Point of Contention: The Fight for Used Games

They started out as what seemed like the most ridiculous of rumors. Next gen consoles blocking used games? Preposterous! Such a flaming claim could only be made to point out the competitor’s desire to scheme its sheep customer base out of as much money as possible. Those fools at Microsoft/Sony will be crying themselves into early graves, long live the PS3/Xbox!

Well here we are, and there have been reports of Microsoft implementing a one-time use pass on all retail games, and Sony filed a patent for something similar not too long ago. Of course, very little information is currently in our grasp as far as next-gen tech, and much of this must be taken with a teeny tiny grain of salt. Nonetheless, it’s an issue and needs to be discussed.

Used Games - TRAVIS - 1

First of all, no. I do not buy used games with any sort of regularity. I almost always buy a game new at release if I’m particularly excited for it and still new (albeit usually on an online retailer) for much less six months to a year later. It’s a good system for me, as maintaining a healthy, well kept collection of titles in pristine condition matters to me. There’s also the matter of trying to give money to those that I feel deserve it (instead of near 100% profit to the lovely people at GameStop, who deserve nothing less than disease and ruin).

Gamestop - TRAVIS - 1

Even still, there’s a tremendous value in having video games playable on multiple platforms, beyond just the sales value that some people greatly benefit from. I can’t think of how many times my friends and I have gotten together play something on whoever’s console happens to be around, using whatever copy members of our group happen to bring. Having consoles that lock games to the system is like going over to a friend’s house and immediately being stonewalled by overprotective parents with strict rules. It makes that kid and his toys much, much less cool.

So yeah. Locked consoles hurt local multiplayer. Not that big companies give much of a rat’s ass these days about that, anyway, but for many a game enthusiast, it’s an important facet of play. Not all of games needs to be solitary with the communication and shared experience getting funneled through a tube. That’s just dumb.

But underlying the surface issue of restricted freedom comes a far greater, and far scarier problem that strikes at the root of the medium itself. Think a bit about the legacy of video games. We’ve been privy to nearly forty years of rich history. Games have grown and the players have evolved. Consider how fruitful and downright fun it can be to revisit the gems of yesteryear, especially with our modern perspective. Collectors know it, historians know it, hell I’d guess even most developers know it.

Old games contain countless lessons, whether good or bad.

Old games contain countless lessons, whether good or bad.

So basically these next consoles will cut that off, make video game history stop. No longer will we be able to accumulate gems of the past now off production and out of circulation. Want to play Mass Effect 4 in 2050 to relive childhood memories? Sorry, your Xbox 720 blue ringed ages ago, and even if it didn’t, those servers were shut down ages before. You can’t just buy a console off of Hyper Ebay, your locked games wouldn’t work on it even if you could connect the thing to your future internet connection that made the last one outdated. Guess you have to emulate it.

Think about every retro game that’s impossible to find, yet hugely significant. Earthbound makes a good example, because those carts are rare as all hell and Nintendo of America refuses to re-release it in any form. So while a different problem, it still makes a good current analogue. For all intents and purposes, if next-gen consoles will indeed system-lock games, then every game will be Earthbound. Impossible to play and lost to time. What a deplorable way to treat art.

Works of creation and creativity should be the very last thing on the planet to be locked down and segregated. It’s a defensive, petty, and cowardly measure, thinking only of the current profits while disregarding the eternal history and progression of the medium. I get why publishers would love to implement this. I get it. For all my unwavering desire to see used games remain sellable, I will continue to buy new. But for the love of god, this will hurt the industry and cloud our understanding of the past and how we evolved. Don’t just think of the now, EA, Activision, Sony, Square Enix, Microsoft, and Ubisoft, think of fifty years from now. What image will you maintain? What will go on to hold a legacy? Do you really want all your efforts to drown in the sands of time?

Shout out to Video Games New York for keeping game history alive.

Shout out to Video Games New York for keeping game history alive.

Imagine if film worked this way near the forty year mark. Imagine if all the circulated films were burned once off the theater circuit. Or better yet, imagine if they only played on specific projectors that can’t be found today (yes, I know that such a thing would require a completely different system that what was in place, but bare with me for the sake of the argument). Basically, imagine if Thomas Edison got his way and we’d have to use big wooden boxes with eye holes to watch our films. Once they break, the distributing company would say “eh, screw it. Buy a new one with our newer films. Those old films were old for a reason.” Films would be products and perishable commodities, not a shared art form free (mostly) from the grips of the people that develop the distribution platforms (like, say, theaters or projector manufacturers). Games are turning into just that medium. And it’s shameful.

There are many reasons to oppose a restriction on used game sales, and it’s worth a healthy, active discussion. Please, let’s talk about it, industry. Don’t just assume you always know best. If both the Xbox and PS3 restrict used games, I might just stick with my Wii U.

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  1. without used games the industry will die

    • How is Apple doing with iTunes or Google doing with Play? Neither of those platforms allow for used sales yet they are HUGELY successful.

      • This argument is really only applicable to retail software. There are issues with digital download (like how ultimately the distributor always has final control over the content and users of Steam, iTunes, Google Play, etc are only allowed licenses), but those are separate issues for separate areas.

  2. PC is looking more attractive now. Upgradeable, more diverse, cheaper games. Guess Gabe knows what he is doing. If the Xbox/PS3 implement this feature I will refuse to buy any of these consoles. Guess how many console games the industry will sell to me if that is the case? Exactly – zero.

    • First off Mr. Sense, this author is providing a Black and White argument and painting a picture of a future that will NEVER HAPPEN.

      The fact is that used games amount to a sales channel although it is one that publishers and developers have very limited access to. This is why there is so much DLC now and Online Passes. Used games being circulated in and of itself is not a bad thing, but when the used game competes directly with a new product (that offers no more features over the new product) that is an issue.

      Developers have every right to create value differentiations in their products. They do this now with Special Editions that can cost up to $200, do you feel entitled to everything that the special edition buyer gets when you buy the regular version? No! You get what you pay for. If you feel you have paid to high of a price for what you got that should be reflected in your next purchase.

      Completely making used game discs useless would be stupid. Perhaps the used game disc could turn into a "free to pay" version of the game that is subsidized with micro-transactions.

      Gabe Newell is taking more of the iTunes / Play approach by providing an all-digital marketplace that doesn't allow for used sales (for the digital content). So your analogy is weak at best.

      • You provide valid points however:
        1. When an artist sells a painting, and that painting is then sold to another person, the original artist does not receive a penny. Why do game developers expect a better deal? An old game competing with a new game? Simple make the new game way better, as it should be.
        2. All this DLC and online passes are negative points for us as gamers, and exist only because players pay and support this business model.
        3. I for one am against the free to play model – why should I be happy that devs are looking at the possibility of following suit?
        4. Steam maybe digital only but it offers games at a fracton of the price at retail. I would rather get a digital copy for this fraction then full price at retail – more worthwhile.
        So to summarise, I have been a gamer for decades. if the new consoles will only take new games then I will go the pc route. Who will be hit the most if most players follow my way of thinking?

      • There's also the possibility that used games will be restricted only while under production, and that once production stops and companies end the possibility of profiting off of retail copies, they'll open their restrictions up. There's not enough information currently on what these systems may entail, and I think we should all hope that there's some reason and sense.

    • PC gaming, especially in terms of Steam and other digital download services, has it's own slew of more potential, theoretical issues that people seem to be afraid to talk about. Like suppose years in the future Gabe keels over and dies and someone else takes the reigns, only does so poorly and the company crumbles. If, by some strange circumstance(and I'm not saying it will, it's merely a hypothetical) Valve goes bankrupt, then all the games you've ever purchased and played and collected in your steam account will be null and void.

      There's also an issue with PCs constantly being upgraded. Yes, PC games are always at the cutting edge, but there's often significant challenges with playing older PC titles that current operating systems no longer support. Want to play Grim Fandango? Too bad, it's not an easy thing to do. Sure, there are huge modding communities (which is one of the greatest things about PC gaming) that have solutions to these problems, but the barrier to entry is significantly higher than digging out an old PlayStation and playing Chrono Cross for a day.

      With digital download and PC in general, we actually give the distributing platforms a lot more power than we realize. iTunes can delete all the music you've ever purchased, Amazon can delete all your ebooks, and Steam can take back all the games you've bought for any reason and you wouldn't have any ability to fight it (it's in the licensing agreements you agree to when you make purchases). Of course the possibility of that happening is slim, but it has happened to some unfortunate people and something to consider. So basically what you can take away is that all of gaming sucks right now, if you want to be a pessimist XD

  3. I agree completely. I won't be buying any future consoles that do this. I own every console created… but I'll be done.

  4. I think if 720/PS4 restricts em. Nintendo will take the generation. I already got my Wiiu. Loving whats coming up for it.
    And it will massively change the retail industry, as there will be less sale dollars for game shops. Again, in one foul swoop, every game retailer could quickly become Nintendo’s best friends, advertising and promoting them given that they would be one of their only major software suppliers left

    • Let's theorize that you are correct Sony and MS are going to completely restrict used games.

      Don't you think if they actually had the tech to pull that off that all the publishers would gravitate to them? Leaving Wii U only with First Party games? The fact is if anyone ever figures out a way to lock content to a user in a secure non-obtrusive manner, content creators would be stupid not to gravitate to that if they charge a premium for that content. It would be a no-brainer business move.

      • This is a solid point. If, say, Gamestop decided to drop support of the future playstation and xbox to protest restrictions on games (which I suppose they could, since they account for a huge portion of those system's current sales and their voice would certainly be heard), it would be great for Nintendo. However, from the perspective of an investor at a AAA third party studio (EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Squenix, Capcom, etc), it only makes sense to support the consoles that protect the games they make under such a defensive position. It's simple money concepts, and absolutely why many of those companies developed such outrageous DRM nonsense despite the fact that I'm sure developers at Ubisoft were just as upset about it as the consumer base was. It's just what the investor's demanded, because from an investment standpoint, potential loss of sales due to piracy is likely a horrifying thought. Today, I'm sure investors regard used games with a similar animosity. And you can bet your sweet ass investors don't care one damn bit about the legacy and culture of games and the lasting impact they have on the artistic world. It's all about numbers, and it's shameful that so many executive and developmental decision have to hinge around that axis.

  5. Bach too busy at work, last comment wasn’t written correctly, fix that one up later…

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