Psychonauts and the Tragedy of Used Games

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Psychonauts and the Tragedy of Used Games

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.

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Good writeup, more balanced then the discussion on the IGDA forums about "evil second hand games" which most put down.

You did kind of mention, but its worth noting, that a lot of second hand games may not even be available anymore. Who prints PS1, N64, Genesis games anymore? Who publishes a PC games which are over 10, 15 years old? I picked up Fallout 1, it seems the original UK release (big box and all) from Oxfam, and I doubt I could find it for sale anywhere first hand. I must admit I've not got around to playing it just yet however, but along with that I've not got around to playing System Shock 2 (Budget box!) and "The Ultima Collection" (I think 1 through 7?) which were at the same place. Notably the next time I went in all the other ones (there were not many) were gone anyway, so I think I saved something that day for a few quid :)

Of course, these might be now/soon available from GameTap or something. Again, if that service turns off, its kinda a circular problem then.

Remove second hand games and they'll become something hat might be impossible to play after a certain period of time, devastating for all the reasons you put in the article, making the industry much more shortsighted then it is already regarding technological advances. No company lasts forever (or rather keeps a service going forever in the same state...) which makes my copies of Half Life 2 (even though I own the DVD copy!) and things on Steam a bit dicey when it comes to looking 20-30 years into the future and installing them, and my BioShock game possibly impossible to play if SecureROM isn't around either, and no alternative is provided to stop the "online authentication" with servers that might not exist.

Looking at it from any kind of historical point of view, people in the future might be thinking "what on earth where they doing making it impossible to actually play the game nowadays?", nevermind lacking hardware support or other technical problems :(

That, or they'll be complaining for the fact they don't want to play the same games on the 10th iteration of a "virtual console".

Second hand games, yep, can be a good thing as well as what is perceived at a glance as a bad one.

The main reason I go to EB anymore is the used section. I have a pretty good idea what games I'm going to buy these days, and given that the nearest store is nearly an hour's drive from here - one way - it would be a hell of a lot easier to just mail order this stuff from Amazon. But mail order outfits can't offer a used section, or the excitement (God help me, I'm such a nerd) of browsing and making a great discovery. I own a lot of games, and not that terribly many are pre-owned, but the ones that are have absolutely resulted in more money spent on other games. We've been fortunate so far that the industry hasn't done anything beyond the occasional bout of pissing and moaning about lost revenues and I really don't see it getting beyond that. But even just that attitude mystifies me. Pre-owned games are a fantastic thing for the industry. Or am I really missing something?

The only point here that isn't handled on balance better by demos (that balance being a shorter experience verses free and available any time on the web) is "rebating" older games in a series for new ones, and that completely ignores the damaging side of the equation.

With that said, trading won't stop until physical boxes are a thing of the past, and even then people will (unwisely, as they have no legal protection with today's laws) try to transfer their digital copies.

For most game retail stores, used games represent the only profit besides used consoles.

Let that sink in. New games are the loss-leader now, for the big-box stores like GameSpot/EBGames, GameCrazy, Hastings, etc. Wal-Mart is the exception. The implication is that there's little to no incentive for these stores, which for the longest time have been the real puppet-masters of the games industry, have an ever-dwindling incentive to encourage *any* new games being made, let alone any with fresh ideas or concepts.

I'm pretty sure games make a profit, certainly in the UK there is a reason GAME still stocks a huge amount of new releases of the big consoles.

And the right of resale in many countries is something that might have to be taken into account for "digital" products, if it is correctly tested in a court of law or somesuch. Not sure about American laws but I am sure in the EU you might find it hard to get away with a shrug of the shoulders and "you brought it, you can't transfer it, because, um, its digital...not physical...um".

Costik has more on the subject, in reaction to the online retailer DVD Empire bailing on the sale of games entirely, because they were either too small a margin or losing money.

New games bring people into the stores. The real money is made being a pawn shop.

The plan to compensate for used games is digital downloads, whether they're through additional content or entire games. For example, if you purchase WarHawk through the PS3 network, it is permanently and irrevocably tied to the account you purchased the game with. The same goes for Xbox Live games, though as of yet they haven't offered full, retail-level games for purchase. Sure, it may be legally challenged in the future, but that's how it is right now (same for DRM'd music downloads, etc).

Now, if you run out to the store and pick up Oblivion for the Xbox 360 for $15, you can bring it home, pop it into your console, and find that not only are there a dozen small downloads (at a few dollars each), but the Shivering Isles expansion is also available for download (and not via retail). The person who owned the game before you may have purchased all of them, and completed them, and now you get to optionally buy them again using the same copy of the game.

Used Games + Digital Downloads = Profit!

Also, on a different yet slightly related note, Psychonauts is available for download on Steam. Immediately available, yet completely non-transferrable :)

While I applaud you thinking outside of the proverbial box on this topic, I still feel you miss the point of this issue.

Today, one need only go to Steam to pick up an affordable copy of Psychonauts, a copy which will send profits to the folks who made that great game. In fact, I believe I read that Gametap was in fact making this title available to their subscribers. There are 2 easy to use outlets for buying the game and helping the developers financially.

While pre-played games may create more of a demand for a developer's product, it could also contribute to the lack of profits which killed the developer to begin with.

Thanks to platforms like Steam and Gametap, we are seeing a way in which games can stay out on the marketplace, priced competitively and everybody wins. Ebgames makes the majority of their money from pre-played games and often the gamers, especially the kids, sell their games for pennies on the dollar to buy new games. Ebgames is not really an innocent in this story at all. In fact, I refuse to purchase and pre-played games from the whole Gamestop Empire for the simple fact that their prices aren't all fair for the people selling and buying the games.

*coughcough* You can purchase it via Steam, Gametap and, I believe, Direct2Drive. Just like Hengst2404 said.

Steam may be great if you have the pipe to make use of it: I do not. I cannot describe to you how frustrating it was to play Half-Life 2 - well, not to play it, so much, as to just get it running. It was bad enough that when I got Ep1, I disconnected my entire rig and drove it into town just so I could connect to a DSL line for updates, patches and other assorted Steam bullshit.

And an injection of personal bias: I collect games. Digital distribution is nice, it's convenient, I have no doubt that in some form it's the wave of the future, but for me, if I ain't got a box, I ain't happy. Some people want to play Psychonauts; I want to own it.

Both these points of view put me in a minority. But EB and GAME continue to grow and do business, so it's safe to assume the old-fashioned content delivery services will be with us for awhile yet. So why not make the most of it?

Okay...then how about amazon.com that has it new for $7.97? You'll own the game, have your physical copy and dodging the used game problem.

I just brought it up because it seemed like a way of justifying it to yourself why you shouldn't purchase it instead of actually playing the gem.

I'm just not sure how you can call used games a "problem." Are used cars problems for GM or Nissan? Secondary markets like this open up all the time. It's the responsibility of publishers to find ways to profit off of them.

In the car situation, manufacturers still make money because there's always people who will buy new cars (and I'll go out on a limb and say the same about games) and by getting into certified pre-owned cars, which keep their value better because they're serviced regularly at a company dealership. Obviously, it's not an ideal situation for game publishers, but if car companies can figure out ways to adapt to a market, an industry that prides itself on being forward-thinking and cutting edge should have no problem coming up with solutions.

And it's done reasonably well. Digital distribution is a great alternative for most people. Assuming they own a PC and don't mind giving up a physical representation of what it is they're buying. Personally, I get a bit wonky on the latter.

I love and hate this debate. But here's what I think about the situation:

First, the availability of a used title assumes that someone bought it at least once. In which case, the company behind it has been compensated. Hooray!

Now, you can say that buying a used game is bad because it deprives the developer of the revenue they'd have gotten if you'd bought it new. Which is sad. Boo.

But there are some folks who simply will not pay new prices. So they wouldn't have bought the game new anyway. So they're served by the option to buy used and get to play games they couldn't afford otherwise. Hooray! And since the original purchaser has finished with the game, they're helped by being able to offload product they've paid for, but have no further use for. WooHoo! The merchant is a middle man, who makes money from being able to provide the transaction. So they also win. Out of sight!

Does anyone lose in this scenario? Well, no, not really. The game was purchased by party A, at which point it became their property. They decide to sell it to party B, which is totally within their rights, and party C facilitates that transaction. No laws broken, no one stolen from, nothing wrong here. Awesome!

Granted, there are, perhaps, some folks who buy used, who might have bought new, and this probably hurts the developers. OK. So this is a little bad, from the point of view of Mr. Developer. So what? I call this "the cost of doing business." You can just as easily say they have a right to be angry at their competitors for making games that are awesomer than theirs and stealing their business. Or that they should file a lawsuit against "outside" for making a place where people will go and not play games at all. Bullshit.

The only solution is to make transferring a game impossible, which is a thousand kinds of dumb. Treating your customers as if you expect them to be thieves does not send a message that you are worthy of their trust and loyalty. See: the music industry for a clear example of this.

To the developers and publishers I say this: make good games and work hard to ensure they're affordable. The rest will sort itself out. Free market? Helloo?

Your steam methods don't take into account games which are out of print or not even on the PC (which everyone is calling a dead market!), and noting the dial-up problem is a large one too. Glad that wasn't missed.

Owning a game in a box, rather then getting it on steam or whatever, is something lots of collectors and normal people like too, just like movies. Like I said, its okay to trust them to play it this week, but what about in 10 years? in 20? 30? 50? 100? Can my children who might inherit my collections of games play them? will they be locked down and unavailable? (perfect for the companies, terrible for archivists, libraries, and I am sure against the law in many places too).

Also; J. You might be right about the pawn shop mentality but I am sure some game stores make a profit of games, I am not sure about America but the UK I am sure Virgin, HMV and similar places wouldn't stock games if they never sold (since they are primarily DVD and music sellers). It's not right to blanket the problem of course.

Andrew Armstrong:

Also; J. You might be right about the pawn shop mentality but I am sure some game stores make a profit of games, I am not sure about America but the UK I am sure Virgin, HMV and similar places wouldn't stock games if they never sold (since they are primarily DVD and music sellers). It's not right to blanket the problem of course.

Well that depends if they feel like games is enough of a draw to try and sell you other stuff while you're there. One theory is you stock items that you make no to little profit on, in order to try and hawk stuff that you make lots of profit on. Movie theaters are great example of this where they make much less money on the films in the hopes they can sell you overpriced food (at least in the US). Games are just one of many ways to get people in the store. This also serves branding purposes as well, being in the store is making customers aware of the store.

I am not sure this issue is actually a serious issue, more just a matter of opinion, I suppose. I am not as concerned about a company not getting revenue on the re-sales, as that game has already turned a profit for the company. Perhaps my real issue is with the way Gamestop has cornered the market and profiteers on us.

Then again, I have yet to read about them forcing somebody to see their game at gun point, it is always a matter of choice. much like the used car analogy, even if you have a mint car and trade it in, they will never give you its full value. The re-selling market is a re-seller's market.

If I do re-sell my games, I try to use ebay or half.com to avoid getting nickle and dimed. Having had time to consider this article this morning, I think I have retracted my initial concerns.

Hengst2404:
I try to use ebay or half.com to avoid getting nickle and dimed.

Don't get me started on PayPal.

I have an Xbox 360 with a HD, two weeks old. I expect I'll be spending Points eventually on downloadable games, but I've already grabbed a boatload of demos. If I could have bought the Xbox version of P'nauts off Xbox Live Arcade for $12, I would have. As it is, I didn't want another copy of the PC version.

hawksdr:
Well that depends if they feel like games is enough of a draw to try and sell you other stuff while you're there. One theory is you stock items that you make no to little profit on, in order to try and hawk stuff that you make lots of profit on.

And that is why I called it a "loss leader." I doubt the profit is much more than marginal on new games, but even if it isn't, the used games are worth way more.

Now that is, I think the true key for gaming, it to simply have a service, like Live, allow you to download any of their backwards-compatible games to your 360. I imagine games like Psychonauts, Breakdown and Panzer Dragoon Orta would find new life in that world.

Hengst2404:
Now that is, I think the true key for gaming, it to simply have a service, like Live, allow you to download any of their backwards-compatible games to your 360. I imagine games like Psychonauts, Breakdown and Panzer Dragoon Orta would find new life in that world.

Something like the Wii Virtual Console, perhaps?

Xbox Live Arcade already has beaucoup titles that you couldn't ever get off the shelves at GameStop, Marathon: Durandal among them.

As for me, however, going to the local store and sifting through their immense trove of used Xbox games (most of which I don't want and/or are incompatible) is more convenient than downloading and having to eat HD space. Having the disc that works is better.

Hengst, perfect point! all those non-backwards compatible games are left in the dust on any new hardware (same with the PS3), meaning second hand would still be the only way to ever play them, right? Virtual consoles/digital delivery systems also suck for the most part price-wise, with no sales or discounts or reasonable starting prices in some cases, and many people might prefer to play them on the original hardware (even if that hardware is only a few years old...)

On the opinions bounded around about game shops making money, I'd need some actual figures, because I sure as damn don't have any in front of me to argue one way or another, so those are moot points really :( - a shame, it'd be something really good to discuss!

Actually, the Xbox 360 has a bunch of backwards-compatible games, and the list is updated all the time. Pretty much requires you to have a HD and Internet installed for compatibility updates, though.

Sony doesn't even display a list for PS3's backwards compatibility, it makes you type in the game name and play guessing games. Thankfully, the Internet provides.

The used car analogy doesn't really work simply because car dealers make a significant amount of money on selling new cars over MSRP. If you stepped into your average car dealership one that sold both used and new cars I doubt that the instant you walk up to a sales associate saying that you want to purchase a new car they would recommend you buy a used one instead. That and car makers actually reward dealerships that sell large numbers of new cars giving them rewards.

Truth is car companies make money from the maintenance done on cars. Just look up the price of a new set factory headlights (not just the bulb, but the actual assembly for my car the price is well over 200 dollars) and you will see that they make their on products that support the car not just the car itself.

That really doesn't work for games because the more resources a developer spends making new content for a released title the less resources they are using to make a new title. Obviously that isn't true for all developers, it's just the result of limited resources and companies trying to use them to the best of their abilities.

A number of things need to change for used games to go away. The price point on new games would need to be lower, the amount of money retailers make from actually selling new games would need to be extremely higher than it is now, and a method of selling out of print games would needed to found. If that meant going the download route like Sony's PSN is doing or a way of reprinting on demand I don't know.

Until those things come together used games are here to stay unless one of the groups in the industry takes a stiff stand against used games. For example if EA said we will no longer sell game through Gamestop because of their used game trade. It's probably more likely that people would be living on Mars before that happened.

J. I meant the games which are not backwards compatible, and likely never will be, I know there are a lot which are, which is good, but really the way to play them is, again, getting them secondhand :)

And LxDarko, how on earth can industry stop this, when it is perfectly legal in most of the world to resell such things? Do you honestly think the film and music industry is dying from second hand sales of their releases? Those two might say, for rare and unpublished media, it is reliant on second hand sales for a lot of older content, the same with games. It isn't simply black and white, like the article says, its a completely grey issue and its got positive and negative aspects for everyone.

Andrew Armstrong:

LxDarko, how on earth can industry stop this, when it is perfectly legal in most of the world to resell such things? Do you honestly think the film and music industry is dying from second hand sales of their releases? Those two might say, for rare and unpublished media, it is reliant on second hand sales for a lot of older content, the same with games. It isn't simply black and white, like the article says, its a completely grey issue and its got positive and negative aspects for everyone.

I should have worded that better. What I meant was getting rid of or reducing used game sales in major retail chains. Selling a used game is legal and can never be stopped nor should it be.

However, when one of the biggest video game retailers in the U.S. is best known as a pawn shop for games, and with other major retailers such as Best Buy and Circuit City starting to follow suit I do think there are steps that can be taken to reduce the impact of used game sales on the industry.

Yeah, but if we see Best Buy and Circuit city get involved, it will make things better for the consumers, as now you have 3 different pawn shops you can go to for selling a used title. This for me is key as it will increase the amount we get for trading in games. I like a competitive market.

The Internet has ruined pawn shopping for everyone, because everyone with a computer has the option of using ebay. Try going into a real pawn shop today and find something cheap and wonderful like they used to have. Now it's all overpriced junk, and a LOT of video games for top dollar.

Competition doesn't seem to help resale markets. I don't know if it ever has.

I agree with a lot of the article; and I'd somehow never quite thought of the idea that if there is a pre-owned copy out there, it means it has sold new to someone (doh!).

But what I find really pestilential -- and I suspect is where the developers really have their beef -- is this practice (at least in the UK) of putting pre-owned games right next to new releases, often even in the first/second week of release, priced 5 pounds cheaper. I see it every week: new game 39.99; pre-owned 34.99. That's pure naked profit for the retailer and nothing for the developer, right at launch. That must really be painful -- and it's something that doesn't happen for any other used product, as far as I know. Can you imagine a major record retailer putting used copies next to new product in the charts?

I think this article overstates the benefits of pre-owned games "spreading the word" and bringing in new players. Many people simply aren't prepared to pay 30 - 40 for a game.

That doesn't mean second hand sales should be banned. It's part of the contract when an item is sold. The item becomes the buyers property, to do with as they please. Every industry has to deal with second hand sales and economically the damage isn't as large as it may seem at first glance.

A person who always buys games new, has more money to buy games if they sell their games on. Publishers indirectly get some extra sales due to the second hand market.

However game retailers are sealing their own fate by pushing second hand games alongside new titles. Publishers rightly hate this. In the long term I believe they will only sell games via digital download, it will just take a while to get the public used to this idea.

splode:
Can you imagine a major record retailer putting used copies next to new product in the charts?

Well, yes. I've seen a lot of (usually independent) music stores who buy back CDs and then resell them.

Also: houses, cars, books, and computers are all sold, new and used, by the same people.

(Imagine the next sentence being spoken with an echo effect) This is why digital distribution is The Future.

It keeps sellers from having to compete with their own product. Imagine how happy car dealerships would be if someone said "Now you can sell cars with no price competition from used vehicles, and you don't have to pay the overhead costs for lot storage!"

p.s. Malygris, buy Psychonauts already. It's so worth it.

Hengst2404:
Today, one need only go to Steam to pick up an affordable copy of Psychonauts, a copy which will send profits to the folks who made that great game. In fact, I believe I read that Gametap was in fact making this title available to their subscribers. There are 2 easy to use outlets for buying the game and helping the developers financially.

I agree wholeheartedly. I read your initial article and heard you were waiting for a new graphics card for BioShock- which means you game on the PC. Get Psychonauts on Steam, you'll again be voting for a good game with your purchases, unlike used games. You can also get it on GameTap.

I think the real "tragedy" of Psychonauts, and why Croshaw called us a all a "craven douche," is how poorly the game sold in its first three months of release, which is what publishers use to benchmark the success of console games. PC games take a little longer to get rolling, but the console market is an explosion (and sell-out) in the first month, followed by a game being outof print a year later. Your only option, then, is to get a great game used. It's unfortunate that the video game market, especially with console games, only really takes into account the behavior of the "game of the month" buyers.

It's good for game companies to offer paid downloads for games they're not making actual physical copies of, that way they get to sell the game without having to spend money on store distribution. Perhaps bonaparte is right, and we're heading towards a day where that's the only way to get new games, they do away with physical copies altogether.

I do, however, think that they could stand to lower the price a bit for downloads, since the overhead is lower, but I can see some marketing reasons behind that, so it's their call.

However, there are a lot of older games made by indie developers that aren't around anymore, so buying those legally won't do the manufacturers any good, even if there was some way to GET them legally, since I can't find most of them on any of the "ethical" game download sites, such as Steam (Slightly OT: while I can see business reasons behind NOT lowering the prices of games available first-hand on Steam, I fail to see any reason to hold onto the licenses for THOSE games. How can you lose a profit margin you don't have?)

Now, I realize that you were primarily talking about gaming stores that stock both secondhand games AND new games alongside them. And the vintage game stores where I hunt for SNES and Genesis cartridges don't exactly make a habit of stocking brand-new games. But I think it reflects on the whole issue of secondhand game sales, in that I think game companies should really look into that.

And I think they are starting to. Nintendo's decision to allow gamers to purchase vintage games for the old systems for download on the Wii was some of the happiest news I'd ever heard. That comes on the heels of the "bundle packs" being produced for the Gamecube that included a bunch of old games on one GC disc (the Sonic Mega Collection was great). The lower prices of the downloads provides an incentive as well (though they're still not as cheap as they are at the second-hand bookstores in town, but they make up for that with the greater availability and lack of damage to the disc or cartridge).

Sorry, this is a bit tangental. Now, the main appeal of secondhand games is, of course, the lower prices. But another thing that appeals to some shoppers is, as one person mentioned, the randomness of the selection. You never know what a secondhand game shelf is going to have in stock from one day to the next, and that's actually a rather exciting sensation that will be difficult to replicate. But that's just a little thing.

I generally don't buy pre-owned games primarily because most people just don't take care of them. I've seen pre-owned games that literally look like they've been eaten on. I prefer buying new games because they're new; I don't have to consider the fact that some little shit has scratched the game into unplayability.

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