The Needles

The Needles
Psychonauts and the Tragedy of Used Games

Andy Chalk | 28 Aug 2007 22:44
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Yahtzee Croshaw called me a craven douche 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.

The tricky part is despite all the acclaim it's been receiving from the horde of critics I seem to be surrounded by, Psychonauts wasn't what you'd call a smash-hit game. It didn't sell a million copies, it didn't spawn an interminable franchise and you're not likely to see a Saturday morning cartoon based on Raz and the gang. So the likelihood of nipping over to the local EB and picking up a copy is remote, to say the least. I added it to my ever-growing list of "if I see it someplace" games, and then spent the rest of the afternoon thinking instead about what I was going to do with myself while I waited to purchase a new video card that would run BioShock.

Several days later, while in the aforementioned EB to pick up my pre-ordered Limited Edition version of the aforementioned BioShock (No, I can't play it, and yes I bought it anyway, and if I couldn't explain it to my wife I'm certainly not going to try to explain it to you), I was rifling through the shelves while waiting for the line to shrivel a bit, and what should my eyes fall upon but a pre-owned copy of Psychonauts.

I was faced with a dilemma. Springing for BioShock was a risky proposition itself, putting me at risk of the Great and Terrible Wrath of the Missus; telling her I bought not just one but two games, one of which I can't play and the other I'm not all that terribly interested in, would be nothing less than begging for it. Gutless coward that I am, I brought home my Big Daddy and left Psychonauts behind. Sorry, Yahtzee.

And while I'm not playing Psychonauts (or BioShock) as a result, I did happen to trip over an interesting thought on the way home: What if I had bought it?

As a pre-owned game, it would have meant nothing to Double Fine Productions, the game's developer; all money made from the sale of pre-owned games goes straight into EB's pockets. The retailer makes big profits, while the developers and publishers - the folks who actually made the game - get nothing. It's a fairly common complaint about pre-owned software, and in this case it's at least partially valid.

Developers who take chances on non-traditional game designs - like Double Fine, Planet Moon and Irrational, to name a few - should be supported. A steady diet of EA games and releases with titles that end in numerals is the alternative. Buying Psychonauts now is irrelevant from this perspective, because while I get the game (good), EB gets the money (bad) and Double Fine gets screwed (also bad). It's enough of an irritant that in 2005 a rumor spread that Sony had patented a technology that would allow it to prevent the use of used games in its PlayStation 3 console.

Essentially, games would be "matched" to a particular console when they were first purchased, after which they would refuse to run in any console but that one. The problems with such a scheme were obvious, and while Sony denied everything (and has not yet introduced any sort of game-crippling mechanism in their system) the uproar was significant.

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