November 30, 2009 | Category: Uncategorized

Used Games

For a long time now, various game developers have been complaining about the secondary market, arguing that it should either be abolished or that they should get a slice of secondary sales. I don’t think either of those ideas is particularly good. If the secondary market (for any type of good) is removed then you have the situation where, upon buying something, goods effectively become worthless beyond their immediate utility to you. This doesn’t reflect the real world where items often become less valuable to you but much more valuable to someone else. It’s also pretty damaging to free markets when items no longer have resale value.

Consider buying a car. Would you be as willing to spend as much on one if you couldn’t trade it in or sell it on? The industry only manages the pricing structure it has because there is segmentation. Those who both want and can afford a new car have access to that option, and those who want to spend less have a second-hand option available.

Whether developers deserve to get paid from secondary markets as well as primary markets is for you to decide. Personally, I see no reason to differ from other goods where this overhead doesn’t usually exist.

In recent years, though, a third trend has appeared that is somewhat more interesting: the game itself comes with a code to unlock additional content, over and above the core game. These codes are one-time use only. If you bought the game at retail, then you get the additional content. If you buy the game second-hand, then you get the original game but not the additional content. It’s an interesting take on market segmentation and, I think, relatively gentle at the moment.

The danger is that once we start to accept this kind of segmentation that developers and publishers start to become more aggressive and punitive. While all the codes we’ve seen so far unlock content that is very much in the extras category, it’s not too hard to imagine a situation where something is omitted from the main game for this purpose; an epilogue or prologue maybe, something that could be argued to be extraneous but is actually fairly core.

Perhaps a way of avoiding this situation is having the additional content available to buy as well. If you bought the game second-hand, then you can buy the extra stuff for a small fee. That way the developers get something out of it, and people in the lower segment of the market still have the option to access all of the content, without being required to use that option.

We should keep our eyes open going down this path. If this practice is seen as handing out rewards it’s fine, but as soon as publishers realise that it can also be a stick, someone will use it. That could hurt the industry as a whole.