So you wake up, grab some breakfast, and fire up your console of choice to get some gaming in before you start your day. You load up some Dragon Age: Origins and laugh at the wacky antics of Shale, the stone golem with a hatred of all things chicken. After killing a few darkspawn you still have some time to kill so you swap discs and go online to play some Tiger Woods with a friend. You cap it all off by jumping into Mass Effect 2 to try out the controls of the new Hammerhead hovercraft.
Or maybe you don’t. You see, you’re a money-conscious gamer who can’t buy all of your games brand new on day one, so you picked up these games used at GameStop. And everything I just mentioned — the Shale DLC, online play in Tiger Woods, and the “Cerberus Network” of free DLC in Mass Effect 2 — is free only to those who bought the game new.
The nature of used games and their effects on the game industry have been a matter of debate since the first used games store opened, but this generation kicked the controversy into overdrive. The “Online Age” of game consoles with ethernet adapters and hard drives has led to new ways of rewarding new game purchasers. A recent Penny Arcade comic highlighted both sides of the argument (in a decidedly one-way fashion, to be fair) and started off a flame war of responses.
So what’s the deal? Are today’s game publishers punishing the poor or just rewarding their loyal customers? Are companies like EA money-grubbing empires, nickel-and-diming their supporters to death or are they simply businesses trying to stay afloat? With both of these questions, I’m inclined to believe the latter.
“But wait,” some will cry, “the publishers are punishing customers who buy used games by removing content from games!” Well, here’s where I get on my soap box. There are two flaws with this sort of logic. First is the part about removing content from games. No one is to say what should be in a game. The fact that the “Stone Prisoner” DLC pack, introducing the character Shale into Dragon Age: Origins, was available Day One and given free to new game purchasers does NOT mean that it was a part of the game stolen from those who buy used. The character is not necessary to complete the story and the base game is long enough to satisfy my $60 purchase without needing the half-hour or so it took me to complete the DLC mission. “Stone Prisoner” is a bonus, nothing more.
The second problem with this argument is this — if you buy the game used, you are not a customer. Not EA’s customer, anyway, though I’m sure GameStop is glad to have you. EA didn’t get one red cent from your purchase, so they owe you nothing. Complaining about missing a chunk of the game is like a kid who buys some baseball cards from his friend saying that Upper Deck owes him a stick of gum to replace the one that came in the pack.
This is the thing about video games: they don’t exist. Games are not a physical product. Sure, when you throw your sixty bucks at the clerk at Wal-Mart, he throws back a game disc, manual, and case. But you actually paid for a license — that is, the right to play the game. The copyright holder — in this case, the game publisher — has the right to say what you can and can’t do with that license. Current copyright law allows for the sale or trade of game discs, but any extra content the publishers throw your way is between them and the consumer.
If you think the current system is rough, think about how bad PC gamers have it. PC games are sold to a single user and any type of sale or giving away of the game is not only technically impossible, it’s against the law (the same is true of virtually all software, not just games). While PC games have long had online DRM systems to prevent one copy of a game from being used by multiple people (in theory, anyway), it’s only now that ethernet adapters and hard drives have become standard in consoles, allowing similar systems to exist in PlayStation and Xbox games. But the game publishers haven’t done that yet (except with downloadable titles). If publishers aren’t making enough money from conventional sales, you can bet your ass that the next generation of consoles will make it impossible to trade in used games.
This brings me to my next point. Since I was a kid, playing Operation Wolf on the NES, games have been $50. They stayed that way (and actually fluctuated to upwards of $80 on the N64) until this generation, at which point they hit $60. That’s a twenty percent price increase in twenty-five years. To put that in perspective, gas has gone from a buck to almost three dollars in that same time. Movie tickets have gone from $2.75 to over ten dollars. My point here is this: games are cheap. Accounting for inflation, they’re cheaper now than they’ve ever been. And the costs of game development are rising. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to figure out that something somewhere has to give. Either people start buying all their games new or publishers find alternative forms of getting their money. And who wants to pay a hundred dollars for a game?
You may have noticed that all of the games I mentioned above are EA games. This wasn’t intentional. These were the first three games to come to mind because EA has led the charge with its infamous “Project Ten Dollar,” an initiative to get a few bucks from people buying used by charging extra for content that comes free for new game purchasers. But they won’t be the last. Expect that in the future more publishers will follow suit and give extra content to those sending their money to the publisher instead of the used game store.
I’ve probably rambled on a bit longer than I should have, but my main point here is this: Companies need money to keep going. Yes, I know that big companies like EA make billions of dollars a year, but corporations are like sharks — they have to keep moving forward or they’ll die. Stockholders have expectations and used game sales don’t help the publishers meet those demands. Incentive programs like this encourage new game sales and bring in a few bucks from those who buy used. These programs will continue, and I for one have no problem with it.
Besides, the future of downloadable games will probably make this all moot.
The Other Side
I would like to clarify a couple of points, before you read more into this than what I’m saying. I have no problem with GameStop. I buy most of my games there because I like the (usually) knowledgeable and friendly employees at the store near my house. Selling used games is perfectly legal and I don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong. I certainly don’t harbor any ill will towards them. I do trade in my old games but I almost never buy used.
I do have one bit of hesitation with these new game incentives, and that is for the little guy with no broadband at home. When buying a new game, he or she should get this new content, but there’s currently no way for this gamer to get that stuff he paid for. I think that’s something that should be advertised better before someone takes home their shiny new game with the sticker that says “Free bonus missions!” and finds out they can’t play.
(The opinions and views expressed in this editorial are those of the author and may not represent the viewpoint of Crush! Frag! Destroy! or its management as a whole.)