The War on Pre-Owned

The computer games industry is an incredibly volatile place. In fact, it’s a war zone. There are console wars, flame wars, developers and publishers suing each other, and that’s if they’re not busy publishing statements about each other that verge on the libellous. The games market is a very hostile place. Sadly there’s been a fair few casualties – more so recently – with studios, publishers and companies closing down or being liquidised, left, right and centre.

But, I bet you never thought the games industry would turn against you, the paying customer, the gamer, did you?

Whilst the outside world is busy waging its long drawn-out war on terror, the big hitters of the games industry have been busy plotting and waging their own personal war with the second-hand gaming market. Whether it’s EA, Activision or THQ; you name them, they’ve probably got their sights firmly set on those who partake in dipping their hands in the pre-owned bin every now and then. Of course, such a move has caused quite a stir within the global gaming community, with many calling into question the legality of it all.

Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, unfortunately, such a scathing attack is totally legal. You see those games on your shelf? You don’t own them. Well, at least not in the eyes of the law. As ridiculous as it seems, even though you’ve handed over your hard-earned cash to buy the latest Call of Duty or this year’s addition to the FIFA franchise, for instance, you do not legally own the copy. You have, in fact, only purchased a license to play the game.

This proverbial kick in the balls has been made all the more sore by developers’ and publishers’ attempts to justify their actions with reasons best described as desperate excuses. The fact that games developers and publishers make no money from the second-hand games market is often used as the scapegoat, but there are a lot of aggrieved gamers out there who rightly feel that such an excuse simply isn’t good enough. Whether they buy brand new or second hand, gamers go out in their droves and spend their hard-earned money on games week in, week out. And for a hell of a lot of gamers the pre-owned market is not only a means of being able to buy older games cheaper, it also allows them to trade in the games they no longer want in order to afford brand new games upon their release. So, the thought that the second-hand market actually harms games publishers and developers just doesn’t stick.

There have been attempts to soften the blow; Ubisoft and EA’s DLC incentive schemes are the first that come to mind, each rewarding people who buy their games brand new with free DLC and free passcodes to unlock bonus features that second hand buyers would have to pay for. As a concept, this is a brilliant idea and one that I personally support. However, in reality, the system is flawed; whilst the schemes offer free premium DLC, the idea of taking away features from a game because it’s been bought second-hand leaves a bitter taste. After all, you’ve still paid for a game, so surely you’re entitled to play all of it?

The problem all comes down to support. Publishers and developers alike are of the opinion that the dedicated supporters of their catalogue of games are their priority because they will buy their games brand new, having forgotten that whilst they may make no money from the second hand market, there lies a wealth of potential punters to preach to and convert. Perhaps if developers and publishers put more time and effort into supporting their products post-launch, more people would be willing to shell out for the post-launch content, and first-hand sales of future games may rise.

After all, we are the people that support these companies by buying and playing their games, and yet gamers are ultimately the victims in this misguided attack from the games industry’s biggest companies. Why punish your customers? Where is the logic?

There isn’t any, at least from a gamer’s perspective. And yet, from a business perspective, it makes total sense.

It is a fact that developers and publishers don’t make any money from any pre-owned sale, which is odd considering it is ultimately their product that you are buying. So, the best thing from a business point of view is to dominate the overall market that is damaging your business (which pre-owned sales ultimately do). There is a method to the madness.

But whilst the attack on second-hand games may not cross any legal boundaries, it certainly feels as though it has crossed a few moral ones and, in time, perhaps a more suitable, permanent solution can be found. The idea of changing the system between developer, publisher and retailer is one direction that could be explored. As it stands, it is the retailer that makes all the money from second hand game sales, hence why they are hell-bent on pushing trade-ins and pre-owned purchases so much. Surely a cut of the money from every second hand sale should be going to the developers and publishers anyway? Apparently not, but striking such a deal would go down with gamers a lot better than the current, warmongering attitude recently displayed by the likes of THQ, Ubisoft and Activision. After all, it’s not the paying customer’s fault that the system that publishers and developers have set up with retailers is in favour of the retailers – those that buy and sell our games – rather than the people who make them. So why aren’t they the ones being punished?

In the end, as depressing as it sounds, we are ultimately powerless. The only gun in our arsenal is the self-imposed moral code that this war on pre-owned sales seems to break. But of course, business is business, and in business morals mean nothing.