Killing Used Games Won’t Help Gamers – It’ll Hurt
Though Microsoft was almost unbelievably bad at messaging during and after Tuesday’s reveal of Xbox One, the company has not done much to dissuade observers from concluding the system will come built with controversial features.
Among these issues, one of the most divisive is the possibility that Xbox One will kill used games deader than Dreamcast. While the general consensus is firmly against such a used title-blocking feature, some have actually voiced support for one.
The most prominent voice in favor of the proposed anti-used gaming features of Xbox One is Ben Kuchera of the Penny Arcade Report, who laid out his thoughts on the matter yesterday. While he presents a pleasing vision of the future of gaming, we have to respectfully disagree.
The problem with the article isn’t that it’s in favor of ending the used gaming market — everyone is entitled to like or dislike that possibility as they see fit, and the used games market certainly has its downsides for the industry. The problem is that it bases support for Xbox One’s apparent solution to used games on assumptions about the way the gaming industry will work in the future — assumptions that fly in the face of what history tells us about the way the gaming industry does work.
While it’s important to remember that none of what we’re about to discuss is set in stone (after all, Microsoft has gone out of their way to be as vague as possible about all of this), here’s an itemized rebuttal of the argument in favor of bringing used game sales to an end.
Assumption: Publishers will lower the $60 price point
“Once that secondary market is removed,” it reads, “you can suddenly profit from every copy of your game sold, and as profit margins rise it’s possible we’ll see prices drop.”
Like any other business, the publishers of the gaming industry have one overarching goal — profit.
Unfortunately, there’s just no incentive here for Microsoft to encourage a lower price point for games. Everyone is used to dropping $60 for Call of Duty, and publishers are not about to walk away from that. Instead, what publishers are seeing when they look at the Xbox One is the idea that they can save a lot of money on printing discs if they just sell the licenses online instead of the discs in a store. Not only that, but they’ll have the owners of the Xbox One over a barrel. Don’t like the prices? Too bad, you’ve got $400 or more invested in being Microsoft’s captive audience.
Ask yourself this question: When was the last time the price of anything new and popular went down? Currently, the difference between a digital copy and physical copy of a launch day game is nil, and the argument here applies at least as much there. Like any other business, the publishers of the gaming industry have one overarching goal — profit. Companies survive and attract investors by returning profits to shareholders. The more money you can make for your shareholders, the happier they’ll be. Happy investors means that CEOs and other executives get to keep their high-paying positions. That money won’t be going back to gamers in the form of lower prices; it’ll just be used to pad their bottom line, please their shareholders, and try to secure their jobs.
Assumption: The end of used games will mean more units sold
The article also argues that “removing the concept of buying a used game will lead to more sales for publishers,” an argument also popular within the industry itself. Of all the article’s points, this is perhaps the one with the least amount of precedent to rebut it. Even so, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence out there that lots of people only get to play games when they’re cheap.
Used games represent a way for people who aren’t in a financial position to purchase $60 games at launch to get to play the games they want later. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is $19.99 on Steam right now, but you can buy the used 360 copy for $12.99 at GameStop. Likewise, a used 360 copy of Bioshock Infinite can be had for $37.99, instead of Steam’s $59.99. These are substantial price differences on games both old and new, and they represent something very important: access to games that isn’t available for some in a world where used games don’t exist.