We as industry have a great problem: People are getting our games without paying us.
But, why is this happening? It is because gamers are evil and want to steal? And how we "fix" it?
EA, Ubisoft and some other companies, are pushing for stronger DRM, and content that is unlocked (not actually downloaded sometimes...) in new purchases, or just priced, for those that could not unlock them with a new purchase (like a used game, or copied game...)
This is completly missing the target, they are shooting nukes now, at the innocent...
Where I am from, and from most other "second world" countries (countries that are too rich and technologically advanced to be considered third world, but are still not developed, like Brazil, India, China, Russia, Malasya, Mexico...), piracy is prevalent, and contrary to what developers think and claim, it is actually physical (not download) piracy that is big, and console (not PC... because actually, PC games have less of the problems that we will explore). For a quick example, in the street of São Paulo stock market, when cops are not around, the street is FLOODED with people selling pirated stuff (not only games, but games make the most of it...), like dark glasses, software, games, medicine (I wonder who buy pirated medicine...), and so on. And they sell a good amount.
Also, altough there are no gamestop, there are a considerable used market too. But I will not talk about only these markets, I am talking about the worldwide market, and gave this information, because it is important later to understand some "why"s of my research here.
I did an informal research, I cannot give solid data, numbers, or anything like that, I am no reporter, and no scientist, but what I did was close to what a reporter do, I went around, asked people, asked people around the world too using internet, I stood on the most prolific cheap goods streets taking photos and making interviews... I did it mostly of curiosity, and to maybe learn something.
What I found out, is the reason of why such markets exist, even the download free piracy one.
Reason number one: No return policy. Yes, exactly that, altough this is not the one cited first, or the one that people cite as first priority, talking with everyone made clear that actually this is one really major, if not the biggest reason.
This policy is old, even in the cartridge era we had companies that don't accepted returns, and this made no sense actually, because if the player wanted to play the game, he needed the cartridge, and making impromptu copies was not easy. These days, this policy would have reasons, but this behavior is not new, and is quite harmfull.
What happen is that not accepting returns, create three options for a worried costumer, specially ones that did not play demos (hint: this is another reason too...), and they are:
1. Downloading for free. If you don't want the game, you only lost time, and bandwidth. Yet sometimes this is still too valuable, specially with people using crappy internet... So we get to
Option 2. Buying a pirated game. Most piracy dealers actually give you warranty and accept returns. If you disliked the game, return it and get another one. Yes, pirated good dealers provide better costumer support than publishers... (strange, no?)
Option 3. The legal option, SELLING the game. Yes, that option is not how to aquire the game, but about how to GET RID of it. If the guy disliked the game, he will SELL it, fueling our lovely gamestop, craiglist, ebay, etc...
Solution, start accepting returns, even if someone bought the game just to copy it, or play and return it, it would give less reasons to people rely on used game market.
I think that this will not ever be implemented by big publishers, because it is best to see that gamestop has 100 used copies of "Shiny new AAA" in the store along the new ones, than seeing your numbers 100 copies less, because 100 people returned it (thus making the sale null).
Reason number two: Prices, extreme prices...
This one is just plain obvious, games are ALWAYS priced 60 USD on consoles (and 40 or 50 USD on PC... making one more reason to pirate console games... as previously mentioned). it does not matter how long or short it is, it does not matter how content it has, it does not matter the target market, or actually anything at all, this gives some strange price distortions...
Examples: Mirror Edge. REALLY SHORT game for its price, it does not even supported decent multiplayer... MW2, another short game (altough with decent multiplayer, although I am no fan of it). JRPGs, obnoxiously long, valued the same as an short game. Orange Box, three completly awesome games, several hours of good gameplay, replay value, multiplayer. 50 USD (PC... Console, again, is 10 USD higher...). Avatar The Game... well, I don't need to say anything, do I?
There are no reason to price games like that, people should price the games like everyone price the products, if you are selling a 200 hour long non-procedural non-boring game, you can price it 200 USD. If you are selling a 4 hour first person platformer, go for 20 USD! Why more?
Again, we have three options: Getting for almost free... Getting ilegally cheaply (usually the price is 5 USD per DVD, so a game with 3 DVDs is 15 USD... and so on... blue ray I am yet to see being sold pirated...) or using Gamestop. You buy your game for 55 USD. Thus just took a 5 USD discount. You sell it for 20 USD (the value when you sell two games to pre-order Mario Galaxy 2, or Red Dead Redemption... or other game I forgot the name). This made the game actually 35 USD. You saved almost 50%... Who would not take that offer?
Solution: Price fairly (not overly cheaply or expensive, but THINK about the price, and price it fairly...)
Why it is not implemented: Good question, I don't have the awnser (comment conversation idea?)
Reason 3: This was brieftly mentioned before, lack of demos. Without a demo, you can only know if you liked the game or not, getting it, so you can either download it (and delete if you dislike), buy it pirated (and return if you dislike) or buy it legally (and sell it if you dislike. this applies to both new and used copies).
Solution: Erm... release demos?
Why people don't do it: That is a great question... probably related to the irresponsible budgets and overhead of big AAA games these days... (but that is the theme for other post, other day...)
Reason number four: Being treated badly. This category mashes everything, DRM, DLC (horse armor, anyone?), no dedicated servers, no LAN, no returns, bad support, buggy game, bad localization (or worse: none at all...).
Results: Downloading for free... well, this usually solve software issues (DRM, bugs, localization... sometimes servers too).
Buying pirated. Actually dealers here, provide support, warranty, accept returns, and some even give their personal cell phone so you can call them and ask how to install the game (or stuff like that...).
Getting used... well, this solution is not much great, with some few exceptions, or actual intent to "punish" the developer. (by boycotting indirectly him... or the publisher...)
Solution: Doing better than the pirates! If they can do it, with zero budget, why a company can't?
Reason why it is not done: Probably overhead costs, and general stupidy (like implementing draconian DRM or used-sale punishment...)
Why companies don't fix it: Maybe because they want to be different than Stardock? I don't know either.
General conclusion: So, why in the first day of Assassins Creed sales, we had GameStop selling it used? Because someone sold to GameStop. And why they did that? Because they wanted to return the game without finding how (reason 1), because the game was not their taste (reason 2) or because they were mistreated or wanted some revenge or something like that (reason 4).
And why someone buy an Assassins Creed copy for 55 USD when we have a new one for 60 USD? Because they think that 60 USD is too expensive. (reason 3).