Developer Claims Used Game Shops "Defrauding the Industry"

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I don't know David Braben personally, but I have no doubt he's a fascinating guy with lots to say about life, the universe, and BBC Micro computers. Turns out he also has something to say about retailers who sell pre-owned games "defrauding the industry."

Braben's the British computer programmer whose open-ended space-trading game Elite influenced everything from games like Oblivion to Grand Theft Auto IV. He's also the founder of Lost Winds creator Frontier Developments.

So what's he mean by "defrauding"? Well, he recently told Eurogamer

The shops are not giving us a way of distinguishing between pre-owned and new. So the shops are essentially defrauding the industry...

We've got a lot of retailers eating our lunch and refusing to sell full-priced games. I've been in a shop where I've tried to buy a copy of a relatively recent game, and I've taken an empty box off the shelf and they've given me a pre-owned copy. That, I think, is disgraceful. Not holding stock of new games, substituting them with pre-owned games at the same or much the same price... That is really destroying the shelf-life of our games.

Who can disagree with that? It's even happened to me, where I wanted the new version of a game, but all the retailer had was a stack of used copies. And it was definitely annoying.

On the other hand, I can't help but disagree with Braben's proposed fixer-upper, which would involve creating salable and non-resalable versions of games.

My argument is that for every game there are two versions. One is personal, not for resale and it's made abundantly clear you can't sell it. And it's made available for something like GBP 25. And a resale and rental copy, which in film is actually about GBP 80.

The way I see it, if it doesn't work that way for books and music and movies (and it doesn't) then why should games be treated like some mutant species? Video stores sell off "pre-viewed" overstock all the time. You can't swing an HDMI cable without hitting a couple of checkout discount bins or card tables stacked with piles of movies like Batman Begins and Punch Drunk Love and Walk the Line. Used vinyl and CD stores have been around for decades. Used book shops are all over the place.

I know, he's really talking about placement. You can't buy used books or movies or music CDs at big retailers like Borders or Barnes & Noble. So find a different way to distribute your games, guys. If so-and-so retailer is pricing you out of your own market, cut them out of the equation. "But that's just naive!" Well sure, unless the alternative equals your financial demise.

And as for anyone painting with a broader brush than Braben is here and who might argue that buying used games is a sign of bad faith towards the industry, know that you will never, ever win that argument with consumers. You could put pictures on posters of used game buyers hitting babies with wooden spoons or stepping on puppies with high heels, then plaster them in every metro and airport, and you'd still lose this debate.

Digital, physical, online MMO or single-player, doesn't matter. You tell someone they don't own a game they just paid sixty bucks for, or that they don't have the right to resell it (or the character they spent dozens to hundreds of hours building up online) and it'll fly with consumers, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, exactly the way that bricks don't.

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