We don't always like being nonplussed

Friday, February 3, 2012

Editorial: Used vs. New

Within the last week or so on their site and on Twitter, Gabe and Tycho (especially Gabe) of Penny Arcade weighed in on the issue of buying used games vs buying new ones. The main thrust of what they say is that to buy used is not supporting the actual makers of the games, and they're not sure why anyone does it. And as straightforward arguments go, it's a pretty good one. But it lacks the nuance of reality.

When Gabe and Tycho and others in the industry say "used games," they mean "a game sitting on the shelf next to a brand-new copy on Week One, except it's $5 less and none of that goes to the publisher." When the rest of us say used games it may include that, but it largely includes "oh cool, here's that game I didn't pick up three years ago because I couldn't afford it/wasn't sure about it."

There is a long-view to take of used games here as well, one perhaps even of cultural preservation if you want to go there. But of course none of these things matter because publishers, as they try to curtail or eliminate all used games, are really only worrying about those Week One copies. This is typical.

I'd also like to note that this War on Gamestop is being prosecuted by companies who still willingly do business with Gamestop, and the industry people chiding me over buying used are quite frequently people who regularly get pre-release copies of things for free. I'm really feeling that "I buy" moral fiber there, guys.

But that's not even the main thing, or the reason that I think the argument took Gabe by surprise. This argument coincided with the rumors that the next Xbox would have some kind of mechanism to keep used discs from playing at all. And while I really don't have too much of a problem with every game having $10 worth of DLC that new buyers get for free (I don't like it but it doesn't render the game unplayable when I pick it up at the flea market years later), this lockout is something that would prevent me from buying a system.

Seeing a connection as I think a lot of others did, I argued in favor of used games.

I think the industry overreacts to the used market the same way it overreacts to piracy, but there's a more basic and primal thing here that they're running afoul of:

If I hand somebody money and they hand me a physical object, that object is MINE.

Tycho asked why people didn't react as poorly to digital delivery, and this is why. I know the EULA says otherwise and I know the DMCA says otherwise. But it goes against every human instinct, every aspect of how we think commerce works. Every other industry that makes things you can actually hold and buy makes things that become yours and that you can transfer as you like. There are used car dealerships, used bookstores, and thrift stores, and somehow all these other industries endure.

Please explain to me what is so special about gaming that this is no longer the case. Please explain why this is an emergency now.

Actually I can explain that myself. It's an emergency now because somewhere the numbers are not as nice as somebody dreams the numbers should be. Invariably someone with a degree in making those numbers tell the story they want told will speak of "lost" sales, assuming that every pirate download or used purchase or rental is someone who would've bought a new copy. Which is idiocy; it's trying to predict the future, and everyone who does not have a career in numbers or a career connected to those numbers realizes this.
By that logic I could say "I meant to release a game, but didn't. You all would've bought it. I know you would've. If Unicorns existed, they would all have bought it."

Look at all the imaginary money I just lost!

The irony here is that the people making this argument are the same people who, like the rest of us, were railing against SOPA a few weeks ago. They were chiding EA for supporting it through the ESA. But unfortunately, the approach to used games is endemic of a train of thought that leads invariably to things like SOPA. That train of thought, reduced to the simplest terms is: either people can have fewer rights or I can continue to lose partially-imaginary amounts of money, an unspecified amount which is not as much as I think it is. 

Somehow they always pick the former. 

Is my message here "stop gettin' mad about used games"? Well, almost. It's more like "there have always been, and will always be, users who are not customers. Please learn to accept this and try not to alienate the users who are customers as you tilt at windmills as old as mass-production."

Maybe we will go to fully-digital distribution and this issue will go away. Maybe people will be okay with everybody but them owning things if there's never a package in their hands. But if so it's going to be a while. If that's your answer, and you think the sales will be there, have at it. In the meantime, you're messing with some pretty basic forces here. It's not going to go well, it's not going to get you that Unicorn Money, and it's not going to make you look very good to your customers. You do still kind of need those.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with buying used. It's called pro choice, if you do not want to support the big evil corporation with their used game they are selling, DON'T BUY IT!! If you want to save money and get a used copy, BUY IT!!
    I bring up the Automobile comparison: The used market is every bit as diverse as the new market. All of the companies have survived, should they force new cars on everyone to make sure that they make the money, not some used car super store?

    I personally buy new unless there is an awesome deal and there are a few games I wanted, but didn't care enough to buy. I like the reservation bonuses, I like that extra little bit of swag I get when I go for the new game, it is worth it to me to spend the extra $5-$10 to get that swag.
    what if someone does not need or want the swag but would rather wait for a month and save a few bucks and get it used? sounds like rights removal to me.

    "If you give up freedom for more security, you will lose both and deserve neither" - Benjamin Franklin