More developers are speaking out against the sale of used games. The practice has been blamed for studio closures, increased reliance on paid DLC, and even the decline in single-player gaming. Consumers argue that games cost too much as is, and that every other industry also contends with used sales. What makes video games special? Enough irrelevant or misleading statistics get thrown around to make even Al Gore blush.
Each time a new used-game debate crops up, I can’t help but notice that there is something distinctly lacking from the discussion. We focus on the short-term monetary effect of used games on the industry. We focus on which pocket today’s dollar lands in. But what about the long-term effect of used games?
I’m not special, I just play games. I’ve always played games. More accurately, I’ve played games since my grandmother gave me an Atari 2600 for Christmas back in the late-mid 80s. What started as an innocent addiction to Pitfall!, Football!, Moon Patrol, and Haunted House quickly grew into an obsession. Next came the NES. The Mario and the power-pad bundle! Game Boy! The car trips spent playing Tetris, Mega Man, or Golf.
By the time the 32-bit Super Nintendo and Genesis era rolled around, most of my friends were as addicted to gaming as I was. We’d spend every Friday night at someone’s house, staying up late to play the latest game. There was always a feeling of pride when I got to show off some new game I received as a gift, but those weeks were few and far between.
Most weeks, we’d have to hit the video rental store. Scouring the shelves, we marveled at the amazingly bad art on the boxes. Sometimes a game’s name would catch our eye. More often it was a depiction of some half-human creature being blasted by lasers or a couple of shirtless dudes ready to beat the tar out of each other. We’d rent our game and then spend the weekend playing it. The developer didn’t see a dime of our (parent’s) money.
There was a mall where I grew up that was the epitome of a struggling economy. I’m sure it was once a state-of-the-art shopping center, but by the time we started frequenting it, it was little more than a crumbling string of seedy stores. We went there for the last-run discount movie theater.
There was a used entertainment shop next door. Gaming wasn’t as big as it is now, so the bulk of their business dealt with the sale of used audio cassettes and a few CDs. There was also a section for VHS tapes. I was, of course, drawn to the games. I didn’t have a lot of money — I was just a kid — but I did have games.
Suddenly a new world was opened to me. I could take those games I had played, the games I was bored of or didn’t like, and use them to get new games! Even if I didn’t have anything to trade in, I could buy a used game for a lot less than if I went and tried to get a game from a traditional store. It didn’t take long for me to become a miniature Wall Street man — wheeling and dealing anyway I could figure out how.
There’s no way for me to guess the number of games I’ve rented or purchased used over my lifespan. If you include the friends that shared the hobby, it has to exceed a thousand games. Money was involved in every one of those transactions, but the developers never saw a dime of it.
We focus on those dimes and the hands which pass them back and forth, but is that the only thing we should pay attention to? Over all those years of renting and trading in used wares, I still bought games. Now I’m 30 and I still buy games. Sometimes I buy games used, and sometimes I buy them new. But I still buy them. And play them. And write about them.
Without used and rental gaming, I would have still had games to play. I just wouldn’t have been able to play so many of them. Perhaps gaming would still become a life-long passion, perhaps not. Regardless of how things could have been, there’s one thing I know for sure: by the time I became a paycheck-earning, money-spending member of society, I was spending my money on games. Lots of them.
I’m just one person, but I’m not alone. How many of you share my story? How many of you are just starting on that path?
When we talk about fighting used game sales, we talk about the here and now. We’re looking at isolated declines in sales or units shipped. We fret over the next studio closure or latest title to bomb at retail. The X over Y. The bottom line. Then we point fingers.
All the while we lose sight of what gaming has become. What video games have accomplished over the last few decades. Growing from a niche market to a global entertainment powerhouse. I’m no industry insider. I’m certainly not a financial or economic expert. I am a gamer. All I can ask is that the next time you argue about the destruction used game sales cause, you think about that and remember my story. Think about where we are today and how we got here.
Are used games sales really that evil?Posted in Op Ed by Steve R Gibson on April 12, 2012