Consuming Consumers: used game deception

Fighting for consumer rights.

With the flurry of rumors into the next generation of home consoles, one point in particular has solidified itself into the minds of gamers. Could used, second-hand games be restricted, even blocked completely from the new hardware? This much heated debate has gained further ground by certain gaming personalities assuming that such a move would be ‘fantastic’. Yet despite the ‘me too’ head-nodding of gaming news outlets, the truth is nowhere near as simple as some have unfortunately being made to believe. Indeed, navigate past the smoke and mirrors, and you will see there is nothing at all ‘fantastic’ about the wearisome war against used games.

Do as thou wilt…

As a novelist and business owner, I am fully aware of the politics behind the sale of consumer products. But the truth is this – a developer (or writer, etc), is only entitled to financial proceeds from the first sale of their item. If the game is then sold or traded in store, then this is the choice of the paying consumer and nothing to do with the original developer. Yes, a consumer does not ‘own’ the contents of the product itself, but they certainly do own the disk, manual and box, and can justly do what they please with it.

Yet drooling developers constantly cry about losing money to second hand sales. What they fail to mention is that their game has already achieved a brand-new sale, or else it would not have been traded in. That first sale, of course, is all they are entitled to, and any other trading of the game is the private business of those who bought it. Furthermore, used game trade-ins are constantly used to offset the cost of buying sealed, brand new ones. This is basic life logic – you get rid of the old, and in with the new. This is how things (not just games) have been sold for hundreds of years.

Games are expensive, and it is always possible to buy one you don’t like, no matter how much researching you do. Therefore it is essential that you are able to pass on, sell or trade the game of which you are finished with. This is even truer when we consider the wealth of short, soulless games which are not worth keeping after their initial run-through. To claim that your game should be ‘locked’ to your system, so that you are forced to either keep it forever or throw it in the dustbin (and your money with it), is the oppressive posturing of corporate ignorance. If such a thing was to be implemented, game sales would plummet beyond belief, and the very idea of an impulse buy would be rendered pointless if you cannot sell (or even give) the product away.

Digital Dross

Digital gaming is all well and good, until the point where you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Much is said about the ultimate shift into a fully digital gaming future, and supporters of the death of used gaming are among the keenest for this move. However, games on digital download services are usually bought when on special sale, and thus are purchased heavily reduced, often under the $15 / £10 bracket. Prices such as this are largely disposable, and thus it is not a huge concern if the game is no good or if you lost interest in it. The same is also true for mobile phone apps; which are specially designed to be sold for what could be described as ‘pocket money’.

This is not the case however, with full price, big budget games. Not only are the titles gigabytes in size, but come with no possibility of sale or trade-in when finished. This is often described as ‘games as a service’, rather than games as a standalone product. Now, this may be true with massively multiplayer online games or other entirely online games, but it is not the case with most other titles. It is just not sensible to buy an expensive (sometimes more than boxed retail), digital game if it turns out to be a 3 hour long, ‘muscles and mutants’ excuse that you have played a hundred times before.

Unfortunately, consumer rights are being eroded in far more ways than the obvious digital distribution. Online Passes, the latest weapon in the used games battle, are a bewildering addition to any corporate catalogue. With such systems, used-disc gamers are treated as criminals and issued punishments in the form of missing content. If they then crave their freedom once more, they must bend their knee and pay a ‘fine’ to the developer in order to unlock the content. Such practices are, from a business standpoint, absolutely ludicrous. This is made even worse by the torrents of day-one downloadable content (DLC) and the horrific fraud of ‘on-disc DLC’. Why should a willing, legal purchaser be expected to pay for in-game content which exists already on their full-priced disk?

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

It was perhaps inevitable that as online culture continued to encroach upon the video game landscape, that change would begin to show up in the industry. But banning used games, imposing online passes and DLC-o-rama is surely helping nobody, not least the developers themselves.

Unfortunately there exists no easy answer to what the future has in store for used games (or as we really mean – consumer rights). The media will cater for the milling throngs who all too often will see not the larger picture, and I see no immediate retreat from things such as packaging games with online passes. In the end, it is you, the consumer, who must make up your mind as to what you are prepared to support and put up with. But that does not mean you should put up with everything.

Developers on the other hand need simply to re-evaluate their war against the core consumer. If you do not want people selling your games, then just make sure that your game is worth keeping! A good game does not need restrictive barriers, or hordes of expensive DLC in order to make people want to keep it. No, a good game is a good experience, something you want to cherish and enjoy, and come back to again and again. Therefore, if used game sales mean so much to developers, they should be looking not to retailers, but to themselves for answers.

As it stands though, the industry is going through a foot-stamping phase in regards to the market of used video games. But used games have always existed, and when things are going well their existence and sale harms nothing but the developers’ Ego. Indeed, if you want to find something that is harming the gaming industry, look no further than the developers and publishers themselves.

This was a guest post by Gematsu reader and frequent commenter TezChi. If you have a well-written article you would like published, contact Sal at editor [at] gematsu [dot] com.

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