Although all the speculative debate surrounding the console wars will soon be shifting to a tangible test of technology, the used games topic will hold a permanent footprint in video game history. Like any entertainment industry, technology will continue to challenge and define the status quo. For instance, Microsoft’s campaign to implement console-industry changing facets sparked conversation all over the world.
I had a lot of questions when this topic arose, so I headed over to the Pixel Legends studio and had a chat with the crew about pre-owned games. In the first five minutes they gave me a lot to think about by revealing new perspectives and proposing questions that I had overlooked. They suggested that if I look more closely at Microsoft’s attempts to implement new game-trading policies, I’d see benefits within the changes not only for gamers and publishers, but for the artists and developers that create our beloved games, too.
We ended up shooting a Pixel Vision episode about our conversation. Of course with the back-to-back conventions going on this summer, our free time evaporated and it took us a while to finish post-production. So even though the topic might be a little late to the party, there are still some really interesting points I learned about used games that I’d like to share. (For the first time, some of the PV crew made an appearance in some bonus footage at the end of the episode, and some epic giggling ensued.)
During our conversation, the crew explained that when you buy a new game—either as a physical copy or a digital download from an online service—a portion of the money you spend goes to the developers. However, when you purchase or rent a used game, only the seller sees that money. Gamers may like having the option to sell their games and buy others for cheaper prices, but many publishers and developers feel that the buy-sell-trade model hurts their ability to fund great new games.
They went on to describe how gamers don’t like being restricted, and that the backlash surrounding Microsoft’s policies pushed the company to change its stance on used games. “Which is good, right?” I asked. They said that many may think this is for the better, but like most things, it isn’t so black and white. Preserving the status quo of game trading comes at a cost. Interesting features that would have allowed sharing between friends or family members are no longer an option. Another benefit to an always-online-system meant gamers wouldn’t have to worry about losing or breaking games. PC gamers widely regard Steam as a great service, even though its policy is similar to what the Xbox One proposed— in fact in some ways it’s even more restrictive.
Steam has become a PC gaming standard because it makes it easy for gamers to buy games. It has a huge library of options, and there are daily, weekly and annual sales where even brand new games have huge discounts. Publishers and developers set their own prices and can have sales whenever they want.
Before Steam became the juggernaut that is today, it had its own share of growing pains. When it was first released, it was nearly universally hated. But since then, Valve has built its solid reputation on excellent service and great prices. Gamers are OK with giving up used games if they get something in return.
While Microsoft and Sony decided not to rock the boat, both companies have a chance to promote digital sales by offering a cheaper alternative to retail discs, pre-owned or otherwise. The lesson I learned is this: rather than restrict consumers, give us something in return for giving up our ability to trade in games.
Every week, Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about MMO gaming, the issues the genre faces, and the power of shaping online worlds.
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