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No Publishers, You Don’t Deserve A Penny Off of Used Game Sales

Gamestop Used Games

There’s a lot of talk in the games community these days about used games and who should profit from the second hand market. Personally, I never buy used games. If it isn’t a game I pre-order to get on release day, but want to play, I simply wait until the price drops at Amazon. Most of the time, it doesn’t take more than a couple of months before the price dips to $40 or less. That’s usually when I’ll jump on it, although a lot of times I’ll wait until it either goes on sale or gets another price drop down to the $20 to $30 range.

Buying used, especially for newer releases, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Maybe if a friend or someone you know is selling the game directly to you, or you’re purchasing it through ebay or some seller on Amazon and can score the used game for at least $10 (preferably more than that though) cheaper than a new copy. Buying used from a big seller like GameStop or Best Buy doesn’t make much sense to me at all because you aren’t saving much of anything.

For example, let’s look at God of War: Ascension. This is a game that came out in March. You can buy it brand new right now for $39.99 at Amazon, GameStop, and Best Buy. This is a Sony game that includes a multiplayer mode, so it does have an online pass that is needed to play the game online and that’s $10 (if bought used). You can buy Ascension used from Amazon (Warehouse, so Prime shipping) for $29.67. If you know you don’t care anything about the multiplayer then that’s a good used deal. However, if you think you’re going to want to play online, you might as well buy a new copy for the same price that buying used + the online pass will be.

At GameStop, you can buy a used copy of Ascension for $35.99. Even if you have zero desire to play God of War online, you might as well just go ahead and buy a new copy. That’s not as bad as Best Buy though, where you can buy a used copy for $49.99… yes, $10 more than the price of a new copy. And Best Buy is only going to give you a $12 store credit for your used copy of the game. No one is ever going to buy that used copy for $10 more than the price of a new game. (Note here that both GameStop and Best Buy used price is the online listed, so could easily vary in a store.)

Scrooge McDuck

And that brings us to the big question of who should profit off the sale of used games. Publishers certainly think that they are somehow entitled to get their share of the money, and that’s why some adopted the $10 online pass scheme and why EA and the other big ones are no doubt big fans of Microsoft’s DRM and once-a-day required Internet connection for the Xbox One.  Then there are those who think the developers should get a cut, although I’m not sure if people are confusing the developers for the publishers or seriously think the developers themselves deserve to be getting paid for used game sales.

I’m not a GameStop fan; I never shop there. I did buy a PSN card and Uncharted 3 Season Pass from their online store back when Amazon wasn’t selling PSN cards. That’s the extent of my shopping at GameStop for this entire console generation. I hate their used game system of charging basically the price of a new game and not really giving much credit in return, but obviously they make enough money from it that plenty of folks like trading in their games to GameStop and using that credit to get new games (either new or used).

The only people who should get any of the money from the sale of used games are the retailers selling them. Sorry publishers, and developers, you don’t deserve a penny from the sale of a used game. You have already been paid when the new copy was purchased. The retailers are the ones assuming the risk of taking on the used game, even if it isn’t much of a risk. In the above God of War example, Best Buy will give you $12 in store credit for your used copy (assuming it’s in good condition). That’s $12 you’re going to have to spend at Best Buy, so they aren’t really losing anything. But will they sell a used copy of Ascension for $49.99? I certainly hope no one is dumb enough to pay that price, but I suppose stranger things have happened. It’s still on Best Buy (and GameStop) if the used game doesn’t sell.

I really can’t even understand the logic publishers and their defenders would have in suggesting that they “deserve” any cut in the sale of used games. It’s a completely ridiculous notion.

I purchase a game for $60, and I dislike it. If I let the game sit on a shelf never to be played, do the publishers care? No, I bought a new copy and they got paid. I dislike the game so much that I give it to a friend freely, do the publishers care? Sure, some do assuming I input the online pass code. They seem to think that the friend who got the game for free should have to pay $10 for the privilege to play the game online. That doesn’t make any sense, because it isn’t like more people are logging on and requiring more resources.

I decide to take this crappy game to GameStop and get a few bucks credit towards another game (a new copy here). GameStop puts the title out used for almost the price of a new game. It may or may not sell; it certainly isn’t going to be an instant turnaround. Maybe they lower the price of the used game to quite a bit cheaper than the new game. Someone walks in, sees it, thinks the box art looks cool, and decides to get it used. Why should anyone other than the retailer get a penny off of this purchase? The guy or gal buying this used copy may have never had any thought of buying the game new, and so the publishers haven’t “lost a customer” because this person who would have never bought it new is suddenly playing it.

Hell, the guy who bought it used might end up liking it. He may possibly end up becoming a fan of developers, or the series if it’s a franchise, and because of it he’ll be a lot more inclined and interested in picking up a new sequel. It happens.

There are those who will say “but GameStop is making so much money and developers are closing and publishers are going out of business.” Studios are closing and publishers are going out of business, true, but it isn’t because of used game sales. It’s because of poor business decisions. It’s because of long development times and throwing tons of money at a game and getting angry when it doesn’t hit some magically profit goal or a meaningless score on that horrible site known as Metacritic.

Here’s a tip for publishers: Start making better games with smaller budgets. This idea that every title has to be “AAA” and has to be appealing to every type of gamer has to stop. Not everyone is going to want to play a horror game. But guess what? There is a market for horror games. EA had that with Dead Space. What happened there? They turned it into an action series and angered many of the fans the franchise had built up, and everyone is then supposed to be surprised when it didn’t sell like hotcakes. The people who weren’t interested in it when it was a horror game aren’t suddenly going to flock to it just because it has multiplayer, or later co-op and gets turned into a cinematic blockbuster of a third person shooter. Throwing money at a game doesn’t mean it’s going to sell a lot, it just means you aren’t content with what fan base you do have.

If you want to make more money, just make better games with smaller budgets. It really isn’t that hard. Just recently Techland developed Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. That game, which is a $15 downloadable title, is better than any retail Techland game that I can recall; better than any $60 Call of Juarez title, or Dead Island, etc. Did Gunslinger have a big budget? I’m going to assume no, and yet that $15 downloadable title is vastly superior to every single retail game I’ve played this year with the exception of BioShock Infinite. Publishers, if you don’t want used games being sold, fund smaller quality projects like Gunslinger and sell them digitally for $15. Quit throwing hundreds of millions of dollars towards so-called “AAA” games that you think will have mass appeal that end up failing and getting mad because someone might have bought it used.

Publishers have a myriad of ways to make money off of games; some of which I’m not a fan of, and some that don’t bother me. Does any game really need multiple collectors editions ranging from $80 to a couple of hundred? No, but of course there are plenty of folks who have to have that cheap statue, or flag, or deck of cards, or belt buckle, or art book, or digital content. Fine, sell as many as you can. In-game content exclusive to one retailer is stupid and a trend that needs to stop, but I understand it. Sell your DLC season passes for $20 to $40, that’s fine too. If you want to make day one DLC, that’s okay too (unless it’s on the disc DLC locked behind a pay wall; that’s not cool).

Unlike a lot of my fellow gamers, I don’t have a problem with microtransactions being in a $60 retail game. It’s smart business, and frankly I can’t believe it isn’t much more prevalent. It becomes a problem if it affects online play by giving someone an advantage, but if people want to spend a couple of bucks to change the color of their outfit or equip a hat, that is their prerogative and I don’t much care if the publishers bleed those individuals dry.

I understand that the publishing companies and the developers don’t exist simply to provide games for gamers. They are businesses, and the primary function of any business is to make money. And despite what some people believe, corporations aren’t evil merely because they want to make as much money as possible. There simply is no such thing as “too much profit.” However, good businesses adapt to the market and the actions of consumers. Throwing money and hundreds of people at a game isn’t going to make that game sell a ton of copies, and it simply isn’t good business. Some games just aren’t going to sell a lot of copies and become a big blockbuster franchise just because you pour money and resources into it and dumb it down to try and make it appeal to everyone. You just end up alienating those who otherwise would have liked it as a niche title.

Likewise, trying to prevent or get a cut of used game sales isn’t good business sense either. Here’s the thing publishers, used game sales are good for the games industry. It’s good for the retailers, it’s good for the gamers, and yes it is good for the publishers and the developers. Many gamers who trade their games in for store credit turn around and use that money to purchase a new game. If someone comes in after the fact and is able to pick up that used copy cheaper than they could a new one, so what? It’s not hurting you. Here’s a scenario for you:

Gamer A walks into GameStop and buys Fuse new. Gamer A plays it, finishes it, and really didn’t like it all that much. Gamer A doesn’t care about trading in his/her used games though, so the disc stays in its case sitting on his/her shelf to never be played again.

Does EA care in that scenario that the game isn’t being played? No, the new copy has already been sold to Gamer A for $60. They may be disappointed that Gamer A isn’t likely to spend any more money on the game through DLC, but they’re satisfied nonetheless. Give EA $60 and they won’t care if you do nothing but break the disc.

Gamer B walks into Best Buy and buys Injustice: Gods Among Us new. Gamer B plays it, finishes it, and really didn’t like it all that much. Gamer B decides he/she really wants to play The Last of Us next, but he or she has already spent a few hundred dollars this year on video games. So he/she decide to take that copy of Injustice that they paid $60 for, along with that copy of God of War: Ascension they spent $60 on, and take them to Best Buy. Combined, Gamer B gets $34.50 for the two games that released this year that he or she spent over $120 on. He or she uses that $34.50 to put towards a purchase of a new copy of The Last of Us.

In this scenario, Gamer B has traded in two games so that he or she can purchase another new game. This gamer spent over $120 on those two games, but isn’t going to play them anymore and decides to recoup some of that by trading them in and getting $34.50. Here’s the thing publishers, $60 games add up and there are tons of great games releasing that gamers want to play. Money doesn’t grow on trees though, so the average gamer can’t run out and spend $60 every time a new game he or she wants to play comes out.

In that scenario, Best Buy provided a service for the customer. They bought those two games for $34.50, which allowed the customer to turn around and only have to spend $25.49 for a new copy of The Last of Us ($60 is still being spent on the game, and it is still the customer losing money here because $85.50 of that $120 they spent on the previous two games is gone forever). Best Buy has now assumed the responsibility of having to resell those two used games. Right now, online, they have God of War Ascension used listed for $49.99 (again that is $10 higher than what they have a new copy listed at) and Injustice listed at $47.99 ($2 cheaper than a new copy). Is Best Buy likely to sell a used copy of either at those prices? No, especially not God of War. But, if they do, then good for them and neither publisher deserves one cent from that sale. It’s between Gamer B and Best Buy, and then Best Buy and Gamer C (who bought one of those used copies). It has nothing do with Warner Brothers or Sony.

Why don’t they deserve anything? Because they’ve ALREADY been paid. If you buy the game new and never play it, who cares? It has already been sold. There is no difference between one player keeping the game and doing nothing with it versus another gamer buying it new and then giving it away or selling it. You aren’t entitled to more money just because somebody else got their hands on it. Stop pretending that used games are hurting you and start making better games, on cheaper budgets that maybe players will like well enough to not trade in. Until then, be happy with the folks buying your usually overpriced $60 game and quit worrying about those who may buy it used. Of course if it’s a somewhat unique niche title that sells well and gets good press, we all know you’re just going to start throwing money at it and change things up and wonder why it isn’t selling 10 million copies.

You don’t see book publishers crying because of a second hand market, or the used DVDs and Blu-rays, or clothes, or cars, or any other kind of used market. You aren’t special video game publishers; you do not deserve to double dip just because someone buys a game used. And don’t even say “you don’t own that software.” If it’s a game on a disc that I bought that plays offline, then yeah I own it and I’m free to play it, give it away, sell it, or break it. And if I choose to take it to GameStop and get some store credit towards another game, new or used, then GameStop is 100% entitled to make as much money as they can get off of that used game without you getting a single penny.

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About Gary Smith (995 Articles)
I'm Gary Smith, aka "PatriotPaine." I'm the Editor-in-Chief of VortexEffect.net. I'm usually posting news and reviews, and doing all the back end stuff as well. I like to play games, watch movies, wrestling, and college football (Roll Tide Roll).

11 Comments on No Publishers, You Don’t Deserve A Penny Off of Used Game Sales

  1. I agree with a lot of your points here, especially about not every game needing to be a big budget, AAA titles. And the last paragraph really sums up what I’ve always found confusing about the games industry worrying about “used” when other industries don’t.

    I think if you look at the average game, most of us are eager to purchase many games as soon as they are released, full-price. We also share games and rent games to spread the love and, you know, stay afloat financially ourselves, but I like to think most of us also respect the industry and give a hell of a lot of our money to the industry because we love games. Not being familiar with all the stats, this is just my personal attitude based on how my gamer friends and I are… but I agree that used games should not be the focus of what is really a bigger, different problem about the quality and overblown budgets of games, as you said.

    Like

    • Definitely agree. I’ve given way too much money to the video game industry over the years. I always buy new, and pre-order a good bit of my games (if its a game from a developer I respect and know puts out quality like Naughty Dog and Rockstar, or a franchise that I love).

      They’d be better if they scaled back some games and targeted more niche audiences rather than trying to take a game that had appeal to one group and then expand it to target everyone. Put out the big AAA blockbusters, but a publishers catalog should have way more smaller downloadable titles like Gunslinger or Blood Dragon.

      Like

  2. Wow what a long but great article. I have my own experiences with Gamestop and I hate them but I ended up trading my Xbox 360 in to them for pretty much 100 bucks and another 20 for the games between them and Best Buy. For a system you spend so much money on, you really get ripped off if you try to sell it for even close to the money you spent on it. Which is why buying a video game console isn’t a good money investment but a great personal enjoyment investment. Until there is a sure way to get decent money back for your games, companies like Gamestop can screw you as they see fit.

    In terms of who deserves the slice of the money from used games, I think it should be the resellers whoever they are friends, a store, etc., not the people who produced or developed the game. They had no involvement in the sales process. In fact they made their money on the original investment,

    Like

    • Consoles can be a good money investment, but that’s only when they’re first released and if they’re big sellers. Of course they lose their value once millions and millions of people have them and stores have no trouble keeping new ones on their shelves. Still though, you could probably have sold your 360 through Ebay or Amazon and gotten more than $100 for it.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Like

  3. I worked at Gamestop for 5 years, and never made a dime over minimum wage. The only reason I go to Gamestop now is to trade-in old games towards a new one, which most of the time ends up covering the entire cost. Even though it can cover the cost for one new game, I end selling 5 games that I once paid 60 bucks for. I also think that the re-sellers should get the profits from used-games, it makes no sense for the companies to make money from them.

    I love me some Amazon.

    Like

    • Amazon is the greatest thing to happen to the sell of physical video games. I buy all of my games new from Amazon, as well as any additional accessories and PSN cards/Plus subscriptions. Tax free and free release day shipping FTW!

      Like

  4. Bravo and amen…. what’s next are thrift shops and people who sell books, movies and music at garage sales going to have to keep a ledger and send the original publishers royalties off their 50 cent take ins? I’m sure MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice would be in favor of such a law being enacted.

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  5. The games industry loves to shove the blame for its failings onto everyone but itself. I’m kinda hoping they get burnt bad by this next console generation, and are forced to actually rethink there aproach.

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    • Agreed. When a game has to sell over 5 million copies (at $60, which is $300,000,000) to be a success, the publisher should know they’ve done screwed up somewhere.

      Like

  6. Epic read, and you’re pretty spot-on with all of your points. I used to buy a lot of used games, but as you said, it’s mostly pointless now. Just wait a month or two (or even a couple weeks) and you can buy any game new for $40 or less. I don’t know if that’s partly because we are reaching the end of this console cycle or if that’s just the direction the industry is headed, but it works out great for us gamers.

    When I’m done with a game nowadays, I sell it on Amazon. It blows my mind that people still trade in their games to Gamestop anymore. I tend to buy games new for $30-40, finish them and then flip them for pretty much what I paid. Sometimes I even make a profit — I bought Tomb Raider for $30 then sold it to Amazon a month later for $54 thanks to one of their crazy promotions. That’s not going to happen with Gamestop.

    Like

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