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
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?