On the Subject of Used Games
10/08/26 at 20:09 EST

Yeah, it's been months since my last post, and x interesting events have transpired since. Par for the course.

An interesting subject crossed my attention today, spawned yesterday morning on the website Penny-Arcade, regarding the ethics behind used games. I've been seeing some interesting and valid arguments from both sides, but can't shake the feeling that most people are missing the point.

The general topic in a nutshell is, "Is the purchase of used (video) games bad? From a developer's perspective, is there any difference between a consumer buying a game used versus simply pirating it?"

No, and no. That's the short answer, as I draw it from my own perspective.

When someone buys a video game used, the developer sees no profit. This is, in most cases, an undisputed truth. There are edge cases, of course. For example, if I buy a game used, the developer makes no money. If I really like the game, and buy DLC for that game, suddenly the developer has made indirect profit from my purchase of a used game. But barring these edge cases, developers for the most part do not see a profit from the re-selling of video games.

From the developer's viewpoint, there is also little to no difference between a game pirate and a consumer of second-hand games. We can establish similarities about the gamer in both situations:

-The gamer has an interest in the product
-The gamer is not willing to pay full price for the product

Now, the second point still draws on some assumptions. It's entirely possible that someone can value the game at the full release price, but just hates the publisher or certain practices the publisher engages in (for example, Securom). Those assumptions aside, I'd like to draw attention to the first point: The gamer has an interest in the product.

There is more to appreciating someone's efforts and creativity than simply monetary validation. Not every artist paints a masterpiece to cut a profit measured in dollars. Video games are an expression of artistic creativity in the same way that music and artwork are - both of which, I need not remind you, are elements in video games. The more someone comes to appreciate the efforts of another, the more he or she will want to support those efforts. Drawing single-mindedly back to the subject of monetary gain (the primary focus of the gaming industry, as it is an industry like any other) there are two major economic forces at work: the consumer market, and the potential consumer market.

The consumer market is, plain and simple, those who are buying games new. They support the developers because there is a sufficient level of trust involved that the developer will deliver the expected level of quality. The consumer already believes s/he will get his/her money's worth. Someone who buys a game used puts a lower value on the game by weighing the costs with the associated risk and uncertainty of enjoyment. The value this has to the developer exists in the building of trust between the consumer and the developer. If the used game consumer thoroughly enjoys the product, s/he will have an increased interest in that developer's other products, both past and future. This can also result in word-of-mouth transmission of interest which leads to other people who may consider buying the product, thus expanding the potential consumer market.

You can split hairs all you want about the differences and similarities between people who pirate games, people who buy games used, people who borrow games, and people who play a single game together, but the only commonalities that are certain are that they have an interest in the game.

I can't draw this to a close, however, without exposing my own bias. The last time I purchased a non-digital video game new was Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days, and that was half a year ago. There are two factors at work contributing to this.

1 - I'm cheap. More often than not, these days games do not feel they are worth at least 60 dollars. In the case of Disgaea 2, there were multiple factors which pushed me to buy new - one, RosenQueen was having a package-deal sale on the game, so I was able to get the game directly from the manufacturer for a low price of about 35 bucks, and it included several other nick-knacks with it, some of which I make more use of than the game itself. So the price tag was equal to or less than my valuation of the product. As a side, I actually pirated the game in advance of purchasing it, due in part because UMDs are a horrible media form, and also in part that my PSP firmware was incompatible with the UMD version of the game and I had no intentions of changing it. There's also that more noble motive of brand trust/loyalty - I love every Disgaea game I've played. Especially for a small-name publisher, NIS produces exceptional-quality products. My copy of Disgaea 2 is still sealed, and it will likely remain that way.

2 - Scarcity. If you find a Squenix retailer selling copies of Final Fantasy 3 SNES cartridges, you let me know. Most of the games I buy these days are from the mid-90s and earlier. I'm aware that Atari is something of an exception - you can still order Atari 2600 games from the manufacturer new. But in that situation, factor 1 takes precedence over factor 2 - I'd much rather pay 3 dollars a game than 30.

To wrap this up at last, I think I'm going to try to summarize what I've been saying, as I am aware that my written communication skills leave something to be desired (unless what you desire is a misunderstanding). There is more to the production of video games than immediate revenue.


It just occurred to me that I forgot to mention how purchasing a used game is essentially recycling. And we all know recycling is a good thing.
Tagged under: gaming
1 comment(s) | Leave a comment

Comment by user Adam
at 10/08/27 at 10:07 EST

I'm reminded of when I purchased Disgaea 3 from a local Gametraders store. I, of course, bought the game immediately, but they had several copies on the shelves with a couple of used copies for about $30 AU less than the $100 new copies. I spent several minutes thinking over if I should buy the new copy of the game or the used copy with the slight damage to plastic cover.
I ended up choosing the used copy of the game because, I am an incredibly cheap person and will almost never pay the $100 price tag on new Australian videogames (except for Conker: Live and Reloaded). I checked, and every single copy of Disgaea at that store was an American import copy, and I have since never seen another copy of that game in a brick and mortar store.

I have learned my lesson though, I will buy the next Disgaea game from Rosen Queen or Play Asia.

I'm not entirely sure where I was going with this since I got nostalgic and just ended up rambling...

To the Post Board