Preventing Used Video Game Sales Doesn’t Solve Anything

The rumors of a new wave of consoles are in full swing. The next Nintendo console is coming later this year, and at this point it seems like a new Playstation and Xbox could be announced at E3 in June, with release dates around holiday 2013. One continuous rumor across both consoles is that steps will be put in place to prevent used games from playing on them. The decision to do this is based on the theory that every used sale is a lost new sale. This could be packaged in with fact that games will no longer come on disks and will instead be downloaded, but that’s no slam dunk.

This argument is very similar to the argument the music industry made about 10 years ago. The theory being that every song/album that people pirated was a lost sale. When in reality, it was likely only a small portion of lost sales. People who purchase used games mostly do it to save money. Sometimes it’s because they are cheap, other times it’s likely all they can afford. And they definitely can buy more games overall than if they were purchasing them new. There is just no way that every used game sale, or even half of used sales would result in a new game sale if that was the only option.

EA has already tried to counteract this with their Online Pass. For those not familiar, this is a one-time use code included with any EA game that has online multiplayer modes. This code must be entered before the player can access online components of the game. One code is included with each copy of an EA game. Because most people will redeem the codes, when a used EA game is purchased, a separate EA Online Pass must be purchased for $10 in order to access online elements. Although this isn’t the fairest solution, it’s better than completely blocking out purchasers of used games.

The counter argument that is missing from the big picture are the people who sell their games. Because the amount of money received for selling used games is not very high in most cases, games are surely sold to help offset the cost of new games. Extremely “hardcore” gamers likely finish games in a very short amount of time. The sooner a game is re-sold the higher value it has. And if there isn’t a worthwhile multiplayer element, or downloadable content (DLC) that is worth the extra money, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to hold on to a game once a player has finished it. Without subsidizing the cost of future purchases, most gamers would not be able to afford buying the number of games they do at the frequency they do.

EA’s NCAA Football franchise is released in early July. It’s Madden franchise is usually released in August. There are some people who buy NCAA Football so that they can export the players to Madden to use as real draft classes, and also to fill the void until Madden comes out. These people almost always sell the game in early August. There is no way they buy this game if couldn’t re-sell it, it’s strictly a convenience thing for them.

When it’s all said and done, it seems unlikely overall sales would go up by eliminating the used market. There has to be an alternative solution, something that discourages reselling of games without outright banning it. Since it’s clear that publishers aren’t going to stop stores from reselling games, they need to encourage people not to resell them back to the stores in the first place. They need to find incentives for people to have an original copy. Perhaps they could institute their own trade-in program. If publishers “bought up” the used copies, by offering credit for future games or something, they could prevent the used copies from ever being in the wild.

Maybe the answer is to make downloaded versions of games cheaper. Presently games can be downloaded directly to the Xbox, but there is no discount to doing this, and in fact the downloaded versions often cost more than the boxed copies. As a result there is no reason for buy these unsellable games. Maybe there is a solution involving bundles or subscriptions for people that buy or commit to buy multiple games from the same publisher. For example, maybe if a gamer commits to buying three EA Sports titles in one calendar year, maybe they get them for $140 instead of $180. Maybe more DLC could be made free, but locked to the original purchaser.

It seems apparent that this is just another example of misunderstanding the issue and going with the easy/obvious solution. At best I would expect this move to keep video game sales flat, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them drop as the cheap people stay cheap and just buy games on sale or not at all. Meanwhile the people who used to buy tons of games and subsidize it by selling games they no longer play will be forced to slow their purchasing as well. All this will do is alienate people and not increase sales.