain segments of the market.

Using Used to sell New

Using Used to sell New

But they still want to kill the used market because… despite the above… they still hate it and can’t stop telling themselves that every used game sale would have been a new game sale if not for that damn gray market.

At the other end of the equation there is GameStop, a company that pretty much depends on used games to stay open.  They are upset.

No surprise there.

And they have some numbers that say some gamers won’t buy Microsoft’s icky new console if it doesn’t support used games.  And while I cannot speak to the validity of their poll, they are probably right to be worried.  The end of the used game market probably means the end of GameStop in the medium-to-long term.

And GameFly too, while we’re at it.  All those game rentals would have been new game sales, right?

Microsoft dreams of having control over things in the way that Steam does.  And they have been headed that way with things like direct purchases through XBLA.  Of course, Steam itself is in a bit of a fix in Europe, where the European High Court ruled that digital content should be transferable.  The concept of used might not be going away… and Microsoft throwing in against used will probably just inflame the issue in Europe.  They like Microsoft even less than most people here do.

And I expect typical Microsoft avarice when it comes to pricing, at least initially, which will stoke people’s ire even more so.  Steam thrives in part because of their massive sales, which rope in the buyers who didn’t have to have a given game on day one for list price.  Will Microsoft relent on the $60 price tag for games when there is no used market?  I bet not.

My only solace in all of this is that it does not impact me for the most part.

While we have two consoles, a Wii and a PlayStation 3, but I doubt that we will be jumping on the next generation.  I have been a PC gamer since 1983… wow, 30 years… and will likely remain so.  Our PS3 is mostly used to play Blu-Ray movies and stream Netflix, and our Wii hasn’t been on in months.

And, even when we were playing consoles more, I was not a big spender in the used game market.

Once in a while I would buy a used game from GameStop.

But I do not buy used games to save money or to stick it to the publisher.  I buy them because a given game I want simple isn’t available new any more.

Quite a while back I wanted Tetris for the Nintendo DS.  However, it was no longer being published and so was simply not available new.  It was even hard to find used.  GameStop had a copy for me, for which I paid nearly list price.  And not a penny of that went to Nintendo.  But not because I wouldn’t have given them the money.  However, I am sure that would lump me in with those killing single player games in the eyes of some.

Likewise, I had to go looking for a copy of Civilization II in order to be able to play it on Windows 7 64-bit.  The used market was the only choice.  The same went for Mario Kart Double Dash, a Game Cube game my daughter and I wanted to play on the Wii.

Of course, with another aspect of the next console generation… doing away with backward compatibility… the out of print game issue won’t rear its head any time soon.  Still, at some point, unless we go completely to digital distribution, there will games that have had their production run and are no longer available.

So where do used games sit in your world view?

18 thoughts on “Side Notes About Used Games

  1. Tesh

    I buy and sell used games. Have for twenty years. I want to see Microsoft try this, just to see it blow up in their face. It should be an expensive lesson to learn, but it seems like that’s the only way they will learn it.

    I don’t like piracy either, and I don’t pirate, but the industry isn’t going to solve piracy by being control freaks.


  2. Matt

    Honestly, I’d be surprised if in 10 years there are still upfront sales of non-indie games. I think the vast majority will have moved to subscriber access to an open-ended service, similar to netflix for movies. Think, you pay Microsoft 60 dollars a month or so and you get access to all XBOX2880 games. You pay Steam some fee a month and you have access to all Steam games. This would also get around the transferable rights issue, since there is no longer any property to transfer.

    Some indie games will remain buyable due to not being on a streaming platform.


  3. Ysharros

    Equating used games with piracy is a cheap way to prop up a pretty crappy argument. I don’t like piracy either, so by extension I shouldn’t like used games? Think again, MicroBorg.

    Given that we’re only sort-of console players, the spousal unit and I buy quite a few used games (well, quite a few for us — say 5-10 a year? — from GameStop mostly) because we don’t necessarily want to shell out $60 for something we’re not sure we’ll like or play much. Take that away and no, we won’t buy them new: we just won’t buy them at all. By extension, if we can’t buy used games for the new console, we won’t buy the new console either.

    Silly Microsoft. This will bite them in the ass.


  4. Shivoa

    I used to be somewhat active in generating and consuming used games many, many years ago (when money was of the ‘pocket’ variety and car boot sales were the primary source of games outside of b-days and Christmas) but far more important was the ability to borrow a game or lend something which a friend should play but was insufficiently motivated to exhaust their own cash reserves on. In the last decade my earlier mistakes (selling my copies of Amplitude and Frequency being the last generation of used games that stings with regret) have stopped me from disposing any of my games archive. And then Steam arrived and promised low, low prices and no physical storage issues at the cost of removing an option I had decided never to exercise again. PC rentals aren’t a thing in the UK (any rental thing was destroyed in cd keys in the late 90s), although I remember renting floppy copies of games from the video rental store when I was a kid.

    As for consoles, we’re already in a place where we don’t own the hardware (by the definition of if you own a CPU you get to decide what code executes on it) but for that price we get devices sold below cost for their first few years on the market and software designed to best exploit the maximum potential of that fixed spec. We don’t yet have affordable digital game sales (PSN is sorta-trying with some sales and PS+ is a weird sale/rental hybrid idea) and without control of the hardware you can’t guarantee that the store won’t close down and lock you out of being able to play what you paid for (if Steam dies tomorrow then we all agree to work together to recreate the complete file archive and torrent it with cracked DRM to ensure we can play the games we legally paid of tomorrow – it’s a too big to fail model running on top of hardware we own and so can control).

    I don’t use used games but I sure do rent quite a few games a year (comes for basically free on top of the UK’s main movie by post/streaming offering) and if I really enjoy them I’ll buy a copy that will remain sealed on my shelf for posterity (praying the hardware doesn’t die before realistic emulation of the thing on a PC is possible). My enthusiasm for a new generation is severely weakened by the joke launch software prices (normalising for sales tax differences, the UK console games have launched at $65 + tax for the last two generations but once the install base grows then even retail locations drop to a $45 + tax price tag for new games) as the SRP can be as much as $80 + tax today. Without rentals to reduce risk then I’d be incredibly selective about what I purchased, to the point where I’d probably wait out one or two price drops for the hardware before buying the console (and scooping up the best early titles at sale prices). The power of the PC to offer decent 1080p+ gaming for several years and the ports from traditional console titles being stronger on PC (baring the occasional bad port, but it is night and day compared with 5-10 years ago) means consoles are now relegated to being only for exclusive titles and renting games I’m unsure about the worth of. Without rentals (sacrificed at the alter of used games) then even if the games are better than the PC ports can offer I’m not sure I’m ready to jump in.

    My obscene Steam library indicates they can win me over with price and consistent sales if I have faith my digital purchases won’t one day vanish into the aether. I’m not sure how they’d be able to give me confidence in my digital purchases as the console model doesn’t involve giving me ownership of the hardware.


  5. bhagpuss

    I often ask this, but of course circumstances change all the time so it bears repeating: you say you’ve been a PC gamer for 30 years. I’ve been one for half that; are you still confident that that can go on indefinitley?

    Dell are changing direction because of falling PC sales. Microsoft are scrabbling to adapt to new orthodoxies biting into their core product. I’ve read a number of projections that suggest that most people who currently own a desktop PC will never buy another one and full-scale Laptops may not be far behind.

    It’s not hard to imagine that in ten years, perhaps even five, there will be no domestic PC market at all. Various companies, of course, could be selling a console that is analogous to a PC, with keyboard and mouse pressed into use purely as gaming peripherals, and as I think you have pointed out rightly before, there’s no obvious superior means for either composition or data input than a full-size keyboard, so maybe that will keep some form of PC in the market.

    I don’t know. I’m already beginning to make the mental adjustments in advance for the day when I have to buy my first console since the Atari 2600 and a wallscreen to go with it.

    Oh, and on used games, since I pretty much only play MMOs and they pretty much can’t be re-used, I haven’t bought one for about twenty years.


  6. Rkik

    I am of two minds on this.

    On one hand, I love used games. There is a locally owned (non-Game Stop) small chain of used game stores in my area that I gladly support because they are owned by friends of mine. I will always buy a game used from them if I can, because I would rather support them than the Walmart next door.

    Also, I prefer to buy used because of the discount. It’s really a case of buy at a discount, or don’t buy at all. There are only a few select games that I will buy new, and many of those are because I got hooked on the series by a used game. I’m much more willing to take a chance on an unknown game for $15 used than $60 (or even $30) new. Once I know that I can reliably expect a certain level of quality from a developer/series, then I will support them by buying new.

    The other hand is Steam. As mentioned, Steam doesn’t have “used” but it does have sales. The sales work the same for me as used games. I’ll take a chance on a $5-10 game on Steam. If it weren’t for the sales, I’d never consider playing some games. The other thing Steam has is convenience. I will accept the inability to buy/sell used games on Steam because Steam provides a service above and beyond just games. I know that I don’t have to worry about losing the disks. I can install a game on multiple PCs. I know that as long as I have access to my account, I have access to my games. Also, Steam is willing to relent on the “always connected” part of things, so if I do want to play a game without an internet connection, I still have that ability.

    If Microsoft starts providing a service as well as Steam on the next Xbox, then I can start supporting that. I don’t see that happening soon, though.


  7. Tesh

    @Bhagpuss I’m not convinced that PCs will go away any time soon. Win8’s touchy-feely mutant OS and the whole touchscreen tech wave is not a replacement for mouse/keyboard usability. It’s a sister product, sure, and is better for some things, but it’s absolute crap for others. It’s like the Kinect for the XBox; great for things it’s designed for, but awful for others. The market might shrink somewhat, but it won’t die out.


  8. HarbingerZero

    I don’t like it, but its not a dumb move on Microsoft’s part. And its not even the first step. They are moving into a very profitable area – streaming subscription models for games. After all, isn’t that what is already happening with games like Call of Duty, Madden, and even, to an extent Pokemon? Every so often, you have a big buy in, and then you pay a monthly fee to continue playing the game. MS puts Gamestop out of business, then charges you $15 a month for XBox Silver, where you can emulate/stream your old favorites. And then for $5 or $10 a month more, you can unlock channels..err, franchises – the above mentioned games. Not unlike cable and dish companies operate today – only with the added bonus that the dvd player is connected to the “box” and every 3-5 years, any “box” you buy (or rent?) from them becomes obsolete. So even if a used game market does continue, its back will have been broken and its viability limited.


  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I see consoles and PCs converging in some distant future, when they both become commodities to the point that color and brand cachet are the biggest factors in making a purchasing decisions. But not any time soon.

    The primary barrier between the two will remain openness.

    Consoles are more consumer-like items, though you still have to have the “what’s the difference between RAM and HD memory?” conversation with some relatives if you are the family tech guy.

    But consoles are also closed systems. You do not get on the Wii or the PS3 or the XBox 360 unless Nintendo/Sony/Microsoft lets you, which generally involves money and complex contractual deals.

    The defining point of a PC, for me now, is that it is an open system. You can buy or download software from anybody you want and install it. That is pretty important to the average user and critically important to the business world, where all sorts of custom applications spring up. The IT department hates that you can run any old crap you want on your PC, but they need to run apps they build as well, so they put up with it. (The biggest collection of unauthorized apps… and porn… in any big company is always on machines in the IT department.) And business, which took to the PC back in the early 80s and put them on all of our desks, isn’t going to do away with them and their openness any time soon. That alone will keep the PC market afloat.

    Now, Microsoft and Apple are both making moves towards a less open system. On the Apple front there is the Mac App Store built-in and a lack of optical drives on the new iMacs. And then there is Microsoft and their ham-fisted efforts to hide other outlets behind their Windows Store apps.

    But that won’t fly for most people. The day those two close off their OS environments ala iPhone is the day that Linux will becomes the dominant desktop OS. (We already have Steam there, waiting for us.)

    So no, I see a long future ahead for PCs, given the “openness” definition I have for them to distinguish them from consoles.


  10. Knug

    I’ve been a computer gamer for longer than 30 years . . . I bought my first computer game (not typed in, but bought) exactly 36 years ago March.

    I’ve never bought a used game. I have purchased games through good old games, but those games were for games I had purchased but lost/misplaced/lent original CDs.

    We have a Wii, and my sons have new wii games and borrow wii games from our public library (woo !). As I’m not a console gamer, who I strongly suspect the entire used game market is based around, I won’t be terribly upset at the loss personally. However, I am fully supportive of the right to resell. And resell functional software. Software houses may hate the secondary market, but all I can say is tough. Ford doesn’t get a cut when I resell, why should software companies. Random House doesn’t get a cut when I resell a book, why should software companies.

    Software is a product, not a service. The MMO fees I pay are for the added content that is a service, that came with the free software they had me download to enjoy their service.

    As a note, the last computer game that wasn’t an MMO and wasn’t a GOG repurchase was Plants vs. Zombies. And that was many years ago. . .


  11. Whorhay

    Knug has it about nailed for me. Software is a product. If you want patches, maintenance and such that can be counted as a service and they should charge for it. I’ve never personally bought a used game but there is no sane reason they shouldn’t be viable.


  12. Mekhios

    I have to be honest I have never purchased a used game. Also the market for used games here in Australia is small to non-existant. The last store chain that specialised in used games closed a couple of years ago due to a lack of profitable market. EB Games AU still deals in used PS3/Xbox games but I think the format lends itself to the used game market.

    I am assuming due to the sheer size of the US market used PC games are still a profitable enterprise.


  13. Aufero

    I purchased a few used games in the 90’s, but the advent of digital distribution pretty much killed my desire to buy used games – especially in the last few years, when sites like Good Old Games started offering the stuff I still wanted to play but couldn’t buy anymore. (Gamestop had stopped carrying anything I wanted to buy several years previously, even on the used games rack.)

    As for the long-predicted death of PC gaming, until the time between console generations (4-5 years) gets closer to the time it takes for computer hardware to double in capacity (every 18 months since 1958 and still going strong – see Moore’s Law) it ain’t gonna happen. There’s just too much money to be made selling the latest hardware to people (like me) who don’t want to wait for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo to get with the program.


  14. Stabs

    I wonder what Microsoft will do if they launch their new console and people don’t buy it. Seems like a high risk strategy – what if they launch and say “bwa ha ha, no used games here” and Sony say “just buy a Playstation 4 if you want to sell your games on.”

    There’s also a demographic issue. Richer older players may be at peak game buying which will decline. Younger players who resell a lot will have more purchasing power next decade. If one console supports second hand games and one doesn’t then the former gets all the teenagers.


  15. Azuriel

    I have always said that the used game market is simply the new game market at a lower price-point. If Microsoft (etc) believe that many people spending $60 on Day 1 will continue spending $60 when they realize that the math is no longer “$30 + $30 used game deposit,” well, I can’t wait for those fireworks.

    As for premonitions for the collapse of PC gaming, I find that a bit absurd. What you might see are less companies pumping out games that require new $1500 rigs to play on normal settings, but that will be the extent of it. iPhones and the like can replace a lot of the traditional browsing and content-creation (forums, Youtube, Facebook, etc) tools, but there is only so much a 4″-10″ touchscreen can do. The population that is evaporating are the ones who never were “PC users/gamers” – those that had no other means of accessing AIM and MSN and email before smartphones/tablets came out.


  16. mbp

    It seems to me that bricks and mortar game stores have a lot more to worry about than used game sales. In my country two of the three biggest game retailers went bust within the last year. Only Gamestop is left and in my opinion .comthey are already living on borrowed time. Regardless of whether or not next gen consoles allow used games they will certainly have greatly expanded digital download capability. Sure Microsoft and Sony will screw around for a bit with silly download prices ( download dearer than retail) but it won’t be long before everyone raises that there is more money to be made with lower prices. Valve have proven this time and again. When you can download new game for the price of a second hand game the second hand market becomes irrelevant.


  17. mbp

    I have no idea where the spurious “.com” came from in the above comment but I like it. Sadly the domain name “” is already taken by a camper.


  18. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @mbp – Spurious .com? Were you typing on an iOS device?

    I would say that, at least in the case of GameStop, there is no worry for them greater than the end of used games. That is their bread and butter, especially when you look at margins and such.

    And you and I might think Microsoft and Sony will see reason on price because, hey, it works for Steam. But Steam actually faces competition. They have to give you a reason to choose them. Sony and Microsoft control the whole channel for their consoles. My faith in them relaxing pricing is very limited.

    @Knug – And if you want to count playing games on computers, I can tack on another five to seven years, depending on how you count it. Does wheedling time on the accounting system to play Star Trek count? But for my 30 year number, I am counting forward from when I actually purchased an Apple ][+ for my very own, so could over-indulge to my heart’s content. From that point, there was no turning back.


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