A while back, a rumor was circulating that the next generation of the Xbox would not support used games, and I did a little speculating on how Microsoft and Sony could actually pull that off. While I think my original theory is still possible, I would like assert that it’s highly improbable that any of the big three would put a system in place on their console to prevent used games from playing. It would be suicide.
Imagine you, a gamer who utilizes used games on a frequent basis, hears that Microsoft is actually going to prevent used games from playing on their console without a second purchase that gives you the rights to play that game. Do you know what I would do? I would get angry. Do you know what Sony would do? They would do the exact opposite of Microsoft. If I was a PR rep for Sony, I would shout it from the rooftops that the PS4 would play used games without any extra charge. I would gleefully send press releases to every gaming site, magazine and TV show extolling the virtues of my new PS4 and its ability to play the newest Spider-Man game that your friend will lend you after he realizes it sucks. I would drape myself in the robes of the common gamer and shout, “I am one of you and this shall not stand!”
So, let’s imagine you are GameStop and Microsoft makes this announcement. Would you be happy? Used games are a major part of your business model and Microsoft is going to lose you money. I would take the gamble that their decision will be an unpopular one and consider not carrying their stuff. It would be a gamble, but I’m sure Sony and Nintendo would love to give me some exclusive deals if I refused to play ball with their competitor. Besides, I’m GameStop, no matter how much developers and publishers rail about used games, I still get all the exclusive content on launch day, and that tells me that what I do is just fine. It’s those gamers that are buying the used games and stealing that money from those poor developers. GameStop is, without a doubt, a huge influence in the gaming industry. Best Buy is having financial trouble and that leaves Walmart and GameStop to be the major retailers of games in North America and Europe. GameStop has the clout and will definitely use it to try and influence console makers, publishers and developers to play ball and gamers usually win when GameStop wins. I want to point out that I said usually!
Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo aren’t stupid. They know that there is the potential for a massive backfire if they announce that their console won’t support used games. After the rumor about this was circulating, I actually tried to get Microsoft to comment and they wouldn’t go anywhere near me. Publishers and developers want you to stop buying used games, but none of the big three care that much and so publishers and developers are going to try and come up with some things on their own like online passes, but they are going to be doing them independently of the big three and that leaves gamers with some power. It may not be a great deal of power, but when you get the opportunity to skip out on a game, because you don’t want to deal with an online pass system, you can. I skipped out of Homefront, because of that and I’ve talked to a few gamers who decided not to buy Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, because they had other gamers in the house that would have required a separate pass.
What developers can do about used games
It constantly baffles me why I can purchase a used game for a cheaper price on a console than a digitally distributed copy of a game. Did you know that when you purchase a game that is digitally distributed through Xbox Live, PSN, Steam, Windows Live or the Wii Shop Channel the developer and publisher get a bigger percentage of the cut than if the game was bought new on a disc? The percentage tends to vary, but it is always much more. If they make more money then why do games on Xbox Live cost more than their used counterparts?
As an experiment, I looked into three games that were all popular when they were originally released, but are a little old. Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock and Fallout 3 are all available on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Assassin’s Creed is $20 on Xbox Live for a digital copy, but on Half.com a used copy is about $7 and a copy at GameStop is about $13. Bioshock is $20.00 on Xbox Live, but a used copy is about $10 on Half.com and at GameStop. Fallout 3 is $30 on Xbox Live without any of the five DLC packs, but The Game of the Year Edition, which includes all the DLC is about $31 on Half.com and about $20 at GameStop.
If publishers and developers are serious about competing with used game sales then this is an excellent place to begin. Why not simply cut the price for a digital version to compete with a used version? Right now there is no competition. I’m going to continue buying all my games that I didn’t buy at launch through a used game website or store like Half.com, Amazon.com or GameStop. They are always cheaper and I can still trade them into a store for credit or cash and I can lend them to a friend who will follow suit.
If publishers and developers are serious about used game sales, they need to try and find ways to compete, not ways to shut down the competition. If they focus their efforts on that, then gamers may have a little less money in their pockets when they go to sell a game, but they will have access to cheaper games to balance it out.