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Used games, the letters of marque of the gaming world?
August 26, 2010 9:29 AM   Subscribe

THQ's Cory Ledesma opened the flood gates in his interview about used games. Penny Arcade sides with publishers on the issue, citing issues with the used game market.

Of course, used games seem to be the money maker for Gamestop. The issue has been addressed before, but not from the publishers perspective. And the stores that Tycho mentions as not in the used game biz, desperately want to enter. Ars Technica sides against used games, much to the chagrin of their commenters. THQ tries to soften the message, but the core statement remains, used game lockout is a path the company will be taking in the future. There are defenders of the used game market, but only from the customer's standpoint. The issue of whether used games are cheating or a legitimate way to get a game on the cheap is coming to a head.
posted by Carillon (170 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't think of a single industry where this is actually the case. Why are video games different? Used books, used CDs, and used DVDs are all consistently bought and sold. The only reason they are doing this is because they can - in ways that are not available to those other industries - and because they think it will help them sell more new copies - which it probably will.

I don't mind them doing this, really, but saying it's for rewarding the gamer in any fashion is just spin.
posted by scrutiny at 9:35 AM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I believe both of the following to be true:

1. Used games are perfectly legitimate.

2. Used games suck for game companies.
posted by kmz at 9:36 AM on August 26, 2010 [51 favorites]


Here's an economic argument for the used game market that demonstrates an advantage for publishers.

Secondary sales function as a kind of delayed rebate that is free to the publisher, which allows the publisher to increase the original price and thus recover some of the revenue lost to the secondary market.

For example, suppose I could sell a game I bought for $60 for $55 after I finished it in a week. I'm really only out $5 plus the opportunity cost of losing $55 for a week. That's not very much. The publisher could probably raise the price significantly and I would still consider it a good deal.

Of course, in the real world it's more like selling a $60 game for $10 in store credit after a few months, so the effect is much smaller in practice, but it's still there.

Another argument is that a strong secondary market encourages investment in 'riskier' games. If a game is highly polarizing or only fits a niche audience (and I'm not sure I'm a member of that audience), then I am more likely to buy the game knowing I can sell it on the secondary market if I don't like it. Without a secondary market, I might never take a chance on the game in the first place, since I know that if I don't like it I'm stuck with it.

True, a publisher would prefer everyone bought a copy of the game from them, but that's not going to happen, and at the margins the secondary market can have (somewhat attenuated) benefits for publishers.
posted by jedicus at 9:36 AM on August 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


You used to be able to sell used books, can you do the same with digital books?
posted by pibeandres at 9:37 AM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Don't see Valve complaining. Hmm.
posted by koeselitz at 9:38 AM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


And yes, if game companies want to provide incentives for people to buy new, that's perfectly legitimate too.
posted by kmz at 9:38 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


are these people going to argue against libraries? how is a game different from a book or a movie? why does the first-sale doctrine not apply to videogames?
posted by gorestainedrunes at 9:38 AM on August 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's easy enough to be against used games when you've got publishers sending you their latest and greatest on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, back on planet earth, it seems like the price point for a new console game had settled right around sixty bucks... and, dude, money ain't growing on trees for a middle class schlub like myself.
posted by kbanas at 9:40 AM on August 26, 2010 [13 favorites]


It's weird for me. I can't recall the last time I bought a used game. I don't do it for whatever reason, and yet I feel quite strongly that this lockout by publishers is wrong. It's surprising for me to be on the opposite end of people and blogs I usually agree with, but I can't see much of an argument from the customer's perspective that justifies this behavior. They seem to be screwing their fans for short term gain, ignoring perhaps the long term effects. Then again, maybe the developers are really hurting for cash, and this really cuts into their income stream, but even if that is the case, why are they punishing fans instead of trying to get a cut of the used game market?
posted by Carillon at 9:42 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't see Valve complaining. Hmm.

Well, I would imagine Steam is a huge chunk of their business, and there's no used games market on Steam, right?

BTW, since discovering Goozex my wife and I have pretty much sworn off ever selling back used games, books, etc to regular stores. The margin is murder. Whereas Goozex is more or less an even trade (modulo shipping costs and the $1/item tokens).
posted by kmz at 9:42 AM on August 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


The ArsTechnica article is a bit simplistic:

Video games are different than most other used products, as the quality of the product doesn't decrease with age;

That's ridiculous as anyone has blown into a cartridge will tell you. How long are the DVD/CD games going to last? 10, 15 years? There's all kinds of things, that when taken care of properly, will last a lifetime or more. I have a friend who runs a working farm and while it is a very high-tech operation, they still have farm equipment from the 50s that's good for everyday use.

It is not just video games, Kindle, etc. are just giving you a lease. I wouldn't be oppose to this, but they're pricing it the same as traditional goods that have the right of second sale while making the claim that they have to do this to stay in business, etc.

Thank god for piracy, at least I don't feel like I'm totally being fucked, I can at least try it out before I buy.
posted by geoff. at 9:43 AM on August 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


Yes, but Valve often sells front-line titles for what jedicus considers "opportunity cost" and they have frequent sales where the prices are almost absurdly low.

You don't see book publishers doing what Valve does -- selling digital copies for 1/2 or 1/3 the price of physical ones. (And that's why I don't buy digital books, while I am a a happy Steam customer.)

I think many content sellers have a lot to learn from Valve's Steam sales model.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:43 AM on August 26, 2010 [13 favorites]


I'd be interested to know what a company like THQ makes on things like pre-orders. It seems like if they really detest Gamestop, they could attempt to stop working with companies like Gamestop (although I am reminded of the Garth Brooks PR fiasco when he tried to keep a CD out of stores that sell used CDs, anyone remember that?)

My point is, last time I was at a Gamestop I saw plenty of new games on the shelves, plus posters for upcoming releases by big studios, plus game demos by those studios on the kiosks, and then the cashier wanted to upsell me on pre-orders for unreleased games and ancillary products like strategy guides, etc. I think the big game studios make a lot of cash at brick and mortar game stores, none of which could stay in business if not for used game sales. Kind of seems like THQ wants to have it's cake and eat it too.
posted by chaff at 9:45 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Makers of video games, like the makers of CDs, DVDs, and books, believe fervently in the right of private property right up until the moment you attempt to sell the property you purchased from them.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:45 AM on August 26, 2010 [42 favorites]


(Sorry for the comment spam, I keep thinking of new things...)

Part of the problem with places like Gamestop is that their used games are usually barely cheaper than new. I guess I'm used to the Half Price Books model where you charge at most half price for used books. $55 instead of $60 (or $27 instead of $30) doesn't seem like a huge discount to me.

As it is, even without Goozex we've only bought a game at the standard price once, for Mass Effect 2. Everything else we wait until they drop to at least the $30 range.
posted by kmz at 9:46 AM on August 26, 2010


why does the first-sale doctrine not apply to videogames?

I'm not sure anyone is arguing that it doesn't or shouldn't. The publishers are arguing that the used market hurts them, so they're going to take steps to eliminate the used market. It's a bit like if the music industry moved to an all-streaming, all-subscription market (e.g., if services like Rhapsody were the only way to get RIAA member owned music).

Valve often sells front-line titles for what jedicus considers "opportunity cost"

I don't think you understand what I meant by opportunity cost. In my example, the opportunity cost is what you could've done with $55 for a week before you recovered it via the used market.* Since there is no used market on Steam, what you said doesn't make a lot of sense.

* For example, maybe there was a one-time concert in town that you could've seen had you not bought the game; sure you have the money back now, but the chance to see the concert is gone.
posted by jedicus at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2010


BTW, since discovering Goozex my wife and I have pretty much sworn off ever selling back used games, books, etc to regular stores. The margin is murder. Whereas Goozex is more or less an even trade (modulo shipping costs and the $1/item tokens).

Goozex does books? I can't find that on the site.

But I'll give another vote for using Goozex instead of something like gamestop. The $1 tokens is a small price to pay for the company matching buyers/seller and guaranteeing the trade.
posted by recursion at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Video games are different than most other used products, as the quality of the product doesn't decrease with age;

Sure they do. The platform on which they run degrades with age--consoles get old and wonky, PCs get OS upgrades that the game is not designed to run on. More importantly, any game with a community component has a practical lifespan tied to the arc of the community. I bought BF2142 a couple years ago, and found just enough servers available to keep me playing for a year or so, but nowadays I'm lucky to see 20-40 servers with green lag, of which maybe half are significantly populated.

The widespread lifespan of a game (i.e., outside of niche hobbyist markets like Atari 2600 collectors) is, at this point, about 5-10 years under ideal conditions. After that it's landfill material.
posted by fatbird at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I believe both of the following to be true:

1. Used games are perfectly legitimate.

2. Used games suck for game companies who think they should be paid per person-who-enjoys-a-game instead of per item-they-produce.

posted by DU at 9:48 AM on August 26, 2010 [21 favorites]


Just wait a year and buy the "greatest hits" version. You pay 1/3 the price and (most of) the total garbage is filtered out for you.

The huge problem for publishers is that nearly all games now how significant ongoing costs. Unless you can get away with subscription fees (coming soon to everything near you) then you have substantially higher support cost for a game that you don't generate any additional revenue for.

What I don't understand is why anyone would buy a used game from these bozos anyway. You barely save 10% and you know all the money is going to a crappy chain that can't even manage to stock anything that hasn't been pre-ordered.
posted by ecurtz at 9:49 AM on August 26, 2010


Hmm. Pretty much inevitable if games companies are running servers and supporting online games, no?
posted by Artw at 9:50 AM on August 26, 2010


Ugh, I have to go to work and don't have time for something that's thought about.

I, personally, think that it's stupid. The publisher made their money already.
posted by hellojed at 9:51 AM on August 26, 2010


Goozex does books? I can't find that on the site.

Aw crap, sorry that was a brainfart. I think there are book swapping sites out there though.
posted by kmz at 9:52 AM on August 26, 2010


Digital distribution services like Steam and Xbox Live Arcade have proven themselves convenient enough and provide enough benefits over retail that I don't mind giving up the ability to buy or sell used copies at a reduced price.

However, tactics like bundling one-time-use codes with retail games that unlocks multiplayer mode or other content that already exists on the disc are underhanded and is something that I do not appreciate at all. If you're going to force me to buy a physical object from a store, don't try to make a used copy less desirable by pulling shit like that.

I understand if the industry is pissed at GameStop (et al.) for making massive profits on used games that they don't see a dime of, but I'd rather see them cut GameStop out of the chain entirely and just let me buy my damn ones and zeros directly without involving boxes of air.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 9:52 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


$55 instead of $60 (or $27 instead of $30) doesn't seem like a huge discount to me.

I used to think the same thing except that it is the exact same as a new copy. GameStop even guarantees it. There's no rational reason to go with the more expensive copy.

While I agree the price is often negligible, it does add up, especially if you play a lot of video games. Plus when you're done with it, you can then sell back your used copy. So if you're aggressive about it, you're look at:

$55 ($5 savings)
Buy back ($20) ($25 savings)

That's a 42% saving on each game you buy. This breaks down on non-popular games, but the used copies are cheaper, so it evens out. If a used copy exists, you're really foolish not to buy it.
posted by geoff. at 9:52 AM on August 26, 2010


why does the first-sale doctrine not apply to videogames?

Publishers of all kinds of content are trying to use technology to circumvent first-sale doctrine rights, whether through DRM or some other method, because publishers have never liked first-sale rights or used markets. The precedents that were set 100 years ago were designed to protect consumers, and represent a lot more consumer-friendly view of copyright than today's climate. Now that those precedents aren't directly applicable to technologies that weren't considered last century, it's unlikely that anyone is going to step in and ensure that consumers retain those rights in these new situations.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:52 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Books and movies and games are not the same thing. Books, let's face it, are not even in the same ballgame. Sure you spend money marketing them, but you don't have a team of hundreds of professionals working for years on a book. Movies are usually consumed only once, providing about 90 minutes of entertainment for $8-12 to millions of viewers.

Games, especially multiplayer games, can be played for years, and can have just as much development cost as movies. You have to learn how to play a game, and it can take a significant time investment to get good at it. Since games are software, they are complicated to produce and are limited in their potential customer base. Per hour of entertainment, games are pretty damned cheap compared to books or movies, though their cultural value isn't as high, in my opinion.

I think development houses need to get with digital distribution only, so they can keep prices low. Steam is pretty much doing this now, and is doing quite well, from what I understand. Lower prices mean more customers and happier customers. As long as you have the same e-mail address, you can't lose a game or scratch a disc. It outweighs the downside of requiring an internet connection, at least for me.
posted by atypicalguy at 9:54 AM on August 26, 2010


Makers of video games, like the makers of CDs, DVDs, and books, believe fervently in the right of private property right up until the moment you attempt to sell the property you purchased from them.

Property rights are not an all or nothing proposition. An important aspect of a property right is the ability to carve out parts of it. There is no hypocrisy in a video game publisher fervently supporting its property right in a title while also moving to a model where they sell non-transferable licenses rather than transferable physical embodiments.

Consider this: if you're a homeowner, you've probably granted easements to your utility companies to run power, water, sewer, and gas lines to your house. It is in no way hypocritical that you only granted the utilities an easement while retaining a full property right over the rest of your land. Rather, tailoring the rights granted to the particular situation gives people the flexibility necessary to maximize the value of their property. The publishers are doing the same thing.

Now, you can argue that it's bad for video game buyers, but that's a different issue.
posted by jedicus at 9:57 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's weird for me. I can't recall the last time I bought a used game.

That's not surprising when they sell for 90% of the new price. I did buy one a few days ago because there was a "30% off used games" sale, which made the discount much deeper. But otherwise, no.

(I then ran into the most convincing DLC scheme ever, having decided I would opt for no DLC until finishing the game as-is and then decide if it is worth it, encountering this place/quest in-game and being sufficiently intrigued to fork over the cash/points... grah)

on preview: That's a 42% saving on each game you buy.

GOTY editions are cheap (and complete), and I don't sell good games after I'm done with them.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:57 AM on August 26, 2010


Video games are different from other media in the fact that many single-player games are seen by many to be trainers to get ready for multi-player internet-based games. That requires that someone maintain servers and keep patching the bugs and holes that are discovered over time. No other used market has the potential to require continuous manufacturer support, even for people who bought used copies.

One answer would be for developers to release the server software and/or code to the public after a period of time, and user beware beyond that. If you want product support, buy the newer games. But this means losing control of a segment of your products, and potentially a future market. I imagine that multi-player server software doesn't change drastically from one developer's game to the next, so if you were to open up or even give away the software, there is a chance people could find ways to make it work with new games, bypassing the need to use (and potentially pay for) the latest multi-player network support. And if a multiplayer server is closed down, a few vocal players will create a scene and try to stage boycotts of the development company or other public tactics.

But single-player games? They're no different from CDs and DVDs, digital content that can be resold in "flawless" original state if the discs are well-cared for. They age with time, in terms of the time period of the content, so a game from 2001 seems old when compared to the newest offerings, just like a movie or CD from the same time period.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:58 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a consumer, I buy very few games now days - and I am extremely loyal to a few game companies because they produce the type and caliber of a game that I am willing to fork over some cash for. I've been a fan of Sid Meir since Crusade in Europe on a C-64, Blizzard since I got my hands on a cracked copy of Warcraft I (and I've bought a copy of everything they've made since), the Fallout franchise since I started looking for a successor to Wasteland, and Rockstar since they opted to make story, and gameplay equally important.

There are a few simple lessons for game developers:

1. If you design a game that is "play once then throw away" that is exactly the profit model you should expect - you'll get the first round of early adopters, and then you'll piss away your customer base. Make games to last and that have replay value.

2. If you the game developer want a piece of the resale market, then provide customers a method of performing the same service through you.

3. Stop making the same game as everyone else or making story lines so linear that nobody wants to or needs to play your game a second time.

4. Allow critics to criticize your games. Control the PR too much and you won't get a fair review. A well qualified customer means a long term customer.

On that last point - I won't consider buying a game with a review below an 8/10 scale and I really make sure that it is worth it if is below the 9/10 point. With free games from free sites, I'll try every game they put out - even the 1/10 games - I generally just play the 1/10 games a whole hell of a lot less.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:59 AM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are tons of cheap e-books out there that are priced at 99 cents or so, and while they're not usually the latest and greatest, there are a ton of them, and a lot of newer authors. Video games aren't a fair thing to compare with the book industry, and I wouldn't expect game publishers to run the same sort of market. However, yes, one of the consolations of buying a $40+ game is that you could sell it, if need be.

I could see being thrilled if they said, "No used games," and then slashed the game prices in half to compensate.
posted by redsparkler at 9:59 AM on August 26, 2010


THQ has built up a robust distribution and sales channel for physical goods. The physical goods are losing value. Pain and complaints ensue. This is not surprising.

What is surprising is the depth to which THQ and all other purveyors of digital content burned onto physical media have their heads squarely up their asses.

Viable alternatives in digital distribution already exist. They are so numerous that even attempting to name them all is foolish.

THQ is about to repeat all of the mistakes of the music industry. Farewell ye dinosaurs.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:59 AM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


From the Penny Arcade post: If I am purchasing games in order to reward their creators, and to ensure that more of these ingenious contraptions are produced, I honestly can't figure out how buying a used game was any better than piracy.

This, I think, is the key disconnect between me and Tycho on this issue: he's buying a game because he wants to reward the developer for making it. I'm buying a game because I want to play a game. It's the difference between patronage and straightforward consumption.

Neither approach is particularly better than the other, so far as I'm concerned (who am I to tell someone else what their motivations should be?), but I don't think there's ever going to be agreement on this unless both sides of the argument realise they're talking about completely different things.
posted by ZsigE at 10:00 AM on August 26, 2010 [22 favorites]


I'm with ZsigE. I don't buy tickets to see a Spielberg movie because I like Steve and think he's a swell guy. I buy tickets because he makes great movies I want to see in a bigscreen theater with great sound and my four closest buddies.

If there was a theater across the street that said, "Wait two days and I'll have the same movie and the same experience for half price," they'd get my business.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:03 AM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


GOTY editions are cheap (and complete)

I think you're confusing GOTY and Platinum Hits (or whatever platform equivalent) editions, though sometimes they're the same thing. A lot of GOTY editions start out at normal game prices ($60), and seem to be basically a way to inject new game pricing into an older game that's selling for cheap. The worst GOTY was probably COD4. They jacked up the price and didn't even include any extra content!

Platinum Hits though, I think can be priced at maximum $30 to start with. But they don't necessarily include extra content.
posted by kmz at 10:03 AM on August 26, 2010


I'm still amazed at Quakes ability to hold a $10 price on Steam.
posted by Artw at 10:11 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can understand where the developers are coming from, but for me, it's a purely economic decision; if I buy a new game which I finish in a week, I can sell it for a reasonable return. If I wait, and buy a used game, I can often get a considerable discount.

If the game companies want to change this dynamic, they are going to need to be more explicit and change the terms of service to exclude reselling games somehow, but then, the only way I'm ever going to do business with them is if the price of a new game comes down to what it would have cost for me to play it used.
posted by quin at 10:13 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


First-fucking-sale doctrine.

That is all.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:14 AM on August 26, 2010


Per hour of entertainment, games are pretty damned cheap compared to books or movies, though their cultural value isn't as high, in my opinion.

This is really a minor quibble, but per hour of entertainment, books are way cheaper than video games (unless you only read the book once and you read through it very, very quickly). Moreover, books have more value than mere entertainment.
posted by The World Famous at 10:14 AM on August 26, 2010


You're right, kmz. What I meant was that, even by the time the GOTY edition comes out, the base game + add-ons ends up coming out way more expensive, so it's "cheap" in that sense, even if it's still $50. That wouldn't matter if I couldn't wait, but most of the time I find myself enjoying last year's hits anyway, and that's not a deal for me because I don't care about having a multiplayer community. The other thing about waiting awhile is that opinions on the game are pretty settled.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:14 AM on August 26, 2010


I have a relative in the industry, and clearly I want him to keep eating, paying his mortgage and so forth, but this is one area where he and I disagree.

I liken it to an automobile manufacturer. Pick your favorite one. For the sake of argument, I'll pick Ford.

Ford builds a vehicle, and someone buys it. Later on, for whatever reason, that buyer sells it to someone else as a used car. No big deal, happens all the time. The new buyer buys the car less expensively and gets a car to drive.

What Ford would have you believe is that if that used-car buyer isn't at the dealership buying a new car, they're cheating Ford out of a sale. Ford would prefer that all used-car sales were prohibited. Can't blame 'em, because from a business perspective, that's the way you make the most money.

From a buyer's perspective, that world-view is absolutely ridiculous. Sure, Ford would prefer that I buy a factory-fresh new car, but that's the buyer's choice, not the manufacturer's.
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:18 AM on August 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


Steam is great, I love Steam. Valve has come up with a plan by which legal sale is actually easier than piracy, and it's turning out great for them. Not only is keeping all of the games sorted handy, but one-click installs, super fast, unlimited downloads, and constantly up-to-date versions of the games all relieve what would be a pain in the end-user's behind with piracy *or* with physical disks.

I can't sell Steam games I don't like any more; it's true. I also can't loan my games to other people. Both of those things kind of bite and the only real justification I can come up with for it in my head is that I don't actually have physical copies so I guess "loaning" would be file-sharing. Either way, it's still the best set-up I've seen and it makes playing PC games a treat.


The used game fiasco is a nightmare. I've talked to the staff at a popular, local used game/CD/DVD store where they pay more for stuff than Gamestop (et al) and charge less. And they never, ever sell anything for less than double what they paid for it. At Gamestop, if the game is more than a week old or less than a Blockbuster Title Of The Season, if you buy a game for 60$, open it in your car and bring it in to sell used they will give you 15$, and then sell it for 55$. That's the system. If I were a publisher and somebody was selling something I published at 92% of my MSRP, only undercutting me the tiniest bit to scrape my sales I would be pissed off too.

That said, if I can't fully play used games or sell games back because the publishers are trying to dick me around, pirating their games starts sounding a lot easier than dealing with their bullshit. That or just selling the Xbox and spending the cash on some indie games on Steam.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:21 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's ridiculous as anyone has blown into a cartridge will tell you.

I'm not so sure. A couple of my roommates back in university used to resell used video games and systems they purchased at Value Village and garage sales over eBay--you'd be surprised at what q-tips and some rubbing alcohol can do to games you thought were beyond repair. We had all kinds of Colecovision and Atari 2600 games, probably close to 20 years old, restored to working condition. Those cartridge games have a much longer lifespan than you think.
posted by Kirk Grim at 10:22 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm still amazed at Quakes ability to hold a $10 price on Steam.

Eh, regular prices on Steam pretty much only exist for chumps. If you buy stuff on Steam that's not on sale for more than 50% off you're throwing money away.

I think I own Quake thanks to the ID pack going on sale, for like 20 bucks or so.
posted by graventy at 10:22 AM on August 26, 2010


That wouldn't matter if I couldn't wait, but most of the time I find myself enjoying last year's hits anyway, and that's not a deal for me because I don't care about having a multiplayer community.

We're the same way for most games. We've still got a huge backlog of great games that we've never played because we only got a current gen console late last year. I have to admit though, Red Dead Redemption has been making my trigger finger itchy.
posted by kmz at 10:22 AM on August 26, 2010


Rather, tailoring the rights granted to the particular situation gives people the flexibility necessary to maximize the value of their property. The publishers are doing the same thing.

Now, you can argue that it's bad for video game buyers, but that's a different issue.


But this tailoring of rights has been illegal for most of the history of copyright. Publishers have not had the right to prevent consumers from reselling their content, even if they came up with schemes to require buyers to sign a contract (such as a EULA) to give up their first-sale rights, until recently.

The bottom line is that when a game publisher sold an Atari 2600 cartridge back in the 80s, they were basically granting the buyer to a perpetual, transferable license to own and play that game. There was no legal way for them to make that license non-transferable even if it would have been a better business decision from their perspective, because of first-sale doctrine rights. Today, if a game publisher sells a game as a digital download, they can and do make up whatever license they want for it, even though the only difference is that the bytes that make up the game content are transferred over a computer network rather than burned into a ROM. This is an unambiguously bad deal for game buyers, and is basically the same bad deal that first-sale doctrine was created and has been upheld to protect consumers from.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:24 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obviously I support the right of first sale. On the other hand, since you're selling software, you can easily program it to self-destruct. And of course people are going to do that if they get the chance. What's interesting is what's going to happen when e-Books take off and it becomes impossible for people to sell their used volumes. I mean, as far as I know there's no way to transfer your Kindle volumes, is there? Or iPhone apps?

Once games become more distributed as downloads rather then distributed as disks it's going to be more and more difficult to resell them. And that's going to be true of movies and all kinds of things. It's a bad precedent and probably the right of first sale is going to go away unless some legal protections are put in place.

And this thing is something that kind of annoys me when people bring up the whole "copyright infringement is stealing" thing. If copyright infringement is stealing (legally, it's not) then why isn't removing the ability to resell media also a form of theft? I mean, if I buy a movie, or a video game at full price and can't resell it then hasn't something been 'stolen' from me in whatever metaphorical sense 'copyright infringement' is also 'stealing' I mean, if we are going to extend stealing to getting any kind of benefit that you don't deserve, then why isn't it?

Also keep in mind that it's not just the video game industry. When CDs came out, the record companies actually argued that used CD sales should be illegal. Who knows why they thought they could actually make it happen, but they tried.
Here's an economic argument for the used game market that demonstrates an advantage for publishers.

Secondary sales function as a kind of delayed rebate that is free to the publisher, which allows the publisher to increase the original price and thus recover some of the revenue lost to the secondary market.
These kinds of arguments "Thing you don't like is actually good for you" are always weak. It just assumes the other person is stupid and can't figure out their own best interests. Often times, people value control and autonomy as much as they value money, even for profit companies. Maybe they think the extra control will make them more money. THQ could setup their own monopoly 'used' game market and not only reap the supposed 'benefit' but also take a cut on each transfer.

Ultimately, game companies are going to be able to figure out what their own best interests are. Of course they don't care about people who play used games. They make as much money off a used game sale as they do a download off the pirate bay.
posted by delmoi at 10:25 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cool Papa Bell: If there was a theater across the street that said, "Wait two days and I'll have the same movie and the same experience for half price," they'd get my business.

I used to *love* the dollar theater (second run theater, whatever you call it) when I was a kid. Same exact movie on the big screen in normal movie seats (not the space age ones but who cares) with snacks so cheap you can actually afford them if you want some all for a couple bucks. And they got more than just the blockbusters, in fact lots of the time a smaller movie wouldn't come to the multi-plex or would be there a very short time but would be at the dollar theater for months.

Wiki tells me that they're a vanishing breed, but damn I love the second-run.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:26 AM on August 26, 2010


"If you enjoy what I help make and I don't get any money, I'm cheated."

Fuck you, Cory. You are part of a complex system of trade. This system rewards you handsomely.

And you want more control, more money.

"Dear Buyer. Thank you for giving us your money. But I made what you bought. That means I get to control you and it."

Cory, you're listening to the wrong voices.
posted by Moistener at 10:28 AM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


From a buyer's perspective, that world-view is absolutely ridiculous. Sure, Ford would prefer that I buy a factory-fresh new car, but that's the buyer's choice, not the manufacturer's.

It's true that it's the buyer's choice, but surely you can also see that the analogy is inapposite. Software doesn't really wear out and to the extent it does (e.g. because of hardware failing or OS upgrades breaking it) it does so much more slowly than a car. And this is reflected in the used video game market. Stores like Gamestop will sell a used game for 90+% of the original price, whereas a car loses more than 10% of its value the moment it's purchased.

Trust me, if you could routinely sell a 2 or 3 year old Ford for 80-90% of its original price, Ford and other car makers would probably shift to leasing cars rather than selling them as their primary business model.
posted by jedicus at 10:31 AM on August 26, 2010


We've still got a huge backlog of great games that we've never played because we only got a current gen console late last year. I have to admit though, Red Dead Redemption has been making my trigger finger itchy.

Heh. RDR and Fallout 3 (I've been playing a friend's copy) on order from Amazon. I walked into a brick-and-mortar store this week to buy Dragon Age: Origins, so yeah, I hear you.

I guess Xbox Live! is basically the same deal as Steam in terms of convenience and limitations. At this point, I feel comfortable downloading small/cheap (arcade) games, but haven't been tempted to do so with a full-size/price game yet. Makes me nervous. I like jumping into a game without having to locate the disc, and waiting (for most games) means I don't pick up a lot of junk, but I do like being able to walk down to the pawn shop and unload my wares (yes, that is where I do it).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:32 AM on August 26, 2010


But this tailoring of rights has been illegal for most of the history of copyright.

Citation needed. The US case establishing the first sale doctrine explicitly mentions that it can be circumvented by a contract or license agreement:

The sole right to vend granted by § 4952, Rev.Stat., does not secure to the owner of the copyright the right to qualify future sales by his vendee or to limit or restrict such future sales at a specified price, and a notice in the book that a sale at a different price will be treated as an infringement is ineffectual as against one not bound by contract or license agreement. [emphasis added]

Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus, 210 U.S. 339 (1908).
posted by jedicus at 10:35 AM on August 26, 2010


I don't really think the video game producers are hurting THAT bad for money. Using the movie comparison, Modern Warfare 2 sold $550million worth of units in FIVE DAYS. Even Avatar didn't do that kind of business. After 2 months of release (possibly long after a good many copies had entered the used game market), it achieved the $1billion sales mark.

Similarly, Grand Theft Auto IV also made $500million in its first week of release, and sold 3.6 million copies on its FIRST DAY OF RELEASE. By the middle of this year, it had sold 17 million copies.

To date, Wii Sports has sold over 66 million copies.

Granted, these are the big dogs in the market, but I don't really see where the used game market has really dented the sales figures of video games all that much.
posted by hippybear at 10:36 AM on August 26, 2010


What Ford would have you believe is that if that used-car buyer isn't at the dealership buying a new car, they're cheating Ford out of a sale. Ford would prefer that all used-car sales were prohibited. Can't blame 'em, because from a business perspective, that's the way you make the most money.

From a buyer's perspective, that world-view is absolutely ridiculous. Sure, Ford would prefer that I buy a factory-fresh new car, but that's the buyer's choice, not the manufacturer's.


Except, with car companies having their own financing units, this isn't always true. These days car companies are fine with their "pre-owned, certified, lookie it has a warranty from the manufacturer" sales because more often than not they get a chunk of the secondary market through the financing end.

Video game companies are starting to test this same type of strategy with first purchase bonuses or functionality through download patches. Buy a game new, download the multiplayer patch for free. Buy it used, pay a little extra for the multiplayer. Buy it new, get the fancy super cool car pack. Buy it used, pay for that pack from the d/l service. In the multiplayer case I think it's fair, those servers don't run themselves. In the bonus case, you're rewarding players for supporting you, also not a bad thing. (disclaimer: I work in the industry).
posted by eyeballkid at 10:41 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


To date, Wii Sports has sold over 66 million copies.

You can't really count pack-in games, but your first two examples are reasonable.
posted by jedicus at 10:42 AM on August 26, 2010


From the standpoint of an academic who does research on video games, this strategy really bites. If I want to analyse any classic games, all I need to do is find the hardware (which itself can sometimes be rare) I need to play them--the software always works. Now, though, if I were to want to study a THQ game in the future, I'd be limited by whatever they decided to make available to second-hand customers. Not a good way to ensure future relevance.

Interestingly enough, even those who buy new will face the same problems if they ever want to play their game 10 years down the line, as there likely will be no server to respond to their "bought new" code.
posted by sadmarvin at 10:44 AM on August 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


are these people going to argue against libraries?

Probably. Or they would, if more libraries circulated video games, or did anything else that got in the way of their revenue model.

how is a game different from a book or a movie?

It's different only in that it's technically possible to make a video game "phone home" and refuse to work if an activation code isn't plugged in, or to put a significant amount of the game's content on servers that you have to be granted access to. It's difficult to do that with a book.

But, not to worry, Amazon is working on it!

why does the first-sale doctrine not apply to videogames?

First Sale already does not apply to computer software in the same way that it does to other media, like books. You cannot rent computer software without permission of the copyright holder, even though you bought it and own the media. A similar exemption to First Sale was carved out for music recordings as well -- but interestingly not for movies. This is why Blockbuster and Netflix can rent movies, but can't do the same thing for CDs or audioapes. (Libraries get an exemption to the exemption, thankfully; a loophole that I'm sure the industries involved must have hated.) Given that we've gone that far already, it doesn't seem like a very big step to go from prohibiting renting to just flat-out prohibiting resale. If the industries asked for it, I suspect they'd probably get it.

However, the industry doesn't have to go back to the legislature, with its inevitable compromises, anymore -- they can just do it via technological measures, or by selling you a nearly-worthless DVD that you're free to resell, plus a very expensive one-time-use code entitling you to a single-user subscription to an online service that you need to enjoy the game.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:45 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


The most troubling part isn't that game companies want to kill used sales, it's that people without their economic incentive actually stick up for it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


This is really a minor quibble, but per hour of entertainment, books are way cheaper than video games (unless you only read the book once and you read through it very, very quickly).

Someone got wise and combined the best of both worlds, which is why the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual have probably the highest ratio of hours entertained to dollars spent of any form of media that I've ever encountered.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:50 AM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


RDR and Fallout 3 (I've been playing a friend's copy) on order from Amazon. I walked into a brick-and-mortar store this week to buy Dragon Age: Origins, so yeah, I hear you.

We did buy the Fallout 3 GOTY because the 5 DLCs would have been $50 by themselves and you can't buy those used most of the time. And DA:O was a day 1 purchase for my wife because she loves Bioware. (Though, turns out Bethesda games really aren't her thing so I think we're going to put Fallout 3 up on Goozex soon.)

I've never bought a full game from Games on Demand because 1. physical media is nice and 2. we install so many games to the hard drive because we tend to have lots of games in progress at the same time that we're constantly running low on space. That new slim with double the hard drive space is awfully tempting but we can't justify a purchase when ours is working perfectly.
posted by kmz at 10:50 AM on August 26, 2010


The difference between this issue and the car/book/DVD is that none of those products require the manufacturer to support server costs into perpetuity. Cars require maintenance, but the owner, not the seller, pays for it.

For a given game, they can model with some degree of accuracy, how a user will play. For the first ~2 weeks, there will be a surge of use, followed by a tapering down. If the game's a hit, then double the users equals double the revenue, which offsets double the costs. If, on the other hand, ~50% of users sell the game, there's that fresh surge of use, and when they sell the game, etc. it could double the online use with no additional revenue to offset the costs.

Basically all THQ said was, "online use is only available for the first user" and there was an uproar about how that's not fair, how it screws over used-game buyers, and THQ replied that none of the revenue from resale gets back to them, so why should they care? That is, to me, a fair question. No other sort of used product that I can immediately think of, requires continued manufacturer support.

Heck, I can even manufacture counterexamples: Imagine a book tailored to hipsters, "Bacon: the Book." It's a book all about bacon, and comes with an edible (plastic wrapped?) bacon slipcover. Or maybe a bacon bookmark. Whatever. Point is, this issue is the second-hand buyers saying that THQ should allow them to also have bacon for free, because the first users ate the bacon slipcover.
posted by explosion at 10:51 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just got around to picking up the excellent Metro 2033 for for the hexbawksthreesixtay about two weeks back and paid £18.00 for a brand new copy. I could have bought it pre-owned at that price about 3 or 4 months back but I have a simple system in place where I will wait until a game breaks the £20 mark before picking it up new.

I've no problem supporting the games industry and paying money to the makers rather than the middlemen but only nutters pay release-day prices (unless it's Red Dead Redemption in which case, yeah - pre-ordered. I could not help myself)...
posted by longbaugh at 10:51 AM on August 26, 2010


I'm with Tycho when he complains about the terrible state of seller-purchaser relations involving illegal copyright infringement, but the idea that one should eschew entirely legal markets out of some moral obligation to maximize the profits of the developer is not only dystopian, it's stupid.

I mean, if I really want to ensure the developers get money, why not just cut them a check directly for the difference between the used and new game? Even if we did want to treat for-profit enterprises as appropriate objects of charitable giving, "don't buy used games" is an inefficient way to go about doing it.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:54 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]



The difference between this issue and the car/book/DVD is that none of those products require the manufacturer to support server costs into perpetuity


What prevents them from charging for server costs?
posted by drezdn at 10:56 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Snark: Tycho and Gabe are still really pissed that they failed as game developers arn't they?

Valve and Steam is an interesting case because it looks like they have the good sense to understand that people likely are not going to pay first-week prices for a game published three years ago. I've been on the record that bibliophiles get hooked on books via lending, four-for-a-dollar sales, and gifts but everyone seems to be dashing towards a one-copy-per-person model.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:59 AM on August 26, 2010


I can agree with Tycho in an ideal world. Ideally I would like to be able to reward the creators of content I enjoy, by paying them. However, I'd like to direct the majority of that renumeration to the people who actually made the thing, not their parent company's shareholders. It would be wonderful if the money I spent on Modern Warfare 2 (which based on my extensive multiplayer time was incredibly worth it) was directly responsible for many more awesome games existing but unfortunately it's only likely to be responsible for a sequel to that game, and a good quarterly earnings report for Activision. In the real world, I'd like to play as many good games as possible, and if I the economic advantage is significant enough for me to purchase and resell and trade via used channels, I'm going to take advantage of that instead. If there were a more direct math to renumerate creators or say, directly finance the next great game by paying a bit extra, maybe that would outweigh the personal savings. That world doesn't exist (except for some indie games).

For awhile I built up a huge back catalog of games by taking advantage of the used market via "game flipping." Essentially this entailed monitoring online reports of used game sales and used game trade-in values mostly between Gamestop and Blockbuster. When one company was selling a game for cheaper than the other was offering as a trade-in (at the time Blockbuster had high trade-in values that only updated once a week). You could use credit at one and various bonus offers to trade items back and forth with steadily increasing credit. I did this pretty casually, but others online did it to large, large extents. I would prefer that the huge number of older games I eventually picked up for next to nothing had benefitted the original creators in some way, but for that same amount of money I'd have had about 3-4 new games.

All of this will essentially be moot in the not very distant future when almost everything is digital distribution. I love Steam as much as many others here, especially when I can get an absurdly good deal with their sale prices.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:59 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


The difference between this issue and the car/book/DVD is that none of those products require the manufacturer to support server costs into perpetuity. Cars require maintenance, but the owner, not the seller, pays for it.

The only reason publishers have to support servers is because they don't users run their own servers. If you want to play Quake 3 it's pretty easy to setup a server. You could play Starcraft 1 over a LAN (or even a modem). But those things have been taken away. MMOs would be a little trickier, of course.

But there's no reason why you couldn't sell server software and let independent groups run their own 'worlds'.

The only reason they "have to runs servers" is because they've chosen not to allow people to run their own.
posted by delmoi at 11:00 AM on August 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


This.

It's shit-assery like this that has made me stop "consuming" modern media in the form of movies, music, and computer games... at least through the usual channels.

I have better things to do with my time. I am worth more than being treated like this.

I have alternatives... a great local used book store, that does great business and has become an inseparable part of Jacksonville, FL. Hell, it's probably the best thing that this city has going for it currently.

I have found a great coffee house that hosts open mic nights, community gatherings, rehearsals for a local sketch comedy group that I am a member of. It's a little nexus of awesome in a city sorely needing it.

I've got a local theatre that plays classic films and old block-busters ever Friday night between 11PM and midnight.

I've gotten myself involved with kernel debugging and software debugging. Yay! GNU/Linux!

If I really need some digital entertainment, I've got my emulators, disk images, and ROMs.

I don't need this kind of shit.

No gaming house has gotten money from me in more than half a decade.

At this rate.. they never will again.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 11:02 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't hate, emulate.
posted by Eideteker at 11:03 AM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Basically all THQ said was, "online use is only available for the first user"

Hell, if you could buy games new without online support for less money I'd be all over that.

this thread made me go to steam again and buy more cheap games
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:03 AM on August 26, 2010


What prevents them from charging for server costs?

Traditionally, the threat of mass uproar and the problem that games which operate on a subscription basis tend to do much more poorly unless they become massive successes.

And as for sinking the cost into the initial price? That would take either a reduction of profit margins and the like (unlikely, because I generally distrust large corporations like THQ, EA, or Activision/Blizzard) or increased prices (also unlikely because breaking from the industry standard price point is risky and would likely result in mass uproar). Either way, it's not a likely direction.

On the other hand, there's how Valve does things, which really should be seen as the gold standard for the industry in most aspects.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:04 AM on August 26, 2010


For a given game, they can model with some degree of accuracy, how a user will play. For the first ~2 weeks, there will be a surge of use, followed by a tapering down. If the game's a hit, then double the users equals double the revenue, which offsets double the costs. If, on the other hand, ~50% of users sell the game, there's that fresh surge of use, and when they sell the game, etc. it could double the online use with no additional revenue to offset the costs.

.... But, how would it double the use, when those 50% who have sold the game no longer have the game for their use? It's still the same number of copies in circulation, all of which have had server costs included in the first-sale purchase price of the game.
posted by hippybear at 11:04 AM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist: I guess Xbox Live! is basically the same deal as Steam in terms of convenience and limitations. At this point, I feel comfortable downloading small/cheap (arcade) games, but haven't been tempted to do so with a full-size/price game yet. Makes me nervous. I like jumping into a game without having to locate the disc, and waiting (for most games) means I don't pick up a lot of junk, but I do like being able to walk down to the pawn shop and unload my wares (yes, that is where I do it).

I love Steam and I have an Xbox and I would never download a game through the Xbox Market. For one thing it will only work on Xbox360 with no reason to assume any sort of future compatibility, but for another thing I just don't trust Microsoft not to pull some kind of shitty dick move. Maybe that's weird.

explosion: Basically all THQ said was, "online use is only available for the first user" and there was an uproar about how that's not fair, how it screws over used-game buyers, and THQ replied that none of the revenue from resale gets back to them, so why should they care? That is, to me, a fair question. No other sort of used product that I can immediately think of, requires continued manufacturer support.

To put it in another light: the only drawback to downloading games off of the internet and burning them to play on your Xbox is that you can't play them online*. So buying a used copy of this game gets someone the same functionality as downloading it, a lighter pocket, and a complaining publisher either way.

Also: unless THQ is running dedicated servers for this game (which I'm sure they're not) then the upkeep cost to them of me playing it online is literally nil.

*Better yet: lot of people DO play online with burned games and comparatively very few people get caught, making the downloaded version functionally better than the used one. Also, the consequences for getting caught are simply having the MAC address banned from Live forever, so you're just back to my original point.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:07 AM on August 26, 2010


It would be wonderful if the money I spent on Modern Warfare 2 (which based on my extensive multiplayer time was incredibly worth it) was directly responsible for many more awesome games existing but unfortunately it's only likely to be responsible for a sequel to that game

I wonder if Activision ever paid the bonuses/royalties owed to the remaining Infinity Ward staff.
posted by Tenuki at 11:07 AM on August 26, 2010


The problem with telling your customers that "buying used games is the same as getting them from the Pirate Bay" is that they'll probably come to the same conclusion the minute you fill your games with anti-consumer bullshit. Only this time, they'll have a serious motivation to produce and use a free version of the server.

The used market is the primary reason why anyone is playing many older console games; the choice here isn't between "double the online use with double the revenue" or "double the online use with no additional revenue to offset the costs", it's between having online use a year and a half from now, and having a digital wasteland after all your initial buyers left for the latest game. A digital wasteland means no DLC income, no potential advertising income, no long-lasting community, and no free word-of-mouth advertising for Copyright Adventures II, so this seems like a totally backward policy.
posted by vorfeed at 11:08 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I mailed the PA guys about this very subject. It's really not complicated:

Why is PSP Go a joke?

Because they're charging physical media prices for digitally delivered games.

Why are physical media prices so high?

Because you can resell the game.

In other words, the actual natural price of a game is about $15-$20. That a dev is getting $60 means that they're getting an upfront purchase from about three or four people people.

Don't believe me? Remember how you [the Penny Arcade guys] were just raving about how the most interesting games out right now are at the $15 price point? Did I notice you complain that you can't transfer or loan out said purchase? No, of course not.

And what's the minimum price of a Gamespot game? That's right -- $10 to $15.

Just like XBox Live and PSN.

Occasionally, the world is weirdly consistent. Welcome to one of those times.

The findings are unmistakable. People are not willing to pay the same amount to get substantially less. Assets that can be divested, transferred, rented, or even simply lended are simply worth more.
posted by effugas at 11:08 AM on August 26, 2010 [14 favorites]


I've bought new games from half price books that were $7 or lower, sealed and all. How much do the devs get at that point?
posted by hellojed at 11:09 AM on August 26, 2010


I mean, if I really want to ensure the developers get money, why not just cut them a check directly for the difference between the used and new game? Even if we did want to treat for-profit enterprises as appropriate objects of charitable giving, "don't buy used games" is an inefficient way to go about doing it.

Not at all. The developer (well, publisher but that's another issue) makes more on the sale of the new copy than the $5 I save if I buy it used.
posted by ecurtz at 11:11 AM on August 26, 2010


>What prevents them from charging for server costs?

Traditionally, the threat of mass uproar and the problem that games which operate on a subscription basis tend to do much more poorly unless they become massive successes.


Analyst: Activision Could Announce Subscription Plans For CoD, StarCraft II By Year's End
posted by Tenuki at 11:12 AM on August 26, 2010


I am torn about this. I certainly don't blame customers for wanting to pay $5 less for the exact same product. But I do believe it cuts into the game developer's profits, and that it could mean the difference between a game being a success and a failure. It's not going to mean anything to GTA, but what about the smaller, riskier games?

The solution is probably going to be digital distribution, but I'm not crazy about that, either. I'd like a guarantee that I can play today's games 10 years from now. And the "multiplayer unlock code" thing that they're trying now? I cannot stand that. I don't want to spend 10 minutes typing in codes without a keyboard before I can start the game.
posted by Sibrax at 11:12 AM on August 26, 2010


PREDICTION: Games will transition from retail to ongoing subscriptions available in various time increments.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:14 AM on August 26, 2010


I'll just toss out for amusement value that we're still playing games off the PS2 and a couple months ago we went on an eBay spree that resulted in 10 Editor's Choice titles for about a hundred bucks. We'll be busy with them for months. That system has some legs let me tell you.

This past Tuesday, I took delivery of a PS3; one of the outgoing 250GB SKUs. There was a pack-in deal with LBP/GOTY + Ratchet & Clank for the system price. I tested the system briefly and packed it back up. We probably won't set it up permanently until Rock Band 3 comes out.

We play the hell out of our games, not buying anything that isn't near the pinnacle of its genre. Here's the thing: the most important part of our entertainment budget isn't the money we spend, it's the time. I don't mind buying good games at top price, as long as the time we spend on that game is quality time. By the same token, if I can get the same experience (with the same game, or a similar one) for less, I will. That's just good sense.

Of course, if you must play a certain game, like Starcraft, because everyone you want to play with wants to play that one game, the vendor has you right where he wants you. You don't have the leverage to walk away and play something else, so they pretty much write their own ticket.

What's the answer? It's different for everyone, but like I said, for us it's: make sure the time spent playing games is well spent, because time is the most significant expense at hand.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:16 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't game much anymore, and sit here mostly as an observer, not a participant, so grain of salt and all that.

There are two parts of the videogame market that I haven't really seen mentioned yet. The first is the abysmal videogame "journalism" such as it exists. Sure, there are decent sites out there, but the whole industry seems to exist on a 7-10 standard. Payola, advertiser pressures, and just plain bad reviewing are rampant, we've seen it on the Blue before. That's not to say that these don't exist in other markets (movie reviewers certainly get some of that, and book reviewing can suffer from the same). But it seems to me that absent real review sites, I wouldn't want to buy games at launch date, or even within the first month.

Secondly, the patching and updating of games. What would happen if I bought a paper book that was not only full of typos and mistakes, but was missing entire pages or chapters? Or the last third of the book was written in a code, and I had to send to the publisher for the cryptographic key? Why would I want to buy a game new, right after it's released, if it is entirely likely that it will contain major game breaking bugs? That I will have to patch my game two or three times in the first week? By the time I might feel comfortable buying that game, it would be weeks or months later, and then there are used copies available.
posted by X-Himy at 11:16 AM on August 26, 2010


Oh, as others have mentioned, digital distribution is the future. It might kill the brick and mortar stores (no might about it really), but ultimately they are a huge source of the same problem you're complaining about. Offer the physical copy for a bit more than the digital copy (to encourage people to buy the less replicable digital version), and you're set.
posted by X-Himy at 11:18 AM on August 26, 2010


Hell, if you could buy games new without online support for less money I'd be all over that.

If I could buy more games with a good single-player campaign or career mode, I'd be all over that.

I mean, I'd like to buy NFS: Hot Pursuit when it comes out... the good ones from that series are silly fun. But not if all the "real" content means having to interact with 14 year old homophobes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:20 AM on August 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Gaming has become a second job.

Its apex of contemporary enjoyment is the esprit de corps people find in new ways of collectively hating gaming while simultaneously defending it.
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 11:22 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Personally I'm most concerned by the decline of the single player experience, which these seems to be almost a perfunctory exercise to get out of the way before getting into multiplayer.
posted by Artw at 11:23 AM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll chime in here one more time ... I can envision one use case where THQ has a legitimate beef, and that's with GameStop, et al, and not the end users.

THQ sells a product into to GameStop in a kind of quasi-partnership. GameStop buys 100 copies of X at a wholesale price with the agreement that they'll sell it at an MSRP for a fixed period of time. If GameStop fails to sell through to the end-user, they can return the product to THQ for a refund. They're both taking a risk -- on the COGs and on the opportunity cost for the shelf space.

If THQ could be angry at anyone, they could be angry at GameStop for taking the steps to reduce this risk by selling used games. GameStop is buying fewer wholesale copies (knowing they will get returns), and devoting more shelf space to used games, which creates a cycle in which the full price games are perceived as more costly, which leads to fewer purchases of wholesale copies, etc, etc. GameStop is in effect entering into a quasi-partnership, and then competing against that same partnership.

THQ has a few levers to adjust here -- the wholesale cost of the product, the MSRP, the availability of the product and the returns agreement, each of which can be manipulated to their own benefit.

Unfortunately for THQ, it's a crowded market. If they're not using the shelf space, then EA and everyone else will. If they're squeezing GameStop ... EA won't. GameStop could eventually just give THQ the great big middle finger and not carry any of their games.

But ... that's just "inside baseball." As an end-user, I literally don't care. I particularly don't care when again, there are digital distribution models that are more convenient for me (don't have to leave the house) with lower price points and lower barriers to entry, allowing more innovative, creative risk-taking from developers.

THQ can't sell more licensed wrestling games? Bummer.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:25 AM on August 26, 2010


/bitter because average apm < 10
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 11:26 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm really waffling over buying CivV when it comes out (because I want to play it right now so bad omfg) or waiting for the price to come down first.

On the other hand, Portal2 is almost guaranteed to come with a TF2 hat, so it'll be hard to wait on that one.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:28 AM on August 26, 2010


I mean, I'd like to buy NFS: Hot Pursuit when it comes out... the good ones from that series are silly fun.

I've never played a NFS game, but Criterion is making the new NFS: Hot Pursuit and their last game Burnout Paradise was a blast in single player. There was a ton of online stuff too that was pretty great, but the single player experience was still awesome content-filled, at least for me.
posted by kmz at 11:28 AM on August 26, 2010


Personally, I'm of the opinion that it should work like this: they sell a game, and anyone who possesses the game can play it. However, a unique account is required to get downloadable content and patches, and to play it on the company-operated servers.

So now the value on the marketplace of the used games goes down, and so do the costs. Many people who would have previously purchased the used game will no longer do so if they can afford the new game, and many of those who cannot afford the new game will have a cheaper used game to play.

The thing to remember is that, for the consumer, the value of used games is the ability to sell, not buy -- the price difference between new and used is negligible unless a game is also traded in as part of the transaction. Changing the model as I describe above will decrease the trade-in value and retail price of used games, and while companies like Gamestop may suffer in the process, I don't really care about them -- I want the game companies to make tons of money, and people who can't afford to support the game companies at full price to at least have something they can play.

The one risk of this is that game companies will intentionally release buggy/incomplete games that must be patched to play at all, but that sort of thing should garner the same kind of bad press that we're seeing now for no-used-games-at-all.
posted by davejay at 11:35 AM on August 26, 2010


The only reason publishers have to support servers is because they don't users run their own servers

Most games still sold in brick and mortar stores these days are console games. PC has gone digital download only as Gamestop couldn't make money selling second hand games on a platform so easily pirated and stopped pushing the new games too. Which itself shows how little interest they have in new versus second hand.

This kind of makes the whole dedicated server thing a moot point as Sony and Microsoft aren't into that kind of thing.

As far as the difference between games and DVDs, DVD's are already a secondary market and one piece in a long chain that allows a movie company to sell the same product over and over: (cinema, DVD, Special Edition DVD, cable TV, non Cable TV, 10 th anniversary DVD (films age far better than games)

Games are more of a one shot deal and that combined with the fact that the used games market is massive compared to used movies or CDs is why the industry is so up in arms about it.

BTW if Gamestop and co would cut the publishers in on their massive used sales profits all this would go away, as it is, the industry will simply push everything online next generation and shut them out completely.
posted by ham at 11:39 AM on August 26, 2010


What it all comes down to for me is this: My Fun Time is worth $5 an hour. If you make a game that I'll have fun with for at least 12 hours, I'll buy it happily.

If you release a game that is less than 12 hours of fun for 60 dollars, then, well, cheaper options start to become more attractive. Not that I'll buy it used - I hate GameStop - I just won't buy it.

If you release an incomplete game for 60 bucks and try to shore it up with DLC or multiplayer, I'll be pissed. In the former case, I don't want to pay extra money for something that should have been in the game in the first place. In the latter, I don't want to deal with yowling, aggressive kids.

(Hell, I'd be willing to pay a bit extra and go through a friggan background/age verification check to play a multiplayer game where you can ensure that I won't have to deal with yowling kids. )
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:42 AM on August 26, 2010


(Hell, I'd be willing to pay a bit extra and go through a friggan background/age verification check to play a multiplayer game where you can ensure that I won't have to deal with yowling kids. )

Sadly, I'm sure there's plenty of game playing adults who are still kids at heart. In the wrong way.
posted by kmz at 11:46 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm really waffling over buying CivV when it comes out (because I want to play it right now so bad omfg) or waiting for the price to come down first.

I'm sorry; I cannot read the rest of your post. This is madness.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:47 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Personally I'm most concerned by the decline of the single player experience...

Boy, no kidding! If I wanted to play with other people, I wouldn't have bought a video game system in the first place!
posted by DU at 11:47 AM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


COME ON
IF IS SOLID AND LEGAL
ONE F$@!!NG OWNS IT
and has said right to sell said solid
in this CASE a game.

Second hand goods is an
an
industry...no.. enterprise... no
business. yeah.

If it has a case you own it.

that vivd capitalism we all* like
come to need on second thought ms clav go that poe clicky game 20$
is to much for that time....time thats it...


*Pat.Pend.
posted by clavdivs at 11:49 AM on August 26, 2010


Honeslty, I agree with Tycho 100%. This is why I never buy:

used cars
used furniture
used dvds
used music
used books
anything on ebay
previously owned art
used instruments

also, I don't patronize libraries. Actually, I take my moral high ground THAT MUCH HIGHER by not even patronizing restaurants. Because once they buy the ingredients for their food, I think it's tantamount to piracy for them to resell it, in whatever form. You meet one farmer, just one, and it becomes very difficult to maintain this virtuous fiction.
posted by shmegegge at 12:02 PM on August 26, 2010 [22 favorites]


also, I don't give gifts. Giving gifts is easily the most selfish thing a person can do, and once you meet one person who makes things, just one, it becomes very difficult to maintain this virtuous fiction.
posted by shmegegge at 12:02 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is madness.

Madness? THIS IS SPARTA...which I just assaulted and annexed because the Greeks were annoying me by squatting on all the good iron deposits in the local area. I needed swordsmen, damn it.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 12:03 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is Madness.
posted by everichon at 12:12 PM on August 26, 2010


I suspect this will only get worse, as this Civic I just bought is actually only licensed for me to use by Honda.
posted by Legomancer at 12:14 PM on August 26, 2010


Civ V: Beta Centauri. Spartan HQ skunkworks has produced our first psi/silksteel/terraformers, who are building roads to Mr. Bad Example's cities, destroying opposition as they go. Now if that damned Miriam will stay out of my way...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:18 PM on August 26, 2010


Analyst: Activision Could Announce Subscription Plans For CoD, StarCraft II By Year's End

I just knew the "analyst" was going to be Pachter. That guy talks out of his ass so much, he's practically a ventriloquist.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:18 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Yes, yes, I know the terraforming module replaces the weapon. Nerd.)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:20 PM on August 26, 2010


I really hope the Penny Arcade guys don't let their kids play any of their games.
posted by ODiV at 12:22 PM on August 26, 2010


I'm really waffling over buying CivV when it comes out (because I want to play it right now so bad omfg)

The developers who make games that inspire this kind of passion will get their MSRP. The rest make games where a large portion of the userbase will be perfectly happy to wait a few months for a used/cheaper copy.

The answer, as always, is to make better games.
posted by danny the boy at 12:24 PM on August 26, 2010


I think goeff is on to something. If video game companies aren't going to allow resale, then they shouldn't be allowed to sell. Every video game transaction should be conducted as a lease.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 12:26 PM on August 26, 2010


Honeslty, I agree with Tycho 100%. This is why I never buy:

used cars
used furniture
used dvds
used music
used books
anything on ebay
previously owned art
used instruments


It's never really been about peoples right to buy and sell their property, the issue is the way Gamestop has industrialised second hand sales in the video game market to an unprecedented and unsustainable level.
posted by ham at 12:26 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


outlandishmarxist, are you entirely sure you they haven't made that switch already?
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:31 PM on August 26, 2010


Put another way, making it impossible to resell games quite literally represents a 2x-4x increase in price.

Lets see what happens when you increase price by 2x-4x:

In the first week of March in Japan, the latest version of the original PSP sold 60,808 units, according to estimates from Media Create, while the PSP Go shifted just 1,275 units. Total sales of the PSP Go so far this year in Japan are 23,455 units versus average weekly sales of 70,342 units for the PSP, according to the data, which is derived from retailer sales systems.
posted by effugas at 12:38 PM on August 26, 2010


If I am purchasing games in order to reward their creators, and to ensure that more of these ingenious contraptions are produced, I honestly can't figure out how buying a used game was any better than piracy.

...

This, I think, is the key disconnect between me and Tycho on this issue: he's buying a game because he wants to reward the developer for making it. I'm buying a game because I want to play a game. It's the difference between patronage and straightforward consumption


He's also ignoring the seller. The seller of a used game (ignoring middle men) is very likely to take that income and buy a new game. It's not a parallel economy at all.

You meet one person who creates games for a living, just one, and it becomes very difficult to maintain this virtuous fiction.

Absolute bollocks. I haven't read Penny Arcade in a long time, but this "column" was pretty awful. on preview, what shmegge said eloquently.

you buy a game for 60$, open it in your car and bring it in to sell used they will give you 15$, and then sell it for 55$. That's the system. If I were a publisher and somebody was selling something I published at 92% of my MSRP, only undercutting me the tiniest bit to scrape my sales I would be pissed off too.

What do you think of StubHub? I wonder what TicketMaster does.

Someone got wise and combined the best of both worlds, which is why the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual have probably the highest ratio of hours entertained to dollars spent of any form of media that I've ever encountered.

You've been trumped (literally!) by my ordinary deck of playing cards.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:40 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Buying a used game IS no better than piracy. It's just that piracy isn't really all that bad.
posted by tehloki at 12:40 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


We bought a PS3 this year; our first one. And I'm damn glad the second-hand market exists because otherwise I wouldn't own Valkyria Chronicles or Disgaea 3, both fantastic games, but both a couple of years old, out of print, had a ludicrously small print run in the first place (especially in Europe), and both basically unavailable on local shelves, new. In the end, Cex were able to sell me a used copy of Valkyria for about the same price as ordering from one of those "Brand new in box!" Ebay warehouse resellers, but I got to play it the same evening I bought it.

I also can't help feel that with this "second-hand games are just like pirating!" argument they're not damning the second-hand market in most people's eyes, but legitimising piracy.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:40 PM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's never really been about peoples right to buy and sell their property, the issue is the way Gamestop has industrialised second hand sales in the video game market to an unprecedented and unsustainable level.

OK, so the issue isn't selling used games (e.g. at a garage sale or via craigslist). It's GameStop's business practices?

I still don't understand why it's not sustainable?

Why is GameStop any different than ebay?

Is the issue simply that GameStop sells used games for too much compared to what they pay for them?

Is this some sort of perverted argument against usury? I don't get it.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:44 PM on August 26, 2010


"No better than piracy" is a load of crap.

1) If I sell a game, I can apply the money to a new game purchase. (mrgrimm's point above)
2) The fact that I can sell it makes the purchase price more tolerable in the first place, so I can buy more games than I would otherwise, and/or allows them to set the price higher.
3) Piracy involves duplication: two people having a thing where only one was paid for. When you sell a used game, the number of people who have it are the same as before you sold it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:58 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even though I don't generally buy used games, I'm worried about the direction things are headed for a couple of reasons.

When game companies don't have to deal with physical distribution and don't have to worry about used sales then there will be fewer reasons for games to drop in price. When there is no competition with the bargain bin at Wal-Mart, eBay, or the Salvation Army then your ten year old game can be priced at $20 instead of $2.

A company can stop selling a game for any number of reasons (new version is out, company goes out of business, found Jesus, etc). If old copies are non-transferable then you can't play the game unless you bought it when it was available.

Cutting out physical distributors lowers distribution costs. Aside from with some indie developers, do you think we see any of that savings? This isn't about what's right or moral, this is about what they can get away with.
posted by ODiV at 12:59 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was rather amusing to me that, of out of three of his examples of game stores, two have announced their desire to get into the used game markets and are likely to do so in all their stores in short order. They want in on gamestops lucre. This is why I don't understand publisher's lack of presence in the used game market. Money can be made all around, and instead of trying to get some from the stores, they are screwing over their fans.
posted by Carillon at 1:05 PM on August 26, 2010


I still don't understand why it's not sustainable?

By that I mean that Gamestop and the other retailers that are getting in on the action are pushing used over new to such an extent that they are cutting the developers out of the profit cycle more and more.

Short term, games companies go bust and Gamestop have less games to sell, Longterm platforms move to digital distro and Gamestop get cut out completely, its pretty self destructive.

When game companies don't have to deal with physical distribution and don't have to worry about used sales then there will be fewer reasons for games to drop in price.

Other games are a good reason for games to drop in price they are still competeng with each other remember and the type of sales that Valve offer on Steam prove that there is still room for value in digital distro.
posted by ham at 1:12 PM on August 26, 2010


Durn Bronzefist: I'm sorry; I cannot read the rest of your post. This is madness.

But it's such a fleecing! 60$ for the whole game, or 50$ for he whole game minus one entire civilization? That's ridiculous! But I'm going to wind up doing it!

Bugger bugger bugger bugger.

mrgrimm: you buy a game for 60$, open it in your car and bring it in to sell used they will give you 15$, and then sell it for 55$. That's the system. If I were a publisher and somebody was selling something I published at 92% of my MSRP, only undercutting me the tiniest bit to scrape my sales I would be pissed off too.

What do you think of StubHub? I wonder what TicketMaster does.


I was arguing against Gamestop and their specific predatory policies, which are directly to blame for these shenanigans. If the new game to used game price drop off were more significant, and Gamestop's profits less glaringly high, I bet we wouldn't be in this mess.
posted by paisley henosis at 1:13 PM on August 26, 2010


I think it would be better to provide an incentive to buy it new (like music CDs with DVDs packaged with them) rather than punish those that buy it used. That is like buying a used CD and not being allowed to hear all the tracks.

Isn't this point moot? We'll all be buying our games online pretty soon anyway.
posted by zzazazz at 1:14 PM on August 26, 2010


What odd synchronicity, Best Buy just announced they are expanding their used games program.
posted by nomisxid at 1:14 PM on August 26, 2010


jedicus: "Software doesn't really wear out and to the extent it does (e.g. because of hardware failing or OS upgrades breaking it) it does so much more slowly than a car. "

I finally retired my 91 Honda Civic last year. In 1991 the original Civilization, Neverwinter Nights, and Another World were released. For property that doesn't really wear out, it seems to require a lot of upkeep. To the extent that video games are entertainment, their ability to entertain often declines over time.

jedicus: "Trust me, if you could routinely sell a 2 or 3 year old Ford for 80-90% of its original price, Ford and other car makers would probably shift to leasing cars rather than selling them as their primary business model."

Ironically, this part of the analogy doesn't work. The depreciation of you driving the car off the lot is basically the results of high stakes negotiation. The drop from year two to year three isn't nearly so bad. So you can sell a 1 year old car a year later for 90 percent of that price.

I suppose a counterargument is that the video game MSRP is equally ficticious as sticker price on cars. There's dozens of ways to avoid paying full price. I don't even regularly buy used games, because the deals are quite nice. For example, in order to discount a new game without violating advertising support contracts, Amazon offers a 20 dollar credit to purchase a game at a later date. So I frequently buy new games for what is roughly 30 bucks. New Mario, Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M, Halo Reach, etc. Furthermore, that new game pricing quickly fades over time.
posted by pwnguin at 1:15 PM on August 26, 2010


Traditionally, the threat of mass uproar and the problem that games which operate on a subscription basis tend to do much more poorly unless they become massive successes.
This is another example of choosing control over money. It might actually cost users less to pay $5/mo over a year then $50 all at once. After they get tired of the game, they stop paying. But. They'll worry that if they stop paying, they'll lose their position (or whatever).

And they'll think (Oh, if I decide 6 months down the line that I want to play this again for an hour, I won't be able too).

People pay for convience and control. Game companies are going to be perfictly willing to do the same thing. Losing sales if it means more control that they could do something with later on (even if they never do)
The problem with telling your customers that "buying used games is the same as getting them from the Pirate Bay" is that they'll probably come to the same conclusion the minute you fill your games with anti-consumer bullshit. Only this time, they'll have a serious motivation to produce and use a free version of the server.
Do you really think people are going to come up with a free version of teh WWF Wrestling server? Maybe if this was Starcraft or some major release like (I guess) Modern Warfare.

What's interesting is that there's real money being made on professional gaming in Korea. One of the major lauges apparently has a beef with Blizzard and isn't playing SC2 yet. If anyone would be interested in and have the financial incentive to write an open source server to play the game online without battle.net, it would be pro gaming groups.
This kind of makes the whole dedicated server thing a moot point as Sony and Microsoft aren't into that kind of thing.
I haddn't thought about that, but Microsoft/Sony are working with the publishers to screw over users. The fact that "microsoft wouldn't like it" if users could run their own servers for certian games is kind of moot. Presumably a company could get away if they really pushed, especially smoeone like Blizzard (so for example, allowing console players to play against PC players)
It's never really been about peoples right to buy and sell their property, the issue is the way Gamestop has industrialised second hand sales in the video game market to an unprecedented and unsustainable level.
Larger then the video rental market in the 90s? I kind of doubt that. I'm sure the used car industry does more then $2 billion.
Buying a used game IS no better than piracy. It's just that piracy isn't really all that bad.
A single used game sale isn't any better then a single act of piracy. The problem is that one person can pirate distribute a game an infinite number of times, while they can only sell the game once.
posted by delmoi at 1:15 PM on August 26, 2010


Carillon--

What's going on is that they're trying very hard to maintain price controls. The difference between profitable industries and barely profitable industries -- yes, I'm serious -- is that the former finds a way to avoid competitive pressures, while the latter doesn't.

In the used game market, prices are discovered. Bullet Witch will sell for very little. Kane and Lynch 2 will sell for quite a bit more. Halo 3 and Final Fantasy XIII will sell for more, but will experience a discount due to the enormous supply of used copies out there.

The problem is that the median game has a value of, say, $10 to $30. The occasional game is worth $60. If new games start selling for the median value, then this huge amount of cash will be left on the table when the big hit comes out. So we get this situation now where most games are desperately overpriced, so the huge hits can really take it home.

The used market distorts the heck out of things, by showing how few games are actually worth their full price.
posted by effugas at 1:18 PM on August 26, 2010


Larger then the video rental market in the 90s?

The Movie industry actually got a cut of that money though, and as I already said, they had made money in the cinema and would make more selling to TV stations so it wasn't their only revenue stream.
posted by ham at 1:27 PM on August 26, 2010


Ok effugas, but why don't the publisher's try and enter the used market themselves, or at least try and get a cut? I mean Gamespot would likely lose a lot if two or three big publishers refused to sell to them, say EA, Activision or Ubisoft.

Plus price controls are out the window anyways, especially with digital distribution, at least as they exist right now.
posted by Carillon at 1:29 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, fighting for this system just seems to make the people who they depend upon for cash angry.
posted by Carillon at 1:31 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gamespot would likely lose a lot if two or three big publishers refused to sell to them, say EA, Activision or Ubisoft

Believe it or not Gamespot hold all the cards here, the big publishers have tried to push them around before and suddenly all their new titles don't get put on nice displays at the front of the shop and they soon step back in line.

How exactly do you expect them to compete with a retailer? set up their own High Street stores? If Gamestop don't want to cut them in, and they don't, their only option is stuff like locked out multiplayer and Project Ten Dollar.
posted by ham at 1:35 PM on August 26, 2010


Ok effugas, but why don't the publisher's try and enter the used market themselves, or at least try and get a cut? I mean Gamespot would likely lose a lot if two or three big publishers refused to sell to them, say EA, Activision or Ubisoft.

Everyone's girding for position here, but the bottom line is that some enormous proportion of EA/Activision/Ubisoft's sales come from GameSpot.

What the publishers are in absolute denial about is that the only reason GameSpot is able to push their product (sometimes) for $60, is because resale and lending is a major portion of the perceived value of the product.

This is totally non-intuitive -- kids are this smart?! -- but lets be blunt:

Digital downloads are superior. There's no media to lose, there's no trip to be made, even the devices are smaller and better (PSP Go). And yet nobody's buying the things. It's almost like something incredibly valuable is missing.

Meanwhile, XBox Live Arcade is doing great! Limbo sold 300,000 copies!

At $15 apiece. Not $60.

No digital delivery service has managed to achieve parity with retail pricing. There are two known attempts: PSP Go, and XBox Games On Demand. The former is an abject failure, and as for the latter...

...well, no offense, but I don't actually see any sales data coming out. If it was doing well, I imagine you would.
posted by effugas at 1:41 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess I didn't know that they had tried to push around gamestop before and failed.

But how can they compete? Well I guess it depends on how much of Gamestop's game sales stem from the other companies products and how much brick and mortar sales affect the publisher's bottom line.
posted by Carillon at 1:42 PM on August 26, 2010


A single used game sale isn't any better then a single act of piracy.

Sure it is. First off, the publisher at least saw the original sale. Second, as I pointed out way upthread, the secondary market allows the publisher to recoup some of its losses in the form of higher pricing for primary sales and increased investment in riskier titles. Piracy offers none of those things.
posted by jedicus at 1:56 PM on August 26, 2010


But it's such a fleecing! 60$ for the whole game, or 50$ for he whole game minus one entire civilization? That's ridiculous! But I'm going to wind up doing it!

Yeah I hear you, but this is Civ V. I mean: food in kids' mouths, rent, electricity... then what? You don't need to see Inception again. It's CIV.

posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:56 PM on August 26, 2010


Do you really think people are going to come up with a free version of teh WWF Wrestling server? Maybe if this was Starcraft or some major release like (I guess) Modern Warfare.

Well, yes, but those are the games the manufacturers are making their money on, because they're the games everyone wants to play. This is why pushing server-side control too far is an awful idea -- people will only bother circumventing server-side control for the games the manufacturers absolutely cannot afford to lose server-side control on.

Games manufacturers are getting closer and closer to saying "let them eat cake"... when they should be damned happy to be selling so much bread.
posted by vorfeed at 2:05 PM on August 26, 2010


Meanwhile, XBox Live Arcade is doing great! Limbo sold 300,000 copies!

At $15 apiece. Not $60.


At a tenth of the budget ...

Small budget + first-dollar distribution royalties + no COGs + very little marketing + no hardware royalties = teh l33t phatness.

Bug budget + skewed royalties + COGs + required marketing spend + hardware royalties = about $10 per unit for the developer = better hope it's a hit!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:11 PM on August 26, 2010


What it all comes down to for me is this: My Fun Time is worth $5 an hour

Ack, at that rate I'd be out $40k on the past two Elder Scrolls games alone.

I'm just waiting for the day when the conveniently placed billboard-style ingame ads are viewed as a quaint relic of the past.

Pirate: Soon you'll be wearing my sword like a shish-kebab!
Guybrush: First you'd better stop waving it around like a SWIFFER® DUSTER STARTER KIT - $9.95 NEW @ STAPLES®!

posted by jake at 2:18 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nice amounts of hyperbole on all sides here.

Here's my take:

When creative people make things I like, such as video games, books, movies, music, etc., I want my money to go them to help encourage them to make more good stuff. When a third party offers items used, my money does not get to the creative people. I'm lucky enough to be able to afford paying for the first sale and directing my money toward the people that I believe deserve it.

Some people are more limited financially and tend to buy things used or get them for free (the library). There is nothing wrong with this, but those people should recognize that their money is not rewarding the creators, hopefully encouraging the next bit of good stuff.

No one is in the wrong here, except those that steal or copy things illegally. It's really a discussion of the impact of the original creators being cut out of the financial loop created by their product.
posted by Argyle at 2:37 PM on August 26, 2010


Some people are more limited financially and tend to buy things used or get them for free (the library). There is nothing wrong with this, but those people should recognize that their money is not rewarding the creators, hopefully encouraging the next bit of good stuff.

The reason we're having this discussion is that the publishers are taking steps to prevent this from happening at all. If you think there's nothing wrong with this then you might also take issue with what they're doing.
posted by ODiV at 2:49 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


PLEASE!

GameStop

GameSpot
posted by mrgrimm at 2:56 PM on August 26, 2010


The thing that is wrong with all of this, and the Penny Arcade comic, is that publishers, creative people, whoever, already got their money when GAMESTOP bought the copies to put on their shelves. So "Kevin" in the comic, never was a THQ customer, even if he bought the game new. If you buy used or new in a physical store, you are a customer of that physical store.
posted by hellphish at 2:59 PM on August 26, 2010


Well, that's like saying by buying a new fur coat you're not supporting the fur industry because this particular coat was already made. Not only is it simplistically reductive, sometimes it's straight up wrong.

Chances are that Gamestop doesn't pay for the games when they order or even receive them. They pay for the games a month or so later when they pay the invoice. And the money that they pay those invoices with come from your new game purchase.
posted by ODiV at 3:07 PM on August 26, 2010


Attacking the used game market isn't necessarily going to get the studios more money. Where do game companies think most of the money people get selling games goes? You shut down game sales, sure, people have to buy everything new, but if they can't sell games they won't have as much money to spend and won't be buying as many games in the first place.

This is really bad for single-player games, since those have short-term appeal and a lot of people won't be willing to pay $65 or whatever ridiculous price for something that is like ten hours long if they can't recoup any of that later. The big multiplayer opuses will probably be ok, since people didn't really sell those all that much anyway.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:09 PM on August 26, 2010


That's weird. I feel completely differently about the length of appeal of Single Player vs. Multiplayer.

Multiplayer is, in part, the company selling you teammates and opponents, a community. If they cut down on the used game market then some of that community will disappear. This probably won't hurt big EVENT games like StarCraft II or COD4:MW2 which have huge communities, at least at first, but it might very well hurt the smaller ones. As people stop playing they won't be able to give or sell the game to others to help maintain the community.

Single player games, on the other hand, can still be picked up and played long after any sort of community has died.
posted by ODiV at 3:17 PM on August 26, 2010


Chances are that Gamestop doesn't pay for the games when they order or even receive them. They pay for the games a month or so later when they pay the invoice. And the money that they pay those invoices with come from your new game purchase.

Actually they order x number of cases, and the ones they don't sell they can send back to the publisher, and then they get a discount on their next order.
posted by hellphish at 3:28 PM on August 26, 2010


Meanwhile, XBox Live Arcade is doing great! Limbo sold 300,000 copies!

At $15 apiece. Not $60.


At a tenth of the budget ...

People think price has something to do with the cost of production. And then, they're very confused when $0.05 of sugared water sells for $2.

Nobody knows, or cares, what something cost you to produce. All they care about is what value they're receiving.

When you strip the ability to resell, rent, or lend a game, you're delivering less value. And what's crazy, what's genuinely amazing, is customers totally notice. Google search for "pgp go expensive"? 364,000 hits!

Now, it is true that it's more expensive simply from an "initial buy in" perspective, but that's not enough to account for the 40x sales differential. There's always a community who wants the latest and greatest, and there's no question PSP Go is a smaller and cooler design.

But the games weren't just the same price. They were 2x-4x the cost, because you couldn't transfer them.

Nobody cares about your budget, or royalties, or COGs. They care about what's being delivered to them. Why would anyone spend just as much money and get half to a quarter as much?
posted by effugas at 3:47 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


You've missed the original point, which is that the lower price points of XBLA games naturally meant lower profits for game developers and a economic dead end.

Which is not at all true, from the standpoint of percentages, as XBLA and other digitally distributed games generally have significantly lower development and marketing budgets, and more generous royalty structures.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:14 PM on August 26, 2010


effugas: "Nobody knows, or cares, what something cost you to produce. All they care about is what value they're receiving."

Well, we do, out of a sense of fairness. We rationalize it as expecting competition to reduce prices to the marginal cost of production. It's also a lot easier to figure out what a product costs to produce than the "value it delivers". Marginal cost and value received are the floor and ceiling for negotiated prices, and each side tries very hard to figure out the other side's number. CheapAssGamer lets you set up price alerts when a game drops below a specific price and I have no doubt they sell that data, or intend to.

There's an important distinction to be made here that is common among engineering finance: marginal costs determine price, not the fixed costs like development. Fixed cost of development determines whether you do it at all.

On the whole though, I agree that games treated should be treated as assets; I emailed gabe before this thread on Mefi started up with the subject line "Games as assets adds value".
posted by pwnguin at 4:16 PM on August 26, 2010


pwnguin,

There's no evidence that "a sense of fairness" drives behavior, and plenty of evidence that it doesn't.

Beyond that, do you have any concept of what the marginal costs are for:

1) A basic car
2) A luxury car
3) Crossing a bridge
4) A coke
5) A cigarette
6) The shirt you're wearing

Maybe you really think you know, but most people don't. What they do know is:

"Would I rather have a DVD or a Video Game?"
"Would I rather cross the bridge or work outside of Manhattan?"
"Would I rather buy this shirt or that shirt?"

Even these sorts of differentials can be gamed, but the hierarchy is of relative preference, not absolute value and certainly not fair compensation.

This is why I argue, when something of value is obviously being taken away (transference rights), people notice, and only accept when there's some huge discount. Doesn't matter that the dev costs on the natively $15 games are less...they're fun, and the price was right.
posted by effugas at 5:44 PM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well since Penny Arcade didn't even finish its line of games...

Ya know I don't know where I was going with this.. some kind of directionless anger
posted by MrLint at 7:20 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


effugas: "There's no evidence that "a sense of fairness" drives behavior, and plenty of evidence that it doesn't."

I think we have different ideas of what "sense of fairness" means. I'm not talking about people doing something because it's fair, but about outrage about unfairness. We have documented evidence that people will punish "cheaters", and there's no shortage of evidence in the world of outrage about getting ripped off. When you're waiting in line for 10 days to haul goods into Beijing, outrage at people overcharging for ramen is understandable. Similarly, there's plenty of outrage at high margin luxury goods. (Authoritative example)

My only point was to clarify that we do care, when we find out. Yes, we resort to comparisons to the past in absence of information, and your argument about changing the terms triggers a sense of unfairness even without a good grip on cost of production. It's not a different deal, it's an obviously and strictly worse one.

As far as "sense of fairness driving behavior" goes, how about this: I will not buy this wrestling game; changing the terms like that without giving up anything in return is unfair. Instead, I'll be reading a few books I picked up from the library today on behavioral economics.
posted by pwnguin at 7:54 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


pwnguin--

Oh yes, you are entirely correct that consumers expect to be treated fairly. It's just not true in the other direction. In other words, "You're selling me a game at full price, but I only get a third of the value? That's unfair, I will punish you" is totally accurate. "This game is amazing, I feel horrible about buying it used"? Not so much.

I'm not convinced that people get particularly angry when they find out about cost of production. We buy all sorts of things with huge margins -- soda, popcorn, cigarettes, etc. In fact, people rather clearly have a strong habit of buying the expensive luxury item just because it's the expensive item that thus displays status. The cost of production is just not really a major thing.

My point is that the abject failure of PSP Go really does show, in no uncertain terms, that the $60 price point depends on the value of resale and lending. I'd have thought that the loss of value was too subtle to be noticed. Nope, it's front and center.
posted by effugas at 10:10 PM on August 26, 2010


effugas: "I'm not convinced that people get particularly angry when they find out about cost of production."

I was really hoping this wouldn't be called out, because I recall recently watching a video, in which the speaker describes how his childhood education intentionally and unintentionally trained him entrepeneurial skills, that I cannot find, rewatch and link to. Contained within it is a "buy low, sell high" anecdote. He buys comic books from kids on one end of town, and sells them for twice as much to kids on the other side of town. One side is more affluent but I can't remember or reason out which. Somehow a provider and buyer meet, discover they've both been taken advantage of, and beatings ensue. I tried looking for it earlier but my archives fail me.

I guess it's covered in the Econtalk podcast entitled "Price Gouging," and one "Munger on Middlemen, but I'm not fond of these as references because the Munger podcasts frequently devolve into a mansplaining/male-answer-syndrome pattern. The bad news is that it's long on observations and short on rigor, but that's precisely what's asked for here. People do get angry.
posted by pwnguin at 10:35 PM on August 26, 2010


The PSP Go is so damn frustrating. I have joint problems such that playing our first-gen PSP is sometimes out of the question: the thing is too heavy and I have to either lean over to see it rested in my lap, or hold it up in front of my face; neither works for me. But the PSP Go can be paired with a PS3 controller and can output to a TV -- perfect! The PS3 controllers weigh less than a sandwich and I can loaf and play at the same time.

Oh wait. Ludicrously expensive digital distribution. Never mind.

I don't know how it works out in the US, but over here non-Steam digital downloads are usually more expensive than buying new from a shop. Starcraft 2, for example, is £44.99 to download but £34.99 at the shop down the road. Even with no download cap on our internet I can't justify £10 to avoid a fifteen minute round trip, especially since even with the connection maxed out it'd still take over an hour to download.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:09 PM on August 26, 2010


Digital distribution is a good answer to the "used game problem," but subscription models emulating MMOs certainly are not. The complete failures of the ultra-hyped Hellgate: London and All Points Bulletin are just as important examples as the PSP Go in this discussion. If your game has a subscription model, consumers expect to be getting more game, and ongoing content delivery that justifies the continued expenditure, as MMOs do. You need to present a product that, after a month of play, leaves the gamer wanting more - or your online community will vanish and your multiplayer will become unusable for the few hangers-on.
posted by mek at 11:22 PM on August 26, 2010


> I just knew the "analyst" was going to be Pachter.

"the analyst who defies the law of averages by getting the vast majority of his guesses about the future of the games industry totally and utterly wrong"
posted by Bangaioh at 3:50 AM on August 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I'm alrady paying a subscription for xbox live and remember intial titles coming with FREE live subscriptions and I'm also sure the servers for these overpriced upfront subscriptions wont be around in perpetuity

The full price point of games without these 'features' used to include right to resale, and a continuing first person experience - if people are happy to pay the same for games with restrictions, then good luck to them.

This is another step to sustain full retail price and day 0 sales for the product,(which has a very fast and steep decay curve) based on its target audience, and good luck with that too, but unless the games start offering more than running around like an idiot with 14 yr olds they are missing out on my money.

Arcade seems the right place for this kind of disposable gaming. Subs seems right for some games(ie anythign with a community), but $60 for a 1 to 3 mth subscription seems like a rip off to me
posted by fistynuts at 7:13 AM on August 27, 2010


The complete failures of the ultra-hyped Hellgate: London and All Points Bulletin are just as important examples as the PSP Go in this discussion.
posted by mek


True I don't disagree at all, but at least in the case of All Points Bulletin (never played or saw Hellgate), watching the game demoed by the creators at PAX East, it was clear that it just wasn't any good. It came off as a hollow GTA clone with some crappy multiplayer in place of an engaging story. When you can't make a game look good during a demonstration, you're having a serious problem before your subscription model even enters into it.
posted by haveanicesummer at 7:19 AM on August 27, 2010


The games market, like other markets, is filled with actors. All of these actors are trying to iteratively solve a complex equation that can be summarised by its title: MAXPROFIT.

All actors, that is, except for one: the end user. The end user wants MAXFUN.

(This is an advantage we have over corporations: we don't have to be consumed by profit-seeking. They have no choice.)

The really neat thing about this situation is that MAXFUN's terms are only loosely coupled to the outputs of all those MAXPROFITs.

As the end-user, you can choose where you get your fun based on any variables you wish. If you listen to the MAXPROFIT people and buy into their sales and marketing arguments, you'll wind up linking your MAXFUN terms to those terms that the MAXPROFIT people want you to, e.g. current gen systems, MMO, released this week, licensed character, new purchases, best graphics, 3D video screens, etc...

And when that happens, your MAXFUN becomes part of their MAXPROFIT equation. They like that.

Since the truth of the matter is that MAXFUN is defined only by you, you can choose how and where to participate in all the various MAXPROFIT offerings that are arrayed before you like a buffet. Just see what is available, plug the options into your own equation, and solve for MAXFUN. Make a rational choice for your own pleasure.

It's kind of a neat concept, and although it's obvious in retrospect, it's nevertheless useful to use it to boil lots of stuff down to MAXPROFIT vs. MAXFUN or MAXTASTE or MAXVACATION or anything else.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:08 AM on August 27, 2010


But if I don't buy new to achieve my MAXFUN than companies won't make MAXPROFIT and their shareholders will cause them MAXPAYNE... (3, arriving in 2011 from Rockstar Games, please buy new.)
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:29 AM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


mek: Digital distribution is a good answer to the "used game problem," but subscription models emulating MMOs certainly are not. The complete failures of the ultra-hyped Hellgate: London and All Points Bulletin are just as important examples as the PSP Go in this discussion. If your game has a subscription model, consumers expect to be getting more game, and ongoing content delivery that justifies the continued expenditure, as MMOs do. You need to present a product that, after a month of play, leaves the gamer wanting more - or your online community will vanish and your multiplayer will become unusable for the few hangers-on.

I'm sorry, but this isn't what killed APB. APB was DOA once they did the open beta weekend, and let everyone who was excited about the game see how incredibly shit it was. The best parts of the game play like a tech demo for a very impressive character customization engine, while the rest of the game is painfully tacked on and, frankly, a waste of time.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:02 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


APB was fun enough to play with friends - I had quite a few people in on open beta weekend with me. It was goofy casual fun, but the price was right. The problem was that buying the $60 box, a questionable value in itself, only gave you a static number of hours of gameplay, which is a twofold problem. First, it says to the consumer "there is this much gameplay in this box" which immediately invites evaluations of value; and second, it results in the vast majority of your population ceasing to exist at about the same time, when their hours expire. Those who enjoyed it enough to pay extra no longer had a game to play - just queues to wait in.

Had APB been developed for $10mil and charged $40 could have profited well enough. Instead they squandered $100mil and imposed a ridiculous business model as a hail mary. Increasing cost of development has a great deal to do with the current used game debate, as well.

A common feature of both APB and HG:L (and other abortions like Star Trek and Champions Online, and Tabula Rasa too if my memory serves) were "lifetime subscriptions" that cost $200. Nothing screams "about to go bankrupt" like that particular deal.
posted by mek at 11:40 AM on August 27, 2010


Of course, you are correct in that all the above games also happened to be shit. But were they shit because they outright sucked, or they just weren't good value?
posted by mek at 11:42 AM on August 27, 2010


tycho responded on penny-arcade to the controversy. the part of his post that talks about it:
It turns out that used games are a tremendously controversial issue. Part of the reason response to the comic and post has been so massive is that (aside from our inflammatory presentation) this conversation has been a long time coming. The thing for the commentariat to do about this issue typically is to carve out as populist a stance as possible, to cluck and tut tut about it so as to ingratiate themselves to you as much as possible, and then follow up by posting a picture of a belt buckle. That strikes me as a bit precious.
Because this is the Internet, every argument was spun in a centrifuge instantly and reduced down into two wholly enraged, radically incompatible contingents, as opposed to the natural gradient which human beings actually occupy.
People who buy used games are not pirates, by definition. Used games (used everything, really) are and will continue to be a legal and protected form of commerce. Other industries have done what they can to co-opt, destroy, or harvest those markets, but their existence is settled law. What I have said is that the end result of that purchase from a developer perspective must be indistinguishable. Isn't it? That is the question I couldn't answer. I still can't answer it. And because I couldn't, I had to change the way I invested my leisure dollar.
People want to talk about used cars, or libraries, or any other thing really, but I'm not talking about the universe in general - I'm talking about the tiny part of it I have any control over. That bit up there is the part I can't resolve: the moral dimension contained within the purchase. Yes, I'm giving somebody money when I buy used. Is that sufficient? What is the end result, and what systems am I sustaining by doing so?
I'd rather not think about things like this, believe me. I'd rather be Mr. Perpetual Good Times, but I'm not built that way. On the whole, I'd say thinking has been a tremendous inconvenience.

shit like this actually upsets me. yes, tycho, the problem is that you thought too much. It's not that you actually and quite literally said that customers engaging in a legal and ethically sound act are indistinguishable from pirates. It's not that you did this within the context of talking about how your fame and prestige has earned you friends in the dev community. It's not that you used this privilege to construct a narrative around the consumer as though we were the ones hurting the industry we patronize. No no. It has nothing to do with that. It's that we want you to be mr. fun times. glad to see you've come around to the problem. By all means, continue to explain to us how your privileged position as an artist and industry insider means you get to tell us what's wrong with engaging in an innocent, time-honored and perfectly reasonable activity, because everyone should be willing to spend as much money as you do for new product. It's good to know your economic, emotional and cultural distance from your audience has grown enough to affect your work. I look forward to your impending world music album and your memoir about how the barista got your latte wrong.
posted by shmegegge at 8:20 PM on August 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I was reading that too.

Used games (used everything, really) are and will continue to be a legal and protected form of commerce. Other industries have done what they can to co-opt, destroy, or harvest those markets, but their existence is settled law.

Except that companies are getting better and becoming more successful at finding loopholes to curtail our rights. You can legally copy a DVD for personal use just as long as you don't crack the encryption that's stopping you. You can sell your used copy of StarCraft II, but the code inside is already associated with a Battle.net account which can probably be canceled if transfered (I haven't read the TOS, but I'd be very surprised if it was allowed).
posted by ODiV at 8:33 PM on August 27, 2010


To be honest, I can't read the PA webcomic because I really don't care for the two guys, as people.

I mean Ctrl-Alt-Del is just a horrible webcomic, and Penny Arcade is much better, but the two guys are such dicks, as people, I really can't enjoy their work.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:22 PM on August 27, 2010


Not just because of this specific thing, by the way; there are lots of other examples of them really being heels, deep down, over the years.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:15 PM on August 27, 2010


paisley henosis: "Not just because of this specific thing, by the way; there are lots of other examples of them really being heels, deep down, over the years."

Like?
posted by ShawnStruck at 10:52 AM on August 29, 2010


They're also simultaneously really good guys, as people. Kinda like most people in that way. Also while I obviously disagree with Tycho bigtime on this front, the overall influence that Penny Arcade wields in reference to video games is a net boon to consumers (and children in hospitals) everywhere.
posted by haveanicesummer at 1:10 PM on August 29, 2010


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