Generation Worst Part I: The War on Used Games
This multi-part series will break down each of several factors that combined to make the seventh generation of video game consoles my least favorite, and why it chased me away from the next generation. This is my own perspective and opinion, and is not intended to sway others.
Throughout my years of buying video games with my own money, which started in 1991, I’ve always had a balance of buying new and used merchandise. I’ve also subsidized my spending with game and system trade-ins. Within the last 7 months alone, I’ve purchased the limited edition of Bioshock Infinite (and the limited edition strategy guide), NHL 14, Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix, Diablo III, a new Dual Shock 3 controller, and several funds cards for the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and the PlayStation Store, completely with trade-in credit. Before and even during my job at the bowling alley, money was not a plentiful resource… so I made tough decisions about what to part with in my game library in order to pare down or afford the price of new games that I wanted.
A funny thing has happened to the video games economy over the last 3+ years, starting with EA’s Online Pass program being introduced in 2010. In the War on Used Games, that was the shot heard ’round the gaming world. We had begun to transition from used games just being a part of how things were to used games being a menace to publishers and developers that needed to be dealt with. Used games were cited as eating into the bottom line for the industry, causing sales of new games to decline. The Online Pass program would finally add a cut for EA, compensating them somewhat for the resale of a used game and the resources required for online play for a person who didn’t contribute to EA’s revenue stream.
From then on, we have heard prominent industry players decrying the sale of used games. Some have even compared used game buyers to pirates, though the former is still legal (for now). We also hear the same cries of denouncement from within the gaming community:
- “Games are expensive. People should know that going in.”
- “If you can’t afford to buy new games, you’re not entitled to play these games on or shortly after launch.”
- “Buying used games means you’re not a real gamer and that you’re too cheap to support your hobby.”
- “When you buy used games, you contribute to the decline of the industry since publishers and developers don’t profit.”
Let’s hypothesize, for a moment, that used games had simply ceased to exist as of January 1st of this year. Games could only be purchased new and could not be resold or traded. That would have been about $400 less that I would have contributed to the new video game economy this year. $400 is insignificant to some, but if you multiply that by just 5,000 others? That’s $2 million less per year in new sales revenue for GameStop and other retailers that accept trade-ins and allow you to use trade-in credit for new items. When less is spent in stores, the affected stores buy less product from publishers, hardware companies, and accessory companies. Then the pain is felt by everyone.
Is that really what people want? Do they want consumers to spend less? Are they going by an assumption that consumers will buy everything new at the same clip they’ve been spending of late? Do they really want to test that theory?
The second-class treatment of buyers of preowned video games over the last three years is one of the major factors in my decision to not buy new video game consoles for this new console generation. For nearly 20 years prior to 2010, it never mattered if I bought used or new. I didn’t read insulting quotes from publisher execs and staff pertaining to used games. While buying used might have resulted in a worn disc, missing instructions, or a missing case, the game still worked exactly as it did had I bought it new– or even when I had bought it new before, and decided to trade it in towards another game. Telling friends and fellow members of the community that I bought a game used and saved a few bucks used to lead to conversations about what I thought of the game or asking how cheaply I got it instead of being chastised as used game buyers are now by some in the community.
My new PlayStation in 1995 was partially subsidized by trade-ins. My new Dreamcast in 1999 and a couple of new PlayStation 2 units that I’ve purchased were also partially subsidized by trade-ins. I became a Dead Space fan after buying the first game on the PlayStation 3 used in 2009, leading to new purchases of Dead Space 2 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as well as a digital version of the original for the 360. The same kind of thing happened after I bought F.E.A.R. used for the 360; I bought F.E.A.R. 2 new later on. The Yakuza series is another example as I bought the first game used for PS2 and bought the three PS3 games all brand new.
That’s the used game economy at work, in practice. Used games do lead to more money being spent on new items in many cases, even if it’s not that way 100% of the time. And yet… this is constantly ignored. History is ignored, and we choose to forget about how it had always been a level playing field before internet connectivity gave publishers new-found power to lock content behind a paywall unless you have a code… and unless you have a high-speed connection. Trade-ins and buying used were rarely stigmatized before this past console generation. Now it’s fairly commonplace.
It’s great that publishers are backtracking on the Online Pass model now, but the damage has been done for me. I don’t trust publishers any longer. What else might be in store for the second-class people who buy used games? I sure as hell am not spending half a grand to find out. Add in the rest of the complaints that I had about the previous console generation that, in my eyes, made it the worst one I’ve ever experienced… and that made the decision not to upgrade at all pretty easy.
What other complaints? That’s what the rest of the Generation Worst series will cover. Part two will come soon.