Recently Ian Livingstone, president of Eidos, alluded that Xbox 720 may block used games. He said that the potentially watermarked discs would only be playable in a single console. Since this isn’t coming directly from Microsoft, we can not assume that this is completely true; it may be pure speculation, or be completely invalid. For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume that it is true. I am going to explain how blocking second hand discs may very well hurt Microsoft, publishers, and developers much more than it will help them, unless there is a viable way for gamers to purchase games at a discounted price.
The average console game costs $60 dollars. In the next generation of console games, we may see it rise to $70 dollars. We are no stranger to gaming prices here at D Pad D Bags: Scott speculated that Halo 4 was the end of an overpriced era and Anthony broke down some ways to be a cheap gamer. At the end of the day, most gamers aren’t completely comfortable with paying that much for games. For that reason, GameStop is making a killing on used games. They allow gamers to trade in old games to earn cash or store credit for new ones, and then mark the games up and make a huge profit on those used games while still selling them to gamers cheaper than the retail price. It’s a brilliant strategy, but it may come to a screeching halt when Xbox 720 is released.
On the other side of the coin, developers, publishers, and console makers deserve to get paid for their efforts. This is how they make a living, and people are able to obtain things second hand with zero revenue going to them. I can see why they would be upset and look to stop it. The problem is, they are working under the assumption that gamers will gladly pay retail price for every single game they want.
Recently, GameStop conducted a study asking gamers if they would buy a console that blocked second hand purchases. Overwhelmingly, the response was against the console. While the results of this study must be taken with a grain of salt because it was conducted by GameStop, we can still appreciate that gamers don’t want to pay full price.
I have adopted a policy of not purchasing any games at retail price anymore. This is for a couple reasons. The first, of course, is to save money. I looked at the sheer amount of money I was spending on games each year and it made me ill. I want to play these games, but I know they can be purchased cheaper. The second reason is I don’t immediately play the majority of the games I purchase. As a result, when I get around to playing a game, it’s selling for considerably cheaper than when I purchased it. I am primarily a PC gamer though, so I get the majority of my deals via Steam, Good Old Games or Green Man Gaming. There really isn’t an option for console games similar to this combination. Green Man Gaming does offer deals on console games, and Amazon has some pretty damn good deals, but overall, there is no console service that gives the same bang for your buck as Steam.
Gamers want to save money. They don’t have any allegiance to GameStop; if another retail chain was to pop up tomorrow and sell games slightly cheaper, people would gladly shop there instead. Console makers can come up with a solution that makes everyone happy–well, everyone but GameStop, but fuck those guys anyway. With this next generation of consoles, we will be moving closer to pure digital distribution. Sony has announced that the entire PS4 catalog will be available for download via the Playstation Store. While many gamers still prefer discs–I am not sure why–many gamers may go this route for convenience’s sake.
My solution to this problem that faces both game makers and gamers alike is very simple. The Playstation Store and Xbox Store should offer all games on release day for download. As games age, their prices decrease. This will not effect the immediate gratification gamers; they will still buy the game, and in fact, they are more likely to buy it digitally if pre-loading is allowed so they can play right at midnight instead of going to GameStop and waiting until midnight to get the game there.
There is a theory among some publishers that gamers will not purchase games right away if they know they will be discounted later. While this is true, I feel it applies to a minority of gamers. I also feel that it is offset if not superseeded by the number of gamers who would not normally buy the game at $60 dollars but will when the game reaches $30.
One other major issue with the Microsoft model has nothing to do with used games. In the process of blocking used games, you are also stopping gamers from playing together at a friend’s house. I can’t tell you how many times my friend would bring GTA 3 over and we would all crowd around the couch and play for hours, having a blast. I didn’t own the game, and he had played it on his Playstation first. We couldn’t do this anymore. With the Microsoft model, you can never bring a game to your friend’s house to play together. I feel that they have completely lost sight of the couch co-op and group games, and I am not even talking about Wii party games. Games like GTA, fighting games, sports games– all of these games are tailor-made for getting a group of friends together and playing for hours, but this is now in jeopardy.
The implications of this are much larger than Microsoft may even realize. Companies like Gamefly would not be able to carry Xbox games, you can’t go to your local rental store and rent video games to try them out. You don’t know how many games I first rented before buying them. The only reason I bought them was because I enjoyed them when rented. By doing this, they will be limiting gamers who have zero interest in used games.
While I understand why developers, publishers, and console manufacturers want to get what they deserve for game sales, this is not the time and the way to do it. There is nothing in place to ease the burden of game prices. Right now games cost too much–there is no denying it. I honestly believe that at a more friendly price point games will sell better. On top of all of the pricing problems, they are stopping gamers from trying games before purchasing via rental and Gamefly. Finally, they are forcing gamers to play at home via online multiplayer with friends; gamers will no longer be able to hang out together, order a pizza, and play GTA together for hours, unless the host of the gathering owns the game himself or the game’s owner brings his own console. Microsoft, now is not the time to play this card; when you have a system in place to allow rentals and discounts that still maintains the ability to play together, in person, then you can go for it. Until then, you are only hurting yourself.