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New Games VS. Used Games
Does the used games market hurt the video game industry, or help it?
By Nadia Oxford
February 20, 2009
Is Used Games hurting the industry or helping it?
The mention of buying used games versus new fires up tempers and warms over the long-running debate about profits and ownership. But unlike arguments over systems and the superiority of one game over another, the lines are drawn pretty clearly in the debate over used games: consumers desperate to save a few bucks during hard times are typically on one side, and developers, who understandably get upset over lost profits, are on the other. There is definitely a middle road, though: developers who aren't necessarily happy with the existence of the used games market, but understand that it's an inevitability and can accept the positives.
Though the used games market might conjure up images of pushy game clerks trying every tactic to wrench consumers away from recent purchases, it's better to have the option than to shut down the used games trade entirely. Used games are necessary for the preservation of the hobby's history.
Preserving the Old Ways
There's no question that the used games market is vital for a retro games collector—and in fact, it's a great way to preserve gaming history. People might laugh and say “whatever” at the concept of gaming history, but we value the roots of other entertainment mediums. Who's to say we won't be sighing over a copy of Super Mario Bros. twenty years from now? Retro games have already made a huge impact on bloggers and other game sites, and it's not all about a nostalgia trip. Old games can be held up against new to see how the medium has progressed—and new titles like XSEED's Retro Game Challenge for the Nintendo DS pay a very fun homage to an older era of gaming. It might sound a little cheesy, but kids who grow up today playing Xbox 360 might be interested in seeing where it all began. That history should be accessible to them.
Downloads Aren't the Same
It's been suggested that the Virtual Console on the Wii, Xbox Live Arcade and the various retro gaming collections have eliminated the need for a used games market. That's a weak argument at best. While downloads have done wonders for reviving interest in retro games (not to mention the convenience), there are vital gaps missing in the tapestry. For instance, Terranigma, an SNES action-RPG that succeeded illusion of Gaia, appeared in Europe, but has yet to show up in any format in America other than as a ROM download. Square-Enix has been notorious for holding back much of their classic stable of RPGs. How about the original Super Smash Bros, Excite Bike 64, or Pilotwings? And speaking about video game-related wars, nothing fires up a message board more than an innocent inquiry about why Nintendo has been holding back on releasing Earthbound for the Virtual Console (the apparent answer: the similarities found in some of the game's music to other well-known songs recently stirred legal fears) .
For a collector, nothing can replace a molded plastic cartridge with all its pack-in swag. Remember the rambling, full-color instruction booklets that used to come with Nintendo games? Remember the Nintendo Power inserts that offered free game tips? Remember the detailed maps and enemy listings? Online resources have long eliminated the need for elaborate pack-ins, and without the sale and exchange of used games, those extras would be lost forever.
The GameStop Beast
Naturally, the argument for or against used games isn't quite that straightforward. It's not likely Nintendo wants to chase down gamers who are buying up used copies of Mega Man 2 on eBay. The meat of the debate comes down to chains like GameStop, which can't exactly be praised for selling used games out of a concern for preserving gaming history. In fact, GameStop recently mentioned that it won't be accepting original Xbox trade-ins anymore.
But would any benefit come from cutting GameStop's appetite for used games? Should gamers be encouraged to buy used and support developers—or enjoy the pastime through whatever means are necessary? In this economy, saving five dollars on a new title by trading in an old one can make a difference.
Earlier this month, Sega Europe's president Mike Hayes told GamesIndustry.biz that he neither liked nor supported the second-hand games market, but he acknowledged that it's a “reality” that Sega is not going to waste time and resources to fight against. “[I]t's probably not on our top ten list of things that we need to take action and be concerned about," he said.
Hayes admitted that fighting against the market might turn consumers against game developers. "My reluctant view is that while I can understand that, if publishers were to try and enforce a non-second-hand market to the consumer, I think there would be relationship damage with the consumer.”
Hayes also recalled when the industry fought a similar battle with Blockbuster over rental games. Game rentals have since become a common sight at movie stores, and developers admit there's not much that can be done about them, Besides, rentals can be beneficial: they can cement a gamer's decision to purchase a title.
Old and New Working Together for a Better Future
Even GameStop's used games trade can be beneficial for the industry. Soren Johnson, who programmed Civilization 3 and worked on Spore, wrote a thoughtful blog entry in defense of used games. One of the points he makes is, quite simply, “the more players, the better.” When someone plays a game they love, word of mouth spreads, which is healthy for the industry overall. “[A] larger player base can benefit game developers who are ready to earn secondary income from their games,” Johnson said. “In-game ads are one source of this additional revenue, but the best scenario is downloadable content.”
The used games market is not likely to co-exist peacefully with developers any time soon. Even so, some companies are coming around to the fact that used games are not going to disappear into the night, nor should they; they're important pieces of history. It'd be best to find a way to work with used games rather than throwing up walls of copyrights and numbers, thereby avoiding the years of useless pain and fighting the RIAA has instigated by trying to cripple digital downloads in favor of CDs.