Whenever a paradigm starts to shift, panic and uproar is pretty much guaranteed. Back in the olden days this often involve lynch mobs and pitchforks, with burning and mass hanging. While (at this stage) no publishers were burned, and no developers hanged, the gaming population did respond with an uproar recently when Cory Ledesma from THQ made the following comment regarding used game buyers:
“I don’t think we really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset they don’t get the online feature set I don’t really have much sympathy for them. That is a little blunt but we hope it doesn’t disappoint people. We hope people understand that when the game’s bought used we get cheated.”
Before you start shaking your fists in the air, screaming “THEY DON’T CARE!”, and begin your boycotting campaign against THQ, you have to try to see the comment in context, the bigger picture if you will. The gaming industry is at a bad place right now. Companies are having to survive not only the weak economy, but also against the threats of increasingly tougher competition, the ever-present pirate industry, and now, the rising threat of the second hand gaming market.
The second hand gaming market has been around in some shape or form since the beginning of gaming. However, with the current weak economy; the ever shortening single player games, with the focus on DLCs and sequels; and the recent and upcoming entry into the market by major companies like Tesco with their trade-in program – this previously niche market, if left unchecked, has the potential to grow and evolve into a major part of the industry.
There are those who believe that second hand gaming is good for the economy, the consumers, AND the gaming industry. Some say more money is being spent on gaming – that people are buying (second hand) games that they would have normally ignored, had they only been available at full price. That this not only inject money into the economy, but also raise awareness of the games on the market. That it ends up putting the spotlight back onto the publishers and the developers, which benefits their future titles. But, while there is merit behind that idea, you also need to think about the possible damages being done.
When consumers buy a brand new game, part of the profit goes back to the publishers, and through them, the developers. However, when a game is purchased second hand, the entire cut of the profit stays with the retailer. In this regard, effects-wise second hand gaming is no better than gaming piracy. In fact, second hand gaming cuts deeper into the developers’ profits, into areas that the pirates cannot reach. Honest consumers (the shining paragon of society that refuses to indulge in the unethical practice of piracy), are now buying less copies of the full priced titles, instead opting to wait for second hand copies to appear. Not only that, while these very same consumers are waiting for their games to appear on the second hand market, they end up spending their dollars on existing second hand titles “to tide them over”. Dollars, which once would have been spent on the brand new full price titles, are now sitting in the pockets of the second hand retailers.
It is not surprising, and perhaps even understandable, that publishers like THQ and EA are pursuing such aggressive strategies in their fight against the second hand gaming market. Writers and podcasters everywhere might riot, against the big developers and publishers for making comments like the one THQ did recently; and some people might see these companies as being cold, uncaring, or just plain evil for locking second hand gamers out of features, with the use of devices like onetime codes and online passes. Personally however, all I see is a bunch of struggling developers trying to survive in an increasingly difficult market. Unless the laws change, and the publishers start getting a cut from the second hand sales – I say, as a consumer and a gamer, why not pay just a tiny bit more and support the developers? For once, ladies and gents, the publishers are NOT at fault here.
Go on – go buy a brand new game, and help feed the devs.