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Opinion: Pre-owned Games, The Route of All Evil (Apparently?)

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For as long as there has been game retailers, there have been pre-owned games. These tarnished, dented, scorned or discarded treasures have made cheap additions to any gameplayer’s collection.  In fact, it’s pretty hard these days to find anyone who buys exclusively “new” games.

But, according to a bunch of major game studios, that’s the way it should be?

Kotaku reported today that a growing number of game publishers such as Ubisoft, Sony, THQ, and EA Games are considering policies which “devalue” pre-owned games such as introducing single use codes for online play and then charging for additional codes.

Is this the end of the parallel market in gaming? Does this mean you will never again buy a game without a case, without a booklet, without a disc?! Oh wait, that happened to me at JB Hi-Fi with a brand new game. Never mind.

But seriously, are pre-owned doing that much harm to the industry? Let’s look at the facts.

Firstly let’s go positive. Pre-owned games provide a cheap alternative to full price titles, encouraging gamers to pick up games they might not usually buy at full price which then promotes interest in your product/franchise/company by people discovering that they do like Final Fantasy XXX afterall (yeah roman numerals aren’t my strong point). As well as this, the sale and exchange of preowned games allow gamers to reinvest in new titles, which once more generates interest in new games and companies as well as sharing around the “love”(that is, commission and profit).

On the negative side, pre-owned games could be seen to be taking money away from the game producers. After all, if there wasn’t that $10 copy of Gears of War that was missing a case you may have payed $30 for a brand new copy – and they would have received royalties from that sale unlike any pre-owned game sale. On top of this, there are some gamers who exclusively buy pre-owned games – which means there is an entire separate game market that the studios and publishers (aka the people who make the games) aren’t benefitting or profiting from (excluding the points above).

But do game companies honestly feel that the best way for them to “win back” those gamers who don’t buy new games is to punish them for buying pre-owned? To me it seems like the equivalent of Pepsi and Coke, “What’s that? You drink Pepsi not Coke? Well I poisoned your Pepsi, now every time you buy a bottle you will have to pay me for the antidote.”

I get that game companies want to make an honest buck, and by charging for their online services (through the use of “one-time” codes) they are simply making money back for something they still pay to maintain and develop. But at the same time, this sets an uncertain precedent for me. I mean, don’t they work out maintenance and development fees into their profit margins on the launch of the game? Realistically if 10 people buy Duke Nukem Forever and then play the multiplayer for free (or for Xbox Live fees which game companies take no commission from) for the rest of their lives then the 2k Games isn’t going to make any more money than the original commission for 10 game sales. If the same 10 people buy Duke Nukem Forever and then trade it in (a far more likely scenario) … well then, 2k Games isn’t going to make any more money than the original commission for 10 game sales.

Spot the difference? Nope, me neither.

While I feel for game companies who think that everyone is playing with their toys just out of reach and they only want a small slice of the action, when you compare the facts this “slice” is actually a little bit extra on top. Theoretically this means they could make limitless (assuming the same game gets re-traded a bunch of times and everyone wants to play online multiplayer) profit off of a single unit. Which starts to look a lot less like “well, I guess it’s fair” and a lot more like “Let’s turn him upside down, shake him and see what falls out”.

At the end of the day, the struggling aspect of the video game industry at the moment isn’t games publishers, it’s games retailers. While the growing digital market cuts into game stores profits, it has no effect on game producers – in fact, it can only positively boost their income.

So if they are (theoretically, but I’m sure there are statistics which prove it) making more profit on games than ever before – why did they choose now to make a price grab on pre-owned games?

I’m all for giving people their fair share, but greedy is greedy.

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