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The Arguments Over Used Games

Required reading: http://altdevblogaday.com/2012/02/02/i-feel-used/
(and check out some of the comments too, just to get a feel of the backlash)

A recent post from Jameson Durall, a game developer working at Volition, sparked a lot of feed back (‘retaliation’ really) regarding the next generation of game system and the hopes that used games will be abolished through access codes and technologies, etc.

Here are two common arguments thrown around in response to these statements that I wish to look at, one geared towards game developers who hate on used games, and the other towards gamers who support their right to sell a product they don’t feel lived up to expectations.

Argument to the developers:
“If developers are complaining about people selling their games (making them ‘used’), they should make better games so people keep them.”

My thoughts: This isn’t exactly fair or accurate.

TRUE, people who sell their games are often those who, upon purchase and playing, realize they made a mistake (or, in some cases, were misled) in buying the game, and want to get rid of it, but not at a total loss, as they want to buy a different game to replace it.

But for the most part, people sell their games once completed and don’t need them any more. Why take up space with a game you no longer play, when you can sell it, and with that money, buy a new game?

Many suggest a good method to dissuade consumers from selling their games to Gamestop or BestBuy is to constantly add more value and content through DLC. True, that works nicely for many titles, especially games with an emphasis on multiplayer (new maps, modes, characters, weapons, etc), but not all games fit into the model of the post release add-on.

When I finish a solid story campaign, I don’t always need another mission tacked on just so I can spend a little bit more time in this wonderful game world. For sure, new campaings worked REALLY well for Boarderlands, but sometimes I’m content at being at the end of an adventure. After beating BioShock, I wasn’t thinking, “MAN, if only I could download some more levels!” I feel that would mess with the narrative. I was satisfied with how the game ended.

However, I did purchase the DLC levels for Assassin’s Creed II right as I started playing because they made it so obvious that stuff was missing (“hmm, Sequences 12 and 13 are inaccessible, that’s odd”) which, to this day I DO feel was manipulative. Because, really? In a ‘completed game’ you’re gonna say “oh, some levels are missing, you better go buy them!”

To me, the extra missions were basically MORE things to kill, and didn’t really add anything to the story. They may as well have just been achievements (stop 9 vanities from burning in the bonfires). But I believe the reason they were so lackluster is because: developers CAN’T make DLC mandatory, and as such, they can’t have real weight on the storyline (well, souldn’t at least).

Making ‘insert DLC’ meaningful to the campaign means the game is incomplete without it, and admits that the publisher is charging full price for a intentionally incomplete product, in an effort to squeeze more money out of you.

I can’t say how the Mass Effect games or Deus Ex: Human Revolution has dealt with ‘insert DLC’ because I haven’t played them yet, but as far as AC2, it all felt very tacked on.

To conclude the original point, the argument of ‘make better games to combat used sales’ CAN apply to shitty games that were advertised really well, but I don’t believe developers are required to constantly add more value to their product to encourage consumers not to sell them. Some times you just have to say “the end” and move on to the next story.

To the gamer snubbed by a new game purchase:
“If you complain about paying full price ($60) for a game that you realize you’re not enjoying, it’s your fault. Do your research before buying.”

My thoughts: This ‘research’ you speak of is becoming increasing difficult. Gaming today is an industry set up in such a way that, for the most part, you’re going to be hearing good news and are encouraged to be excited and purchase a new game. It’s not impossible to find the truth of the actual quality of these titles, but there are more road blocks than the past few years had. Before I buy a game you may ask me:

Q. Didn’t you try the demo?
A. There aren’t demos for every game anymore. We the consumer don’t always get to ‘try’ before we ‘buy’.

I remember I was interested in the new Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. I didn’t want to buy it right away as I’d never played a NFS title before, but I enjoy the Burnout series and was really interested in playing another racing game that wasn’t a sim.

I went to download the demo from Xbox Live and… oh, wha? The demo was only available for a limited time? Now that the game is on sale I can’t try it?

Well guess what? Because of this, I never bought it. Not out of protest. Not out of anger. I just wasn’t able to try it. So why would I buy it? But there were those who did anyway, and could only realize after if they liked it or not.

Q. Why don’t you just rent the game before you buy it?
A. Rental shops are disappearing all over.

I live in Toronto, Canada, which is a pretty big modern city. Blockbuster Video up here is dead. Out of business. It’s only real competition Rogers Video is also cutting down on the rental shops (as they rather people use their ‘on demand’ movie service, so why have store locations). Where am I supposed to rent these games from to test them out?

Q. Did you read the reviews?
A: The review wasn’t available.

Game publishers came up with this brilliant strategy to help encourage sales. It’s called the ‘embargo’. A publisher can make it so that if a game media outlet (reviewer) isn’t going to give their new game at least the value of 80% in a review score, the reviewer can’t release their review until after the game is made available.

This is problematic to me for two reasons. One, if the review site says: “well, guess we can’t post the review yet”, then that’s that. I won’t know before launch day if the game is worth it or not (I’ll be in the midnight line up like a FOOL!).

But my true worry is that game sites KNOW they get the most hits when they have the newest game reviews first. They may fudge the facts of a review a couple percentages just so they can post asap. Now you may say, “won’t people know the sites lied after playing the games themselves? What ever happened to journalistic integrity?”

Well, I ask you this: why are there so many ‘second opinion’ review columns popping up these days? It used to be one review was enough. Hmmmmmmm…

Q: Well if you’re so unsure if you’re gonna like the game or not, why are you buying on day one? Why not wait for after all the reviews are in.
A: FREE DLC that I can only get from day 1 purchase.

What if I end up really liking the game and am glad I bought it new on day one because the DLC added to the experience?

What if I bought the game later and was like “crap! Now I don’t get the pre-order DLC!” (or worse) “Now I have to use more money and BUY the DLC later to get the full game experience I’m missing out on. I’m going to have to spend MORE on this game because I decided to wait.

So, to counter the ‘research’ argument, the game industry has made it pretty clear they’d rather everyone just pre-order and buy new games day one, instead of finding out if it’s actually worth keeping (or paying full price for) beforehand. They knowingly use marketing tactics and ploys that basically tell us if we don’t buy it NOW, it won’t be as fun, and we’ll be sorry, but at the same time are OFFENDED that we want to sell these games we were deceived into buying.

There are many more arguments in this used game market conflict. There is talk about the rights of consumers to sell their purchases if they wish (as mush as a DVD or car), there’s developers losing potential full price sale to retailers selling used titles, there’s the fear that the nostalgia market will be destroyed if used games can’t be played while new copies have long ceased being produced.

My bottom line is this:
I like to lend my games to friends. I borrow games from them too. Two of us pitched in and bought the Battlestar Galactica board game a while back, but we’re not playing it every day. If someone else wants to borrow it, I’d rather that than it collecting dust in the closet.

IF, for the next generation of game consoles, Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo decide they need to put the nail in the coffin of the used game market and use some technique or technology to end the use of one purchased game disc on more than one system, well… I can’t say I’m going to move onto any of these new systems.

There’s still plenty of classics I’ve yet to play, on X360, PS2, Dreamcast, PC, SNES, etc. And I’m pretty damn sure I’m going to be borrowing all of them from friends. That’ll keep me busy long past when game companies realize if they made a mistake or not.

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