Used Games: Are They Really an Issue?

Used Video Games

The used game market is a very big part of gaming as a whole; it’s a system most consumers take advantage of and one that most game creators resent. Debate on this area is by no means new, but it has become far more prevalent recently due to Microsoft’s announcement of the Xbox One. At this stage it is still relatively unclear what exactly Microsoft is planning to do – rumours of activation fees for used titles may have been quashed, but it still looks as though Microsoft is trying to interfere with the market or attempt to share in its profits. The only thing that is clear at the moment is that most people in the gaming industry view used games as an issue to be combated, and this leaves open the pertinent question of whether this is truly the case.

First of all it is important to put across the argument for the used game market. First and foremost consumers have a right to it, once you buy a copy of a game it is your property and you should be able to sell it if you want to. If you can sell it then it stands to reason that somebody can buy it, and thus you have a used game market. This isn’t something unique to games by any means; people buy used DVDs, books, CDs and even cars – the difference being that those processes are left unimpeded. What this means is that you shouldn’t get rid of the used market, as to do so would be to interfere with the rights of the customer. This still leaves open the possibility that the game industry should put in policies to try and harm this market though, and this looks to be the way things are headed. However, there are clear benefits to the used game market and this means that action against it by publishers and console makers is unappealing. Used games exist due to their affordability and availability, and both these factors are important for consumers. After all, gaming is an expensive hobby and the used game market provides a way to partake without spending all of your hard earned cash.

In spite of this, people in the games industry still wish to show used games as an inherent issue. One common argument against the market is that used games take away money from new games. New games make money for game creators, game publisher and the console makers, whereas used games only benefit game retailers. Used games don’t always negatively impact new games sales though, in fact for many people the used game market provides a way to keep buying new games. Game releases may have slowed down at the moment, but come September there will be a torrential downpour of promising new titles all claiming to be necessary purchases, and all demanding you to shed out shed loads of money. Most consumers simply cannot afford all the new games they want, unless they take advantage of the used game market. The point here is that selling an older game makes your next title that bit more affordable, and this process can allow you to buy more new games than you otherwise would be able to. There are many people out there who can only afford to keep buying new titles because they keep selling their old games, thus showing a way where the used game market helps out new game sales rather than taking money from them.

Another great positive is that used games play a valuable role in making games more available to the consumer. Because only a certain amount of brand new copies are ever shipped there comes a time when buying new just isn’t feasible. Making more copies is often too costly; therefore the only way to experience certain titles at this stage is to buy them used. Put simply used games allow more people to experience a larger number of titles. Developers, publishers and everybody else in the industry have shown a want for games to be accepted as an art form; therefore people experiencing your art should be important as well as just making money. A developer should want their game to be played by as many people as possible and used games allow for this kind of outreach – they widen the audience pool and lower pricing so that more people can play your game.

So what is the real issue with used games then? The actual problem here is not the market itself but how it is handled. The problem being that the used game market is exploitative. Selling a game to a shop may be the way you keep playing games, but it is also the way you keep getting ripped off. It’s common practice for game retailers to buy games for a pittance and sell them for a small fortune. Used games should benefit the consumer by being affordable, but this really isn’t the case. Retailers take advantage of the consumer with their pricing, and this creates a situation where retailers get substantial profit while less money goes to game creators. Used games are still more affordable than new games, but not significantly so. On top of this, the low selling prices make utilising the used market a less viable way to keep buying new games. The point to take away from all of this is that there is nothing wrong with used games in theory; it is simply the handling of this market which makes it problematic.

The game industry still wishes to view used games as an inherent problem though, purely because when somebody buys a used game (no matter its price) that means they didn’t buy a new game. However with the used market in the state that it is in it simply doesn’t have to pose a threat to new game sales at all. The solution here is not to tackle used games but to incentivise new games. People buy used games because of their affordability and availability, all Microsoft (and Sony) need to do is create an environment where the same can be said for new games. This solution is something Valve has actually already achieved on the PC. The used game market barely exists on PC, and is wholly unreliable; however this isn’t an issue for PC gamers. This is because companies like Valve manage to make new games very affordable, and have introduced an environment where used games are irrelevant. Steam is a download store for PC games run by Valve (developer of Half Life and Portal) and is worthy of note purely because it is a service which makes new games as enticing as used games. It being a download store means you only ever buy new copies of games, and it also means that Valve doesn’t run out of copies of games (meaning that availability is no longer an issue). Frequent sales and variable pricing mean that games on Steam are also incredibly affordable, often offering far better prices than used game retailers do. All that Microsoft and Sony need to do on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is implement a similar system, one that allows for smart variable pricing and thus incentivises buying new games. If Sony and Microsoft can adopt this method with their next platform, used games simply aren’t an issue.

Both console makers currently have download stores, but both aren’t doing a good enough job in regard to incentivising buying new. Take the game Gears of War as an example to prove this point a 2006 release that you can pick up for £5 used all over the place. Buying used isn’t the only option here though, you could buy a brand new copy from Microsoft’s Games on Demand store (a service that lets you purchase and download Xbox 360 games on your console). This means the money is going to the right people, but its ridiculous price means there is no reason to ever buy this version. Gears of War on Games on Demand costs £19.99, about four times as much as a used copy. Pricing like this means that console gamers will still flock to used games, and that the used game market will continue to be an issue. If Microsoft or Sony ran services similar to Steam this simply wouldn’t be the case, and neither company would have to utilise anti consumer policies in order to combat used game sales.

It is clear that used games have their place in the industry; however it is perfectly possible for new games to inhabit the same space. Digital copies are the future and can offer lower pricing, greater immediacy and more reliability than used games can. It makes sense that some industry figures see used games as a problem, but the solution is available to them, and it does not involve getting in the way of a customer’s rights or angering the consumer. Anti used game tactics may somewhat benefit the console makers and game publishers, but they disadvantage the consumer. Valve on the other hand have no problem with used games, are loved by gamers worldwide, and make a great deal of money. All the next generation needs is download stores like Steam on each platform and used games will stop being so much of an issue. Interfering with used games is to interfere with the rights of the customer; however by adopting variable pricing you can increase sales on new games whilst keeping gamers happy.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Stephen Gillespie is a video game enthusiast and a film fanatic who has a passion for writing about both art forms.

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  1. Hoffmeister

    Glad that we share the same thoughts about this subject. I really dislike how retailers are banking on used games. There are a couple of retailers that are reasonable but they are getting more and more rare.

    • Stephen Gillespie

      You are spot on, in theory used games are great but I still feel the same benefits could be apply to new games if the console makers were smarter about it and more reactive.

      • I think by focusing on older used titles and peer to peer sales you’ve missed the argument completely of the developers. While the developers need to relent somewhat retailers like game stop are making a killing doing no work to improve the gaming community.

        If someone beats a game and returns it two weeks after its related game stop buys it back for $20 and resettle it for $5 to $10 less than the new title. They net all profit and the developer lost a sale. Gamestop should have to give a portion of their profits back to the developer. Peer to peer sales are completely different.

        Something had to change though in gaming perhaps xbox and PS4 should have mechanisms to have petitions of the game locked off for a small payment of $3 dollars that decreases the older a game gets perhaps developers need to sell the games cheaper and have an additional purchase be made in game to unlock certain functions.

        The final solution isn’t known to me but this is a problem for developers, when massive retail chains sell used games during the initial sales period where anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of a games total sales will take place.

  2. Kevin Wong

    Good point, the markup for used games is ridiculous to the point that the price reduction isn’t big enough to incentivize new people to get into games. The more people that get involved with the medium, the better, and right now, the used games market will play an important role for those who don’t have access to the fast internet connections that would make digitally distributed games a viable option.

  3. I read somewhere that people will need to pay to exchange games between each other for Xbox One? Pay to Microsoft that is. When you exchange the code… as I think they are forcing you to pay because everything has to stay online. I’m so confused about how this system will work that I’m confusing myself.

  4. Gitana Duka

    Great article! The used/pre-owned game market is where I’ve, and no doubt countless others, have come across some of their favourite games and franchises. A digital system like Steam as you’ve suggested on the next gen. consoles would be a fantastic solution, it’s just a shame that Microsoft have jumped on the road of fees for used games!

  5. J. Bryan Jones

    They clearly don’t listen to reason or care about alienating their audience anymore because they think they’re the shit. It’ll take time, but they’ll eventually learn their lesson.

  6. Jordan

    I always buy used games because I like to save money (don’t we all?), however, my boyfriend is the opposite and he always pre orders games months before they get released because he wants the game extras and goodies you get with special editions. It’s an interesting debate, for sure. I read that buying used goods helps with the environment as well so that was a plus for me.
    Thanks for the great article. I enjoyed reading it. 🙂

  7. Nathan Walters

    The biggest issue with the loss of used games is not the price, it is the fact that not every single title ever created is available for digital download. Yes, the mark-up is obscene and services such as Steam often counter-act that, but sometimes there is just not another way to own a title than to buy it from some guy on eBay for $400/£300/€250. A recent example of this is the American copies of Xenoblade Chronicles or the Metroid Prime Trilogy.

    Great article though, was a good read.

  8. Anna Williams

    Interesting article
    When I get some spare time I like to play on my PS2 (old skool I know haha) so I kinda depend on used games in that sense. It’s now harder to find PS2 games, buying them for cheap at car boot sales seem to have worked out as the best deal for me.

  9. Looking back even eight years makes this topic seem dated because of the proliferation of digital copies and things like Steam.

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