A Destructoid interview with Pete Hines of Bethesda Softworks raises a bugaboo for the used games market, especially with regard to developers. The basic issue is money or the lack of it.
A developer spends a huge amount of money to develop a game. They reap their profits from the initial sale of the game. But when the original purchaser trades in that game and it is sold to a second party, they get nothing. As with any argument, there are multiple sides. To keep it simple, I’ll focus on three: the used game seller, the new/used game buyer and the developer.
The developer essentially claims that they should receive a share of any secondary sales. It is their work, after all, so leaving them out of any future transactions is tantamount to theft in their eyes. My problem with this argument is that game developers are trying to distinguish themselves from other entities in the secondary market, such as used books, used records/CDs, used videos, used golf clubs, and the like. Leaving aside the issue of higher up-front costs, this is a distinction without a difference in my mind. In all cases, we are dealing with a situation where the original purchaser no longer wants the product and seeks to recoup some of their initial expense. The difference, at least in the case of the books and golf clubs, is that the producer can be relatively certain that the original purchaser did not make an extra copy somewhere along the line. For the books, records/CDs or movies, that’s just the way the business works and you knew that when you went in. Why are game developers any different?
The used game seller, on the other hand, rightly points out that in accepting a used game for resale, they are assuming the risk of not being able to sell it. That’s not a bad argument when you’re talking about niche games like Leisure Suit Larry, Spellforce, Alan Wake and such, but completely bogus when talking about AAA games such as Skyrim, GTA, Assissin’s Creed, Black Ops and the like. No one is going to ever convince me that a used copy of Assissin’s Creed 3 is going to sit on the shelf and gather dust unless it’s already 2020 or something.
Gamers also have a fair point. Games are an expensive habit. Top games will set you back $60 or $70 for the initial game, plus however much the developer tacks on for DLC or micro-transactions in online play. Consider a game like Dishonored or Bioshock Infinite that has some, but not much replay value. Figure $60 for the basic game and figure that I’m going to be done with it in 10-15 hours (I’m assuming no second play-through). I’ve forked out enough for a few new-release DVDs and received essentially the same entertainment value. If someone is willing to take my game in trade for something else that I’m going to get 10-15 hours of entertainment from, then I’ve significantly offset my initial expense and I have no problem chalking up the remainder as the cost of being able to play it first. Expensive bragging rights, but worth it to some gamers.
On the whole, I think the gamers and game resellers have slightly more compelling arguments. Were the developers to step in and say, “OK, we’ll knock $20 or $30 off of the initial price of the game in return for a cut of any secondary sales”, then I wouldn’t have much of a problem. But it’s a system that can be manipulated. “Sale!!! Was $100, but take 67% off!” Was it really $100 or was it $100 from 8:00 to 8:01 so that they could legitimately claim that a 67% price reduction occurred? I also find the argument that “if we don’t get bigger cut, we just won’t make quality games” to be bogus. There’s a $20+ billion market out there (for PC games as of 2011) and it’s money available to whoever wants to produce a game that players want to pay for.
Pete Hines’ idea in the article that led to all of this is the best one put forward thus far. If game developers were to produce games that people didn’t want to trade in, then the issue becomes a non-issue. It’s difficult to buy a used game when there aren’t any to be had. That’s not going to happen (remember the old saw about not being able to please all of the people all of the time), but it’s certainly the best starting point in the argument. In the meantime, if developers want their arguments to hold water, then need to distinguish themselves from other copyright holders who do not get a say in secondary markets.