Do you buy your games second-hand? Then you are a complete cheapskate and the scum of the gaming industry. You’re worse than any pirate sailing the high seas of warez. Or at least, that’s what publishers want us to think. Whether you have the right to sell the products you have purchased is irrelevant: the sale of used games is damaging the games industry.
When a new game is traded in or sold to a game store, that money is then kept by the retailer rather than reaching the hands of the hardworking developer who spent blood, sweat and tears on creating their pride and joy. The same game could be bought and sold numerous times and it can be argued that those purchases are a potential sale which has been stolen from the game companies themselves. It is true that you don’t hear the music or film industry complaining about their second-hand losses, but does creating an album or a movie compare to the amount of money and effort spent on developing a Triple-A game title? As always, it is the consumer that decides whether a game is worth its $50 price tag, and often they decide to go with a pre-owned price instead.
Rubbish Incentives for New Purchases
Game companies already utilize a number of methods to gain extra cash after the release of their games in the form of downloadable content (DLC) and there are now incentives to buying new. Pre-order bonuses seem to be popular right now with many games including codes for additional DLC or specific in-game bonuses.
We’ll be taking a look at some of the rubbish incentives offered by publishers to encourage new purchases and what alternatives would be more welcome.
Exclusive DLC & Pre-Order Bonuses: Gamers aren’t new to the idea of receiving bonuses within collectors editions and the like, but more recently we’ve been seeing a lot of extra freebies within new games or as part of pre-ordering a title. Most of this is in-game DLC, such as new weapons and armor, new maps or various other cosmetic additions which don’t actually add that much to the game. In fact, most of this stuff you could probably live without. I don’t really need the Blood Dragon Armor in Dragon Age Origins and I can live without a tattoo set in Fable 3, thank you very much. I would go as far to say that DLC armor is one of the most pointless examples of a DLC incentive, ever. Although perhaps not as pointless as the Horse Armor from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
In some cases, the DLC offered is a little more substantial. Some games offer quests or missions, and this feels like more of a ‘thank you’ bonus. Bioware have taken this one step further by offering a DLC delivery service in Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2. This service allows players to download a series of free items, as well as access paid DLC. In Mass Effect 2, this included a few extra side-quests and exclusive armor/weapons (Groan). Player’s could also add a new character to their game squad, Zaeed, and he came with his own loyalty mission as well as a few small areas to explore plus a new weapon. Whilst this is a better incentive and adds more to the game, if you didn’t purchase Mass Effect 2 new, then getting a hold of Zaeed would cost you 1200 Microsoft Points ($15). Yikes.
The cost and worth of DLC is something to discuss at a later point, but to judge the quality of future DLC, compare it to the Undead Nightmare pack from Red Dead Redemption. For only 800 Microsoft Points ($10), a whole new single player game is unlocked which rivals the original game. It’s a stunning example of quality DLC.
Online Passes: Now this seems to be an interesting/worrying trend in recent games, delete as appropriate. It all started with EA as they introduced the idea of an ‘Online Pass’ for some of their major titles, such as Dead Space 2, The Sims 3, Madden NFL 11, etc. This online pass is a one-time code which gives access to online multiplayer functionality within their games. What this means is that you are restricted from playing online unless you either buy the game new, and thus have a pass code, or you spend $10 on acquiring this pass if you’re unfortunate enough to buy the game second-hand.
A few companies have already started to take on this system, including Ubisoft, Codemasters, Warner, THQ and now Sony. Sony will be following the same trend by offering a code at $10 for second-hand gamers and this initiative will begin with the release of Resistance 3.
Whilst online passes are a good method to create profits from potential lost sales, they’re also rather worrying as they penalize second-hand gamers, effectively stripping away a chunk of game content from the player. In some cases, the online portion of the game is much bigger than the obligatory story mode and if you’re already paying for services like Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus, then it just adds on an extra fee.
Un-resettable Game Saves: Now this ‘incentive’ really does take the cake. In the recent Resident Evil Mercenaries title by Capcom on the 3DS, players are prevented from erasing their save data. This means that the game cannot be started from scratch and appears to be a direct attack against second-hand games. Now, it isn’t a big deal in Mercenaries 3D, as this data roughly translates into high scores and some unlockables, but imagine if this system was used in other games, such as an RPG? What if you bought a second-hand game which was already completed? As a result for this move, most rental stores are unwilling to stock Mercenaries 3D.
But the worst thing about un-resettable games is that it also penalizes gamers who have bought the game new, as they are prevented from resetting their game data if they wish.
What’s the Alternative?
So, if these incentives which encourage us to purchase brand-spanking new games are not working, or are ‘slightly crap’ at best, then what is the alternative?
Club Nintendo: Nintendo offer some of the more interesting incentives for new purchases. Each new game comes with a card which can be redeemed for points within the ‘Club Nintendo’ service. Here, gamers can spend their points on a wide variety of collectable Nintendo merchandise, ranging from posters to clothing. There are loads of items which can be saved for. Never mind that some of the better items require a handful of points and probably ten hundred Wii’s, getting physical items for your loyalty is a pretty neat idea.
Imagine if you could be awarded with Microsoft points to spend on XBLA games? Or maybe you could spend those points on real world items, such as control pads, or posters? I would love to see real rewards as an incentive rather than some shoddy in-game armor.
Casual & Digital Games: There is a reason why digitally downloadable games, such as those on XBLA or PSN as well as mobile gaming, have become so popular. They offer a great gaming experience for a cheap price. All of these services have grown over the years, from selling small retro games to fully-fledged gaming experiences which are big enough to make many full-priced games weep. I know I would sooner have Limbo on my Xbox than some dodgy Kinect version of Carnival Games, and it’s much more value for money too.
Mobile and indie games are continuing to grow and many game developers are already aware that smaller games are an alternative to big budget titles. This doesn’t mean we’ll see the end of Triple-A games, but it does re-evaluate the value of such games.
Lower Those Prices: Fact is, not everyone can afford to buy a full priced video game. We’re living in tight times, and with some titles selling for as much as $60, for many it’s a case of buy cheap or miss out. Some games are quite frankly not worth $50 and are reduced to half price in a matter of weeks. Even digitally distributed titles can cost just as much if not more than their retail counterparts. Pre-owned games are popular because they are cheaper. Simple, really.
Whilst it appears that certain game stores are taking advantage of the popularity of used games to maximize their profits, especially as their pre-owned selection seems pretty overpriced anyway, pre-owned titles are also the lifeline for smaller independent retailers that battle against the larger chain stores. We all know that choice offers the best deal for customers, whether selling new or used games.
Online retailers such as Amazon and Play.Com offer lower prices still, but I would hate to see these replace the magic of main street shopping. However, if retailers can offer better deals on new titles, then maybe this will encourage sales.
So What’s Next?
Perhaps the games industry needs to rethink their half-baked incentives and look at the reasons why gamers would sooner buy a second-hand game than fork out the cash for a shiny new copy. The industry also needs to shake off the idea that second-hand gamers are the enemy. We’re not pirates, we haven’t stolen a game. We’re just customers. However, the real problem lies with those retailers who maximize their own greed at the expense of the industry.