Gamasutra's latest Question of the Week asked our esteemed audience of game industry professionals, educators and students to relay their thoughts on the tricky problem of used game sales, which account for significant revenue not seen by game creators. Specifically, the question we asked was as follows:
Q: As part of a community of game publishers and developers, do you buy used video games or go out of your way to buy new ones? If you do buy used, are you concerned about the financial implications of the used game market, or does the free market trump revenue concerns for the game business?
As usual, the responses were mixed. Though many, especially the developers amongst the respondants, prided themselves on being dedicated to buying new, most saw the effects of the games aftermarket as no different than any other consumer product market, be it music, movies, or cars. Most replies noted, though, that not only are direct downloads a solution and response to the problem, but that if developers and publishers wanted to curb used sales of newly released games, more incentives were needed - be it lower price or collectible insert - to make that new sale essential.
On the following pages, we'll highlight a few of the more interesting responses received.
I have bought used games. I've always thought the $50+ price point was bloated. I have a reluctance to pay more than $35 for a game. If I can get it for $20, so much the better. Especially if I'm only buying the game to keep up with the state of the industry. Actually for that need, I'll usually just wait for the demo. Even if I have to wait a year. If there's never a demo, I'll likely never look at the game. I rarely buy games at all. I'm a game *developer*, not a game consumer. Buying and playing games is a very bad habit. If I were to do it like consumers do, I'd never get any work done at all. I end up playing too much Freeciv as it is. If I buy a game, there has to be a business justification for it. Either the title has extraordinary implications for the game industry (i.e. Spore), has proven to be an important marker in game design history for better or for worse (i.e. Diablo II, Black & White), is a competing product in the same genre I'm focused on (i.e. Civ, GalCiv), or is an outstanding indie effort worthy of my support (i.e. King Of Dragon Pass). I'm much more wiling to support indie developers with my dollars than mainstream developers. Still, first and foremost I support myself. It's not my job to provide the game market with lotsa cash. I've made $0 on all the MIT licensed open source development I've done to date, so my conscience is quite clear on this point. I should say, furthermore, that I think a lot of what the game industry produces isn't any good. Just another generation of the same stuff shoveled into boxes. With a new art team, that nevertheless manages to produce basically the same art as before! I see no point in buying something I've seen dozens of times already.
Brandon Van Every, Indie Game Design
I have always bought new games, but many times it is a year or more after release when they are cheaper. Mostly I do this to get the manuals intact because I buy a broad range games to learn about them and use them for reference. I don't buy only new because I'm afraid of the free market. Certainly, there would be more money earned if there was no used market... but I know I wouldn't want the "game police" coming down on my head every time I loan a game to a friend or co-worker. Secondary markets are part of life -- especially in the realm of art. If we want our products to be deemed "artful" we had better get used to it. Thank goodness the free market includes "collectors". The industry may want to consider printing "edition" versions more distinctly -- like books -- and cater more directly to game fans with unique art printed on the disc and manuals. This is already done to a limited extent with the collector's edition of major titles. Of course, there is also something to buying the game made at a friend's company that is more personal for myself than if I wasn't in the industry -- and buying a friend's game "used" seems kind of tacky.
Steven Ehrensperger, Coresoft Inc.
I buy new games, for two reasons 1) I want my money to go to the game developer and publisher, who did all the work to get the game on the shelves in the first place. 2) Buying a used copy opens the door for support issues. How do I know it's a good copy? How do I know that the box has everything in it that came with the box when it was new? Also, if it's used, someone probably already registered the game, which means that if I need tech support or patches, I may not be able to get them. Also, we have had support issues where people have believed that they were buying a new copy of the game when in fact they were buying a re-shrink wrapped used copy where the original owner had already registered the game. So not only do used game sales mean less money for the developer, but they can also translate into more support issues, which cost the developer money.
Cari Begle, Stardock
I will purchase a new video game over a used video game if one exists at the time of purchase. Until there is a new business model to combat used games sales, I choose to support the current one. Unfortunately, not everyone else does this because they don't have a vested interest. Ultimately, the free market will trump revenue concerns and force video game companies to be creative in attracting buyers to purchase new titles over used. Digital distribution is one way to combat the issue because there isn't a market for used digital games.
Amir Ebrahimi, Flagship Studios
Recent games, no... but where else would you get the consoles and games your parents wouldn't buy you when you were a kid? Or other games that you didn't hear about till they had long since left the shelves?
As both a gamer and a game developer, I think the used games market is beneficial. Brand new games are expensive, and used games are the only way many younger gamers can afford to play at all. This at least keeps them interested in gaming (if the games are any good!), which means there will be more customers around to buy new games later. Additionally, the ability to sell it later is often an important consideration in the purchase of a new game - if the buyer doesn't like it, they know they can get some return on their investment by trading it in for another. Given the price of brand new games, the alternative to the used market is surely going to be piracy for many, and that's a far worse way to lose sales.
Simon Booth, SCEA