Gamasutra's latest Question of the Week asked our esteemed audience of game industry professionals, educators and students to relay their thoughts on the tricky problem of used game sales, which account for significant revenue not seen by game creators. Specifically, the question we asked was as follows:
Q: As part of a community of game publishers and developers, do you buy used video games or go out of your way to buy new ones? If you do buy used, are you concerned about the financial implications of the used game market, or does the free market trump revenue concerns for the game business?
As usual, the responses were mixed. Though many, especially the developers amongst the respondants, prided themselves on being dedicated to buying new, most saw the effects of the games aftermarket as no different than any other consumer product market, be it music, movies, or cars. Most replies noted, though, that not only are direct downloads a solution and response to the problem, but that if developers and publishers wanted to curb used sales of newly released games, more incentives were needed - be it lower price or collectible insert - to make that new sale essential.
On the following pages, we'll highlight a few of the more interesting responses received.
I have bought used games. I've always thought the $50+ price point was bloated. I have a reluctance to pay more than $35 for a game. If I can get it for $20, so much the better. Especially if I'm only buying the game to keep up with the state of the industry. Actually for that need, I'll usually just wait for the demo. Even if I have to wait a year. If there's never a demo, I'll likely never look at the game. I rarely buy games at all. I'm a game *developer*, not a game consumer. Buying and playing games is a very bad habit. If I were to do it like consumers do, I'd never get any work done at all. I end up playing too much Freeciv as it is. If I buy a game, there has to be a business justification for it. Either the title has extraordinary implications for the game industry (i.e. Spore), has proven to be an important marker in game design history for better or for worse (i.e. Diablo II, Black & White), is a competing product in the same genre I'm focused on (i.e. Civ, GalCiv), or is an outstanding indie effort worthy of my support (i.e. King Of Dragon Pass). I'm much more wiling to support indie developers with my dollars than mainstream developers. Still, first and foremost I support myself. It's not my job to provide the game market with lotsa cash. I've made $0 on all the MIT licensed open source development I've done to date, so my conscience is quite clear on this point. I should say, furthermore, that I think a lot of what the game industry produces isn't any good. Just another generation of the same stuff shoveled into boxes. With a new art team, that nevertheless manages to produce basically the same art as before! I see no point in buying something I've seen dozens of times already.
Brandon Van Every, Indie Game Design
I have always bought new games, but many times it is a year or more after release when they are cheaper. Mostly I do this to get the manuals intact because I buy a broad range games to learn about them and use them for reference. I don't buy only new because I'm afraid of the free market. Certainly, there would be more money earned if there was no used market... but I know I wouldn't want the "game police" coming down on my head every time I loan a game to a friend or co-worker. Secondary markets are part of life -- especially in the realm of art. If we want our products to be deemed "artful" we had better get used to it. Thank goodness the free market includes "collectors". The industry may want to consider printing "edition" versions more distinctly -- like books -- and cater more directly to game fans with unique art printed on the disc and manuals. This is already done to a limited extent with the collector's edition of major titles. Of course, there is also something to buying the game made at a friend's company that is more personal for myself than if I wasn't in the industry -- and buying a friend's game "used" seems kind of tacky.
Steven Ehrensperger, Coresoft Inc.
I buy new games, for two reasons 1) I want my money to go to the game developer and publisher, who did all the work to get the game on the shelves in the first place. 2) Buying a used copy opens the door for support issues. How do I know it's a good copy? How do I know that the box has everything in it that came with the box when it was new? Also, if it's used, someone probably already registered the game, which means that if I need tech support or patches, I may not be able to get them. Also, we have had support issues where people have believed that they were buying a new copy of the game when in fact they were buying a re-shrink wrapped used copy where the original owner had already registered the game. So not only do used game sales mean less money for the developer, but they can also translate into more support issues, which cost the developer money.
Cari Begle, Stardock
I will purchase a new video game over a used video game if one exists at the time of purchase. Until there is a new business model to combat used games sales, I choose to support the current one. Unfortunately, not everyone else does this because they don't have a vested interest. Ultimately, the free market will trump revenue concerns and force video game companies to be creative in attracting buyers to purchase new titles over used. Digital distribution is one way to combat the issue because there isn't a market for used digital games.
Amir Ebrahimi, Flagship Studios
Recent games, no... but where else would you get the consoles and games your parents wouldn't buy you when you were a kid? Or other games that you didn't hear about till they had long since left the shelves?
As both a gamer and a game developer, I think the used games market is beneficial. Brand new games are expensive, and used games are the only way many younger gamers can afford to play at all. This at least keeps them interested in gaming (if the games are any good!), which means there will be more customers around to buy new games later. Additionally, the ability to sell it later is often an important consideration in the purchase of a new game - if the buyer doesn't like it, they know they can get some return on their investment by trading it in for another. Given the price of brand new games, the alternative to the used market is surely going to be piracy for many, and that's a far worse way to lose sales.
Simon Booth, SCEA
I stopped buying "new" games at Gamestop when I noticed they were shrinkwrapped in cheap, easy to tear bargain wrap instead of having the impossibly hard to open wrapping you find everywhere else. Talk about your shady business practices. On the other hand, game developers with budgets in the millions shouldn't gripe about losing a sale here and there because Joe Shmoe decided to save $5 and buy a used, scratched disc with no manual, and a case scribbled on in magic marker. If he wants to get ripped off, let 'em. The free market dictates that such businesses will exist, as crappy as they are. Instead of complaining, developers should stop making Gamestop a distribution channel and find some other method...downloadable, maybe? My advice to anyone who doesn't have tons of money to spend on games is simple. Buy a system that allows for backwards compatibility (like PS2, or 360), and buy first gen games brand new for half their original price. I just bought a 360, and can't believe the vast library of XBox games available at Best Buy, Circuit City, Toys R Us, etc. Sure, they're 2 years old, but who cares? Using this tact, I'm able to avoid Lamestop and give the developer my full support.
J Kelly, Sea Cow Games
I have bought used games - generally because by the time I bought them, they weren't available as new games any more. I might go out of my way to buy a game new to support the developer, but this is personal choice - there's no moral obligation to buy new. Once a game, or a book, or a record, or a DVD, is sold, the new owner of that copy of the item has always had a right to re-sell it. This is a fundamental right that comes with purchasing a product. Trying to re-write that fundamental rule of our society just so that publishers can make more money is wrong, plain and simple. The potential extra revenue for developers cannot justify the loss of a basic human freedom (and no amount of legal weaseling or contract verbiage can justify it, either).
George Rappolt, Hologic
The fact that I work in the industry doesn't affect how I purchase my games. If I can find a used copy that looks new for a cheaper price, I have no second thoughts about the purchase. It's an open market and the same rules apply for furniture, DVDs and games. If developers want to hurt the used games market, they need to find ways to make new games desirable, not seek ways to limit the economic liberties or handcuff players with EULAs - that no one ever reads - and lawyer talk that only hurt the industry's image by making publishers look crooked. The most obvious avenues are better games and lower prices. "Lower prices" needs little explanation. "Better games", on the other hand, means titles that very few players will quit on after only 2 or 3 hours of game play. The fact that we keep tricking consumers into purchasing 50$ boxes that are only worth 2 or 3 hours of their time is certainly instrumental in creating an offer on the used market, driving prices downward. I know I have no problem re-selling titles that I regret buying in the first place. No one should.
Marc Andre Caron, Delphine Software
Personally, I tend to buy new games, simply because I don't like the idea of getting a product that someone else has used before me. However, I think that there is nothing "wrong" with the used games business. While, as a game developer, I might prefer that all consumers shared my desire to buy "new" games, I think that it is the responsibility of the game publishers to create some incentive for them to do so. After all, I wager that there are few in this industry who could bemoan the used video game market while simultaneously claiming that they have never purchased a used DVD, used book, or other form of after-market media. Perhaps more importantly, I wonder if there is any conclusive way to estimate how many of the people who buy a game used (at a reduced price) would have purchased it at full-price anyway. Ultimately, there are plenty of solutions to this problem available to our industry. Online games and digitally downloaded games are obvious examples. If the industry is really interested in finding a way to get more money for its work, I would suggest that the video game rental market deserves at least as much attention as the used-game market...
I buy both used and new games, depending upon what the price differential is, and availability (old games are hard to find 'new'). I think the used games market is good for the industry for two reason: * it increases the value of game--people buy games knowing that they can get money when they sell it back, and * the game gets greater exposure--the purchaser of the used game might not otherwise have played it. This does not mean that people have the right to steal our products by copying them, reselling the originals, and playing the copy. But we made a product and sold it to them. It is theirs. They are free to resell it, the same way you're free to resell your car, house, or furniture.
Many times you are obliged to buy used games. Most of the titles just stay a month on the front shelf. Try to buy a new "Luigi's Mansion" or "Katamari Damacy" .... you have to buy used ones. The guilty is partly the publishers that only emphasize on recent titles and don't keep a catalog.
I do not buy used game very often, although I admit that I do at times. I like knowing that my money will go to hard working developers and that I am supporting their efforts and contribution to them staying in the industry. The thing is this is not always an option. More often then not when I buy a used game it is because the new copies of the game are no longer kept in stock. Maybe it is because I like the more obscure games but in my experience a few months after the release of a game there are no more new copies to be found. I can see two big reasons for this to happen, the demand for the game was more then the new stock would allow, or there were so many games resold to the game store that there was no need to order any more new ones. With that in mind, I think customers should have the opportunity to resell or return their purchase. There are a lot of reasons to resell a game: The game is not what you thought it was, you picked it up to play with friends and the friend changed their minds on it, you got bored of the game too quickly and it is now more valuable as a trade in then it is a potentials source of entertainment. To fight against used games I think developers should be thinking about keeping customer 1 from wanting to let the game go more then keeping customer 2 from buying the used product. To keep used game from selling developers will have to be make games that customers will want to hold on to.
This tricky question can also be turned around to ask a similar question: Do you buy used DVD's or used CD's, even though the artists and labels don't see a dime? The answer is yes, for a multitude of reasons: 1. The game/dvd/cd is out of print and you can't get it any other way. 2. You can't find it new, but it's sitting there used. 3. You can't afford $60 for a new game, but $15 is easier to take, especially if there's no demo and you're not sure if you want to invest $60 in the game. The good news is that used games can bring attention to the company, as well as potential sequels based off the name alone, so even if a customer buys one game used, when another game comes out by that company or a sequel comes out, the chance of the customer buying it new increases because they know of the first game. Personally, if a customer found a game of mine used, and bought it, I'd be quite happy because s/he's still playing my game! That's what matters most - getting my game in their hands and on their minds. Hopefully they'll like the game enough to buy the next one new. Even if he's buying used copies of my games (for whatever reason), at least he's playing my game. Maybe his friends will play it and want to own it too, so there's still potential for new users and new buyers, even when dealing with used games.
Personally, I don't purchase used games anymore. It's not just a matter of the money not going to the developer or the publisher, but also a matter of the retail stores giving bottom dollar in trade-in value, then charging $5 dollars less than full price. Some gamers have to utilize the trade-in system to play games they wouldn't normally be able to afford, and they are basically being screwed hard by the retailer chains. That said, if someone buys a used car, that money doesn't go to the manufacturer. If someone purchases used CDs, that money doesn't go to the artist. The game industry should not operate any differently. If we are so concerned with the amount of money we are losing or not making because of used games, we should be looking at the price point of our goods, and the quality of the product. This is an interestingly timed question, given the $60 price point for next gen games. Focus on delivering better quality at a reasonable price, rather than trying to point the finger at sources of lost revenue. Also, i believe with XBL and other digital distribution sources we will be able to offer gamers a taste or what we offer via demos, so maybe they won't be so tentative to purchase a new copy of the game.
I mostly always buy new, though I'll admit I do look for the cheapest prices, I rarely buy games full price. The only time I've bought used games is if it's an old game which is no longer available new at retail, or if the used game is cheap (i.e. $5 or cheaper) and I have just a little interest in the title. Otherwise, it's NEW or NOTHING!
Tim Hunter, Digital Lifeforms
Whatever money you lose because a gamer bought a $15 used game rather than a $40 new game is a false loss when the gamer didn't have $40 in the first place. Besides, that $15 went to a store which probably paid $5 for the game, and that $5 was given to a gamer who probably put it toward another game. The $10 in profit will be partially used to stock new games. The used game market thus pumps an additional $5-15 into the industry. So as long as new and used games are sold side-by-side, the money still goes into the industry. I don't see that changing in the near future, and the alternative is for that game to sit in some gamer's house taking up space and never being played. That doesn't put any money into the game industry at all, and it doesn't expose the artistry of that game to a new player either. Overall, it's a net positive for all involved, including the industry.
Caliban Darklock, Darklock Communications
I love buying used games because I get more bang for my buck. I always feel like I get a great value and even if the game isn’t great I like the fact that I was able to try something new without having to gamble $50+ dollars. I honestly feel that the $50+ price tag for games is absolute robbery and only serves to shrink our market. Instead of focusing on making a profit through volume selling which has the added benefits of opening up the market and introducing new users, we are focusing on trying to make a profit through selling for a premium. It’s a bad business model, unfair to our consumers, and is what keeps interactive gaming from becoming even more mass market. Used game retailers are providing a service to the gaming community and I hope they continue to provide that service until the industry changes its flawed business model.
Fred Gonzalez, Alien Crusade Interactive
I occasionally buy used titles, but only when I cannot find them new anymore. This happens with great titles that I somehow missed at the time of release. Otherwise I purchase new because I want the developers to see some result for the effort they put forth. I am very concerned about the financial implications of the used market, especially when retailers seem so zealous to encourage this used market. EB/GS often promote used versions of games even when the game is still relatively new, which takes money away from developers in the important initial release stage of the product. This lowers our numbers, making it much more difficult to take risks on innovative titles that may not push thousands upon thousands of copies within a single week (before anyone has a chance to trade used copies in). For a long time I have felt that we should find some sort of middle ground with these retailers. Perhaps a moratorium on the sale of used copies of a title within the first month of its release. Or there could be some sort of profit sharing between the retailers and the publishers of the used titles being moved. I realize that this is a free market and they are permitted to do what they are currently doing, but I feel they should make some sort of concession to use purely in the interest of encouraging creativity and growth within the industry.
While I don't buy used games (I like pristine manuals and complete box contents), the used game market should stimulate some new game buying. If gamers know they can sell their used games later, they're more likely to buy the new games in the first place. So while some gamers are buying exclusively used games (and thus not directly funding the publisher), the existence of that used game market does create some new game buys. An in-depth study would be needed to determine the overall impact of the used game market, but that impact clearly does not have exclusively negative aspects.
If a game is recently released, then I will buy a new copy. If it is an old game, then I will either buy it new or used - depends on the price difference. I am concerned about people buying used copies of recent releases as this does take away money that would go into recouping the cost of developing the game - maybe some sort of revenue percentage of a used game should go to the publisher? Or perhaps games should just be cheaper.
Personally, I prefer to buy games new when I can. If I am buying a used game, chances are that I couldn't find a new copy outside of eBay for a reasonable price. Rarely is the price difference between new and used copies of games large enough to sway me from buying the shiny new copy for a miniscule premium over the old, scratched used copy. Still, I am glad that there is a fairly strong used games market. How else would I be able to buy and play those classic gems in collection if they are no longer in print and available new? Now with digital delivery services, it will be kind of hard to create a used game market... unless you create a new account for each game you purchase and then just resell the account when the game is no longer wanted, but there's probably some little clause in the EULA about reselling accounts. I would like to see more revenues go towards those in the game dev business, but I don't think trying to remove the used games and rental markets is the best way to go about it, especially if you want people to still even think about buying your games. One possible way would be to make good games instead of wondering why everyone is trading in a copy of the X game and/or looking for a cheaper used copy.
I purchase used games, because most games have no added incentive to purchase new. Unfortunately, I would prefer to buy them new, largely because I'm unsatisfied with the retailers that are intended to be "specialty" video game stores, who supplement the majority of their inventory with used copies. However, I seriously question the difference in sales between the smaller retails that carry large stocks of Used games, and the huge retailers.
I have no problem buying used console games, but it depends on the prices and the publisher involved. If the new game is only $5-10 more I will certainly get the new game 100% of the time. If a game is $50 new and $25 used, I will get the used copy, though I feel it's Gamestop's obligation not to cannibalize their own industry by undercutting new game prices all the time just to make a buck. The decision also heavily depends on the publisher as well, and if I feel they are bettering the game industry. I'm still steamed about the NFL deal, so I only buy used games if I buy them at all. Although used games take a chunk out the developers profits, I'd be infinitely more concerned over services like Gamefly. If this service catches on and becomes mainstream, a single copy of a game will reach 100's of households, cutting out the developers as well as Gamestop.
Josh Graham, Visual Concepts
Used if possible, new ones if I think it's really worth it. Forking over upwards of $80 canadian for a single game is a HUGE risk nowadays...mainly because it seems that a lot of developers/publishers are simply trying to "reinvent the wheel" in stead of taking a risk to put out something new and unique (the "Oh, look, *ANOTHER* half-life clone. Whuptidoo."). No, I'll pass on a game that looks cool from the pics, but gets negative reviews from Joe/Jane Average gamer (I don't put a lot of stock into the 'professional' reviewers more that to get an overall view...for the specifics, I'll go to those actually playing the game; blogs, forums, etc.).
Wow, I'm definitely torn on this issue. As a consumer, I will buy a used product without even thinking twice about it. From the game developer perspective, I can definitely see where that might sting. Perhaps this lends viability to the digital delivery mechanism, whereby there aren't any *used* titles :-P
Personally, I always buy my games new. It's just a preference; there are no economic implications involved. As for the question of whether or not used game sales have a serious impact of the industry, well...obviously, it isn't enough to cripple any developers I've heard of. If game companies want to recover the extra revenue, then they need to make new copies of the game more appealing. Simple extras like a soundtrack CD, keychain, or poster would cost little extra to the company, and would not likely make it through one or more ownerships. Having extras like these not only makes the product more desirable to new buyers, but also offers the game an edge over competition.
Joseph Falcone, Sleek Media
Yes I buy used games from time to time older titles primarily. You have to ask though who is making out in this situation, the individual selling the game is making very little, and so what are the incentives for trading in a game(s). For instance a game that retails for 49.95 can be traded in at perhaps a used bookstore and the individual is paid $10.00 and then the game is resold for 19.95. So what is the motivation to sell, or perhaps you trade three games in for one new game. I guess the question should be what is the incentive to sell, since everyone looses except for the reseller and secondary buyer. Just some things to ponder.
Rick Binkley, Jewelry TV
Personally, I love buying used games. They're cheap, and just as good as buying them new (most of the time at least). Also, the used games sections of stores are a haven of niche games that I was interested in playing, but not interested enough to spend $50 on it, like "Raze's Hell", it cost me $10 bucks and I'm having a blast with it (those Kewtletts say the darndest things). My point is: buying used games allows me to buy great games on the cheap, which is beneficial, as I get exposed to all sorts of different game play and level design; it's good for me as both a gamer and amateur level designer. Siply put: used games allow me to get more bang for my buck (example: "Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay" is relatively short game, albeit a very good one, and seven to eight hours of game play is not worth $50, $30 maybe, but not $50).
I do not buy used games, unless it's an old game that is no longer available on shelves. In fact, I go out of my way to not buy games, or anything else, at any store or site that sells used games. For the same reason, I avoid game rentals of any kind. Until we get deals in place to get some money out of these transactions, it's unconscionable that anyone in the industry would (And we have a lot of debate on the issue around the office. A lot of people can present a very good counter argument as to why they don't think it causes any harm.).
I tend to buy only new if at all possible. I do so for a few reasons. 1. I like the complete package with manuals and all. 2. I like to register my games and feel justified in registering new games vs. used. 3. Sometimes used games have a problem that is not visible. 4. Having traded in some old titles towards new titles or equipment I find the trade-in value terrible at the stores and they destroy boxes and manuals at least for portable games. I don't like that at all. I only go the used route for out of circulation hard to find games where the publisher no longer offers an option to be a new in the box version of an older game. So to me used is a last resort and I would try to find a new or boxed complete version online before ever going to a store for a used game. Lastly if you do not support titles by buying new then the game company may not continue to make the type of games you want. I really want good RPGs on my Gameboy DS and other consoles. I want to support the companies that make the games I buy. No signal is clearer than supporting a game developers bottom line; else why produce the game in the first place?
Geoff Schardein, Seapine Software, Inc.
I try to buy new games whenever I can, seeing how these are the purchases that will financially reward a development house. I especially make it a point to purchase new games when I believe that a company took a risk in releasing a certain game. Reservation goodies have occasionally convinced me to pick up a game earlier than I originally planned on. I find myself falling for art books, sound track CDs, or little figurines the most. Some niche developers with dedicated fan-bases have offered certain exclusive goodies for reserving or purchasing games through their company stores, put multi-game grab bags on deep discount for a limited time that undercut the price of a used version and use other tactics to make buying direct hard to resist. There are times I feel like the market is very inflexible about prices. Say you tried Game X, like Game X but don't think it's worth the full $49.99 plus tax. Well beyond it's release, I know retailers are likely to be charging full price for it unless it's a super hot game and goes into the $19.99 "Best Sellers" lines that every console has. In cases like these, I'll just go straight for a used copy that's at the price I'm willing to pay. I'd be curious to see if the US market adopted the strategy of re-releasing games under a discount label and