Monday, January 07, 2013

Used Video Games: Not The Enemy

After posting about the DRM patent Sony filed late last year, I’ve been thinking about the used game “business.” I know a number of developers are in the mindset that used games hurt the bottom line, which over time affects new titles, new releases, and leads to the industry cutting back on jobs.

My personal view on used games is mixed. I can understand why the average consumer would be interested in a used product. It’s the same game, maybe without the original case or manual, at $5-10 less than the retail price. $5 is lunch (well its lunch for a week if you know how to stretch your budget and cook). So why not get the cheaper one if the game is going to be the same? For me, I believe in supporting the developers, purchasing the product at their price, and keeping the cycle. I also like to collect games, so new is better. An old, used, open game is worth nothing when compared to one that has never been removed from its box (NRFB!).

But I’m also a realist. I did not purchase any games last year at their release price. $59.99 is still a lot of money for the amount of content I’m getting from games ($59.99 for 10 hours of gameplay? Not worth it.) In fact the last time I did that was for Final Fantasy XIII-2, and even that was on sale at Amazon for its release. So…crap that doesn’t count. Before that we have, um, hmm, let me think.

Little Big Planet 2, January 2011. The special edition version at full retail price. It’s been 2 years since I last paid full price for a new game.

Unfortunately I don’t see the value in purchasing a product at release when I know it’s not worth the price. I’m the type of gamer that expects a ridiculous amount of game time or a high replay value that will allow me to go through that 10 hour game over and over again. When I go through a game once and I’m done in 8 hours, I wonder why I bothered to waste my money. I should have waited a few months, it would have dropped down, and then it would have been ok.

Sure it’s $20 less then what the company would have made, but it also wasn’t worth that extra $20 in the first place. The industry is still too high and mighty on itself when the products are not living up to the expectations. When I spend $59.99 on a game, I want the hours and/or content of the game to reflect the price. I can understand why people choose the Used version instead.

And for many of us, a Used game is what got us into a franchise in the first place. You can correlate this with music and movies as well. How did you first hear about a new band? Probably from a friend who let you borrow a cd. If you like it enough, you’ll probably buy a copy of the cd for yourself or download it from iTunes. Or you might get tickets to a concert, buy some of the swag (t-shirts, mugs, dolls, etc.) and who knows what else. The concept of borrowing or purchasing at a lower price isn’t new and could be viewed as a means of helping spur growth in other aspects. It’s all still going to the band (and in fact in many ways the concert and swag is even better-the record company doesn’t take as big of a cut as they do on cd sales).

Used video games can be viewed the same way. If a person likes the game enough, they may buy their own copy, or they may be more inclined to purchase the sequel when it releases. Or even other games from the same company. Maybe even the swag they produce (and there is a lot of video game crap out there). It’s still paying the employees’ salary, but maybe not in the expected method. Products are still being produced, in spite of the Used market that developers seem to be afraid of.

In order to move forward, the gaming industry really needs to start changing to adapt to reality. The same model has been in place for decades. Free iPhone and Android games, flash games online, all of these are open to the public and getting more hits than a typical console title at retail price. And you know what? Those companies are still making money. How many free versions of Angry Birds can exist? And yet people are still buying the paid versions of the games, as well as the board game, the plushies, the shirts, and everything else in-between. The problem, as I see it, is that the industry is so stuck in its ways. It won’t accept the fact that Used games exist. Instead of shunning them, they need to be embraced. These pointless DRM rules, and forcing people to buy online passes does nothing more than piss off the end user. What is going to possess them to continue purchasing your products if you keep screwing around?

A symbiotic relationship can exist with new and used video games. They shouldn’t be fighting each other for a piece of the market. I’d actually love to see more buy-back programs being utilized by developers. Rockstar will take back your GTAIV for $10, clean it up, and resell it through their website at a lower price than the original game. Or take an EA game with one of their stupid online passes. Instead of selling the game to GameStop or Amazon, take it to EA and they can re-sell it with a new online pass.

Done. That’s the system. Do that. That’ll appease the masses.

But it’s not just re-selling that’s the issue. Pricing of new games all need to be relaxed. It’s still too much to expect someone to pay $59.99 for a video game they may get a few hours of enjoyment out of. The same reason why movie theater attendance is stagnate in part due to the ridiculous prices. Who wants to spend $12.50 on one ticket, followed by $20 for one person to get popcorn and a drink? For a 2 hour movie that may or may not be ok, not to mention the rampant abuse of talkers, texters, and a ludicrous amount of commercials. My god! The last movie I went to, we arrived 30 minutes after the show-time was about to start, and we still made it before the movie began! I’m spending money to watch advertisements, Yea!

Again it’s another reality check that game companies need to make. Their products are not worth their prices. We really have to bring them down to a level of feasible means. $39.99 for a new video game? Much better. Hell even $49.99 would be realistic for the sequel-mania people are obsessed with. But $59? No wonder people are more inclined to get the used game. “Same game, for $15 less? Sold.”

It also doesn’t help that Nintendo seems to be the only company that is consistent with their prices. It takes a while, a long while, before we see price drops on a Nintendo game. But in general they are priced for mass consumption. $29.99-$34.99 for a DS game. $34.99-49.99 for a Wii game. It’s pretty reasonable versus the $59-79 prices that PC, Sony, and Microsoft releases. And they still turn a profit. Well most of the time.

Used games shouldn’t be the bane of the game developer. Maybe getting some new blood into the industry will help wake them up.

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