The Real Problem with Used Games

Oldschool Gaming

Ricard Julianti discusses the real problem with used games in this sharp opinion piece.  

Microsoft announced that they will no longer be imposing the restrictions on used games that caused an uproar on the internet, this article to be written (among others) and Sony to make a mockery of them at E3. Developers throughout the industry have imposed their own forms of DRM for years to combat the used game “problem.” Yes there is a problem with used games, but it isn’t what they would have you believe.

See, the real problem is that they expose the true value of the new retail product. If people are waiting a couple of weeks in order to buy a game used, it obviously isn’t a compelling enough product to warrant spending $60 on. If you make a game that is exactly the same as one that is releasing in a month, but with a different story and slightly different mechanics, there’s no reason to keep those games around. That also means there is no reason to buy them new either. If you can finish the single player portion in one play session, a lengthy one but a singular one nonetheless, and only offer replayability in the form of multiplayer which not everyone likes; there’s no incentive to shell out $60+ for a game. Instead, you buy it used on the cheap, play through it and trade it back in. That’s where the root of the problem lies, some games today are barely worth playing.

I didn’t play Bioshock Infinite, Injustice, Crysis 3, Dead Space 3, Black Ops 2 or Tomb Raider but I don’t feel like I have missed out on anything. I don’t feel compelled to finish Hitman because the usual formula has been watered down to a point where it doesn’t feel quite like Hitman anymore. Before The Last of Us, the last game I bought with my own money was Halo 4. Before that was Borderlands 2 and I don’t even remember what game came before those because they have all been the same crap regurgitated over and over. However, make a game worth playing and I’ll keep it forever. I wouldn’t dream of trading in Skyrim, Super Smash Bros, Mass Effect, the Ico & SotC collection or Arkham City for instance.

Instead of trying to “combat” used games as developers are doing now, they should actually try to compete with them. Offer up experiences that make people want to buy it new because they’ll feel like they missed out on something grand. Not because they’ll get Day 1 DLC for pre-ordering or won’t have to buy an online pass in order to enjoy the entire game. That doesn’t mean they need to create these big cinematic showcases with large set pieces and emotional storylines. We can get that for a sixth of the price at a movie theater. Some of the most successful games ever don’t have those things, just look at Minecraft or just about anything from Nintendo. All those cinematic experiences do is bloat the game budget, which is what leads to studio closures.

If developers can’t come up with anything more creative than “photorealism” as an art style and “violence” as a gameplay mechanic, the budgets are only going to get worse. Thusly, more development studios will be shut down or their franchises diluted to a point where there is nothing unique about them anymore. At that point, the market becomes saturated by the same games with overblown budgets and consumer faith wanes. This is exactly what happened in 1983 when the Western video game market crashed.

Just because “the masses demand” bombastic experiences, doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Look at Nintendo for instance. People have been harping on them to make gritty realistic games for over a decade, but instead they stick to what they do best and those games sell through the roof. They get on their case for “underpowering” the hardware, but their budgets are kept in line as a result. “We want new IP’s!” they cry; and Nintendo gives them those but in the classic Nintendo way. They make games that are fun to play, that have so much polish and replayability people simply don’t trade them in. If they do, it doesn’t matter because Nintendo has already earned in profits what it cost them to make the game three times over or more.

Some people like to use the argument that because more unique gamer profiles have played a game than have bought it means that all of those people bought the game used. Thing is, they forget about people who have multiple profiles for whatever reason, families, roommates that share the console or what have you. Should each of those people have to pay a full $60 in order to play the game? Because if Microsoft had stuck to its guns and kept their policies in place, that would be the future of gaming at the bare minimum. The family sharing plan was a stopgap measure to appease used game fanatics until they could eliminate them entirely sometime in the future.

Another argument tied in with this is that the developers should get every dime from used game sales. Developers work on a salary so their income is not based on how many units are sold new. At best, poor sales have an effect on bonuses the developers receive, which they don’t exactly deserve if they aren’t able to make a quality game without having an insane budget. A big problem is that publishers decide to use Metacritic as a gauge of how many people are going to buy the game and base projections off of that, which is foolish. Giving them the money from every used game sale simply rewards them for making a game that no one wanted to hold on to. I agree that they should get some of the money, but maybe only in the first 90 days or something and definitely not every dime.

The so-called “used game problem” has nothing to do with the used games themselves. Instead it has everything to do with developers making the same games as everyone else and not turning a profit when they manage to sell well over a million units. For the majority of the last and prior generations, used games and publishers lived in harmony. Now, every game tries to be the next big blockbuster, the next Michael Bay film. They are getting close in terms of budget spending, but are nowhere near the sales required for that kind of endeavor. Give players an experience they will never forget, will never want to let go of, and will convince others to buy based on the value it presents. Not an experience they can get again in a month, or for much cheaper elsewhere used because people didn’t care enough to hold on to it.

In short, go back to making video games fun with actual variety in all aspects. You’ll be shocked at the results.

 More From Playeressence 
Furious Francis
Check out the Furious     EA - The Worst                  Shin Megami Tensei X 
Francis’ Youtube!           Company in the US            Fire Emblem Preview
What’s with all the          E3 All Axis all the             Xenoblade 2 Preview 
Sega hate?                          hottest news from E3     Best Wii U game?
Author: RicardJulianti (11 Posts)

16 Responses to The Real Problem with Used Games

  1. Intel says:

    Just wondering in the banner. I get most of the characters but who is the woman in the fuchsia pigtails with the eye thing on her suit?

  2. Dusklurker says:

    Interesting read. I'm just not sure about the "masses demand" is entirely correct from my view point. If that were true then the Wii, 3DS, or little big planet never would have been as successful as they have been. I think it's just the most vocal people we are considering to be the masses. Goes back to what Francis said about DK being a system seller. It really does sell systems as did little big planet and the like, but the people that are buying these games aren't posting their opinions everywhere, they just let their spending do the talking.
    I completely agree with your take on used games :D

    • RicardJulianti says:

      That's why I put it in quotes. The "masses" I'm referring to are the very vocal minority. Game companies now try to cater to the vocal folks while the vast majority of people who buy the console and the games are not those people.

    • rodolfofornillos says:

      feel the same way about the "masses"… coz in truth, people like us, who give their opinions of sorts to sites like these, are really just the minority.

      this is the reason why i smile whenever i read something like "Nintendo is doomed this or that", or ask questions like "who's gonna buy this crappy game?" when talking about so-called "rehashes" of Donkey Kong and/or Super Mario Wold as if they're talking of majority opinion — when the fact of the matter is, even if those people may get many "agrees/disagrees/bubbles" on the site, there's no denying that sales-wise those "rehashed" games are some of the top-selling games out there.

  3. TsUaS says:

    Used anything has never been and never will be a problem. It was and always has been an indicator to companies about the quality of their products. Good products keep their value and are less likely to be sold. The smart companies are the ones that realize that.

    Since everybody seems to love reference used cars in comparison to used games, the auto industry was no different. For a while there, the US autos would line up on used auto dealerships while the Japanese and European autos were far and few between. It took the American auto industry going bankrupt to realize that their cars and how they built their cars were the problem.

    Over-powered, cheaply crafted cars with little in retention value and low fuel efficiency made it a hard proposition for people to buy their new vehicles. There were those loyal customers of course, but for the rest, they sold their US cars and turned to the Japanese auto makers who had cars that served their needs, which helped them grow while the US auto industry stagnated.

    It's no different than what the gaming industry is going through. Over-powered consoles that power high budget, high production games with little in the way of actual quality and value. Companies have gone bankrupt left and right, while the other companies are just barely making it or, in the case of EA, losing money left and right. It's not a healthy business model in any way.

    Their games get sold within weeks of being bought and line stores in bulk. People aren't keeping them, leaving more used copies out there, giving consumers the option to buy them. That should be telling them that their current business strategy is failing and that they should change it. Even with all of the facts available out there, they chose to ignore it and follow the current model. And it seems that they will continue to pursue it until it becomes successful or they are driven into the ground.

    Compare that to Nintendo, and you'd see their titles are hard to find, leaving the only options for the consumer being buying it new or search other avenues, like online storefronts, which isn't all that appealing because of the wait for the game to arrive to be able to play it.

    In the end, it's the same result; limiting the amount of used games out there, but the approaches are different. One is anti-consumer that strips them of their right to sell it, while the other is about providing a quality product with value to the consumer so that the consumer wishes to keep it and not sell it. The latter will always be the one in which consumers will gladly support.

  4. Aiddon says:

    that is definitely something most devs don't want to admit: they're spending too much on stuff that doesn't really affect the game. Seriously, I bet CoD could cut its single player campaign out entirely, sell the title for $30 and STILL be profitable as barely anyone plays the single player anyway (so ultimately it's an outrageous chunk of budget that is ultimately wasted). Same thing with stuff like Gears of War, Battlefield, or any other shooter where the single player is ultimately pointless.

    I tend to go towards games I know I'll get my money's worth out of. I will never sell any of my Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Smash Bros., or Fire Emblem titles because sometimes even after I've beaten them I'll go back and play them because they provided such fun experiences I'll want to go back and experience them again. Or some just have such huge content that I just can't STOP. I clocked nearly 200 hours in Fire Emblem Awakening and STILL haven't gotten all the Support Conversations.

    What devs NEED to do is lock budgets in and restrain themselves. However, that basically means they'd have to curb their egos and think laterally, something severely lacking in AAA development and is painfully endemic in the West especially. It's why you don't see many Western devs touch the 3DS as having to work within limits isn't as glamorous as doing AAA tech masturbation.

  5. timg57867 says:

    Used games became a problem when developers stopped putting IN GAME achievements in the games…

  6. Intel says:

    Byte for Byte I say look at Smash Brothers Brawl. The amount of content they stuffed into that disc is amazing. I’ll never trade that game in for anything because each time I play I find a new trophy or sticker or learn a bit about Nintendo’s history. That’s how you solve the used game issue. Just like you said Ricard give us a reason to keep your games and you won’t have to worry about used games.

  7. DoctorMontalban says:

    The big, cinematic experiences these AAA titles have been delivering leave me numb. Could it be because I'm dead inside? Maybe a little…but I still get giddy when picking up new versions of just about every new Nintendo, Platinum, and Monolith game (as examples), so it isn't that. I feel just as enthralled when I complete those games and I replay them, losing none of my enthusiasm, which I almost never do with other modern games on other systems.

    Of the series' you mention above, I played through Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, Injustice, Crysis 1 & 2, Dead Space 1 & 2 and….numbness. Bioshock is worth a rent and I enjoyed running through the Injustice campaign, but you in fact didn't "miss out" on much. Btw, the games you listed you wouldn't dream of trading away, and your take on the other titles, I feel exactly the same about, so we have some similarity in taste, so I feel confident I'm right that you wouldn't feel like you missed out on the aforementioned titles. They're technically well made, but elicit tepid responses here and there only.

    Anyhow, on topic, it's a terrible formula they have going, destined to fail…or at least get a serious adjustment. Nintendo has it right; make fun, unique titles and used games is a non-issue.

  8. Furious Francis says:

    Fantastic article, and it's so true. Nintendo is worried about keeping their gaming budgets in check and making games packed full of content. I don't mind not getting the huge cinematic experiences on the Wii U. I'm more worried about the actual game itself.

    Nintendo is providing more than enough content for me.

  9. Titan64 says:

    holy a crap, a short Ricard article. That's a first lol. Anyway, that whole bit about people begging Nintendo to make a gritty realistic game kinda makes me want to write an article about Rehash vs. Milked. People use those terms in a negative light. I can understand rehashing but milked? Yeah Mario is milked but so is Batman, Superman and many others but why? Because people like those characters. The story might be rehashed but who cares? It comes down to if the person is enjoying it. People say they want new and original ideas but it ends up becoming the same thing but with a new coat of paint. I mean, looking at The Order reminds me of something I have seen before, except its steampunk I guess. Even The Last of Us reminds me of Uncharted but instead its zombies (I will give credit for giving an origin of the zombies in a unique fashion).

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: