In a recent article for GamesIndustry International, 20-year industry veteran Richard Browne has stated that he would “hope and would actively encourage Microsoft and Sony to embrace [prohibiting used games] and put an end to this”. I would encourage you to read the article first, as his argument is at least interesting, and there is some healthy discussion by members of the industry/community in the comments. To summarize, he gives a number of reasons why the trade of used games is hurting the industry, including the death of single player gaming, and lack of variety in the industry. Basically, he says that the industry implements multiplayer gameplay and stops taking risks in order to prevent the resell of games, among other arguments. As many of you probably imagine, I disagree with his premise, and I strongly disagree with his solution.
First, each of his arguments state that used games inadvertently cause problems like lack of variety and death of single player, because publishers are forced to create games with more longevity to prevent them from being sold. First of all, some would argue that being forced to build longevity into your game is a form of natural selection, and I would argue that a game company would naturally want to build a long-lasting game regardless of used game sales. Also, let’s go over some of the most popular games/series of the past few years: Assassin’s Creed, Skyrim, God of War, Uncharted, LA Noire, Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Starcraft II, Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham City- although several of these games have multiplayer, they all have incredible single player campaigns, and there is a ton of variety within them (although, of course, the most popular games are always combat focused- but that’s another issue entirely). I think incorporation of multiplayer is a natural step for the industry. Whether the single player campaign could have been improved with the removal of the multiplayer elements is unknowable, and some would disagree that the off-chance is worth sacrificing the multiplayer, which, in some cases (Uncharted, Dark/Demon’s Souls, BF3, Starcraft II), is pretty damn fun.
I noticed that Browne’s main argument against used games is that the industry is negatively affected by the measures taken by the industry to ward off the sale of used games, like online multiplayer- the problem is not caused by the consumer. Maybe our efforts should then be targeted more towards the industry? The key here is that if a game has more longevity, players are less likely to sell it. I agree that I tend to prefer when companies focus on single player in games that were originally designed around single player campaigns, but I am not going to argue that a company should cater to us single player gamers, who now, unfortunately, may well be the minority. I would also argue that a game with little replayability deserves to be sold off. If the game stops selling after 100,000 copies, there’s probably a damn good reason for it- the player has no reason to continue playing it. If we force players to buy it new, we are artificially inflating how many copies of the game actually need to be on the market. Sure, digital downloads don’t allow you to resell your games, but services like Steam compensate by often drastically reducing prices on games. Experience shows that we will likely not see this behavior by Sony and Microsoft.
Is there no concern about what is best for consumers? Publishers use the argument that digital piracy is particularly bad because gamers can generate unlimited duplicates of a game, rather than just lending one copy of a game around, like a library might do. I agree with this argument, but by the same logic, prohibiting the sale of used games is going too far in the opposite direction. If you purchase a game, it should be treated as a permanent, physical copy of that game that the gamer can keep, trade, or sell as he wishes, like a physical copy of any other product on the market. Prohibiting used games is overcompensating for piracy (which, frankly, is not that big a deal on consoles). It’s an unjustifiable move by publishers made only in the name of greed. Although hardware companies often sell their hardware at a loss in the hopes of making a profit off of software sales, Sony and Microsoft should understand that severely reducing the utility of their consoles in this fashion may well hurt both their hardware, and therefore their software sales overall, and will ultimately reduce customer loyalty.