Wednesday, March 14, 2012

#12: Game Publishers vs. Used Games

This topic is a serious issue among the gaming community. Simply inserting the words “used games” into a forum post is bound to transform whatever, otherwise benign, discussion into a huge flame war. Nonetheless, it is an issue that needs to be discussed. Game publishers have been trying for a long while now to defeat used game sales. There are valid reasons for this, and there are valid reasons to oppose it. In this article, I will attempt of give you an overview of used games, the method used to combat them and the pros and cons behind this tactic. Lastly, I will share with you my own idea for fighting used games.

The issue of used game sales is one that can be approached from a couple of different angles. Used game sales are a slightly different animal than used books or movies. For books, the cost of publishing a book is relatively low compared to other mediums. Therefore, it takes and much lower sales margin in order to make a profit from books. Movies, while they have high production cost, are also different because they go through several phases of profit making. First, they go into theaters and get profits from both national and international releases. They are then sold later on as DVDs and lastly they are televised on various networks after that. This means that both movies and books can more than afford the hit they take with regards to profits lost through used game sales. On the other hand, video games do not have these advantages. Modern games have incredibly high production values. It cost several millions of dollars to make a AAA game. Furthermore, they have only one method of profiting: sales. Modern games need to sell millions of copies just to recoup their losses. You (like me) could argue that this is endemic to other problems in gaming like the incessant need to keep advancing graphically when there is no need to, but it is impossible to say that the need sell tons of copies does not exist. To this end, publishers have come up with many ways to try to stave off used sales intentionally propagated by gaming outlets, most notably Gamestop.

Perhaps the most prevalent means of combating used games sales is through online pass systems. Online passes are special codes included with new copies of video games. These codes are used to unlock various features of the game. This means that people who buy the game used will be locked out of the content unless they pony up ten dollars in order to purchase the missing content themselves. This means that the publisher can make up some of the income lost through used game sales. That would normally be considered a positive. However, there are many downsides to this system. For one, this has the distinct tendency to piss off the consumer base that publishers and developer depend on to make their money. Not many people admit this, but public relations can be a significant factor in how well companies do. Consumers who feel like they have been screwed over are less likely to continue to buy products from the company they feel screwed by. There is another issue with online passes that should be obvious, but something that not many companies seem to forget: Not everybody in the world has access to a stable internet connection. This is typically a non-issue because the content blocked by an online pass is usually an online feature, like multiplayer. However, there are documented cases of games that had online pass-blocked content that was in the single player portion of the game. The most notable case of this was the Catwoman content in Batman: Arkham City. There are people who bought that game new, who rightfully own that content. However, they are unable to access this content because it is blocked by a system that requires an internet connection to function properly. This is outrageous. This is a publisher screwing over a completely loyal customer and then openly insulting them for it. While this is certainly an egregious way to combat used game sales, it is not the only way they do so.

The overall flaw with online passes is that it feels like the consumers are getting screwed out of their money. With that in mind, I have my own thought behind the best way to combat used game sales. I feel that the best way to stop used game sales is to reward consumers for buying new games instead of punishing consumers for getting used one. To do this, I would recommend giving consumers of new copies of games a discount on future DLC. This method engenders good will amongst the consumer base. People who buy used games will not feel screwed by the publishers. This might even inspire them to buy new when they buy future titles from the publisher in order to support them. People who buy new will also feel rewarded because even if they never actually use that discount, it shows that the developers care about their fans and support them. Lastly, Customers who lack an internet connection still have access to all the features they normally have. There is much to be said about positive PR. Publishers do better when they have the support of the fans who keep them in business. It is a flawed strategy, admittedly, but it is still a better alternate to online passes.

In the end, any method of fighting used games is nothing more than a bandage used to mask the overall problem of games being too expensive to make. The best possible decision is to stop trying to go for graphical fidelity, stick with decent, not not horrible, graphics, and focus more on making quality games. This graphics war is a huge issue when it inflates the cost of making games and of the games themselves. I do not know a single gamer who bought a game just because the graphics were good. The problem with online passes and used games is a symptom of an even greater problem. I hope the developers and publishers learn this soon, else the industry may be in for some tough times pretty soon.


Anonymous said...

I must agree. I purchased Halo 4, because it was a great series and I loved it. I didn't mind the offline only limtations imposed by Microsoft even.

However. With four, they stripped out a major feature (Firefight mode, essentially an infinite enemies bumrush mode,) and replaced it with another major feature (Spartan Ops, a co-op designed mini campaig, advertised to be playable alone or with a friend.)

Firefight was great. My spouse and I played it often. I'm sure Spartan Ops is great, except I can't tell- the mode is not only unavailable to me offline, it wouldn't even let me play it unless I have a Gold membership.

There is of course not even a halfway decent excuse for this behavior. The game installed the new content with disc two, and there isn't all that much that's new- it reuses the maps from the main campaign- all I needed was enemy locations, cutscenes and voice over dialogue, which was included already.

So, congratulations, Microsoft- You ticked off a vast horde of loyal fans of a multibillion dollar franchise for a shortsighted cash-grab.

As a consequence, when Halo 5 comes out, I do believe I'm going to leave it on the shelf. Bravo, Microsoft.

newdarkcloud said...

I feel so sorry for you my friend. I've never been too attached to Halo, but that just sucks.

Anonymous said...

Even better- the advertising claims it to be free, with free updates that include additional missions. It's honestly something that would have been nice years ago.

'Free' here seems to mean 'as long as you pay for a subscription'.

And there's the problem. Aside from Spartan Ops, there has never been a compelling reason to purchase Gold services. Sure they're free to pay for server upkeep however they like, but their client base is overflowing with jerks.

Realizing this, they keep tying various features to Gold subscriptions that they shouldn't. Like Netflix and Youtube. Services that are completely free on heir competitors, or I'm already paying an access fee for.

This is the first time they've held game content I would be interested in hostage, though. (Spartan Ops is a story that bridges the gap between games while they work on the next one.)

I was unaware Microsoft was hurting for money so badly. And Halo is in the unique position of holding a lot more safety nets than most. It has books, toy lines, animes, and more. Trying to squeeze loyal players for extra money seems.... excessive.

newdarkcloud said...

Though I often criticize Sony, this is actually one thing they do well. The paid service is very clearly not required to get the most out of your games. It is an extra service that affords you free and discounted games along with other features like Cloud saves. Not vital, but justifiable to purchase.