Robin’s Rants – “The Great Preowned Debate”

It’s been about 3 weeks since I analysed anything in any great deal, so I apologise once again for the fact that for the first part of this article I’m straying from my intended formula to talk about the last weekend.

You see, as OFFICIAL CUBEDGAMERS ENVOYS (capital letters mandatory), me and Sian attended the MCM London Expo on the 29th and 30th of October. During an exciting weekend, we had the opportunity to play a lot of this season’s upcoming titles. Since it’s Sian’s realm to explain what exactly those games were like, I’ll be summing up a few of them in a single sentence.

Zelda: Skyward Sword – Nice and different, shame about the controls.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 – Brilliant graphics, shame about the controls.

Super Mario 3D Land – Great fun, turn off the 3D.

Mario Kart 7 – Pure brilliance.

Kirby Wii – I suck so terribly.

In other news, I picked up Suda 51’s Flower Sun and Rain, which would be great if my DS was working. However, before this turns into a scene kid’s blog, I have an issue to discuss once more. You see, I’ll likely be obliterated by the rest of the gaming press for this, but I support the concept of preowned games.

Well, perhaps I’ll have to add a little limitation onto that. I support the concept of preowned games where the new game is either extortionately priced or impossibly rare. I support their concept where the developers became rather rich. After all, what makes buying a used game different from buying a used car beyond the obvious difference of one being a piece of entertainment software and the other being a four-wheeled vehicle with an internal combustion engine? The people who produced it still got paid once, right?

Obviously, this is different from outright piracy – the main point of distinction being that when buying and selling second-hand games, a physical copy of the game is passed around perhaps half a dozen people at most, for a developers-paid to copies-owned ratio of 1:6. When that game is owned by one of those six people, it ceases to be played by the others. Only one person is then allowed to play at a given point in time.

Where this can be separated from piracy is that with a popular torrent, that ratio can be several thousand to one. Only a single pirate needs to have access to a copy of the game and the tools to rip it, in order for some several hundred people to be able to play simultaneously. What’s more, it’s rather difficult to find out just how many people are pirating games, so the potential amount of money lost could be vast.

Manufacturers have been trying since the introduction of CDs (way back in 1992) to curb piracy, but it is very clear this hasn’t worked. For one thing, Blu-Ray drives are now incredibly common and inexpensive compared to how they were at the introduction of the format – a BD burner is somewhere in the region of £60 on eBay now – and the introduction and sweeping success of broadband internet has made it incredibly easy to access both the game files themselves as well as instructions on running them. DVDs cost a pittance for the Xbox and the Wii can be emulated on even modestly-powered PCs.

With that information in mind, it seems that if anything is a threat to industry profits, it’s home piracy. These aren’t criminal cartels we’re dealing with her, just nerds with fancy disc drives and modding tools. So why, when the only real threat is abundantly clear, is the trading of used games being targeted?

Think about it. You earn a rather handsome chunk of cash one month and decide to upgrade your unicycle to something with an actual engine. You hunt around in the papers for a few hours and stumble across a nice little car with decent mileage, low running costs and an elderly owner who barely used it. Seems great, right? Now imagine if when you got into the car, you could only drive it on certain roads. Maybe you can’t open the glove box or boot, or perhaps you can’t adjust the seat. No, it seems you’ll have to send the car manufacturers a good sixth of the retail price of the vehicle just to be able to use it properly. What? They don’t even make that model any more!

After parting with your several hundred pounds/dollars/cat teeth, you receive the keys to the boot and find a skeleton in there because the multiplayer mode that was alive back there has withered and died in the time it took you to have the money to pay.

See what I mean? I don’t know about all of you, but the idea of an industry-wide tax on used games just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s rather odd that the medium which places such emphasis on creativity still clings to old payment systems in an age when digital distribution is on the rise and discs are on the way out. It seems they have just two options left to combat any loss of profits. First would be a complex, proprietary method of game delivery, which short of creating very weird system architecture or an expensive cartridge-like brick you slot into your consoles doesn’t seem like it’d be cost effective or practical.

Second is simply to lower game prices. Perhaps if a new game cost £24.99 instead of the usual £39.99. We know it can be done because of games like NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams that launched at a reduced cost. The developers could receive the same amount of money per unit. All it would mean for the industry is that publishers skim a little less cream off the top of each copy sold, but that would matter little when the people who would buy a game used three months after launch can now afford to get it for the same price straight away! I can predict a sales boost of quite a significant percentage (alas, I’m reluctant to talk numbers for fear of being called a noob) and an increased respect for the big publishers.

If you’re interested in listening to some more tasty British-flavoured discussion of this topic, you can have a look at this video from the Jimquisition.

I know this is a hot topic right now, so feel free to comment and let me know if you’d like me to discuss it further in future!




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Robin Wilde

Co-Editor of Cubed Gamers, meaning I send out, take in, edit and upload content. I'm also in charge of doing much of the graphics and design stuff for the site.