Why getting rid of used games might be good for us

Last week when I mentioned that it is rumored that the Xbox 720 might not play used games there was some reasonable backlash. I was pretty surprised and angry myself when I first heard the rumor. I think it is pretty obvious why it might be a bad thing for us gamers if we can’t by cheaper used games. That means we can’t own as many games!

Their are plenty of angry articles about the issue. Just check out the comments section on the ign announcement of the rumor. Or read this optimistic article of the situation. (I was being sarcastic.)

We can return to the natural negative backlash right after this article. For now let’s focus on how it might be a good thing if we couldn’t buy used games.

1. We might be able to bring it to our friends house.

One of the (rightfully) big points of anger about the potential of having a code that locks a game to one consumer is the belief that we won’t be able to play the game on another Xbox 720. This means we can’t lend games or even play them on a different Xbox in our house. However, what if we don’t lock games to an Xbox, but instead a gamer profile?

(This is an idea proposed by Saints Row Developer Jameson Durall. He loves the idea of Xbox getting rid of used games. We’ll talk more about him later.)

The Monster

Locking a game to a profile instead of the console  might not seem like much of a difference, but profiles can be downloaded to different Xboxes. Yes, a profile can only be in use on one Xbox at a time currently, but that means that as long as your friend or enemy’s Xbox is connected to the internet, you can play your game on it with them.

At least one classic element of gaming need not be dead.

2. We might be able to play more games

Jameson “Let’s Kill Video Games” Durall also proposed the idea that Microsoft could share games similar to how Amazon Kindle users can share titles between each other. Kindle titles can be shared with friends for free for up to 14 days. “Cool!” said the Kindle owner who didn’t expect book tips from a video game blog.

Personally I find it unlikely that Microsoft will let us play an entire game for free for 30 seconds. But I do think that Durall’s second idea could be very likely and very cool.

Jameson thinks that Microsoft could implement a rental program where gamers can download a code that activates a game for a certain amount of days for a set few per download. He proposes that it could be used for physical  discs loaned from friends (yeah we would have to pay) as well as digital downloads of the entire title straight onto the Xbox 720.

This sounds pretty awesome to me. If you are anything like my broke self, you can only afford to buy a measly amount of titles each year that you know will be great. Just imagine if the price tag for a rental game  was $20 for a couple of weeks. (The $20 price is totally made up. If we’re really lucky they’ll match something at least as cheap as the Red Box price of $2 a day.)

You'll never need to play this again with all the games you can afford via renting.

Before we get up in arms about only having games for a couple of weeks, when was the last time you played a game that you didn’t absolutely love for more than maybe a month? We trade them in unless we love them. The games that you love you can still buy for $60 and have forever.

Back to the $20 price tag. Imagine getting to try out three titles for the price of one. You never play racing games because you’re not sure how you’d like the series and $60 is a big risk. For $20 maybe you would decide to give the genre a try. We could play out of our comfort zone and try so many different titles. Sounds great to me. The titles could stream instantly to your Xbox so you don’t have to wait in line for popular games for months like Game Fly.

Hey, look! It's that game I wanted 3 years ago!

Best of all, by renting from Microsoft as opposed to Red Box or buying used games at GameStop more of money should go to developers. Which brings me to my next point…

3. More Games that are More Original

Many gamers expect that the people who make a game get most of the profits. It makes sense, after all. The unfortunate truth is that developers usually only get 15% of the profits of each game sold.

A picture is worth the last 17 words that I typed

Developers are only making around 15% of the profits of original sales of games. They make no profits off of used games.

Top off the low percentage of profits that developers make with the  fact that “only 4 percent of games that go into production will turn a profit. Only twenty percent of released games make money.” So sayth Forbes.

Essentially, if you sampled all video game developers, only 4% will turn a profit on whatever they are working on right now. That’s not exactly a good situation to take risks in game development during. That’s why we have so many Call of Duty games and clones.  That’s why we have series that never seem to try to innovate much; it just isn’t worth the risk.

GameStop alone made nearly $2 billion off of used games in 2010.  Imagine if at least 15% of these profits went toward the developers. The profits would likely be even higher since the games were already reduced in price.

Shut up, Logan!

That’s just the tip of the developer money making iceberg. If games could be rented like Durall suggests, then the 20% of the profits that normally go to a retailer could be divided among the publisher, marketing, developer, etc. It would be my hope that the developers would make at least a little more off of these savings.

The real beauty of the situation is that digital game rentals, as opposed to used games, could help foster middle production value video games and companies

What heck you mean?

Blockbusters – Right now it is pretty easy to turn a profit if you make a Halo. Makes sense, blockbuster titles should be a sure shot at making money. I think Halo is rad, but I haven’t bought the last couple of Halo games. I’ve already played lots of Halo. I wish the efforts poured into the next Halo could be spent on something new and original. Synopsis: Blockbusters sell.

Downloadable titles – Right now it is fairly easy to turn a profit with a hot indie title like Braid. These games are much cheaper to make and can be purchased for much, much less than a game that requires more development. They’re quality titles, but they don’t have the same production value or length generally. I love ’em, but they are in a totally different business model. Synopsis: Downloadable titles sell

Middle production value titles – These are the games that have high production value and are a labor of love by many developers, but they aren’t destined to probably be the next blockbuster. Some great examples are from publisher THQ who’s library includes Darksiders, Warhammer, Saints Row the Third, and Homeland. These titles might not all be your cup of tea, but they do dare to be different from blockbuster clone knock-offs. They know that they can’t actually go toe to toe with the next Grand Theft Auto but they still cost a great deal and have a lot of money riding on them.

That seemed like a promising first entry into a series. War right in America? A more story driven shooter? Neat. Too bad the developer is already dead.

Because of the recession and the high cost of games, gamers are buying less games per person than ever before. Since gamers feel like they can only afford the best titles or the titles that everyone will be playing, they usually only buy the blockbusters. Synopsis: Middle production value titles don’t sell. This is evidenced by THQ’s steady decline and possible liquidation after 22 years of being in business.

If we could try out more games through renting them straight to our Xbox (or other system) for as cheap or cheaper than a used game, then the profits of used games will go to all kinds of publishers and developers, not just those that can make a downloadable title for dirt cheap or afford to take the money risk with a sure to sell Call of Duty 14.

A future we can save ourselves from - the climate change is trickier.

If a larger percentage of our money goes out to publishers and developers and to developers that normally wouldn’t see our dollars, then we can definitely expect to see more interesting games from more developers. Currently the video game industry is headed for a situation where only big sequels and the very rare new title sell.

If we want innovation, getting rid of used games could be the way to go.


About loganlampton

I'm a student of public relations and advertising at Purdue University. I like to stay fun and smart so that I can hang out with cool people like you. I'm about to graduate soon, so if you like what you see, hire me!

Posted on February 11, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice analysis on the whole. 4% is a daunting statistic but it is ever so true of the money conscience gamer. $60 for a single game is expensive and it is the very reason I only buy 1-3 Xbox games per year, and of those that I buy, they are either of a very specific niche or a “blockbuster” Because at the end of the day $60 is a gamble and it better be worth it.

    I will say that I’m 100% for digital downloads and streaming. I would be totally cool with Hard Drive only games to cut cost and packaging delivering and stocking the little plastic slabs. In this day and age everyone has a high speed internet connection and if they don’t they are living in the dark ages and probably can’t afford the console and games to begin with. Not to belittle those with limited income but it is what is.

    As a PC gamer I give all the credit to the world to Steam for providing what should be the benchmark for the future in the application of the Steam Store. Steam offers fast, convenient games purchased in mere seconds and downloaded and installed in less than an hour on average. Not only that the costs are very affordable. Steam always has older games on sale as well but the wonderful caveat is that because your still purchasing the game at retail (as opposed to used), a fair amount of money should go to the developer, rather than the middle man. If Xbox wants to not only please gamers, but also make more money for themselves and the developers than they will implement a digital download platform like Steam.

    • I completely agree with you, Sam.

      After so long without a gaming rig, I primarily play on consoles. Now that I finally can play up to date computer games I absolutely love Steam. As you said, Steam is quick, easy, and beneficial to the players AND the creators of games.

      Sounds like we should write an open letter to Microsoft…

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