Video games seek immunity from used sales, fail to see the irony


Used video games have been around since the early ’80s. But they weren’t a problem in the eyes of developers until the middle of the decade, at which point game sales weren’t growing as fast as they used to.

Rather than blame the safe creative bets, bloated budgets, and $10 HD surcharge (yes, many games carry an MSRP of $60 these days) for the decline, developers set their sights on used game sales. “When the game’s bought used we get cheated,” echoed one senior official this week, the latest in a long line of whining.

In light of complaints, some game makers are including single use “unlock codes” in factory sealed games, which they have every right to do. Dumb, but legal.

Still, imagine if other tangible goods started stripping features at resale. For example, “Unless you buy this house new, we’ll section off a part of the home behind a cement wall.” Or, “To see the end of this DVD, you’ll need to enter your single use unlock code.” Or, “Power steering won’t work in this car unless purchased new.”

Is that what game-makers are really after? Is that serving the customer and engendering them to your brand? Do video games really expect immunity from the resale of packaged goods, even though that’s the right they transfer to consumers when selling merchandise? Because if so, that’s incredibly backwards. Unrealistic. Hypocritical. Ignorant.

Obviously the industry is still run by insecure nerds.—Smooth Harold


  1. Welcome to the world of dictatorship. This industry is being run by a pack of nazis actually. Greed, Greed and more Greed like their millions aren’t enough

  2. Most PC games are already locked to a single owner when they’re registered or purchased through digital services like Steam or Games For Windows Live. It’s only a matter of time until console games follow suit. If not due to some obscure “unlock code”, it will happen when digital downloads start to take over consoles, which can only be a few years away.

  3. I’m sorry but something has to be done. Go to a Gamestop. YOu can buy Galaxy 2 new for $50, or used for $45 or $47 dollars. That’s horrible.

    Used titles should be at most HALF of what a used game should cost. Why people go to buy a used game that someone stole from Walmart to sell at Gamestop horrifies me. Gamestop and the person that bought it should be arrested along with the person that stole it, they are all part of the black market ring going on.

    Developers are greedy bastards, but so is the used game market which is for right now essentially a monopoly. I’ve bought 0 used Wii games because of the scam GameStop pulls currently and hope they get shut down or forced to change their ways.

  4. this is too bad but will probably be less of an issue anyways as digital distribution becomes the norm. wonder what gamestop will do when almost all my games are on a steam or steam-equivalent account? will they do the long fade like blockbuster or will they become a digital presence?

  5. @ XCWarrior:
    GameStop has a clinch on the used game market, nobody can stop them.

    While I personally still don’t have a problem from used game sales, I understand how the developers get the feeling of being cheated. But that could all boil down to several things, developers are very crappy businessmen. They become so anxious to produce their creative “vision” they don’t think to read the fine print on the contract, or try to make a better deal with the publisher. I think they don’t want to learn the business side of gaming because they think it’ll stifle their “creativity”, but it’ll do nothing but make them better game designers, and even businessmen/women.

    I think the other fact that stands on the issue is maybe those games being sold used are simply NOT WORTH $60, maybe not even worth $50 or $40. Nowadays, content has become a very big issue with games, especially with the barrage of DLC, as well as patches to fix bugs that should have been ironed out before the games came out. If consumers see a deal, guess what? They’ll go for it. It absolutely irritates me that game developers are trying to turn consumers who may buy used (their POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS), into some sort of villain. Maybe game publishers and developers should pull support away from GameStop, which will never happen because GameStop has them by the crotch. It all comes down to how the consumer views the value of your product. And from what I see, consumers don’t think your games are worth $60, developers.

    I read Penny Arcade’s stance on the matter, if you want to call it that. Penny Arcade’s Gabe and Tycho are probably millionaires by now, and they rub elbows with people in the industry and get free games as well, so who’s to say they can really make a fair call on the matter?

    These are mere crocodile tears to me, if the industry wants to stay afloat, they need to put out better content, or reduce the price of their games…

  6. Sadly, I support the game publishers on this one. First of all, they deserve the money for what they have worked on to entertain all of us. They spent several years of their lives making that one game to entertain us. Let them get their money. Second, that one time use code is usually for a download item that you can choose to get through a new game for free, or pay the five-ten bucks for it by buying used. Seems like a fair trade. At least they are seeing some money for their work.

    Now I can’t stand gamestop at all. As XCWarrior said. Gamestop likes to charge only two or three dollars less to buy used over new. Why wouldn’t I just spend that extra three bucks and get what ever single use code/exclusive item on a new product?

    On the other hand, I don’t mind used games when you can get a great discount, like a PS2 game you missed out on, for $5. That’s always great as it’s not like the company is manufacturing it.

  7. XCWarrior, why should a used game cost half as much as a new one if it’s still like new? It still has nearly the same amount of value, and you should be able to sell it for that much too. By your logic it is even more idiotic to buy new games than it is to buy a new car. What else drops 50% in value just buy using it a single time?

  8. That said, anyone who buys and sells at GameStop isn’t doesn’t exactly care about their finances. Buy AND sell on Amazon Marketplace and you’ll get fair, market prices for quality used games.

  9. I buy my games new because I like to support the PEOPLE WHO MADE THEM!

  10. Ebay is bigger than gamestop when it comes to used games sales. And lots cheaper. Promise.

  11. I buy my games USED because I CAN’T AFFORD to support the people who made the games. Maybe if they released games for $30 new it would be a different story. By taking away features from games that are used, they would ultimately be CHEATING THE CONSUMER, and after being cheated by a multi-bullion dollar company, I know for one I will never buy from them again. How about if you buy the game new, all DLC is free, but if you buy the game used you have to pay for DLC. I don’t want the damn DLC anyway usually…Sounds win win.

  12. Yeah, the problem is new games are too expensive, and that’s why so many people buy used. And these same execs could fix the problem…

  13. It’s been said before but I’ll say it again….
    Developers, take notice, if some people don’t think your game is worth $50/60, then don’t charge $50/60.

    That’s why I don’t buy any PSP games except for the ones that I got the handheld for, $40 for a handheld game is ridiculous; that’s also why I won’t buy a Square Enix DS game new (why do they think they’re special and can charge +$5?)

  14. I tend to buy some games brand new if I know its definitely gonna be a quality game and doesnt have a through the roof price. On the other hand, if its a high end game, I’m more than likely getting it used for $35 or less. Its not that I don’t wanna support the developers, its that the prices of some of those games are getting rediculously high. games in canada are more than it is in the states. a ps3/xbox360 game is $70 plus the 13% tax in ontario makes it $79.10. if those games were say $50, i’d be supporting those developers more with the purchase of new games. also replay value of the game has a major factor for me. if the game has good replay value, im willing to shovel over some extra dough for it.

  15. Nintendo has lobbied to make used game sales illegal almost from the very beginning.

  16. i wholeheartedyly agree with the way ea has been handling the used game market. It’s true they do get cheated and when gamestop sells a used copy of battlefield 2 for 5 dollars less than a new copy thats just rediculous! if you support a game you should be rewarded, if you don’t give your money to the company who made the game can yo blame them for trying to get SOME money off it?

  17. “Nintendo has lobbied to make used game sales illegal almost from the very beginning.”

    Insecure businessmen, I tell ya.

  18. Having worked for a certain huge game retailer and witnessed their “delightful” business practices first hand, I support any move that helps the game creators and hurts one of the greediest glorified pawn shops on Earth. As has been said before, when you buy a used Nintendo game, you are not Nintendo’s customer. You are Gamestop’s (or whoever’s) customer.

  19. imunity? sites? C’mon, Blake…

  20. Sorry, Mark. Typos fixed. 🙁

  21. I gotta admit, I don’t actually buy a whole lot of Wii or DS games new. The ones I do buy, I’m a HUGE fan of the series, or it looks awesome, and I’ve been meaning to try the series for a while now. But most of the games I do buy aren’t even available in the stores anymore. (A.K.A. GameCube, N64, SNES, GameBoy) While $50 and $60 (and up?) is a ridiculous amount to pay for a crapola new game, (I’m talkin’ to you Maxis >_>) I recall there was a time where games cost $100+, (A.K.A. Action 52 for the NES) and even some atari games. But really, I do agree. You know there is a gross amount of profit through these games, whoever made them. (Oh, and I may be sending a ‘Pick Me Infendo’ Email later today.) I don’t buy a whole lot of DS games, mostly because they’re grossly short (A.K.A. Kirby Squeak Squad) or they just don’t interest me. As to the ‘One time only’ security code doo-hicky, I seem to recall a game doing that called Spore, and it almost destroyed the quality of the game. Mostly because it won’t install the first 5 times. >_> And I agree that GameStop is one of gamings’ bigger scams. Luckily, I don’t go there. I go to my more local, small buisness-y, gaming store.

  22. I feel that some in the industry cheat or expect too much of us. These games go through a lot of development work and time. They’re very expensive to make and thus they want us to buy their game at the msrp of the respective console. MSRP is a deal for almost any video game released today that a player likes. The thing is, not every game is worth that price. The Industry works on a set of values that favor businesses because they are businesses. They’re costs plus a reasonable profit equal our cost. Players view it based upon their own perceived quality and finances. Is the game worth playing? Is the game even a game? Will it be worth $50/$60/$70/$200 to buy this piece of entertainment that I want when I have a list of things that I need?

    The Industry needs to find more ways of lowering the costs for themselves and the cost:value ratio for us. Some of them need to sit down, set a scope for the game that they can actually meet and discuss if they have a $50 game. If they don’t then they can either adjust the pricing of the game and the investment for development appropriately or make the changes necessary to compete. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than making something that wouldn’t pass for a serious homebrew effort on a souped-up N64. It’s hard to say that something like New Super Mario Bros. is more deserving of default msrp as Bioshock. I don’t believe that, but you will rarely get a comparison like that. Instead we’d have Wii Sports vs. Mortal Kombat 9 or something to that effect.

    I think it would also help to do some more demographic research and to increase the awareness and scope of marketing for game development. It’s not enough that Nintendo asked “how else do people want to play”, we should ask what else do people want to play? How much do the more serious folk understandably pay for it? I believe that Sony had a great idea in releasing GT5 as a game broken into pieces. I think it came too early and quite possibly in a form that doesn’t fit the market well enough anyway.

    Developers have always worked within technical restrictions, why not force more financial ones upon them? Ones that don’t move with a goal that’s attainable. Why work on a $50 version of Resident Evil when you can test the market with a $20 product that’s meaty enough to get a response? With sales strong enough to make an on-going serious of the $20 games that would eclipse the profits of the $50 blockbuster that everyone wants to chase after? Episodic gaming like Sam & Max or piecemeal gaming like Sonic 3 & Knuckles or MegaMan could really be the future. A lot of people will disagree with me, but I’m just rephrasing what we have. we essentially have this, it’s just been Blockbusterized.

  23. I think the only used games that should be available are ones that have been stopped being manufactured. Yeah, I don’t have much of a comment for this.

  24. I think that people fail to see the problem with the way used sales are sety up. They share the same shelf-space as new games nearly a week after a game comes out. Gamestop makes huge margins on used game-sales and steers consumers towards used games at the expense of new releases, knowing they have the ability to send back their unsold new copies to the publishers for credit on future purchases. This cuts deeply into the publisher’s profit margin which is shared with developers who create these games. The game publishers have to be very cautious about what they do with their used game sales preventive tactics because Gamestop would cut down on new game sale orders. The retailers also have the console makers in headlock because without the shelf space for the games their consoles would not be sold and no money would be made off licensing. That is why digital distribution is a sticky subject. Just look at the PSP Go. Why would you lose all of your consumers who lack broadband connections and credit cards. Also many still like physical media. The same people who cry hollow tears about developer layoffs forget that this exact business model is what makes game making a risky endeavour for developers and publishers. If you want to buy used fine but understand that you’re feeding into Gamestop’s mouth and are enabling them to screw over the consumers and game makers.

  25. I like the “keep it” option on GameFly. I get a chance to try out a game, then I can pay a discounted price to keep the game and GameFly sends me the package for it.

  26. I hate Gamestop. I can never figure out why the used games are only a few bucks less than the new. I try to avoid buying stuff from them whenever possible. I used to live in a small city where was no place from which to buy used games, but then a vintage video game store opened up one day. I loved going in there and perusing the shelves of old NES, SNES, Genesis, Saturn, Atari 2600, etc. games. I could usually find something to buy on each visit. The guys that ran the place were easy to talk to or get recommendations from, and they probably played each game that was in the store at some point in their life. Then one day a Gamestop opened up and eventually drove them out of town. I hated going in Gamestop. This was circa 2006-2007 (before Wii software was providing Gamestop tons of traffic), and whenever I went in there I always felt like they were looking down on me for browsing in the Nintendo corner in the back, like I wasn’t worthy of being in their store since I couldn’t play HD games or GTA or Halo on my system. Bastards.

    I usually turn to eBay for my used games.

  27. This is ironic. I would guess that the used game market helps to prop up the “new” game sales because owners can resell (or trade) their games to obtain new games coming out. If you get rid of used game sales, then buyers will not have as much money to buy new games. I think it will turn out to be face toward the bottom lowest price with new games. For example, Apple iphone has apps that are dirt cheap because you can’t resell them. The user downloads them once and they are tied to only one owner. Buyers do not have an unlimited amount of money such that they can keep buying $50 to $60 games, so only the elite newer games will be set to that price, and 2nd and 3rd tier games will have a lower price, which is how it should be. Just look at Valve Steam as an example, there is only one owner for the digital copy, it can’t be resold, but have you notice they have some awesome sales on games?

  28. Look, did you ever stop to consider that it’s we gamers who are largely responsible for forcing developers and publishers to take those safe creative bets?
    See, it turns out that gamers don’t exactly like to buy new IPs, unless of course they’ve got a lot of pre-release hype amongst videogame journalists, or have a recognizable license attached to them.
    For example, see Psychonauts, a game that has gained something of a cult following since a bunch of journalists put it on their list of games that nobody played but should have. That game sold around 400,000 copies when it was on store shelves. Then there’s Modern Warfare 2, a game that had a lot of PC gamers up in a tizzy before it released. That game has managed to sell somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 million copies in its time on the market even in spite of that. It’s a sequel to a long-running series, whereas Psychonauts was not. And you wonder why developers tend to stick with those safe bets now? Really?

    Oh, and those bloated budgets? Yeah, those are our fault too. See, in case you haven’t been paying attention, we gamers demand that each new generation of consoles be more powerful than the last generation’s console offerings. Just look at how much backlash the Wii has endured from gamers outside of this site for not upping the ante in the horsepower department if you want proof of that. Well, with greater power comes increased development costs, which brings me to the next point.

    That $10 HD surcharge? It’s not. It’s a charge that’s meant to help developers and publishers recoup increased development costs. You know those fancy graphics and wide-open game worlds you people have come to expect in your games? They come at a cost, and unfortunately we have to foot the bill. Hey, y’all really have nobody to blame but yourselves for that, so whipe those tears away and learn to deal with it. Besides, if folks weren’t so clueless, they’d know that it’s not historically unprecedented for games to have cost us sixty bucks and upwards in generations past, and that’s back when the dollar stretched a whole lot further than it does now too.

    As for used game sales, maybe they’re only starting to make a difference to developers and publishers now, what with the weak economy and increased development costs. The world doesn’t exist in a vaccuum dude, nor does the videogame industry in particular, so what was true even five years ago may not be now. Assuming that the used game market doesn’t hurt the industry now because it didn’t hurt it before is the worst kind of logical fallacy. Maybe it’s more likely that what was once enough to sustain the industry just isn’t any longer. None of us know for sure, and that’s sort of the point I’m trying to make here. None of us really know how used sales are effecting the industry, and what’s worse is that very few gamers seem to care to find out. On the whole, gamers just bitch about game prices and make demands of developers, but wether or not their complaints are valid or their demands reasonable is of no concern to that lot. I can’t be the only one who finds that infantile and pathetic.

    In regards to the first-sale doctrine, I don’t think they’re trying to repeal our right to sell our games, but rather, developers and publishers are trying to figure out a way to make buying used less attractive. As someone who likes to avoid being a hypocrite when he can help it, I can’t see my way to being too bothered by that. It wouldn’t keep me from selling my games if I choose to after all, so why should it?

    As for your analogies, besides being comically unrealistic, you don’t typically expect a used house or car to be in the same condition that a new house or car would be in. If what THQ and EA are doing takes off and becomes an industry-wide standard, then you’ll just have to expect when you buy a used game that it’s not going to function the same way that a new copy would, and as would be the case with that used house or car, you’ll have to determine if the money you’d save buying used would be worth the compromises.

    I have one question for you. Why do folks think that developers should treat the secondhand market the same way that they’d treat folks who buy new copies of their games anyway? If you bought it used you didn’t buy it from them, and had you, you’d have got access to the full suite of features, so why should they care about you at all? I don’t see why they should. These measures don’t effect the folks who buy new, and it’s those purchases which matter to them. If you buy used knowing that you’re getting less, isn’t that a problem of your own making?

    Anyway, if you’re only going to present a one-sided, largely ignorant viewpoint on a given topic, you should probably refrain from calling anyone ignorant, insecure nerds. It just tends to draw attention to your own failings when you do crap like that.

  29. @ Gern

    As someone on a tight budget who has managed to accumulate a stack of about 35 games over the course of the last year without buying used or trading a single one in, I’m not really sure that doing away with the used market would necessarily have that effect. If anything, it’ll make folks more cautious about their purchases, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that the more compulsive and obsessed amongst us tend to be irresponsible with their purchases, so anything that might help curtail all the whining gamers do about “getting suckered” into buying crap games is alright by me. 😛

  30. If it isn’t a ‘sixty dollar game’ then the price will get reduced.

    Basically the price gets set at what they want to sell it for. Then when it stops selling at that price it gets lowered. Then when it stops selling at that price it gets lowered again.

    Until finally it reaches the $18.77 Wal-Mart pile where those that refuse to spend $60 on an overpriced video game will still not buy it because they never really had any intention of ever buying it in the first place.

  31. Nice article, good amount of important information.

Leave a Reply

Lost Password

Sign Up

%d bloggers like this: