The Average Gamer

Don’t take away my pre-owned games!

MCV’s lead article this week talks about how pre-owned games sales are damaging the market:

“We are also told that retail does not have flexible walls, but the space being taken by pre-owned restricts new releases. “The fact that pre-owned is now on PSP is frightening. If consumers can buy new games at knock-down prices, how will the market grow?”

I like that… cheap games are restricting the market, are they? Their logic does not resemble our Earth logic…

I do get his point – money from pre-owned games goes only to the retailer, not the publisher or the developer to fund new games. It would be nice if they just came out and said it. Stopping pre-owned sales is not the answer though – the only group that will benefit from that is eBay. Money from pre-owned games isn’t totally lost to developers anyway – most people who trade in their unwanted games go straight on to spend the money on a pricey new game. After my pre-ordered Black and White 2 debacle there’s no way I’m risking £30 or more on a game I haven’t tried out for myself, unless I know there’s a chance of recouping my losses should it turn out to be a steaming pile of poo. Pre-owned games provide access to those of us who can’t afford full-price games. Sadly, not all platforms have budget labels.

I notice that they all skirt the oh-so-irrelevant issue of why new games are returned to stores to be resold so quickly in the first place. It couldn’t possibly be that *gasp* people don’t want them! I suppose the quality of gameplay has nothing to do with why I saw lots of copies of Black and White 2 still sitting on the shelves of Games Exchange last week, a mere two months after release. Awkward gameplay, no multiplayer – why should I keep it? My house doesn’t have flexible walls either. Is the game better off in a landfill? Games publishers may as well cry out “Recyling is putting us out of business!”

My proposals to lessen the impact of this hideous scourge of pre-owned game sales:

Developers: Stop flogging your throwaway games at stupendously high prices – if it has replayability or a reason to show it to my non-hardcore-gamer mates I’m not gonna get rid of it, am I? I still have my copy of Grim Fandango coz it’s just plain good. Equally, if a game costs £10-20 then it’s less of a risk if it should turn out to be a waste of money and I’m more likely to take a chance on it. I’ll still see films with poor reviews because the price isn’t that high and there’s the chance I might like it despite the flaws. Bad reviews, however will kill a game that didn’t have the budget to overcome bad publicity with marketing hype, simply because they’re too expensive for gamers like me to take that chance.

Retailers: I’m inclined to say that if they sell second-hand products at £3 less right next to new products they should give publishers/developers a cut of resell income. Personally, I don’t think comparing second-hand game sales to cars and electrical goods is fair. Cars and stereos are bought on the premise that they’ll last for years, CDs and DVDs are short enough to be infinitely replayable but a game usually only has some 30 hours of life. You can complete a game and return it 2 days after release and what businessman wouldn’t jump at the chance to sell it again but keep most of the profit? Games are pretty much as-new even after they’ve been completed – there’s no physical degradation through use so retailers are sourcing practically the same goods for cheaper and undercutting their own suppliers by reselling at slightly less than RRP – nasty practice and one that wouldn’t be so tempting if games weren’t so expensive. I reckon that for us gamers, if it’s priced up to about £20 the duty of supporting game creators takes priority over a small bargain. Anything more than that and saving money becomes much more important than assuaging my sense of morality.

If you really don’t like setting the precedent of paying royalties on resold goods, the only other feasible solution I can see for retailers is to introduce a second-hand embargo on new products – if a store wants to stock new products, they can’t sell pre-owned versions of that product for x number of months. People who can’t afford the new games can still get cheap versions from second-hand stores when they appear, people who can’t wait that long for the £3 discount will buy them full-price, publishers get money from their new sales and retailers stop leeching money from everybody by removing new products from the shelves as soon as they have enough preowned to replace it.

If games retailers don’t stop undercutting their suppliers and start negotiating with them, more and more publishers will simply turn to alternative distribution methods – supermarkets don’t sell pre-owned games in favour of new ones. Digital distribution is also growing and the technology makes it impossible to sell your old games, though the only way I’ll root for digital distribution to take over is if they guarantee to provide budget releases a year or so after the original release date, and not use it as a tool for price-fixing. I like my games to be affordable.

Related links:

Joystiq, 21st September 2005: VP of Epic Games mad about pre-owned game policies

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