Is Buying Used Video Games Worse Than Stealing Them?

Is Buying Used Video Games Worse Than Stealing Them?

This morning on Speak-Up on Kotaku, commenter Wocalax ponders which is worse: Stealing video games or buying them secondhand.

Is buying used games just as bad as pirating? Is it worse?

Now this might seem preposterous to some of you, but think about it: when you buy a used game from Game Stop you not only rob everyone who actually was involved in the creation of that game, but you give Game Stop more money so they can continue to do it and get better at it. All a pirate does is the robbing part.

My 2 cents: Both are bad. I don’t like to pirate games and doubt I ever will but I used to buy used games a decent amount. Not anymore. Well at least that’s the plan. I can’t wait for the day I can buy all games straight from the developer with no stores and publishers getting in the way.

I’m not saying go pirate games if you buy used games: just throwing out a discussion to talk about.

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  • If you buy a painting off an artist and you later sell the painting, you don’t pay a commission back to the artist. If you buy a car from (say) Mazda and then sell the car, you don’t pay Mazda a commission.

    What a preposterous and conceited idea that video games should be any different.

    • When you are buying a game, you not exactly buying it out right. You are buying a license of the game for use. Like leasing a car. If you are done with that car, then you turn it back into the dealership.
      The dealer can then turn around and lease the car again or sell it, and some of the money does go back to the maker. Your analogy is wrong.

      • ..and your analogy is wrong, too. A licence for software is nothing like a lease for a car… you don’t have to return the software, for one thing. You can certainly LEASE software, but that is different to a licence.

        Victor’s analogy is far more accurate than yours.

    • No your comparison is preposterous

      When you buy art you buy a one of a kind( generally piece) and the artist sells it for profit to cover there costs which generally arent in the millions

      When it comes to a video game it is the only thing in the world that you can buy and have it in the same working condition as when it was bought. I cant sell you a car with 100 km on it and haveit in pristine condition it had wear and tear that isn’t visible

      Sure your disc could be scratched but that’s you can tell that upon purchase and games in general tend to work or they don’t they don’t wear out unless your don’t treat them well

      Also there is no where else where you aim to get the product back in 7 days so you can sell a used copy for $5 less than the new copy and make 20-50% profit of its sale price

      Used games are at least as bad as piracy, in that if it’s not money going to the publisher it’s really no different than buying a Stolen tv off the back of a truck

      • “When it comes to a video game it is the only thing in the world that you can buy and have it in the same working condition as when it was bought. I cant sell you a car with 100 km on it and haveit in pristine condition it had wear and tear that isn’t visible”

        But you can’t then resell the game as New. You are selling it second hand, which means its value will not be the same as a New copy. So the analogy with a car losing value after purchase works fine.

        • no the difference is that you can’t tell whether or not the engine in said car has exploded and been reconditioned unless i tell you.

          you can’t tell if the exhaust is about to rust through, or if the car has framework damage if i have fixed the shell. There can be any number of things wrong with a car that you can’t see.

          And with a game you can see visually it’s either scratched or it isn’t.

          and while you can’t sell it as “New” you can still sell it for essentially the same price. Used games should be 3/4 or less of the shelf price but i have yet to see that occurance. there’s such a miniscule difference yet you can always bargain on the tightass to save 4 dollars even if it doesn’t mean his supporting the developer

          • Games do depreciate in value.

            The manual gets tattered is even missing. The disc is dirty or scratched. The game is months, even years old and so it’s no longer cutting edge. The game was much-hyped on release but proved to be a dud not long after. The game now requires a 5gig patch to play.

            The shelf price of a second-hand game should reflect that. If they don’t, you may as well buy them new. Which is, actually, why I don’t buy second-hand games. They don’t depreciate to the point where I feel it is worth the drawbacks.

          • You can tell the condition of a car if you’re mechanically minded. Some things are quite easy to tell if you have experience. You don’t need to be a mechanic to know. Plus a rigorous test drive should answer some questions.

            You can also pay a professional to examine the car and give it an assessment on the condition, and what needs work.

  • Agreed, a preposterous and conceited idea.
    By the same logic trading in or selling off any of your stuff, denies the original developer the chance to profit from the buyer.
    I don’t buy 2nd hand games unless I can’t find a copy new, but worse than piracy… you’re an idiot if you believe this. If GameStop or EBs or someone is making money off this, then that money is going into the econnomy, it’s being used to keep people employed and cashed up so they can afford to go buy stuff.
    The publishers just have an overactive sense of entitlement.

  • I think I mentioned this before on here, but aren’t the thiefs really the people who trade the games in? I mean, I understand buying it new gives more money to the developers where it should. But it seems to me that the bigger rort is if you buy a game, play it and then trade it in for the maximum possible trade in value only to continue on and do it again.

    People (such as myself) who buy some games pre owned are only trying to save some money while being honest in actually buying the game.

    I can’t speak for every one but that’s how I see it at least.


    • Except the principle should that you save some money by waiting till it goes on sale or gets markeddown since the sec still. Gets there money instead you buy in most cases for 5-10 dollars less than the shelf price at eb or game and if you done some shopping around you’d find it plenty cheaper anyway.

      I think selling them back to eb or game is actually what makes it worse ad some peopled think the developer still gets money sellingit yourself on eBay is much more reasonable IMO

    • Well, you can look at anyone who trades games and their motivation is to try to save money. The person who wants to trade the game is hoping to subsidise the cost of the game, as they no longer have a use for it. The person who purchases the trade-in sees that it is a little cheaper, so wants to save a little extra cash. And the game store just manages to profit off the facilitation of this exchange.

      I don’t think anyone is doing anything incredibly wrong either. Unfortunately, the system has a negative effect on the game industry, regardless of the intentions of the parties involved. I think that is the main point. It isn’t that buying or selling a used game is theft (unless there is something specific in the licensing agreement, I guess). The issue is that for the developer (and the publishers) of a game, the used game market is equivalent to theft. They experience the two in the same way.

      The used game market is probably even worse for the developer, because those sales are people who want to do the right thing. They want to make a legal purchase, and own the game. So if that market didn’t exist, the developer would probably have got a sale. Maybe the person doing the purchasing would only be able to afford a single game, but that is where advertising your game comes into play.

      So, as a purchaser, you are left weighing up the choice as to whether you spend a little extra money so that the developers actually get paid. For me, the answer to that question is to buy a new copy, because I want the developer to be rewarded for their efforts. If you don’t have a spare buck, I wouldn’t hold it against you for making a different choice to me. But, if you are grabbing a used game, and then spending the extra money on wine and chocolate, I personally won’t think that you’re a particularly great person.

      • Exactly which is why it is equivalent to piracy IMO

        If there’s no net benefit to the developer then it may as well have been stolen.

        The irony is that lowering the retail prices wouldn’t fix anything either because some people make purchase based on the fact that it is 5 dollars cheaper and the used games would always be cheaper.

    • By the same token your forgetting that people who pirate can end up buying a legit copy as some people only pirate as the developers refuse to give a demo

      And trading probably reduces the likelyhood of a dlc buy I know a guy at an ev who marked traded copies of games to see how many times they boomeranged back to the store some copies came back over 10 times

      If those people didn’t trade the game in when the dlc released they may have purchased it but seeing as they don’t have it anymore they won’t

  • EACanada have the right idea.

    Sell a game thats based on multiplayer. Include a one-off code to allow the buyer to play online.

    If that game is then sold 2nd hand, the new buyer must then buy a license from EA to play the game online.

    Developers and Publishers then get a share of the reselling market…

  • 1) Buying used games is morally akin to pirating games.
    2) Buying used games is legal (considered socially ethical)

    3) Therefore, pirating games is ethical and should be made legal.


    4) For the sake of ethical consistency, used games sales need to be made illegal.

    Until this is done, the consumer is justified in pirating games, for this would be consistent with the law.

    This seems to be the logical destination of you argument mike.

  • Ok this is not worse than stealing, not by a long way. If the publishers are so annoyed by it then why are they not going after the retailers and demanding a licensing fee for every second hand copy sold.

    @ Alinos to you your exact same analogy yes the car wear and tear but you dont expect the second guy to rent the car for the same price as the original renter. The same with games why would you pay full price for a “used” game. What i think is that the license is transfered upon purchase, it is the game content that gets cheaper. Yes more people can play but if the developers were so concerned then they would introduce unique codes so only the original purchaser can play.

    Also if i was a game developer i would want as many people to play my games as possible so a few people buy 2nd hand copies. Hopefully the people who bought the 2nd hand copies buy brand new copies of the 2nd game in the series (i know i did that with Assassin’s Creed).

    • If more people buy a game used than they do new, then the game isn’t going to be in the best position to even get a sequel. Those extra sales don’t count as extra units shipped, so the publisher will be unaware of these potential customers. And publishers won’t necessarily make a sequel to a game unless they get a fair amount of profit off of the first. Ultimately, developers are relying on people buying a game new so that they can prove that people are interested in their IP.

      Secondly, sequels can be created by different studios. If you bought Bioshock 2, you haven’t really done much for Irrational Games. In certain cases, you might manage to reward the same people who made the first game when you buy the second, but that isn’t necessarily going to be true.

      So, sure, developers might be happy that you were interested enough in their game to grab a copy. And they might be excited that so many people played their game. But unless you buy it new, it isn’t the greatest help to them.

    • The difference with a car though is that it’s sold based on it’s construction cost and then extra costs

      When it comes to a game your purchasing access and it’s the combined purchases that cover the devlopment costs

      And then you have the fact that when they are resold there only marginally cheaper than, the original copy meaning that feeing inquickly is desired to give the customer 60 bucks and then sell for 5 under retail to make the like 45.

      And then they hope that guy does the same.

      And your assumption that by selling a second hand copy the person would be more likely to buy the sequel new by that logic any sequel shouldn’t be pirated because the guy piratedthe first one

  • If new games in Australia were $60, I wouldn’t have to go hunting after (occasionally) used ones on eBay. We just get absolutely ridiculous prices over here.

  • This writer should be fired here and now. I live in Australia as well NBAD and I know exactly what you’re on about.

    Yeah, just fire this writer.

  • @ Alinos “And your assumption that by selling a second hand copy the person would be more likely to buy the sequel new by that logic any sequel shouldn’t be pirated because the guy piratedthe first one”

    what? you have lost me

    what i was pointing out is that i wouldnt mind some copies being bought 2nd hand because it creates more awearness of what i am producing.

    And cant the costs of building a car be comparable to the man hours of work that go into create a game?

    @syvRaen Yeah sure games get created by different studios i think you were taking my example too literally but wont gamers look at who makes their products and remeber them for creating a good game?

    Also i think it would be highly unlikely for a game to sell more 2nd hand copies than original copies.

    I am sure that game companies have access to how many second hand copies are being sold so im sure they are aware of how their games are selling.

    • I was taking your argument too literally. But I think it’s incorrect to assume that the average consumer is going to care who the developers of a game were. That’s why advertising needs to explicitly say “From the creators of…” And even then, sequels are the only things that seem to sell, and they are so often created by an alternate team. I think disinterest in the development team behind a game is how you get any game in a series selling regardless of the developer behind it (ie Call of Duty or Bioshock).

      And I think you also took my words too literally. I didn’t mean that used sales would exceed regular sales. But they could, as only one copy of a game ever needs to be sold. However, you are correct, this scenario is unlikely.

      Yet still, for smaller games, every sale counts. Small games will have smaller advertising budgets, and they’ll need every sale they can get. But these are the games where the audience will want to save money, because they aren’t sure whether they will enjoy the game (ie the hype wasn’t strong enough).

      And I doubt that publishers have a clear idea of second-hand units sold. They might be able to estimate, but game stores don’t really have anything to gain from explicitly detailing the used stock that they have sold. In fact, specifying this information is more likely to create conflict between the game stores and the publishers.

      I’ll admit my arguments here are mostly speculation. But, I still think that what I said is reasonably deduced.

  • Where’s the evidence that the 2nd hand video games market is hurting the developers? Is the multi-billion dollar video games industry collapsing because people buy games 2nd hand? I doubt it.

    I’ve not read any articles which say that Rockstar aren’t going to make GTAV because they only made half a billion dollars from GTAIV and missed out on another few million because people bought it 2nd hand.

  • Also no one has addressed my comment about the license being transferred in the purchase. If this is the case then this is nothing like piracy. Yes you are not “paying” the developer but they have already been payed for that copy.

    Like i said if they were so concerned they would introduce unique codes so the original purchaser can only play. Yes this is the case for alot of PC games but for some reason not console?

  • Buying a second hand game doesn’t rob the developers, they have already received their money when the game was originally purchased. A gamer selling their second hand games may go and reinvest that money in more games, ultimately stimulating the market and potentially giving more money back to the devs of the original game as a result.

    As with piracy, pirating a game only robs money off the developer if the pirate would have bought the game if he/she hadn’t pirated it. It’s not like they are stealing the printed box right out of the store, they are taking a copy of the information at no cost to the devs. If anything they rob some potential to earn money.

    For the record, I don’t pirate games. I just thought this issue was less black and white and deserved some criticism(hopefully constructive).

    • That not what is happening. Games are being recycled through the used game system. An average used game in the United States ends up on the GameStop shelves at least 2 times in it’s lifetime according to GameStop’s own studies. 80% of GameStop profits in the US are from used game sales. If half those sales were new it would be a huge boost to the game industry.

      A recent ruling Vernor v Autodesk said in that case reselling license software is a violation of the license and copyright. Even though the person who resold it never installed the software and didn’t even agree to the license.

      The case could be made against companies like GameStop, but at the same time, GameStop is the largest and main outlet to sell games to begin with. It is something that the industry knows and it is a weird issue.

      As a game developer myself, I’m not going to tell publishers to go after GameStop, but to educate consumers and ask them to go out and spend the extra $5 or $10, if you want more and better games in the future.

  • This is ridiculous. Are second-hand book stores pirates too? Video rental joints? What about libraries? Garage sales?

    Every other media content industry has, for decades, made their money on the first sale only. If game companies are having trouble making back their development costs based on first-sale sales, then perhaps they need to examine their development costs and sale prices. The answer is *not* to strip away from the consumer to right to do with their lawfully purchased content what they wish – including attempting to recoup their investment by selling it on.

    • Exactly this.
      When I buy a game I buy it, it is not a rent or lease or license it is a product I own, or should be. And if I want to sell it to someone else then that is my right. Just like my books, dvds, car and pretty much everything else I own.

      Though as digital distribution gets bigger I guess that will change.

  • I am so sick of this argument. I love buying things second-hand: games, music, books, furniture, even clothes. You frickin name it, I probably own it second-hand.

    The games industry is not the only one dealing with the second-hand thing, though they are in a position better than most as they can charge individual users (regardless of whether the game is in its first or tenth pair of hands) for DLC.

    Here’s another thought: if I KNEW for certain that there was no second-hand market for my games, I sure as **** wouldn’t pay retail price for them, as I wouldn’t be able to on-sell if I thought the game blew chunks.

    Therefore my guess would be that retail sales would suffer if the 2nd-hand market was brought down.

  • This constant money grubbing is ridiculous.
    No one has a right to income. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked to produce the product, It only matters how much people are willing to pay for the end result.

    If publishers lowered the prices and improved the perceived value of the games, more people would buy new games or buy more games. Publishers and developers have themselves to blame for the increase in trade ins.

    Games are entertainment so it’s value depends on the perception of the customer, not how much it cost to make.

  • herewegoagain.jpg

    Is buying a used car as bad as stealing it?

    Renting a DVD?

    Having a garage sale?

    Why does the games industry think it’s so special that it should be exempt from the same used market every other commodity has to deal with?

    I agree with a lot of the comments here, that this is just money grubbing from developers.

  • The absolute solution is Digital distribution. Cuts out the retailer. Restricts the consumer from selling/trading the product. Publishes will still need to be around due to marketing the product as not many studios publish their own games. Many different models can be sculpted to benefit all types of consumer. Rental system/Trial and perhaps we’ll see eg. EA game (digital) trade towards another EA game $XX amount off new game. Publisher wins, developers pretty much win as that cannot be resold by a 3rd party for profit. Many developers cannot succeed without publishers so this is beneficial for the industry. Indie games continue as are, and everyone can sleep at night knowing that they can still get games relatively cheap when they want or wait for the steam/etc. sales.

  • Lol what do they think of me and my friends? We lend games to each other – does that make us as bad as mass murderers?

  • Um, how is there even a discussion? Am I a criminal because I’ve never bought a game new? Am I a criminal because I still buy Super Famicom games? What’s my alternative? Download illegally? Why give us no choice?

    Sony and Microsoft (mostly Sony) are trying to tell us that we don’t own what we buy so much that people are believing it. They are wrong and we should let them know. Money is our weapon here and we should use it. Buy only second hand games or download. I hate to recommend the illegal alternative, but we are being given less and less choice about how we enjoy our art form.

    When our only legal way of playing old games is taken away from us, we have little choice.

    I buy DVDs, I buy Blurays. We can sell and buy them second hand because we are the owners of the media. Not the I.P., of course, but the media. Why are games different?

  • My mother used to own a store where she sold video games.
    She would buy them from $80 – $85 and then sell it at $99.
    How is a business expected to keep up with all the bills when they are making bugger all profit off of selling games brand new.

    The only way to keep the store open was to have an internet cafe as well, she ended up not bothering getting in games anymore cause the profit was just not there.

    Buy a game and it doesn’t sell, you are now set back $80-$85 and need to sell 5 – 8 games just to get that money back.

    If selling games 2nd hand became Illegal to sell I’d expect to see a lot of towns without a way to buy games at all or the prices inflatted by a crapload.

  • I’ve been thinking about this article all day now. Especially the people who are upset that they are being called criminals. And they should be upset. Whilst I dislike used game sales, I wanted to just step onto their side for a moment.

    Unless there is something specific in the licensing agreement, or present in the laws of a country, that make the act illegal, there is no reason to label people as criminals for choosing to sell back their games. And the same goes for people buying used games. These people are NOT doing anything illegal, so they are not criminals.

    Whilst the effect on the developers MAY be the same as if they had stole it, they did not steal it, and people should be commended for making the effort to get a copy legitimately. These people are not thieves.

    I would not be in support of the introduction of laws to ban or prevent the sale of used goods. Sure, I believe people should buy games new, if they can. If someone can’t afford to do so, then I would much prefer to see that person play a used copy rather than being unable to play the game at all.

    The reason I argue on the side of the original article author is that I want people to be aware where their money is going. If you want to support game development, then buy new. If you don’t agree with me, then I stand up for your right to continue to purchase used games.

  • The problem with most of the arguments presented is that they suggest that a person with the wherewithal to purchase a new copy without straining his/her finances will likely choose to buy an used copy to save a few dollars. Sure, there might be a small percentage of people like that, but I can tell- having in the past been amongst them- that’s often not the case: if you have the money to comfortably pay for the new product you’ll most likely will; you get a sort of bragging rights and obtain a product in pristine quality with full warranty.

    The used game market is there for the people that don’t have that much money to spare for games -a side of the field I’m currently in for several reasons- but still want to do the right thing and not pirate. My point is: these people wouldn’t buy the game if there wasn’t an alternative. In that respect, used-game stores are not stealing from the producers, as their customers simply don’t enter the target market share that the pricing of new games establishes; rather they are providing a service to the not-so-lucky while supporting the new-product part of the business model, which benefits from their very existence.

  • This is a nice long thread, and didn’t have time to read it all, but this discussions all sounds a bit pointless. Isn’t the OP just saying it’s wrong to sell second-hand software? And that happens all the time, has been for decades. Should we condemn second-hand bricks-and-mortar stores for selling games/software/CDs/DVDs?

    Interestingly enough this thread got lots of responses.

    Everyone who made the product sold the units and made their sales. ’nuff said.

  • I think games developers who make these rants about “2nd hand games are as bad as stealing” are idiots. 2nd hand products help drive the primary market. If I wasn’t able to trade my games in for some money back, then I wouldn’t be buying as many new games would I?

    Also, as others have mentioned, the 2nd hand market (particularly for slightly older games) acts as a 2nd price point for entry for customers. I bought Halo 3 2nd hand for a lower price, I would never have bought it for the full price. From that experience I decided I liked the Halo series enough that I bought Halo Wars new the day it came out.

    Developers need to think through the entire eco-system and also to stop valuing their own part in it. Saying “Zomg they bought games I made and I didn’t get all the money!!” is an insult to the entire distribution network that supports them. A game that only sits in a developers hard drive is worthless, so others have to be able to profit from the process too.

  • Developers should be content their getting paid good money to make video games.
    What if a friend came over and played my game at my house, rather than buying his own copy?
    Is trading games on par with pirating?
    Also, if more people have palyed a particular game then doesn’t that increase the lieklihood of a profiatble sequel. Take GTA for example.

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