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’.


Piracy

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.

5 Response to "The Persecution of the Second Hand Consumer."

  1. Foxie says:

    I always buy games second-hand. The reason? I can afford to pay £20 for a game, but not £50+. So, if the games were sold first hand for something more reasonable--say £20-£30--I could buy them first hand. The publisher and devolopers would get my money instead of the shop, and I'd get that warm glow from supporting a studio and helping them develop more games. We all win.

    Foxie says:

    Actually, the same thing happened with CDs. Beginning of the decade, a new release cost £17. I couldn't afford that, so I... acquired it by other means. Now they cost £8-£12. I buy them first-hand, and we all win.

    Oh, to live in a world where industries could learn from each other...

    Alan says:

    I can't afford new games. In some cases, I simply don't WANT to afford them if waiting a couple of months means I can get them second hand for half the price. I can understand the argument that second hand buyers are getting the game without the developers/publishers receiving a penny, but it's not like there are more copies of the game getting out there. The devs have already had their money for this copy of the game, and someone who was able to play it before no can't. We're simply changing the identity of the person who owns the same copy.

    "videogames do not depreciate in quality with age"

    - Arguable. Older games lack in graphics, sound, memory capacity and customisation. To a lot of gamers, a modern game is more desirable than an old game. On that front, one could argue that games depreciate with age. Look at it this way - would the average gamer rather play Civ V or Civ III?


    I will openly admit that I have illegally downloaded games in the past. Specifically, games which are no longer commercially available. Sanitarium is an example. To the best of my knowledge (and I have looked into this) one cannot purchase Sanitarium in any fashion other than buying it on something like eBay. I don't see the point in giving somebody money because they happened to have bought a game once. Either way, the original developers aren't getting any of my money, despite the fact I would like to give it to them. The logical solution would be to make such games available to download on Steam or similar. Although with a lot of old games, that's still no guarantee that the money will go to the people who deserve it. Every time they play All You Need Is Love on the radio, Sony gets royalties. If one could download Fallout 2 on Steam, Bethesda would be the ones receiving the money for it, rather than the former Black Isle employees...

    Additional point: The Codies CEO's speech is yet another example of people without reliable net access getting shafted.

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