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Consoleation: War on used games—A new slippery slope

Peter Skerritt's picture

Rage Screenshot

Rage was one of the games that impressed me at E3 back in June. It had a Borderlands vibe to it, but substituted more realistic graphics than the cel-shaded approach that Gearbox Software had taken. The game ran at 60 frames per second, even at an early stage, and was fun to play. My interest level shot up for Rage, and it had been on my wishlist with growing excitement.

Then this happened.

Unlike the recent Online Pass trend of locking out multiplayer for used consumers and renters, id Software and Bethesda have decided to target solo players instead. Consumers who buy new will get a one-time use code to unlock secret areas via sewer hatches. Players who don't buy new will not have access to these areas, and it's possible that this code will not be available via DLC. These sewer hatches are said to be loot caches and are "outside the main path".

That quote is from id Software's Tim Willits. Here's a gem from the same piece:

We're not detracting from anything. But I know some consumers, when you can't avoid it, then you get a little touchy subject.

In other words, he knows that this isn't going to be a popular move with consumers… but he really doesn't give a damn. The Industry Defense Force is quick to defend Willits here because, after all, people who buy used or rent games instead of buying new aren't consumers at all. Those people are basically pirates, but without the whole issue of breaking the law.

Here's something for you all to chew on, and I sure as hell hope that I'm not right about this: I believe that this move is the continuation and maturation of an assault on solo players. We've already seen the first shot fired by Rockstar Games via L.A. Noire with its varied retailer pre-order DLC, which didn't allow users to purchase the full game at the time of initial sale. This move began the process of eliminating single-player content in exchange for more money than the $60 asking price. Electronic Arts took a different approach to ransoming the overall quality of the single-player experience in The Masters: Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 12 by forcing players to make a choice between buying DLC courses for certain events on the PGA Tour schedule or being forced to sit out that week and forfeit the chance to earn any points or money for that week.

Now we have this move by id Software, which may seem like a minor thing to many… but sets the table for more punitive ransomware actions for all but those who buy new. Locking out loot caches is only a start. What will be next? Could publishers lock out replay value by disabling the game after beating it unless you enter a code? Could entire levels be locked away, saved only for those who buy new? How about locking endings if a code is not entered? The Industry Defense Force claims that this isn't a big deal, but it's more of a "deal" than it was even a couple of years ago… when it didn't even exist. Now it's a deal that almost assuredly is going to get bigger as publishers search for more ways to settle the score with GameStop for not getting any kickbacks for used game sales.

That's the funny thing in this whole mess. The industry either can't or won't go after the source of their grievance, so consumers are not only caught in the crossfire… but they're now the active targets in this War on Used Games. The Industry Defense Force likes to use GameStop as the source of all wrongdoing in the used games market, but they seem to either forget or deny the fact that many other resale destinations exist. When Best Buy opens up their game stores-within-a-store, does anyone think that checks will be cut to game publishers whenever used games are sold? I hope not. Do individual used game sellers on eBay, Craigslist, or auction sites write checks to publishers after a sale? Nope. Does anyone see Amazon making payments to publishers when used game revenue comes in? I didn't think so. Despite all of this being true, people sure love nailing GameStop to that crucifix of blame. Double standards for the win.

We've come to this. The industry apparently has no way of getting its debatable just rewards from the resale of its games, so they've decided to punish the consumer instead… and locking multiplayer action was only the start. This is a brand new slippery slope that the industry has begun to descend, and there aren't the excuses of online maintenance costs to fall back on when you start locking single-player content. It's now a flat-out "Pay us or screw you" mentality for the industry, and there's no way that this doesn't get worse as time goes on. Once you start down that road, there's no turning back. Just wait until we find out what the Online Pass for Batman: Arkham City—a single-player only game—entails.

I do wonder how long we'll keep subscribing to the "It's only…" mentality:

  • It's only multiplayer, so just play by yourself.
  • It's only extra DLC and not part of the main game.
  • It's only loot caches, and doesn't affect the overall experience.
  • It's only a few challenge maps. Who plays those, anyway?
  • It's only an extra level. You can still beat the game, even if a story element or two is missing.
  • It's only the ending. Who watches those, anyway? That's what YouTube is for.
  • It's only $20 to renew your license to keep playing for another 6 months. Don't you care about the industry?
  • It's only $70 for this game. If you account for inflation, you're getting an awesome deal. I paid $100 for Chrono Trigger.

It's only entertainment. Maybe there are cheaper alternatives.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3  
Articles: Columns  
Topic(s): Business   Game Design & Dev  

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It's Only...

Game companies who practice this stupidity should think:

It's only extra content that has no impact on the game, so why spend time and money developing it?

Every single consumer (not just gamer) should be outraged by this practice. To think that companies have any right to profits from any used sales, is moronic. It would be like a car company somehow preventing used-car sellers from including power windows to the people who buy used. That feature is only for people who buy new! What a crock.

These game companies are treading some choppy water and better hope these things don't backfire. Gamers should hold their feet to the fire and refuse to buy games from companies that partake in such practices.

Why stop with games???

- What about used Comic Books? Are Marvel and DC going after comic shops and conventions for sellings used books? Nope. Marvel and DC keep reprinting popular series and stories, usually with never before seen artwork or some such enticement.
- What about used DVDs?

I'm having trouble comprehending what makes the used Video Game market such a hotbed? Could it be profits? Ten years ago, no game company gave a flying hop what I purchased at Funcoland.

What if the game companies re-released the game with some additional DLC included? No..wait..some already have done that (bravo to those that do).
What if the game companies kept watch on the used game market, waited until the current re-sell hit a certain dollar value, pulled all of the games at Best Buy, and replaced them with a cheaper version maybe with some DLC? No...wait...they are still hoping people will pay full price.

Games are a luxury, not a necessity. If a consumer can resist the urge for immediate physical gratification (such as "I must have the game when it comes out at midnight!. I must be the 1st to post about how good/bad it is!"), they can control the market.

There are very few games (at my advanced age in life) that are "must have" when released. What is $59.99 today is often $39.99 in 3-5 months; yet people cannot survive unless they have the game right then and there when first released??!!

What a generation we live where it is more important to be continuously entertained above all else, simply because now we live in a time where we can be continuously entertained.

industry defense force reports for work

The consumers control the market. Blaming the industry for not selling the goods you want is sort of ignorant. DRM actually gets (in steps) accepted, on PC definitely faster than on console, but the strategy using DRM for all kinds of bits and pieces just works, so blame yourself and or your friends.
I remember you also bought Borderlands incl. DLCs and blamed them afterwards that the DLC is not on the disc. Why did you buy it? Your wallet speaks loud, not your very much broken record articles.
I won't buy UBI-always on, i buy Live-Arcade-games, i buy via Steam, i won't buy on a future streaming service, i won't ever pay for MP, no Live, no PSN, and certainly not on PC.
I don't have to like everything that is offered to me. I don't have to like every game. I buy those games which appear to have the right value for my money. And DRM included means usually i pay less, wait longer. That's it. I can happily live with used game buyers getting screwed as long as the DRM doesn't screw the actual buyers experience, make it not harder than the really pirated game experience.

Comparing to a used car is just wrong. A car gets rusty, has to be constantly maintained to stay in a proper condition. A game stays always intact, except for a hard drive error or a disc error. Like in the minidisc commercial... the actual product is always perfect so those passes stuff is correcting the issue by giving the used game buyer what all other used buyers get: A not anymore perfect product.
Even comparing to a comic doesn't work. The paper gets touched, folded whatever and before e-book era this made it less valuable especially for collectors but also for the average customer. Kindle has a pretty wide market share so far, DRM included, i'm not sure about Nook, Oyo, Bookeen and all others but many of them have DRM-system. So i don't except that the music industry example will work there too. They try to copy the game industry and seem to succeed.

Hello to todays of course profit driven world and you have it in your hands to steer the economy and by doing shaping the product and its features. Do it. Thanks.

Nice response

You provide some interesting feedback. In regards to the comic books, I was trying to point out in comic book stores, a large portion of their stock seems to reside in trade paperbacks/hardcovers. So the comic book companies, due to these trades, are able to keep some portion of their property in "new" status to keep customers in wanting the "perfect product" at some nominal price (compared to purchasing a "mint" comic or some "9.5/slabbed" comic, which can be rather high).

I wonder if this "Used Game Controversry" will only be ultimately resolved when each new game, purchased at a retail store, requires on-line registration to the game publisher before anything can be played (or phone registration for those without the internet), afterwhich the game disc becomes useless to anyone else? While this approach could conceivably eliminate the "used game" market, I would grieve the loss of sharing videos games among my group of friends.

Thanks again for your thoughts on the matter.

I think we need to accept

I think we need to accept that this type of first purchaser incentive isn't going to go away. What we can do, though, is encourage publishers to do it in the least negative manner, which I believe is providing codes for DLC.

The reasons for this are twofold:

Firstly, early DLC is generally content that was cut from the main game to save development time, and as such the game is usually completely unaffected by its presence or otherwise as the seams where that sequence was removed should have been smoothed over anyway. The extra character Shale, in Dragon Age, is a perfect example of this. It doesn't actually affect the plot in any significant way, and unless you were told that it was originally going to be a part of the main game and found in Redcliffe you wouldn't know it, and is entirely an optional character even with the DLC installed, so someone who purchases the game second hand and chooses not to purchase that piece of DLC does not experience a "less complete" core game.

Secondly, the economics of the second hand market usually work out such that purchasing a game second hand after a reasonable time and purchasing its day 1 DLC is still cheaper than the game would have been on its own. To stick with the Dragon Age theme, I could get Dragon Age 2 and both its Day 1 DLC items for less than the price of the game new.

The way that we as consumers can do this is quite simple, buy quality DLC. If you buy a second hand game, and when you look into the DLC options they look like they'll be good additions to the game, buy them. That way we reward publishers for putting out strong DLC releases, hopefully improving the quality thereof, and publishers get their clawback from used game sales.

Until physical media dies and we're all locked into whatever digital distribution channels they choose to offer us, of course.

buy quality content

Anonymous wrote:

The way that we as consumers can do this is quite simple, buy quality DLC.

Yeah, buy content that you think is worth your money.
Only systems that have success, despite being debatable in many cases, only when there are customers who accept the price and all the features included, it will be continued.
Is Rage without the underground mission still worth the used game price? Are used game buyers really screwed?

Of course this is only the first step. But i would have no problem in limiting the market in the end to either you like the game and pay the developer directly (ok, usually via retail) or you don't play it. Digital might then remove the retailer and then we would really be where artists should be. They are either worth their money and get it directly or they aren't.
Only games would survive that are worth to buy AND keep them. Even harder times for SP-games i guess, but in the end it should get us quality.

Deus Ex HR proved pretty good that money speaks and the industry has no power to impose something on us we don't accept.
Has it been one or two days after the announcement that the retail PC-Version will be released region locked that they overthrow that idea? UK, Russia and rest of europe should each be one zone. Which eventually might have interfered with the supposed to be free european market, but i think the market uproar not only by the customers but by the shops forced them to backpedal. amazon.co.uk had problems in canceling many pre orders from their foreign customers. Many retailers had no fucking clue about this, Squeenix PR totally screwed the communication. The situation of Irland, actually not UK but usually getting it's copies from UK totally unclear. iirc Israel also a similar problem. Where do get so shortly before the release an Augmented Edition they preordered months ago and is nowhere available anymore or never has been.

Disc don't stay perfect

crackajack wrote:

Comparing to a used car is just wrong. A car gets rusty, has to be constantly maintained to stay in a proper condition. A game stays always intact, except for a hard drive error or a disc error. Like in the minidisc commercial... the actual product is always perfect so those passes stuff is correcting the issue by giving the used game buyer what all other used buyers get: A not anymore perfect product.

To think a used game disc is exactly the same as a new one is absurd. A game does not always stay intact. It is just like anything else on this planet, only temporary. Especially in this day and age, you have plenty of people who do not maintain their games - you get scratches, scuffs, moisture damage, and other forms of disc rot (some which happen even to discs that are well taken care of). Codes do not correct a "perfect" item, they add a moronic price/hurdle on to something that is already used, used, and used. The vast majority (99%) of consumer luxury items (games, comics, cars, etc...) all lose value the minute they are driven off the lot. Of course there are exceptions, but still, why should a company get a cent of my money for buying used? They shouldn't.

Personally, I won't buy from a company that actively practices methods to hinder used sales. I say screw them. But unfortunately, there are too many consumers who would rather be screwed.

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