Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Used vs New - This Critic's Opinion (NO PICS!)  


Games: 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 (hence the complete lack of cleverly selected images tonight -- sorry) 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...

First things first, FUCK 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.

Next thing up on the docket, 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? 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 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.


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.

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 2, 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: the 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 videogames.

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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3 comments: to “ Used vs New - This Critic's Opinion (NO PICS!)

  • Anonymous


    Hi Brad,

    I agree 100%. May I add that the issue goes further than player's rights and changes the whole incentives given to developpers ? A market with no used games favors "more flash, less substance" titles, over games that stick with you and that you don't want to resell. It emphasizes marketing over gameplay or story depth.

    If I buy game A (let's call it Assassin's Creed) because it looks really cool but find it incredibly repetitive and boring, I can resell it immediately and someone more cautious than me can buy my copy instead of a new one. The publisher will lose one sale.

    With my money, I can buy game B (say, Demon's souls) used because I'm really not sure I'll like it after what I heard about it. Then if I like game B, I'll keep it the longest possible and take it off the market, while eagerly waiting for its sequel to buy it Day One.

    But if publishers make money as soon as you buy any game, and are not penalized if you dislike it afterward, that's not a very good incentive for developers. Just as you said, it does give an incentive to release buggy games, but also to invest in fake, cool looking, drool inducing marketing stories which are already way too common in our medium.

    -Mousse Effect

  • Mike (ToH)


    You bring up some fantastic points, and this entire situation reminds me of how the movie companies were flipping out over the VCR back in 1981, claiming that it would ruin the industry.

    I would like to offer some points you may have missed:

    1. Piracy - I know you're not exactly an avid PC gamer. However the piracy community does serve a legitimate purpose: to remove unnecessary restrictions on paid for software.
    About over a year ago, I bought an adventure game bundle. One of the games, Whispered World, had beautiful cel animated cutscenes throughout the story. However they would immediately skip like I was playing a cartoon in a busted DVD player. I found out that it had nothing to do with my system but the American distributor wanted to put some DRM into the game that wasn't really made for it. As a consumer, I was saddled with a crappy experience. I had to hunt down a hacked file to play the thing as the designers intended and it was absolutely horrible. I didn't want to run the risk of downloading viruses or creepy malware on those sites and in a perfect world I honestly shouldn't have had to do that to properly enjoy the game. Same goes for "no_cd" hacks for laptop users to save battery life or removing always online DRM for single player games.

    2. Online. I have an issue with gating off online for general principle for disc based games- It's often incredibly unfriendly to households with multiple systems. It's also narrow minded since online, players are the content. No one wants to play your online mode if it's a damn ghost town, nor should they pay an extra fee to see if it's not a laggy, buggy mess. The server discussion is a flawed premise - it's one to one for every copy sold. Doubly so if you're using XBL servers. We're already paying for those costs with our Gold membership.

    Instead, I welcome companies selling new features such as stages, extra modes, new characters or silly hats. They all add value, and in the case of characters and costumes, early adopters will be your best salesmen. You want MORE people in your store, not less and you do that by making it as hassle free as possible. But again, this takes more work and thought than just erecting a brick wall over a major portion of the content.

  • Jay Aloha


    Hey Brad!

    Nice piece! Bit long, but still, good stuff!

    Though I don't think you are in good company when making a statement and then say "there's not a thing anyone can say to me to convince me that....." No room for discussion, sounds like absolutism. Not good. I do however also dislike piracy, in games only, mind you. In music for example, I see it as a whole different matter. In music I see cd's/albums more as promotional material whereby artists should work (concerts) for their money... With games this ain't possible. Therefore I disagree with your statement against piracy.

    With movies I also disagree btw. As long as Brad Pitt makes a fucking 25 million dollars for a movie, I don't see why I should pay 20 dollars for a DVD to help the Film Company pay that idiotic sallary. And, again, Warner Brothers Head of Marketings' Porsche.

    I agree with most what youy say though. The way the industry now is and functions, is pretty okay.

    3 problems left:

    1. DLC that should be IN the game already but isn't because Ubisofts Head of Marketing wants to drive a his Mercedes! (Ask Mike, he loves paying for those cars ;-)

    2. Broken and buggy games.

    3. The future. Like when I buy a game, new, it's mine!!! I don't buy the right to play it, I own the damn thing. Fucking worked/paid for it.

    I am afraid that we are on our way to a videogame industry where we will only buy the "right to play". Not the actual game itself. Hence I will never buy a download-only title. (Fuck. Except Limbo then) Not good!