Losing the Used Game Market: Why it Won’t Be the End of the World

For years, virtually since the release of this current console generation in fact, speculation has been made about what features we can expect from the next crop of hardware. With the announcement of the PS4, the time is almost upon us to open our hearts and wallets to the latest and greatest pieces of video game machinery, and the debate as to what exactly we will be getting our hands on has definitely heated up.

One of the most persistent rumors that has dogged the subject for some time is that of used games, and whether they’ll be able to be played on the next gen console of our choice. The fear that the used game market could be killed off in one fell swoop by a vengeful developer’s sector sick of being robbed of potential sales has been the subject of many a flame war, but just how bad will it be really? Since all the internet seems to be in a lather about losing the ability to play used software, here’s some thinking from the other side of the fence about why this might not be the catastrophe you envisioned.

PC Gamers have been doing it forever.

Anyone who uses a PC as their main gaming platform knows the inevitable obstruction of entering a product key that comes with any new game purchase. While PC’s don’t have the market share equivalent of their console brethren, this has been the case for many years and yet still the market remains viable, and dare I say it, more popular than ever. Piracy, as Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot claims, is always a problem, but with the more locked down nature of the home console, it will most likely be significantly more difficult to accomplish than on a PC. Apart from this, with the console market containing the vast majority of casual or less tech savvy members of the consumer base, most ordinary users would find it a chore to go to such lengths to pirate their favorite games.

More money for developers means (hopefully) more money put into developing.

Many casual gamers these days don’t buy their entertainment the day or week it comes out, instead they wait for used games to start flooding the market so they can get the same experience for less. This means developers aren’t getting paid a cent even though their game may be being enjoyed many times over on the one sale. In a perfect world, we could happily share all this content and everything would be sunshine and rainbows, but in reality this really isn’t a tenable situation.

While casual gamers might not be committed enough to buy a game on release day, in most cases they will still eventually buy it in some form or another. So, when they come around to put down their cash in a month or two they’ll probably be confronted with a discounted new copy, or a marginally cheaper second hand trade in. Most of the time, the conscientious spender will take the cheaper option, it only makes sense after all. Unfortunately, this saving of perhaps ten dollars means that the developer of said game takes not a 10 dollar, but more like a 50 dollar hit to their profits. For massive Triple A titles like Call of Duty, this might not be such a disaster as they’re going to make millions, perhaps billions of the game anyway. But for slightly more obscure games the effect is amplified. Not only do they miss out on a sale when their profit line may already be marginal, but because they may have something of a smaller profile, more gamers will be likely to take the casual approach with their title and opt for the cheaper option rather than a release copy. So the company ends up with a profit affected not only by less interest initially, but by the impact of used game sales on potentially a far larger scale that a Triple A competitor.

used game market

One contributes to the health of the industry… the other doesn’t. And all for a five dollar saving.

If all games sales are guaranteed to be new titles, studios will be able to collect on their offerings for a longer period of time as less committed gamers will simply buy the game when it comes down in price while the hardcore fans continue to fork out for the brand new copy as they always have. This might all sound a bit like pandering to the developer’s bottom line, and a popular mode of thought for many is that the companies who produce our games can take the hit. In many cases they can, but it is the up and comers in the industry who end up having the biggest toll taken. Forking out 10 dollars extra for a discounted copy may well be worth it in the long run if we are rewarded with larger investments in more obscure titles, hopefully leading to better games. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?