Opinion: The future of second hand games

Used games on a shelf

There have been various articles with rumours in the getting around a bit lately reporting on some potential new features for the next Xbox console. Some of the ones I’ve seen this week included the rumours around the new Xbox requiring an internet connection and that games will have activation codes with them (similar to PC games), which will is likely to mean that games are not likely to be resold or traded in. Now while I have no further info on whether or not this is true, it did actually get some friends of mine in to a lively discussion about what this could mean for the gaming industry and us the game buying public. After a long running email thread I thought it would be good to put it out there for a wider audience to be able to comment on as well.

The conversation more or less kicked off with the thought of “I can’t buy any more traded in games? Well that’s a little questionable” – and it’s a fair point at that. You go shopping around these days and you can usually save yourself a few dollars (depending on the game and where you go) by purchasing a second hand copy of the game – and really, who as a consumer doesn’t like to save money right? So if you don’t mind the second hand copy it’s a great option and plenty of people do it.

This is where the conversation shifted a little here to take the focus off just the console world. You look at platforms like Steam for the PC and people have been purchasing licenses for themselves for a game that can’t be resold for years now – making this notion of not being able to trade your games in when you are done a little more commonplace. So the point of why would anyone try to kill off trading in of games came up, and the discussion was basically around the point that at the end of the day, the publishers and developers are missing out on money. If you go and buy a game, brand new, either off the shelf or as a download to your console, the publisher and developer will get their cut of that money. Now if you take your game back and trade it in, you get some money back in your pocket and the game then gets sold out again. The difference is that this time, the people you traded your game in to are the ones who are pocketing the cash from this, the guys who worked on the game don’t get any cut from this. So the person buying the game saves a few bucks, the developers miss out all together, and the people running the game trading business make out like bandits. That’s not to say that haven’t come up with a great business idea to make money for them, but that is just how this is.

Preowned games sections in stores are a common sight now days - could this be a thing of the past though?

Preowned games sections in stores – could this be a thing of the past though?

We are already starting to see shifts in the console world towards models where buying second hand games can be a less attractive option. There are a few games out there lately that if you picked them up you’ll find that they have single use codes to enable multi-player features of the game or other DLC components (which may already be on the disc in some cases), so if you trade it in and someone buys the second hand copy of the game they then have to pay more on top of that to get a new code to enable those features too, which will generally make it more expensive than buying the brand new copy of the game in the first place. Having to pay for a code to enable online play in some of these games though does seem like a bit of a double dip though, as for those of us who are paying for Xbox Live gold memberships are told that multi-player access to games is a feature of the gold package – so I can see how having to pay for it again can grind on a few people as well.

So if we are all going to have to pay full price for games, what will that means for the kinds of people who don’t like or are unable to afford to pay full price for the games? Do they stop buying games, which then in turn hurts the industry for the fact that we are potentially losing gamers because the cost of gaming is too high? One of my friends in this conversation suggested that maybe publishers should be looking at different models of selling games now, like a subscription model. You may not have noticed, but the Karaoke app that was recently launched for Xbox that you can download actually uses exactly this model. You use your Microsoft points to purchase a certain number of hours to play the game, but the game itself is actually free. I’m not sure how well this model could apply to a wider range of games but it does create some interesting options.

Games like the new karaoke game on Xbox live have implemented a subscription style model where you pay as you play

Karaoke on Xbox Live have implemented a subscription style model where you pay as you play

But what happens if second hand game sales continue, and eventually causes the game developers to go out of business? Where do we go to for our gaming fix from there? If you take a step back and look at the industry and it’s not difficult to see that it is getting difficult for everyone involved in the process of pushing out a big AAA title is getting harder and harder to pull together and can be difficult to continue a successful business in this type of gaming. So if the number of these games starts to dry up because there is no one around who can afford to make them anymore, do we all shift across to the types of games we pay 99c for on our tablets or phones? Could the industry ever get to this point?

So I put the question to you, the reader – where do you stand on second hand game sales? Do you buy second hand games? Would not being able to buy second hand games or sell your games affect your decision to buy a next-gen console? Get vocal in the comments and let us know what you think!

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Author: Brian Farnhill View all posts by
SharePoint expert by day and avid gamer by night. Favouring action and RPG games, an artist with explosive weapons in games and can’t ever be trusted with a sniper rifle. Brian is always going to be playing with the latest toys and games.

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