Secondhand games have been the bread and butter of retail chain GameStop for years, and the target of publishers’ ire for just as long. Many consumers prefer not to pay the new retail price (a hefty $US60, for most titles) for every game they play, and the system of selling and purchasing pre-owned discs works well for a significant number of those players.
Publishers and distributors, however, make no revenue when a game changes hands for the second or third time, and are often hostile to the used market. In an interview with GamesIndustry International, Denis Dyack, head of development studio Silicon Knights (Too Human, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain), firmly planted the flag against used sales.
Dyack feels that the pre-owned game market has finally reached the point where it’s grown to full maturity, and that this poses a problem for developers like Silicon Knights. “I would argue that used games actually increase the cost of games,” he said. He then delved into the idea of a “long tail” of sales, explaining that while a game used to continue to generate revenue even as it aged, that day has come and gone:
Because there are no used games, you could actually sell a game for a long time, and get recurring revenue for quite a while. Recurring revenue is very key. Now there is no tail. Literally, you will get most of your sales within three months of launch, which has created this really unhealthy extreme where you have to sell it really fast and then you have to do anything else to get money.
No one genuinely doubts that the process in which most games are designed and sold is a business environment, and a costly one at that. It takes cash to make even a small game, and recouping expenses and generating profit through sales is only natural for a business. But does the handoff of discs from the original player to another player really harm developers that badly?
Dyack holds the position that yes, used sales are interfering with other sales and destroying the entire development industry:
I would argue, and I’ve said this before, that used games are cannibalising the industry. If developers and publishers don’t see revenue from that, it’s not a matter of hey ‘we’re trying to increase the price of games to consumers, and we want more,’ we’re just trying to survive as an industry. If used games continue the way that they are, it’s going to cannibalise, there’s not going to be an industry. People won’t make those kinds of games. So I think that’s inflated the price of games, and I think that prices would have come down if there was a longer tail, but there isn’t.
For those of us who consider the PC our gaming platform of preference, used games have been a non-issue for many, many years. But the long tail that Dyack is so worried about losing has continued to flourish, with major sales on many titles in the weeks, months, and years after launch, through digital download platforms like Steam and retailers like Amazon.
Meanwhile, rumours about the next generation of consoles consistently theorize that secondhand games are going to be harder and harder to play in the future. Dyack is far from the only studio head who would like to see the secondhand market disappear entirely. The proliferation of “online pass” models in recent months is only the newest way publishers have tried to discourage selling or buying used games, and it seems unlikely to be the last.