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Used vs. New: This critic's opinion

Brad Gallaway's picture

Mass Effect 3 Screenshot

There's been a lot of chatter lately about buying new games versus used games, and I've been asked several times about my stance on the whole thing.

I don't have a pat, easy answer, and if I was to tackle every single angle on the subject in a comprehensive manner, this entry would take me weeks to write. I don't have that kind of time and I suspect that I would get bored of the topic before I got to the end. As such, this particular blog post isn't going to have an answer to every single question that can be asked, but I have been thinking quite a bit about it.

So, used versus new... It's a huge topic to begin with, and it's only gotten more complicated due to the various tricks made possible by online connections. Thanks to these "innovations", something that has never been black-and-white to start with is now more grey than it's ever been. That said, let me try to pick apart the various strands of the problem as I see them, one by one...

F*ck Pirates

I am 100% anti-piracy, I don't advocate piracy under any circumstances whatsoever, and there's not a thing anyone can say to me to convince me that piracy is in any way justified or correct. It's straight-up stealing, period.

Why am I bringing up the issue of piracy in a discussion about used versus new? Because used games aren't piracy. Rentals aren't, either. Problem solved, the end.

Profit is not Evil

Games don't just fall out of the sky or get plucked from the gravid branches of lush trees in warm climates. In general, it takes a lot of people a lot of time to make a game that's worth playing, and it takes a publisher to keep those people fed and clothed until something hits retail. Money has to be made—after all, it's not like you get up out of bed every morning and go slave away in an office for eight hours because you've got nothing better to do, right? You do it to pay for your rent, to be able to party later that night, to afford healthcare, and so on. In order for games to exist, the people who make and distribute these games must get paid. Developers and publishers are human beings just like you and me, so it's a no-brainer.

Something else that's pretty clear to me?

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Screenshot

Consumers Need to Have Rights

As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the biggest things that needs to be looked at in the used versus new debate, and it gets very little attention from any side—even from the very consumers who are being hurt!

The problem is this: Both developers and publishers are doing everything they can to convince gamers to buy games brand-new and are effectively waging war on the used games market. What's the dilemma? In this brave world, the hard-working people who pony up the cash for new have absolutely no recourse if they buy something they end up not liking, or even worse, buy something that's just broken.

While many games offer playable demos on the various online services, not all do. It may be easy to tell which genre a new title falls into, but there are countless factors that determine whether or not a person will enjoy that buy, and ultimately whether they feel as though they got their money's worth.

It's easy to get lured into a game by a great cover art, energetic screenshots, carefully-directed trailers, overly-hyperbolic previews from overly-hyperbolic writers, and ubiquitous ad campaigns. That said, a person still won't know that the game will be to their taste until they try it. Since I don't know of any store that will accept an open video game and refund a consumer's money, asking people to take this leap of faith at $60 a pop is a little unreasonable, not to mention it shows an enormous lack of confidence in the final product. You need to trap your customers in no-escape sales? really?

(Hello, GameFly!)

Completely apart from the matter of personal taste, more and more games are being released unfinished, buggy, or genuinely broken. If you ask me, a consumer who picks up a glitchy piece of software should have every right to return it as a non-working purchase and get their money back—yet again, I don't know of any store anywhere that will issue a refund under these circumstances.

If you ask me, it takes a hell of a lot of gall to ask a consumer to risk $60 on something that they don't know is to their taste, and which may or may not be in a functional state. Such business practices put the consumer at a terrible disadvantage by stripping away all normal guarantees, and I am hard-pressed to think of any other product or industry that asks for as much faith on the part of the consumer (with no assurances given whatsoever) as video games do.

Since used games can be returned for the full purchase price at GameStop and other retailers for a variety of reasons including "I just didn't like it", that serves as a huge incentive to buy used, totally apart from lower cost.

Furthermore, it needs to be said that...

Mass Effect 3 Screenshot

Not Every Game is Worth $60

Although some publishers have been experimenting with various price points, the vast majority of titles come out at the same one-size-does-not-fit-all MSRP. While more affluent gamers may shrug off $60 with little concern, that's quite a lot of money to some people.

With that in mind, I would be quite happy to pay $60, $75 or even $100 for a huge (bug-free) open-world RPG with fantastic characters and interesting quests, especially considering how much time and effort goes into something like that. On the other hand, I'm leery of spending more than $20 or $30 on a shooter that can be finished in a weekend, or on an experimental title that has some good ideas, but stumbles over itself on the production side. For such games, buying used for a cheaper price just makes sense since relative value isn't there.

What about DLC, Pre-orders and Passes?

Since it seems no game under the sun can be released without some sort of multiplayer function these days, seeing publishers charge for online multiplayer is now the norm. Honestly, this is one aspect of the new games industry that actually makes sense to me.

Having dedicated servers up and employing the tech support people who constantly clean up code and keep things running costs money, and it's not unreasonable for the people providing these services to ask for compensation from the people using these services. It's also fair in the sense that that people who don't want to play multiplayer don't have to pay for it. I sure don't.

Finally, pre-order bonuses, exclusive DLC and the like—really, it makes complete sense that a publisher (or any producer of a product, game or not) would want to give consumers incentive to buy new as opposed to buying used. I don't blame them, and the more I think about it, the less opposed to it I am—however, there are a few things to chew on here.

For example, offering content that's only available with a new purchase doesn't sit quite right with me in light of the "buying on faith" issues I raised earlier. As someone who tends to be a completist for games I'm a fan of, I'm a lot more comfortable with the idea if this same content is available (for a price) to players who buy used.

L.A. Noire Screenshot

I certainly don't mind paying $10 for a few missions or an extra character that new buyers get for free, as long as I'm sure that I like the game and that I want more. In such a situation, it's totally up to me whether I pay that money or not, and for quality products that enhance my experience, I'm happy to support developers and publishers via DLC.

Keeping that goodwill support that in mind, the issue of what constitutes a "complete" game is up for discussion, and the thought that content might be removed and repurposed as DLC really rubs me the wrong way.

For example, it was hard not to notice the two missing chapters in Assassin's Creed II, or the inexplicable "escapee" cutscene in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Both of those games were supposed to be "complete", yet it was pretty clear to me and many others that something was missing. The same could be said of Shale in Dragon Age: Origins, and both Mass Effect 3 and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning are both about to launch with bits of "extra" content held back. It remains to be seen exactly how relevant these things will be, but I fear that the slide down a very slippery slope is already well underway.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, I could go on for weeks trying to cover every single angle of this discussion—things like a future of download-only games leaving players with even less power and fewer rights than they already have, or what about those whispers of a console that somehow won't play used games? I'm pretty sure that George Orwell predicted that one a while ago. Regardless, I think I've hit most of the major used versus new points that bear discussion at the moment, and this is a pretty good reflection of where I'm sitting at right now, not only as a critic, but also as a consumer and someone who has spent the lion's share of his life eating, breathing, and talking video games.

If you ask me (and really, if you don't want to know, then why did you read this far?) I strongly believe that a compromise needs to be reached. Whether you fall on the side of used or new, it's easy to see that neither one is completely correct. In my perfect world, consumers would be able to return games within reason, and publishers and developers would put out games that were complete, functional, and priced to reflect the value being delivered.

In such a fantasy land, I think everyone involved would be quite happy to keep this particular economic engine running, and all sides would come away satisfied. Whether any such situation could become a reality remains to be seen, but this murky, groping middle ground the games industry currently occupies can't and won't be held forever.

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Platform(s): Xbox 360   Wii   PS3   3DS   Vita   Nintendo DS   PSP   PC  
Articles: Editorials  
Topic(s): Business   Piracy & DRM  

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Brad, it is very nice to

Brad, it is very nice to have critics like you around...

Let me first say that piracy is 100% illegal, there is no question about that. The question is whether it is 100% unethical... I believe not. I believe piracy is not in most cases a lost sale, piracy in fact improves the whole industry in various ways, and it certainly isn't theft, it is copyright violation. Big difference... But let's talk about the gaming industry for a moment...

As you correctly mentioned, most games today do not deserve their MSRP at release. In fact, none of them deserves it. Consumers have taken for granted these prices for years, without justification. The industry will talk about the rising cost of producing video games, and that is somewhat true. Newer video games need more complex graphics and sound etc. But what they do not mention, is that modern video games reuse most of technology from previous games, licence technology, and the most important of all, most companies and publications won't mention that the market for videogames have become vastly bigger than before... If you look at what companies like Activision make for titles like Call of Duty, it is insane... I am all for "we all do what we do to profit" but there is a limit to what i consider sane and what over the top...

In many cases there is no justification for prices. Take for example Steam in Europe. Despite the fact that the Euro is more expensive than the US dollar, they keep a 1:1 dollar:euro ratio for games that are digitally distributed... So an American pays say 60 dollars and a European pays 60 Euros or lets say for example when the ratio was near 1,4 84 dollars for the same download... There is no justification for this other than greed from the companies. This is no justified profit, this is outright theft on behalf of the companies. And this is just one example...

In the case of used games, based on copyright, they should be illegal like piracy is... When a company sells a game, they do not sell the video game (source code,its rights etc), they sell the right to play the executable code. So when a player sells a game and another buys it used, he doesn't pay for the licence to play to the company that made the game in the first place... If you are so anti-piracy, you should be anti-used games too... You cannot support the one without supporting the other...

Myself, i am 100% pro piracy. I have almost all of my games bought original though. Because i use piracy as a means to test video games, and i only pay for games i enjoy. Sometimes (a few though) i do not pay for a game i enjoy(for example Skyrim). Either because i believe the price should be lower, or the game should not have released at this state (Skyrim), or simply because i forgot or i am low on money. Does the industry lose from me? No. If there wasn't an option for piracy, i would have picked another hobby entirely.

To conclude, greed is good, much greed is bad, piracy is illegal but not unethical, companies should lower the prices across the board, release finished games,provide better value for the gamer.

Agreed... IMO, the big

Agreed... IMO, the big problem is there's very little trust between the publishers, the retailers and the consumers, for all the reasons you mentioned. One of the basic rules of capitalism is that trust is important. In the long run, you can't do much business if you don't trust anyone and no one trusts you.

Good article Brad, and I

Good article Brad, and I completely agree. The point about gamer's rights is particularly true, and I'm sure fellow GC writer Peter Skerrit would further congratulate you on highlighting it.

In the UK we have a small minority attempting to change things -- such as making it harder for publishers to release broken games like Fallout: New Vegas -- such as Gamers' Voice (http://gamersvoice.org.uk/), but like you said gamers themselves seem excruciatingly reluctant/lazy when it comes to their rights as a consumer. I'm convinced that if companies tried to employ similar crap with films, DVDs, and music, that consumers would soon cause an uproar and get it properly highlighted. I'm astounded how gamers can accept stuff like incomplete games (unless bought new), online passes, on-disc DLC that needs a premium codes to unlock, unjustified monthly subscriptions, extortionate prices for new games, and many other things; I really don't get it.

Aside from that I will be controversial and say I actually advocate piracy to a certain extent, if only for rebellious reasons; I never pirate games myself, but I totally get the argument about games simply being too expensive. I still haven't heard one good reason why a new game can cost £45 when DVDs are barely half the price (and films are - to my knowledge - still a lot more expensive to make than games). That developers/publishers then have the nerve to charge extra for DLC that should already be available is more than enough for me to support pirates... it's tough justice as far as I'm concerned (and for the record, though I don't pirate myself, I do have friends who do, and they never have any trouble getting the "premium edition" DLC for free either, so it doesn't even work anyway!).

So tired of this BS

Personally, I'm past the point of engaging publishers in this nonsense.

If a game hides single-player content behind an online code I don't buy it. If a single-player game requires a persistent internet connection I don't buy it. If a game offers paid cheats, items and other shortcuts as DLC I don't buy it (as it is an implicit concession that the game is so tedious and un-fun that it's better to skip enormous chunks of gameplay than to suffer through it).

I don't want to play your facebook or mobile game to get some garish, game-breaking item. I don't want to have to look at a chart to choose the best store to pre-order from to ensure that I'm maximizing my access to "free bonus content." I don't want to have to pre-order at all. This isn't fun: it's annoying, cynical, transparent marketing bs.

In short, the simple act of buying triple AAA console/PC titles has become so complicated, fraught, and outright anti-consumer that I'm happier to ignore the whole rotten business. The battle against used game sales has introduced so much complexity into the heretofore simple act of "buying a thing" that I would sooner not "buy the thing" than waste time and energy on pre-release bs.

Publishers need to understand some plain and simple facts: the income of the average American has been stagnant for 30 years. We have U6 unemployment rate just above 15%. $60 is a lot of money for most people (my girlfriend's family of four has a weekly food budget of $60-and both parents work). Your game is not worth $60. Hell, most of the games you have the gall to sell at that price aren't worth $30. So what does the wise game consumer do? She buys used, waits for Steam sales, or shifts her spending to cheap mobile games. A few tech savvy consumers will pirate, but most are content forget that your badly-priced product exists as it fades into the bargain bin abyss.

By the way, contrary to what has been glibly asserted elsewhere, the difference in price between a new game and a used game is closer to $15-$20 than $5. A smaller price differential is common in the first few weeks of a title's release, but after that point the difference grows by several orders of magnitude. Don't believe me? Compare the new price of Assassin's Creed Revelations at Walmart:


to the used price at Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/B002I08RA0/ref=dp_olp_ used?ie=UTF8&condition=used

If your company can't survive in this economic climate it's not the fault of the consumer. I don't care if a company had to lay off 200 people and its CEO has ulcers the size of pancakes. I have a family to feed and student loans to pay off. Only in video game fantasyland is it my fault that a company failed to read the market, set realistic financial goals, and keep its budget under control.

When publishers attack the first-sale doctrine that undergirds the used game market they are conceding that their management doesn't know what they're doing. Every business that produces durable goods and IPs has to account for the used market to greater and lesser degrees. It's a fact of life, just like safety and environmental regulations, labor laws, and supply costs. Yet somehow, the video game industry has fallen under the mass delusion that they produce such a unique and special product that they should be exempt from this century-old law. If I were an investor, I would be highly skeptical of any publisher wasting its time pushing that boulder when it should be adjusting its economic forecasts, trimming budgets, and otherwise focused on improving its core business practices.

As in the areas of labor and environmental conservation, our nation made a value judgment a long time ago that it is better for our nation's entire economy that goods be transferrable without regard to the interests of the original producer. Game companies would be more profitable, and games may even be cheaper if we didn't have laws protecting basic safety and economic rights for workers. But do we see game industry big-wigs and hack journalists calling for reduced labor protections? No. So it should be with the first-sale doctrine.

Moderator's Note: Profanity in this post was toned down.

No way is piracy acceptable,

No way is piracy acceptable, or ethical, under any circumstances. If you make something, it's yours. Even if you want to charge way more than others think it's worth, or if you have lots of restrictions, or you are simply a terrible person. I have to believe anyone trying to justify piracy is not creating something, whether that something is a videogame, a book, a song or even a website.

The truth is, 2012, this is the cheapest videogames have ever been. The quality is higher, and the quality/hr is generally higher than previous generations. And a $50 game in '95 would have an equivalent buying power to over $70 today. On top of that the many downloadable titles coming in well below $20, and the huge backlist of titles that can be $1-$10. There are an overwhelming number of alternate videogames that are very, very inexpensive to purchase and play while you wait about 3-6 months by which time almost all new releases can be purchased for $30 or less new if $60 is too much. Or if you think a piece of a game is missing, wait 12 months for a goty edition.
And the internet is a far, far easier environment to gain knowledge about which games are good or which games are broken than the old days in which you read gamepro or egm or listened to a friend. There may not be demos for every single game, but certainly almost every single $60 game has a demo.

This is a golden age of gaming, we are truly spoiled. Most content creators are gamers, modestly paid, and hard-working. If everyone bought used, it would quickly become a strictly ios/android world of gaming.

Thinking in absolute

Hank wrote:

No way is piracy acceptable, or ethical, under any circumstances. If you make something, it's yours. Even if you want to charge way more than others think it's worth, or if you have lots of restrictions, or you are simply a terrible person. I have to believe anyone trying to justify piracy is not creating something, whether that something is a videogame, a book, a song or even a website.

Thinking in absolute, black or white terms precludes any discussion or exchange of ideas. You might want to reconsider how you think about issues. A decent book is 'Thinking Fast and Slow' by d. kellerman.

I'm not saying piracy is right or wrong as I don't know everything about everything; I'm only pointing out that the way you're thinking about the issue is wrong.

Brad, to say that piracy is

Brad, to say that piracy is essentially different from used games isn't thinking things through. The creators of a game make exactly the same amount of money from a used game sale as they do from a pirated copy: $0. Buying a used game, or borrowing a game from my friend, or playing a game at my friend's house, all allow me to enjoy a game I haven't paid for, while depriving the content creator of a sale. If you think piracy is wrong because it deprives the creator of a sale, you have to acknowledge that borrowing and used games do also.

Difference between Used and Piracy

Paul, the difference to me is in the contract that is set up with the consumer. Most retail disc console games don't have some kind of contract legally preventing the consumer from selling the game to someone else. That is the business arrangement that the publisher and consumer have agreed to. Now there have been PC games that are "1 install" or "3 installs" and then they lock or something, but that is made clear to the consumer before the purchase. So the publisher and consumer have agreed to a different contract. Software "pirates" deliberately sidestep the law by copying software and distributing it outside of either of the above mentioned legal business arrangements.

Whether or not either of these business models is "better" is a matter of debate. You say piracy is the same as lending a game to a friend, but I don't think all developers agree with you. One could make a reasonable argument that letting a friend borrow a game gets the friend excited about playing the game, and they go out and buy their own copy, or buy other games like it. It's hard to "prove" the above either way, but surely it applies to multiplayer games like Mario Kart and Call of Duty. Regardless, there are some publishers and developers who don't think borrowing is equal to piracy. As long as the publisher allows it legally, it's not the same as piracy.

At least that's the way I see it.

If you buy a used game, you

If you buy a used game, you certainly did pay for it. You just didn't pay a developer for it. Of course, when I buy a used Honda, Honda isn't getting that money either -- yet they somehow still survive.

The funny thing about the borrowing is that it hasn't killed any of the industries that are supposedly so hurt by it. People have been borrowing things for centuries.

Did the advent of recordable cassette tapes destroy the music industry like they claimed it would? No. Did the VCR really equate with the Boston Strangler like the MPAA argued? Nope. Did libraries destroy the publishing industry? Hm...I sense a trend here.

Hank wrote: The quality is

Hank wrote:

The quality is higher, and the quality/hr is generally higher than previous generations.

That's a completely subjective statement -- one that I and more than a few other people would vehemently disagree with.

So, how should it be?

With all of the new vs used posts out there, I see very few concrete suggestions. The GC team has a lot of experience with games, which means lots of experience with publisher and anti-used-game schemes. I would like to see a show dedicated to How It Should Be Done to let the publisher eat, the developer eat, and the consumer have some rights. To be sure there are hints and implications in the complaints, but it would really stimulate debate to see it spelled out.

Take it from top to bottom, from the publisher to retailer to digital distribution to the end user. What limitations would we have to live with? What limitations should we not have to live with?

Things like: how should I be able to take a game to a friend's house to show him how it plays? What should we be willing to accept when I loan him that disc after I'm done with it? Should I be able to resell a downloaded game?

I think this site's podcast is where I heard the very welcome idea of charging LESS for a game at launch, including preorders, and then cranking up the price to get people to make the leap sooner. Retailers do this as a loss leader, but what if, say a $40 opening week price on a AAA title was the rule. Suddenly you want to preorder to get that $40 disc so it won't sell out that opening week. Would this be fair? Could they make preorder DLC be all add-on vouchers you buy at the same time to avoid penalizing me for DLC I can't get at this retailer or another?

Is the rumored slightly cheaper price on digitally downloaded Vita games enough to offset the inability to resell or trade it away? I've heard the Vita game carts have some memory in them to hold DLC or other data. Should publishers use that to lock that card to your Vita the way the main memory card will be so you can't resell it just like you can't resell a digitally downloaded game?

Are online game reviews focusing enough on these nuts and bolts measures to lock you into your purchases? Really I think a database like co-optimus.com should exist for these kinds of measures that lock customers in one way or another so you can know up-front. Should this be another sticker right on the box like an ESRB rating? When it gets this complicated, are publishers/developers doing the wrong thing by angering the customer? Do we need better customer education, or should we just assume the online gaming nerdosphere are the only ones who care about these things and everyone else will just put the game away to collect dust and forget about these lock-in issues?

This could be a huge roundtable discussion. Give us your solutions, and let us all hash it out together.

Aesquire said: "If your

Aesquire said:

"If your company can't survive in this economic climate it's not the fault of the consumer. I don't care if a company had to lay off 200 people and its CEO has ulcers the size of pancakes. I have a family to feed and student loans to pay off. Only in video game fantasyland is it my fault that a company failed to read the market, set realistic financial goals, and keep its budget under control."

Bravo -- you've nailed it. I like the cut of your jib, sir.

Of course, some industry apologist will now come along and tell you how're you're "entitled" or some such nonsense and how you should be thrilled to have the right to pay $60 for videogames.

Developers don't get paid for many reissues of their games.

Now this is interesting:


More grist for the piracy mill, I imagine.

That's a great article by GC

That's a great article by GC alum Kyle Orland -- and somehow I'd missed it before you posted it. Thanks for sharing.

Short-sighted publishers

aesquire wrote:

Publishers need to understand some plain and simple facts: the income of the average American has been stagnant for 30 years.

aesquire, you made a great post and I'm sympathetic to your feelings, but I have to call this out. Where is this fact coming from? I'm looking at the historical tables from the Census Bureau and mean personal income has steadily risen during that time period.

Regardless, I think you're totally justified in avoiding businesses that engage in many of the practices you describe. I think if I was a publisher I'd try and make the customer experience easy, friendly, and flexible, and instead of having an attitude of "get the product out the door using marketing gimmicks", I'd try and actually make lifelong customers who will come back later. Some publishers can definitely be short-sighted.

You're absolutely right

You're absolutely right about concrete suggestions; no one seems to be suggesting them. The uncomfortable fact is that no matter how easy software piracy is now, in the future it is going to be so much faster and easier that our children will wonder how we ever managed to pirate anything with our tiny 500 GB hard drives and pokey 300 K/s download speeds.

I actually do have a suggestion, which is not perfect but tries to get at what a potential solution might look like. Right now the Dept of Justice spends a bunch of money trying to stop copyright infringement. But what if instead of trying to stop it, they used that money to *compensate* the developers whose works are pirated? We know approximately how many times each game is pirated (example: http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Crysis-battlefield-gears-of-war-call-of-duty,14406.html)

The DOJ could compensate developers a small amount for each pirated copy. The exact amount would have to be decided by analysts and bean counters, since each instance of piracy doesn't equate to one lost sale, but this would allow a company to make money based on how many people were *using and enjoying* its games, rather than just how many people paid for them at a store. So if a ton of people pirated and played a company's game, the company could make money from it even if no one bought a copy. Of course, there would need to be a whole raft of procedures to make sure the estimates were accurate. Maybe there could be periodic anonymous surveys, Nielsen style, of consumers and which games they had pirated and how much they played them.

If the DOJ's copyright infringement budget isn't enough, they could support the effort with a small surtax on hard drives. After all, it would cost over $4000 to fill a 500GB hard drive with legitimate games; the very size of those drives is a tacit acknowledgement that they are expected to be used for piracy.

Median household income

Odofakyodo, the median household income has only risen 15% over the last 30 years. (See: http://motherjones.com/politics /2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph; see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_real_median_household_income_1967_-_2010.jpg)

During that same time, the cost of healthcare, college tuition, gas, and other major expenses have all increased at a disproportionately higher rate. Whatever small gains have been made in median income have been eaten up by the rising cost of living.

As I said, in real economic terms, the Average American is not doing so hot. Obviously this isn't the fault of the game industry, but neither is it the fault of consumers when gigantic publishers fail to read the market for what it is and release a game at an unrealistic price point. (Sorry for all the charts, etc. You seem like good folk, and an honest question deserves a complete answer).

Standard of Living

aesquire, my issue with your line of thinking ("the Average American is not doing so hot") is that things just aren't that simple.

For one thing, "median household" is not the same thing as "Average American". "Median" does not mean "average", and household sizes have declined in the past 30 years (and even more significantly in the past 40 years), leaving more income per person.

Furthermore, I don't buy the "rising cost of living" argument because it fails to adequately address rises in living standards. I could be wrong, but you seem to be under the false assumption that goods and services purchased in 1980 are the same as goods and services purchased in 2010. It might be fair to compare gas between the two time periods, but things like health care and college education? Not in the slightest. For the same real dollar value today you get vastly better health care. There are more drugs available, more accurate diagnostic procedures, more effective treatments, etc. With college, we now have courses and options that were not as available in 1980 (e.g. computer science, at-home classes).

I'd be willing to bet that the cost of production for many common goods and services--food and appliances, and so on--has decreased over time. And we have technological marvels that have vastly improved the lives of nearly everyone during the same time span. Witness: The internet and cell phones. I recently sold my 18 year old car within 3 hours of putting it up on Craiglist. I got more money than I was expecting, and I think the buyer thought he was lowballing me. It was win-win all around. I wouldn't have been able to do that 15 years ago. In 1971, no one had a personal computer; today, 2 out of every 3 households below the poverty line own a personal computer. In 1971, no one had a cell phone; today, half of poor households have one (source).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to deny that the current recession has hit people pretty hard. Do I think things could be a lot better? Of course. Would I rather pay $30 for a fun video game without all the high cost cinematic bells and whistles than $60 for Uncharted 3? You damn well bet. But I don't for a second think that the average American is worse off than he/she was 30 years ago.

And Paul, with all due respect, that is a terrible idea. It amounts to transferring wealth from taxpaying citizens to game companies. Why should everyone, including people who hate video games, have to subsidize a private corporation who voluntarily engages in a specific market? As if the government isn't bloated and in debt enough.

I have to disagree

Odofakyodo, I used median wages to illustrate my point because using average or "mean" wages paints a misleading picture of American wealth. This article does a better job of explaining this concept than I can:


Basically, looking at American wages through a median lens gives a more accurate picture of what Americans actually earn because it better accounts for the number of people actually earning that income (1/2 make less than the median, and 1/2 make more). Because the mean value is more sensitive to extreme wealth disparities, looking at American wages through a means lens would show a grossly distorted picture of what actual Americans earn. (If Bill Gates walks into a room of 30 people, the mean income of everyone in the room suddenly goes up several million dollars.)

(And please note that "Average American" is a widely used colloquialism meaning "most Americans" i.e., not the extremely rich or extremely poor. I did not intend for it to be interpreted as a mathematical representation of Americans in economic or social terms.)

Regarding your point on cost of living, you're partly right. Advances in technology, improved production techniques, and the relocation of production to the developing world has led to a reduction in the cost of some consumer goods, and improvements in the quality of those goods. It's a real and substantial boon that I can use my iphone to manage my business from anywhere in the country.

But your points on healthcare fail to account for the costs associated with the advances you cited. Since the Census started keeping track of the number of insured Americans in 1987, the percentage of people without any kind of health insurance has slowly risen, reaching an all time high of 16.7% of the population in 2010. See:


Meanwhile, the cost of healthcare for workers and employers has exploded over the past 10 years:


In short, even if you have health insurance, it costs more in real dollars for you and your employer to get coverage. That unfortunate 16.7% of the population without health insurance (public or private) either goes without medical care, or pays vastly more than they would have 30 years ago. So yes, medical technology has improved, but if fewer Americans can access that care, and fewer Americans can afford that care without going deeply into debt or sacrificing a massive percentage of their income, what is the real value of these advances you cite?

As far as college goes, the advantages of attending a modern university you cited are laughable when you compare the value of those advantages to the rise in the cost of a college education. In the last 10 years alone post-secondary tuition costs have risen 37%. See:


Some colleges have expanded their grant programs, but most students rely on public and private student loans to pay for tuition and cost of living. This is reflected in the rising debt of the average college graduate. As of 2010 the mean educational debt for graduates had gone up 20% for public university graduates, 29% for private non-profit university graduates, and 23% for private for-profit university graduates from just 6 years prior. See:


As I said, the average American has been getting thrashed for decades now. Have we all enjoyed benefits from new technologies? Of course. But those benefits have to be weighed against the actual human and financial costs, which in the examples I've cited are significant.

(Incidentally, I agree with you on public subsidies for publishers. It's a terrible idea with few if any public policy advantages. Publishers need to sink or swim on their efforts, and as much as I enjoy games, I don't want my tax dollars being wasted on their development when we have so many other problems to deal with).

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