Psychonauts and the Tragedy of Used Games

Andy Chalk

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Nov 12, 2002
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Psychonauts and the Tragedy of Used Games

Yahtzee Croshaw called me a craven douche [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation/1368-Zero-Punctuation-Psychonauts] last week because I chose not to purchase the 2005 action-adventure game Psychonauts when it was released. My first instinct was to defend my honor by telling him about all the other weird games I've bought over the years (got a copy of Bad Mojo on your shelf, Yahtzee?), but I decided instead that maybe my energies would be better directed toward discovering what all the uproar was about.

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Andrew Armstrong

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Aug 21, 2007
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Good writeup, more balanced then the discussion on the IGDA forums about "evil second hand games" which most put down.

You did kind of mention, but its worth noting, that a lot of second hand games may not even be available anymore. Who prints PS1, N64, Genesis games anymore? Who publishes a PC games which are over 10, 15 years old? I picked up Fallout 1, it seems the original UK release (big box and all) from Oxfam, and I doubt I could find it for sale anywhere first hand. I must admit I've not got around to playing it just yet however, but along with that I've not got around to playing System Shock 2 (Budget box!) and "The Ultima Collection" (I think 1 through 7?) which were at the same place. Notably the next time I went in all the other ones (there were not many) were gone anyway, so I think I saved something that day for a few quid :)

Of course, these might be now/soon available from GameTap or something. Again, if that service turns off, its kinda a circular problem then.

Remove second hand games and they'll become something hat might be impossible to play after a certain period of time, devastating for all the reasons you put in the article, making the industry much more shortsighted then it is already regarding technological advances. No company lasts forever (or rather keeps a service going forever in the same state...) which makes my copies of Half Life 2 (even though I own the DVD copy!) and things on Steam a bit dicey when it comes to looking 20-30 years into the future and installing them, and my BioShock game possibly impossible to play if SecureROM isn't around either, and no alternative is provided to stop the "online authentication" with servers that might not exist.

Looking at it from any kind of historical point of view, people in the future might be thinking "what on earth where they doing making it impossible to actually play the game nowadays?", nevermind lacking hardware support or other technical problems :(

That, or they'll be complaining for the fact they don't want to play the same games on the 10th iteration of a "virtual console".

Second hand games, yep, can be a good thing as well as what is perceived at a glance as a bad one.
 

Andy Chalk

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The main reason I go to EB anymore is the used section. I have a pretty good idea what games I'm going to buy these days, and given that the nearest store is nearly an hour's drive from here - one way - it would be a hell of a lot easier to just mail order this stuff from Amazon. But mail order outfits can't offer a used section, or the excitement (God help me, I'm such a nerd) of browsing and making a great discovery. I own a lot of games, and not that terribly many are pre-owned, but the ones that are have absolutely resulted in more money spent on other games. We've been fortunate so far that the industry hasn't done anything beyond the occasional bout of pissing and moaning about lost revenues and I really don't see it getting beyond that. But even just that attitude mystifies me. Pre-owned games are a fantastic thing for the industry. Or am I really missing something?
 

Tom Edwards

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Oct 3, 2006
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The only point here that isn't handled on balance better by demos (that balance being a shorter experience verses free and available any time on the web) is "rebating" older games in a series for new ones, and that completely ignores the damaging side of the equation.

With that said, trading won't stop until physical boxes are a thing of the past, and even then people will (unwisely, as they have no legal protection with today's laws) try to transfer their digital copies.
 

J.theYellow

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For most game retail stores, used games represent the only profit besides used consoles.

Let that sink in. New games are the loss-leader now, for the big-box stores like GameSpot/EBGames, GameCrazy, Hastings, etc. Wal-Mart is the exception. The implication is that there's little to no incentive for these stores, which for the longest time have been the real puppet-masters of the games industry, have an ever-dwindling incentive to encourage *any* new games being made, let alone any with fresh ideas or concepts.
 

Andrew Armstrong

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I'm pretty sure games make a profit, certainly in the UK there is a reason GAME still stocks a huge amount of new releases of the big consoles.

And the right of resale in many countries is something that might have to be taken into account for "digital" products, if it is correctly tested in a court of law or somesuch. Not sure about American laws but I am sure in the EU you might find it hard to get away with a shrug of the shoulders and "you brought it, you can't transfer it, because, um, its digital...not physical...um".
 

J.theYellow

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Costik has more on the subject [http://www.costik.com/weblog/2007/02/are-retailers-actually-screwed.html], in reaction to the online retailer DVD Empire bailing on the sale of games entirely, because they were either too small a margin or losing money.

New games bring people into the stores. The real money is made being a pawn shop.
 

Virgil

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The plan to compensate for used games is digital downloads, whether they're through additional content or entire games. For example, if you purchase WarHawk through the PS3 network, it is permanently and irrevocably tied to the account you purchased the game with. The same goes for Xbox Live games, though as of yet they haven't offered full, retail-level games for purchase. Sure, it may be legally challenged in the future, but that's how it is right now (same for DRM'd music downloads, etc).

Now, if you run out to the store and pick up Oblivion for the Xbox 360 for $15, you can bring it home, pop it into your console, and find that not only are there a dozen small downloads (at a few dollars each), but the Shivering Isles expansion is also available for download (and not via retail). The person who owned the game before you may have purchased all of them, and completed them, and now you get to optionally buy them again using the same copy of the game.

Used Games + Digital Downloads = Profit!

Also, on a different yet slightly related note, Psychonauts is available for download on Steam. Immediately available, yet completely non-transferrable :)
 

Hengst2404

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Aug 29, 2007
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While I applaud you thinking outside of the proverbial box on this topic, I still feel you miss the point of this issue.

Today, one need only go to Steam to pick up an affordable copy of Psychonauts, a copy which will send profits to the folks who made that great game. In fact, I believe I read that Gametap was in fact making this title available to their subscribers. There are 2 easy to use outlets for buying the game and helping the developers financially.

While pre-played games may create more of a demand for a developer's product, it could also contribute to the lack of profits which killed the developer to begin with.

Thanks to platforms like Steam and Gametap, we are seeing a way in which games can stay out on the marketplace, priced competitively and everybody wins. Ebgames makes the majority of their money from pre-played games and often the gamers, especially the kids, sell their games for pennies on the dollar to buy new games. Ebgames is not really an innocent in this story at all. In fact, I refuse to purchase and pre-played games from the whole Gamestop Empire for the simple fact that their prices aren't all fair for the people selling and buying the games.
 

Albedo777

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Aug 24, 2006
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*coughcough* You can purchase it via Steam, Gametap and, I believe, Direct2Drive. Just like Hengst2404 said.
 

Andy Chalk

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Nov 12, 2002
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Steam may be great if you have the pipe to make use of it: I do not. I cannot describe to you how frustrating it was to play Half-Life 2 - well, not to play it, so much, as to just get it running. It was bad enough that when I got Ep1, I disconnected my entire rig and drove it into town just so I could connect to a DSL line for updates, patches and other assorted Steam bullshit.

And an injection of personal bias: I collect games. Digital distribution is nice, it's convenient, I have no doubt that in some form it's the wave of the future, but for me, if I ain't got a box, I ain't happy. Some people want to play Psychonauts; I want to own it.

Both these points of view put me in a minority. But EB and GAME continue to grow and do business, so it's safe to assume the old-fashioned content delivery services will be with us for awhile yet. So why not make the most of it?
 

Albedo777

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Aug 24, 2006
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Okay...then how about amazon.com [http://www.amazon.com/Majesco-MAJESCO-Psychonauts-Windows/dp/B0008134P4/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2/105-1456280-6905266?ie=UTF8&s=videogames&qid=1188401023&sr=8-2] that has it new for $7.97? You'll own the game, have your physical copy and dodging the used game problem.

I just brought it up because it seemed like a way of justifying it to yourself why you shouldn't purchase it instead of actually playing the gem.
 

Joe

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I'm just not sure how you can call used games a "problem." Are used cars problems for GM or Nissan? Secondary markets like this open up all the time. It's the responsibility of publishers to find ways to profit off of them.

In the car situation, manufacturers still make money because there's always people who will buy new cars (and I'll go out on a limb and say the same about games) and by getting into certified pre-owned cars, which keep their value better because they're serviced regularly at a company dealership. Obviously, it's not an ideal situation for game publishers, but if car companies can figure out ways to adapt to a market, an industry that prides itself on being forward-thinking and cutting edge should have no problem coming up with solutions.

And it's done reasonably well. Digital distribution is a great alternative for most people. Assuming they own a PC and don't mind giving up a physical representation of what it is they're buying. Personally, I get a bit wonky on the latter.
 

Russ Pitts

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May 1, 2006
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I love and hate this debate. But here's what I think about the situation:

First, the availability of a used title assumes that someone bought it at least once. In which case, the company behind it has been compensated. Hooray!

Now, you can say that buying a used game is bad because it deprives the developer of the revenue they'd have gotten if you'd bought it new. Which is sad. Boo.

But there are some folks who simply will not pay new prices. So they wouldn't have bought the game new anyway. So they're served by the option to buy used and get to play games they couldn't afford otherwise. Hooray! And since the original purchaser has finished with the game, they're helped by being able to offload product they've paid for, but have no further use for. WooHoo! The merchant is a middle man, who makes money from being able to provide the transaction. So they also win. Out of sight!

Does anyone lose in this scenario? Well, no, not really. The game was purchased by party A, at which point it became their property. They decide to sell it to party B, which is totally within their rights, and party C facilitates that transaction. No laws broken, no one stolen from, nothing wrong here. Awesome!

Granted, there are, perhaps, some folks who buy used, who might have bought new, and this probably hurts the developers. OK. So this is a little bad, from the point of view of Mr. Developer. So what? I call this "the cost of doing business." You can just as easily say they have a right to be angry at their competitors for making games that are awesomer than theirs and stealing their business. Or that they should file a lawsuit against "outside" for making a place where people will go and not play games at all. Bullshit.

The only solution is to make transferring a game impossible, which is a thousand kinds of dumb. Treating your customers as if you expect them to be thieves does not send a message that you are worthy of their trust and loyalty. See: the music industry for a clear example of this.

To the developers and publishers I say this: make good games and work hard to ensure they're affordable. The rest will sort itself out. Free market? Helloo?
 

Andrew Armstrong

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Aug 21, 2007
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Your steam methods don't take into account games which are out of print or not even on the PC (which everyone is calling a dead market!), and noting the dial-up problem is a large one too. Glad that wasn't missed.

Owning a game in a box, rather then getting it on steam or whatever, is something lots of collectors and normal people like too, just like movies. Like I said, its okay to trust them to play it this week, but what about in 10 years? in 20? 30? 50? 100? Can my children who might inherit my collections of games play them? will they be locked down and unavailable? (perfect for the companies, terrible for archivists, libraries, and I am sure against the law in many places too).

Also; J. You might be right about the pawn shop mentality but I am sure some game stores make a profit of games, I am not sure about America but the UK I am sure Virgin, HMV and similar places wouldn't stock games if they never sold (since they are primarily DVD and music sellers). It's not right to blanket the problem of course.
 
Jul 17, 2007
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Andrew Armstrong said:
Also; J. You might be right about the pawn shop mentality but I am sure some game stores make a profit of games, I am not sure about America but the UK I am sure Virgin, HMV and similar places wouldn't stock games if they never sold (since they are primarily DVD and music sellers). It's not right to blanket the problem of course.
Well that depends if they feel like games is enough of a draw to try and sell you other stuff while you're there. One theory is you stock items that you make no to little profit on, in order to try and hawk stuff that you make lots of profit on. Movie theaters are great example of this where they make much less money on the films in the hopes they can sell you overpriced food (at least in the US). Games are just one of many ways to get people in the store. This also serves branding purposes as well, being in the store is making customers aware of the store.
 

Hengst2404

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I am not sure this issue is actually a serious issue, more just a matter of opinion, I suppose. I am not as concerned about a company not getting revenue on the re-sales, as that game has already turned a profit for the company. Perhaps my real issue is with the way Gamestop has cornered the market and profiteers on us.

Then again, I have yet to read about them forcing somebody to see their game at gun point, it is always a matter of choice. much like the used car analogy, even if you have a mint car and trade it in, they will never give you its full value. The re-selling market is a re-seller's market.

If I do re-sell my games, I try to use ebay or half.com to avoid getting nickle and dimed. Having had time to consider this article this morning, I think I have retracted my initial concerns.
 

J.theYellow

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I have an Xbox 360 with a HD, two weeks old. I expect I'll be spending Points eventually on downloadable games, but I've already grabbed a boatload of demos. If I could have bought the Xbox version of P'nauts off Xbox Live Arcade for $12, I would have. As it is, I didn't want another copy of the PC version.

hawksdr said:
Well that depends if they feel like games is enough of a draw to try and sell you other stuff while you're there. One theory is you stock items that you make no to little profit on, in order to try and hawk stuff that you make lots of profit on.
And that is why I called it a "loss leader." I doubt the profit is much more than marginal on new games, but even if it isn't, the used games are worth way more.
 

Hengst2404

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Now that is, I think the true key for gaming, it to simply have a service, like Live, allow you to download any of their backwards-compatible games to your 360. I imagine games like Psychonauts, Breakdown and Panzer Dragoon Orta would find new life in that world.