Thank Goodness for Used Video Games

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Used Games

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Game publishers know dissing used sales won't win over consumers, who view the software they've purchased as theirs to resell at will. After all, when it comes to personal property, is a video game different from a book? A movie? A television? A chair? A couch?

Did the film industry whine when the used video market cut into sales of VHS movies? DVDs? Blu-ray discs? Are TV manufacturers miffed each time a Sony, Samsung, or LG flatscreen sells on eBay? Do furniture manufacturers grouse about lost profits from used furniture sales at auctions, garage sales, or consignment stores?

It's a little silly, then, to bring the issue before consumers. It's like someone in the press complaining about the occasionally scandalous relationship between public relations flak and game journalists. The latter's for journalists to sort out. The former's for publishers and retailers to grapple with. If GameStop or Best Buy or Amazon or Walmart want to cut in publishers on a percent of used game profits, by all means. But intimating that it's somehow the consumer's fault for treating games as buyable and resalable commodities like any other is allowing frustration--however justifiable--to trump common sense.


If game publishers are either too maladaptive or greedy to figure out how to continue reaping windfall profits based on changing demographic thresholds for "new" purchases, they need to come up with alternative revenue models. Charging for support, for instance, if it's really that costly (I haven't called a video game support line in 15 years) might be one way to offset what Hines is after.

For instance: I have an Apple MacBook Pro. It comes with a one year transferable manufacturer's warranty. Apple participates in none of the profit if I sell the laptop used before that year's up (you don't hear Apple complaining about this). If I want to extend the support warranty by an additional two years, I have to reach into my wallet and come up with roughly $250 extra. If I sell the laptop with the warranty in place, Apple could care less who's phoning in the trouble ticket. If I sell it without, they're not obliged to support it at all. No fuss, no muss.

Another more or less inexorable solution involves digital distribution. I have a copy of BioShock on my Xbox 360. I pulled it down earlier this year because I'd sold my original a while back and wanted to replay it in anticipation of BioShock 2. I can't resell it, because it's "tethered" to my Xbox LIVE account, and its only "physical" presence involves its aggregate 1s and 0s footprint on my more or less piracy-proof Xbox 360 hard drive. The same applies to PC games purchased from online distributors like Steam. It's simply a matter of time before physical products are entirely replaced by digital ones.

When that happens, publishers will fully control all once vanguards who only sell digital versions already do.

In the meantime, thank goodness for used games. I don't know about you, but $60 for one new game is $10 more than my monthly discretionary budget entire.

Follow me on Twitter (@game_on)

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