The Persecution of the Second Hand Consumer.

Okay, here is today’s source material.

For those of you who are too lazy (or just unwilling) to read it, the CEO of Codemasters is airing the idea of selling incomplete games and then forcing people to buy the rest of them via DLC.

The logic is simple, the goal two fold- to combat piracy and to ‘address the pre owned’.


The piracy argument is simply not worth getting into at this point. If you’re a gamer you’ll have heard every argument under the sun for and against piracy, in a debate that shows no sign of ending. I’m sick of it to be honest, so I’m just going to sum up whole view in a few sentences (something I loathe doing as some dipshit inevitably attacks a specific point you’ve already considered). Piracy will not go away. You can’t defeat piracy by technical means because for every person you have working on security, there are dozens of pirates working on reverse engineering your solution. Kinect was hacked within two days. The only way to stop piracy is to stop people turning to it- give them MORE for buying the original, instead of taking things away if it's pirated (or isn't a first hand copy for that matter). This may sound like a to-mah-to to-may-to thing, but there is a difference.

Sadly, publishers need to learn this lesson on their own. Like every other entertainment industry, videogame developers are not responding very well to the digital revolution. While they are embracing digital distribution with open arms, they are refusing to change the core elements of their business model that piracy has rendered invalid.

Pre owned games.

So that’s it for piracy. Onto the second issue- the pre owned. This is an argument that flared up a few months back, but has since been placed onto the back burner. The argument is simple enough to grasp- if you buy a pre owned game the devs and publishers don’t see a penny of your cash. It all goes to the shop you purchased the game in. Unlike other second hand goods like cars, clothes, even consoles themselves, videogames do not depreciate in quality with age (provided they are not openly abused). They may start to loose value by comparison with other, newer titles, but the actual quality of the product remains identical.

You buy a game second hand, and it will be just as good as first hand (bar maybe a scruffy case and manual). Because of that, there is absolutely no reason- apart from impatience- to buy a videogame first hand. Publishers know this and are addressing the issue in a variety of ways.

The problem is that many second hand owners are starting to feel that they are being treated like pirates. I buy most of my games first hand, but then again I work in a full time job, don’t have a family to support and don’t have any major expenses apart from rent. I can afford to be impatient and buy games on release day.

But what about gamers who just don’t have the disposable cash? If you’ve got children to support, a car to run and a mortgage to pay off, your available cash can dwindle very quickly. Does that mean you should be excluded from the hobby?

Well, yes and no. If you want to play golf, you need to buy a decent set of clubs, and have enough money to pay for time on a course. If you don’t have enough money, you can’t play golf- regardless of how much you want to (this does exclude using a nine iron to try and belt toddlers in the head at a range of 400 yards in the local park, from the comfort of your garden- however this is less golf and more assault). I would love to go on holiday to the Netherlands again, and spend the whole time either stoned or in the arms of an expert prostitute, but I can’t afford it (mainly because I spend so much on videogames).

But there is one important difference between the above examples and videogames. Holidays are expensive, as are a good set of golf clubs and membership of a course. There is no way to decrease those costs to make it more accessible- these are things that are just expensive.

What we’re seeing in videogames is essentially an attempt to artificially inflate the worth of the first hand product by going out of your way to make the second hand products worth less. This brings video gaming more into line with other markets where the value of an item does decrease after the first owner. But it’s artificial. You can’t stop a car from degrading with age, it doesn’t matter how well you look after it, parts will wear out, rust will attack it, the electronics will start to crap out and the technology will become obsolete. Older car = lower value. It's unavoidable. The reduction in the value of second hand videogames is artificial, and has been specifically engineered to drive people into buying first hand games.

So you can see the source of the outrage. But is this a bad thing? The world revolves around money. You cannot escape this fact. You can create idealised worlds and form scenarios, but in the here and now, money is one, hell, it’s THE most important aspect of a business. So ultimately, can you blame publishers for wanting to implement this sort of thing to keep the money flowing from videogames? After all, the more money they make, the more and better quality games they can produce. If the second hand market is very large (and judging by the state of local game shops, it is)- you can’t blame them for wanting a piece of that action.

The argument boils down to a conflict of two interests – the right of the publisher and devs to make money, versus the right of the consumer to expect a game purchased second hand to be just as good as one purchased first hand.

If a company is doing well, it can be argued that the former is just greed. But greed, like money, is one of the driving parts of business. Yeah, there are exceptions to this rule but any company making millions (or even billions) of pounds didn’t get there without a constant desire to want more. Greed may be bad, but like money it’s an integral part of businesses that you can’t just write off becuase it's immoral. No matter how much you may hate it, it's an important part of the industry's drives and methods- you just can't get away from it.

So, ultimately I come down on the side of the publishers. But, there is another angle to this argument. Piracy and the second hand market are closely linked in the eyes of the publishers, and what I do NOT approve of, is the fact that second hand buyers are breing treated more and more like pirates- this is just wrong.

Are pre owned games 'piracy'?

Many forms of DRM are designed as much to kill the second hand market as they are to prevent piracy. Look at the copy protection that was instigated on Spore for example- you can only install the game three times. That kills the second hand market (fortunately, this draconian DRM has fallen by the wayside following consumer outrage). Likewise, other games require you to register your CD to an account, and once registered that CD key cannot be transferred to another user. Another way that kills the second market, yet has been espoused as an anti piracy measure.

You see where I’m going with this. The emphasis doesn’t seem to be placed on preventing piracy- it’s forcing customers to buy the product first hand, with piracy being used as a thin veil of excuse.

It’s easy to see how a second hand buyer is comparable to a pirate in the eyes of the videogame industry. Just like pirates, second hand buyers contribute nothing to the developer and publisher, and yet still enjoy the final product. But at the end of the day, they're not doing anything illegal- they just want to enjoy a videogame and can't afford/don't want to, pay the full price for a game.

The answer I offer.

I don’t like to discuss a problem without being able to offer a solution (but I will do it anyway sometimes), so here’s mine. DRM should be able to differentiate between a second hand owner, and a pirate. This is vital, and is responsible for the virtual total destruction of the second hand PC market.

On consoles, the solution is simple- offer extra stuff with first hand games. These extras should be things which are not vital to the game, but still give the first hand buyer something worth the extra tenner they’ve spent. Make the first hand game more valuable than the second hand, rather than the second hand less valuable than the first. Basically, the second hand game should be the base line as to how the game is played.

Examples of this include codes for downloading free DLC (Alan Wake) extra characters and missions that only have a small impact, if any on the main game (Mass Effect 2), discounts on other games from the publisher (5% off your next Ubisoft title for example)- this would also help the publishers get more people buying their games. Sure you lose out a little on DLC sales e.t.c, but surely you'll more than recover that becuase people are more likely to buy your games first hand.

I suppose the TL;DR is this:
If you absolutely have to try and make people buy your games first hand, make it so that a second hand buyer feels less like they’re buying a stripped down version of the game, and more like they’ve decided to forgo a few optional extras.

So, until next time.

So... Kinect Part II

Fate moves in mysterious ways. Usually behind you, grinning like a large convict who's just asked you to pick up the soap. After my previous rant on Kinect, I went off to my Xbox 360 to fire up a DVD while I ate dinner. Much to my dismay, the drive refused to spin up. After several attempts I finally got the damn thing working again, but this 360 elite is a good few years old now, and I resigned myself to the fact I'd need to upgrade to one of those swanky new 360 slims with the built in wi-fi that I'd been coveting.

So I took my old elite down to the game shop and traded it in for £80 towards my new Xbox 250gig. That same morning I had just seen this awesome video, and it got me thinking what the future may hold now the Kinect was capable of running on Windows. So I dared the question “How much for a Kinect bundle?” The clerk's eyes lit up like Christmas. “That'll be an extra fifty quid. You don't get the game though.” Fifa or MoH? Two games I'll never play anyway. I thought about it for a moment and then decided to go for it. I'd been toying with the idea all day, so really my mind was already made up. What was an extra £50, when the only game being released in this pay period was AC: Brotherhood?

Ten minutes later I walked out of the shop, new Slim 360 in hand. I'd just like to talk about this machine for a brief moment before moving onto the Kinect as it bears mention. It's much smaller, much quieter and looks the biz. The piano black finish is going to attract grime though, so be warned. The touch sensitive buttons are a nice feature, but purely bling with no real function. Don't be in a huge rush to upgrade if you have an Elite, but the quieter running is very nice. One thing though, the fucker doesn't have a memory card socket on it. Which means unless I can somehow get the data off my memory card, I've lost ALL my hard earned saves. That, REALLY pissed me off. EDIT- I have since discovered that you can use any USB Flash drive as a memory card. Sorry, that one passed me by.

So, Kinect. Setting it up is a pain in the ARSE. It took me about an hour of updates, waving cards around and being forced into ludicrous positions before it was ready to rumble. The problems people have been reporting about space? No joke. I have a pretty sizeable living room, and I had to push my TV right back into the unit, jostling for every inch for that little bloody sensor to use. Do not buy this item unless you have at least seven foot of space in front of your TV. That is the bare minimum- six foot works, but you won't have room to step backwards (the backs of my knees where grinding the futon for the first half hour), so avoid that if you can.

I played around with the Kinect hub for a little while, but honestly it's useless. It's far slower than using a controller, except for the speech commands. These will only be useful to you though if you're using things like the Zune service on a frequent basis. Further compounding my irritation was that the Kinect hub didn't contain my most used feature- the marketplace. Plus the sensor was really starting to creep me out. There's something downright disconcerting about an oblong piece of black plastic with a luminous red eye, turning to look right at your face. You know what I mean.

So far, I was impressed by the technology, but the implementation was a joke. A £50 joke. There was nothing here that couldn't be done more quickly with a controller.

So I sighed and put in Kinect adventures.

What happened next can only be described as a mental regression to the state of a five year old, on a sugar high, in a playhouse. Fun doesn't even begin to describe it. I've become far more mature in recent years with my approach games, I appreciate them for their narrative, their game play mechanics, their characters, use of new ideas and so forth. I now realize I've missed the whole point of videogames- they are supposed to be fun. They exist to be enjoyed, be that through overcoming a challenge for a sense of achievement, tugging at emotional strings, or the satisfaction of just doing something totally stupid and getting away with it.

After sitting though a toe curlingly family friendly intro I jumped (no pun intended) into my first game, which is best described as 3D breakout. Your body is the paddle. After mere seconds I was hooked. I then realized that simply moving my body in the way of the ball wasn't enough- I could slap the ball with my hands to give it speed so it would break the blocks more easily. The fun increased as I started to punt the bloody thing with all my might. The five year old in the back of my head downed his last tube of sherbet and stirred, ready to take the back the body he had so long been barred from. Then came the moment of glory, the moment he broke out.

The ball hit me in the face, and bounced off. Up until this point I had just been using my arms and sometimes my legs. I wondered... I tried. The ball sailed towards my head again. I arched my back backwards and carefully lined up to give it an almighty Geordie kiss- a headbutt to you. With the force or an arcing whip I drove my face towards the screen and blam! The ball was sent hurtling back to the blocks and broke several of them, finishing the round.

Everything from that point on became a mess of grinning, laughing, smiling and occasionally shouting WTF. The laughter only got more raucous when I got my first living statue. Suffice to say, it was a fat hamster that mimicked my movements. So I did what any five year old would do in that situation- took a recording of it doing my whitest possible disco dance. It was very, very white.

Three hours passed, including some time on the multiplayer on Xbox live. Eventually I grew tired. I'd been plugging leaks in an underwater lab with my hands, jumping up and down on an inflatable dingy, and floating though zero G popping water bubbles. Even as I write this I am still grinning, the warm glow of being reduced to a five year old for a few hours still lingers behind my eyes.

I stand by many of my initial assertions about Kinect. It's still far too expensive to appeal to most casual gamers, but the 'bored spouse' crowd is now definitely a real target for this thing. I'd say Kinect is worth owning, but only if purchased cheap as part of a bundle, or second hand. Technically, the only real problems it has are the huge space it needs, and the fact there is a lag before your actions appear on screen. You eventually get used to this though, and it's not so bad it's game breaking. For Kinect to really shine though, this does need be resolved. Overall, it's not the wisest purchase I've made (yet at least), but it's certainly got hours of amusement potential.

I was wrong about a lot of my claims in my previous rant, but like I said- some things still stand. I wouldn't say I've become a Kinect supporter, but I certainly won't be speaking out against it again any time soon. I am still very worried just how many games can be made with this tech though- it could get old very fast.

Even hardcore gamers will enjoy Kinect, but only, and I mean only if you can suspend your maturity, stop taking yourself seriously and just have fun. Booze helps, as will other people. If you have your head up your arse though, and are unwilling (or unable) to pull it out, you will not have fun here. Which is a shame, because feeling like a little kid again is possibly the greatest feeling an adult can ever have. Outside of orgasm of course.

I'm not sure how long it will take for the novelty wear off, but until then I intend to enjoy every moment of Kinect, every jump, every stupid pose, every God awful photo, and of course; every round of breakout I win using my face.

The Kinect Was Predicted By Douglas Adams...

Shamelessly nicked from Dylan Fox over at

The Kinect reminds me of this bit from Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“A loud clatter of gunk music flooded through the Heart of Gold cabin as Zaphod searched the sub-etha radio wavebands for news of himself. The machine was rather difficult to operate. For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive - you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same programme.”
( )

I don’t mind science imitating fiction--hey, I’m all for it!--but not when the final product turns out to a punchline...

So, Kinect...

Alright. I’ve put it off for long enough. Let’s talk about Kinect.

I don’t like doing exclusively negative pieces unless I have something to actually base my opinion on. Flame wars and baseless rants are a dime a dozen on the internet, but I will most likely never own, or even play on Kinect. Still, I can at least attempt to justify my attitude with explanations and predictions. The purpose of this post, therefore, is to explain why I have no interest in the Kinect, but also to elaborate on the scope of the idea as a money spinner, and how Kinect may still make Microsoft some moolah.

Motion sensitive gaming is a waste of my time. Why? Because I’m what the hive mind has taken to calling a ‘hardcore gamer’. I like levels, I like challenges, I like lots of items, I like mechanics with a learning curve, I like a storyline and most of all, I like control. I don’t like Spore or the Sims series as I regard both of these as ‘toy games’- things you play with, rather than play. Fable II also falls into this category. You have to put a lot into the game to get anything out of it, and that’s just not my style.

Motion games are, by their very nature, going to be ‘toy games’. How much can you actually do with motion sensitive controls? The answer is simple- very little. Think for a moment about all the buttons you press, all the combinations you use when you play a videogame. For example, lining up a shot in MW2: You’re holding down the left trigger to aim, using one thumbstick to point your gun, the other to strafe so you’re not a sitting duck, and then the other shoulder button to fire. That's 4 controls for one of the most simple actions in the game.

How would you do this in Kinect? You couldn’t. Something as simple as lining up a shot becomes impossible. Kinect has only one input, your body’s positioning. It can’t detect anything as subtle as a finger movement, or tiny corrections to line up that perfect headshot. How about platformers? Are you going to run on the spot, then jump on the spot to move in game? How do you make corrections if your line up isn’t exact?

So there’s reason one why I’m avoiding Kinect- No one will ever be able to create a game I actually want to play. They are all going to be simple, basic, casual toy games. Those of you who have tried playing anything 'hardcore' on the Wii can probably attest to how irksome the motion controls become after a while- and that’s with some traditional buttons and the analogue nunchuck to back you up.

Next up is the price tag. Suppose I decided I did want to get into casual gaming, or just have it around for when my friends and I are drunk and feel like doing something stupid. Why am I not going to get a Wii? At £130, Kinect is a f###ing expensive piece of hardware- almost half of what you paid for the Xbox in the first place! For that I can get a second hand Wii, some extra controllers and a few games if I play my cards right and shop around.

Advanced menu controls and voice commands? My controller works fine, and it doesn’t cost £130. Video conferencing? I barely use the chat function on XBL, why do I want to pay £130 for the privilege of being able to see people while I talk to them?

Oh and don’t get me started on the technical limitations. There’s barely, and I mean barely 6 foot between my TV and my futon- certainly not enough room to comfortably move back and forth in beyond that line. Seriously, how many people actually have a six foot square block, free of all furniture in front of their TV? Do you really want to move the coffee table every time you want to play a game?

Kinect is made for two markets- casual gamers (or gamers in denial as I like to call them), and kids. The former will already have a Wii, and if they don’t they will get one as they are far, FAR cheaper than Kinect and a 360. The only possible exception is if they live with someone who already has a 360, and as established you can still get a second hand Wii, plus assorted extras for the cost of the Kinect alone. Still, I reckon we’ll see a big uptake from this demographic leading up to Christmas and into the January sales. But after that I don’t foresee much spending as everyone who is going to get one, will have one.

Now kids. They’ll love the novelty value and parents will no doubt be happy their loinspawn are getting some exercise while playing what will undoubtedly be almost exclusively, wholesome family games. If there is a continuing market for the Kinect, this is where you will find it. However, when Microsoft proudly starts toting ‘We sold X many thousand Kinect units this quarter!’ , I will be asking one question- “How many of those where individual units, and how many where bundled with new 360s in package deals?” I’d bet that most Kinect units sold will be in bundle with new 360s within 6 months, and the only reason people will be buying them is because

a) The store won’t change the package deal
b) They’re so cheap in package you might as well, or
c) Parents buying the damn thing get hoodwinked by sales clerks.

I don’t think Kinect will be a flop, at the very least- as I’ve driven home with all the finesse of a railway spike- bundle deals will keep them moving. But the question of how many people really want Microsoft’s new toy, compared to how many of them are pressured into buying it, remains in question.

As intimated, the Wii is the big problem. It’s already there, it’s a known quantity, it’s cheaper and thanks to brand identity, casual gamers are not going to think ‘I Want to buy a games console’, they’re going to think ‘I want to buy a Wii.’ Microsoft is wagering everything on convincing this target demographic that Kinect is better, or even getting them to acknowledge its existence. I don’t think they will be very successful as, fundamentally, how do you market something to non gamers? They don’t read gaming magazines, they don’t go into game shops or attend LAN parties, they most likely nod and smile when gamer friends tell them about game related stuff… It’s like solving the Epimenides Paradox. Still, at least Microsoft are trying. Many people talk about the eye toy when discussing Kinect, but remember that the eye toy had all the marketing of a back alley abortion clinic in a Redneck state. It was bound to fail if no one knew about it to buy it.

So there we have it. Kinect is a waste of (very large) space to anyone but the casual gamer, and the Wii already has them by the short and curlies. A small number of folk may buy it if they live with someone who already has a 360, and are too stupid to look for a Wii. Bundles will keep the thing moving though and make up sales numbers that will allow Microsoft to proudly hail the Kinect a success.

On a closing note I would like to say that I don’t hate Kinect. It’s got zero appeal to me, but at least it’s something new and interesting and that at least needs to be acknowledged- even a step backwards is better than no step at all when innovation is concerned. Especially given the lack of new ideas in the industry at the moment. Likewise I’m sure many of the people who do own it will have hours of fun with it, at least until the novelty wears off. Plus there’s the consideration of how many games you can really make using just the premise of a moving body as input…

Oh, and as for the Playstation move? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA‼‼‼‼ You really think ANY casual gamer is going to be interested in spending over £300? You’re out of your f####ing gourd! Especially when the friggin’ thing essentially IS a Wii-mote! At least the Kinect is different in that regard.
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