Friday, 27 January 2012

Pre-owned re-moaned: gamers must use their economic power to prevent unwanted changes to how they pay for games

Gaming sites across the Internet are reporting rumours first shared by Kotaku suggesting that the next Xbox console “may not play used games”. It rears an ugly and, in my opinion, pointless argument about pre-owned game sales and their effect on the video game industry. I can categorically prove that far from impacting upon sales, pre-owned games actually boost developers' incomes: I would never have paid full price for Mass Effect. I knew nothing about it at its release - as I was abroad and missed the launch PR drive - and it simply didn't appear on my radar. A friend tried to convince me to buy it so I purchased a pre-owned copy at a reduced price. I became hooked on what is still one of my favourite games of all time. It lead me to buy the second game at launch and my pre-order for the third instalment of the series sits on the system of my local retailer. Bioware didn't lose £20 by my pre-owned purchase, it gained £90. Preowned games aren't killing the industry, they supplement it; they boost it.

The argument is in vain though, because despite the awesome buying power of gamers – we spent $1bn in 16 days on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - we do not wield our influence effectively to prevent changes to the industry that we, as consumers, simply don't want. Pre-owned is one example. EA are dominating in the war against the pre-owned market, implementing online passes as a way to force pre-owned buyers to pay again to access online content that the original owner had full use of. Most of EA's flagship titles hinge on online content and gameplay. Without multiplayer access the FIFA, Tiger Woods PGA and Battlefield series are just shells of games. Having to purchase a pass after buying a game from the pre-owned section negates any financial bonus of the sale. Gamers might as well buy new. EA are winning that battle.

Another example of gaming taking a heading at odds with the wishes of consumers is pay-to-play. With multiplayer in games such as Halo and the Call of Duty and Battlefield series being such a big draw to the franchises, businesses – and lets not forget that is what developers are – are noticing a potentially lucrative revenue stream. Rather than giving gamers unlimited access to as many multiplayer matches as they want for as long as they own the game, there are worrying rumblings of a tectonic shift to subscriptions and pay-to-play. The first steps toward a pay-to-play future have been taken in the form of Call Of Duty Elite, a subscription service for more dedicated CoD players. The service isn't compulsory, or even necessary to have a great online experience, but it is a move in a direction which was being discussed by people like industry expert Michael Pachter two years ago. The crux of Pachter's comments was that multiplayer is such a huge portion of the game market, unlimited plays on games such as CoD and EA's sports titles are directly detrimental to new sales. You'll excuse me if I rile at this, but If I pay for a game and pay an annual subscription to use Xbox LIVE, I'm quite certain that I don't want to pay a further subscription to access online gaming within a franchise.

Video game sales may not be what they were in 2008, but nor is housing or anything else. We are still in the throes of a global economic crisis and consumers have less disposable income. This doesn't mean that gamers should be punished for finding cheaper ways to enjoy their chosen pass-time, or milked for more cash to supplement the industry's coffers in the bad times. Gamers posses a massive economic weapon and, if we choose to wield it, we should seriously consider using our right not to buy in order to prevent an irreversible change to how we access and pay for gaming.


  1. This is a really interesting post, thanks for sharing it - nice way of looking at the video-game market.

  2. This is a very good post, and mirrors some of my thoughts and comments in my own post recently when I read about the potential Xbox next gen limiting used games:

    I hadn't touched on the pay to play, but I recall the uproar when it was hinted at that CoD franchise might look at that down the road. I really don't like the online passes and such, but I can live with them. Trying to eliminate used games or trying to restrict online for games like CoD so they can charge for it seem like potentially disastrous mis-teps.

  3. I have bemoaned the shift to digital distribution. I'm not always online and I like to have the box on my shelf in the same way I like a book in my library, not in my smart phone. The Pre-owned issue is not one of distribution though, its a perception by developers that pre-owned sales somehow take money from them. If their theory was to hold true then the same could be said about buying used cars. By purchasing from a local independent dealer you have robbed Toyota of a sale of a new car? No, you haven't because you were never going to pay full price for a brand new car.