If the rumors are true, then a grim future for gaming is on the horizon.
An alternate reality
Before we dig in, I ask you to ponder this scenario: imagine a world without used video games. I’m not just talking about the future but the past as well. Think about the absence of used games and now do a quick count to see how many video games you would have owned without the option to buy used. Think way back…back to your SNES, your Gameboy, your Playstation…and don’t just think about the money you saved, think about all the games you discovered because they were cheap to you as a kid (or even as an adult). How would your growing up with games have changed?
If there’s any truth to the rumors being reported, the next generation of Xbox will prohibit the use of used video games. No more trading. No more borrowing. No more saving. You might point to the future of digital-only distribution and its lack of ability to pass around a game, and you’re not wrong, but I’ll argue that future is still quite far away, a lot farther than the next generation of consoles, which is still a couple of years out. It’s all possible, as Ars Technia discusses, but should it happen?
Used games create fans
When I look back at my gaming history, easily more than half of my collections from the NES right on up to today are largely built on the purchase of used games. New video games are expensive. Even though the cost hasn’t budged much from their average $50 price tag in 30 years, it’s still a lot to pay for a game. I consider it a lot and I have money to spend…but then think about all the kids that don’t have the money, the kids that work hard to save up for a single game. Remember when $50 was a big deal? I remember getting $50 from my grandma every year for Christmas knowing it was going to be used to buy video games. I could either spend my whole wad on the latest game, or I could be a little smarter and get two or maybe three used games for the same amount. I almost always chose the latter option and as a result my collection of games grew quickly, not to mention I played a wider range of games.
Without the option to buy a game used, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with the likes of Metal Gear, Mega Man, Gran Turismo, Mortal Kombat, and many, many more. Which brings me to the biggest failure should our future hold a lack of used games: the loss of new fans. My ability to purchase games used sight-un-played turned me into a loyal fan of not only game franchises but consoles in general. If I can’t buy games used – or even borrow games from friends – the chances of me becoming a fan of a game or brand goes right out the window. My long love for Metal Gear has me buying every new title that comes down the pipe, even when they’re not that great of a game. Did you see the key word in there? New. I buy new games and merchandise because I was able to purchase the first hit used (or borrowed). Fans are born and raised early, not unlike the Jedi. If you snag them young you’ll have a customer for life, and the only way to catch youth is by making your games affordable. We all know the power of nostalgia, especially with video games, so how can that seed be planted if you can’t afford the games?
An expensive future
Being limited to buying only new games at $50 a pop seems like it would persuade a lot of folks to just buy the hot new game and not look much further…oh wait, is that the big plan? Probably, because I’m pretty sure this used-free future doesn’t coincide with an average price drop. Digital or boxed, I’m betting new games will still be $50. And then because consoles can’t play used games (or because of digital downloads), you’re out of luck when it comes to price drops. If you want to play the game while it’s still relatively popular, you’ll have no choice but to buy it new. Sure, you can wait for a price drop but by then all your friends have moved on to the next new game, and before long you cave to the pressure and start shelling out $50 a month just to keep up.
The game publishers want more money. Fine, I get that. Who doesn’t want more money? I don’t know how much money is “lost” from used game sales but when I see figures like $400 million made in one day on a new game, the cries of used game foul play are hard to swallow. But what is more valuable to a company than customers and fans? It’s hard to put a price on a customer’s perceived value of your product because they’ll turn on a dime the minute you make things complicated, confusing, or expensive. I was very much a pro-Sony gamer ever since the first Playstation but jumped ship to the Xbox when the PS3 came out for more than $400. It was just that simple. As AC/DC put it, money talks and it speaks loudly.
There’s a simple solution
I understand the argument for abolishing used games. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to eliminate competitors and thwart those you see as cutting into your bottom line? Much like communism, this plan might look good on paper but it just doesn’t work in practice. Assuming you survive the angry mob of consumers when it’s rolled out, the result will be a lot of unhappy people that will eventually abandon your product and look for something better. The new Xbox might not support used games but I’m sure some next gen console will, and that is the device people will buy. Of course, the solution to avoid this horrible future is pretty simple: just allow used games. We’re heading directly into a future of download-only games anyway, so why bother killing something that will die on its own?
The ability to swap games with friends and buy them cheap is part of the gaming life cycle. I can’t imagine a world without that option and honestly, I don’t think it will come to be. Such a plan just doesn’t make much sense when you look at how angry gamers would become and ultimately give up on you. I’ve pretty much given up on mainstream gaming already, so eliminating the option of used games means I would be putting even less money into the industry. Sounds like their plan is working, huh?