Many in the games industry have been very vocal in decrying the business of selling used games. Their arguments are numerous and homogenous: games purchased second-hand don’t compensate the creators for their hard work; second-hand resellers are exploiting the industry for their own greedy ends; second-hand sales leech revenue from the industry and will ultimately lead to less games being produced.
It’s not hard to see their point when they’re decrying the policies of a retail partner that actively encourages its customers not to buy the games new. At the same time, as a consumer, I value my rights when it comes to purchasing their product. If I don’t care for the game, I can sell it to someone else. If I’m not sure I’m going to like it, I can rent it. I can borrow it from a friend. I can trade it with someone I know for a different game. I can even bring it into a chain video game retailer and get credit for a different game.
My response to the games industry when they call for a halt to these kinds of activities is that they shouldn’t punish me because they can’t figure out a business model that works in the current climate. The recording industry is years behind where they should be, because instead of reworking their models to work in a digital, connected age, they resorted to lawsuits and legislation to save their old, outdated paradigms. People always traded music, but the Internet made it easier to do so on a much wider scale. Likewise, people have always sold and traded their games, but the rapid expansion of retailers that lean heavily on used game sales has made it much easier to do on a wider scale.
It seems like they’re finally taking my advice. When you buy Rock Band 2 new, it includes a one-time-use code that lets you download twenty additional songs. Late in the retail cycle of Call of Duty 4, they started packing in a code that let you download four multiplayer maps for free. The newly-released NBA Live 2008 has a redemption code that lets you access one of the most highly-touted new features, the ability to download real-time stats from the actual NBA into your virtual league on a daily basis. If you buy the game second-hand, you have to pay an additional twenty dollars to download this feature. All of these can be seen as ways to incentivize consumers to purchase new rather than used, reversing the training that the biggest games retailer has been barking for years. The first time Joe Consumer buys a game and finds out that he can’t take advantage of all the features because he bought it used, he’ll think twice the next time he has the choice between a new or used copy.
Unfortunately, as these moves become more prevalent, the consumer is ultimately going to be caught in the crossfire. If you’re the type to rent a game before trying it out, some features won’t be accessible for you. If you buy a game and end up not liking it, you’re not going to see much resell value for something that’s incomplete for all but the original user.
Luckily, these aren’t the only models the industry is examining in order to staunch their perceived loss of profits from the used games market. The game that’s doing it right, in my opinion, is Burnout Paradise. While other models rely on negative reinforcement (“buy this game used, and you don’t get everything”), Paradise instead employs positive incentive. On a regular basis since the game’s release, the developers at Criterion have been releasing substantial content updates to the game, doing everything from adding new cars and reworking the game’s HUD to offering the addition of motorcycles (a Burnout first) and building a whole new level progression to go with them. Now, a lot of games offer a lot of DLC; the difference is that the DLC in Paradise is free. Instead of punishing you for buying a used copy, they are rewarding you for not selling the copy you bought. Not only that, but they earn revenue on people who buy used copies — not by forcing them to pay for things that come for free in new copies, but by adding non-intrusive advertising into the game.
Another fairly new practice that seems to be aimed at this struggle is being tested with the release of LittleBigPlanet and Dead Space. Both games offer free DLC that is only going to be available at the launch of those games. If you wait for a used copy of those games, you miss out on exclusive costumes for Sackboy in LittleBigPlanet and an exclusive, platform-specific suit for Isaac in Dead Space. The suit in Dead Space offers gameplay advantages like additional inventory slots and reduced damage taken, and only people who get these games when they’re first released will get this DLC free of charge. Perhaps this is only trying to boost the games’ all-important first-week sales, but I’m sure that at least part of the reason for these promotions is to convert used buyers into new buyers.
I really hope that the consumer-friendly models exemplified by Burnout Paradise, LittleBigPlanet, and Dead Space are successful. I don’t want games to be tiered, with people who buy new getting a superior experience over those with less disposable income, who buy used or rent their games. I’d like to see more companies give me a reason to keep their games for longer periods of time, or at least rewarding people who buy their products new without removing significant features from everyone else.