With the next generation fast approaching, one of the most prevalent talking points has been used games and the litany of topics that entails. The crux of the argument lies in that developers feel that used game sales, mostly retailers like GameStop, are profiting off of their work by using a standard business practice of buying low and selling high. A common opinion amongst game developers and some gamers is that every used game sold is a lost new game sale and as such, a system needs to be put in place to enable the developers to receive a cut of each used game sale.
In the meantime, publishers have tried to incentivize buying new or prevent trading in by including online passes to prevent used copies from accessing online servers or DLC to extend the value of the game by providing content long after the game’s initial release. While I personally had no real issue with online passes because it only makes sense since online servers need to be maintained and that maintenance cost money and people who never gave the developers money still have access to those servers. Shutting them out behind a one time paywall makes perfect sense to me, however, the fans didn’t like it and EA maintains that they dropped the online pass initiative as a response. The timing of which and the initial Xbox One reveal was unfortunate, if I am giving them the benefit of the doubt, and I will for the purposes of this editorial.
After Xbox One’s failed attempt to try and stymie used game sales by funneling them through “participating retailers” and thus killing off private sales, loaning and game rentals, developers like former Epic superstar Cliffy B and God of War creator David Jaffe took to Twitter to voice their disdain for used sales and more specifically, GameStop. Again, they were of the opinion that each used sale is money being taken from their pockets and they should get a cut of the used game sales. PS4 developer Ready at Dawn, which has the upcoming The Order: 1866 currently gestating, recently voiced their dissatisfaction with GameStop’s business model of pushing used games over new.
Now, this might prove controversial, but it’s a stance I firmly believe in so brace yourselves:
Game developers and publishers are not entitled to a single dime after the initial sale. Not one red cent. And the fact that they think they’re entitled to any of it is , quite frankly, ludicrous.
Again, much of the vitriol comes from GameStop’s practices. While I won’t get into the ethics involved with how the stores are run or selling open games as new, I will say that GameStop sells games to employees at a 10% discount which is essentially a little more than tax. The reason for this is because this discount is selling games at cost. What some people don’t know is that retailers, like GameStop, have bought every single copy of the game that they sell in their stores. Selling games to employee’s at a 10% discount is GameStop and other retailers giving up whatever profit they have for that copy of the game. What this means is that the publishers have received payment for their game and at that point it’s up to retailers to recoup that investment any way they can. Sales are offered to make some of that money back in the event that the disc isn’t selling, and to entice consumers into the store to spread those savings to full price items. On extreme cases, the publisher will buy back the unsold copies of a game, but that’s not very common. Retailers are taking a calculated risk on how many copies of a particular game they buy, which is why they push pre-orders. This is to gauge demand for that particular title so they can buy accordingly.
So now that the publisher has received payment for their game how that is divided up between the platform holder, the publisher and the developer usually varies on a contract basis and bares no weight on the fact that GameStop and other retailers make so little on new game sales and nothing from hardware. Of course they are going to do everything they can to boost their revenue, they’re a business. Gamestop provides a service where a service was able be provided – they buy and sell used games. They buy low and sell high and they continue to do this until there is no longer a demand for that used product. This is good business. Period. Full stop.
You know you don’t have to sell your games at GameStop, right?
I am well aware that many a gamer and plenty of industry journalist don’t like GameStop and I completely agree that getting very little for your game and watching them turn around and sell it for almost new cost is annoying at least and makes the customer feel ripped-off at best. Fortunately, there are other ways one can sell their games and receive whatever amount they set for their goods. Places like eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon are great avenues to sell your games at a cost the seller dictates. In fact, I’ve used eBay quite a bit in the past year and have afforded myself all kinds of great gaming experiences and without losing more than $20 on my initial purchase. Which is much better than losing $40. For example I purchased Tomb Raider new day one, completed it 3 times and sold it on eBay for $45 including shipping. That means I spent $20 on the game. I took my $40 and bought The Witcher 2 used on eBay for $25. It worked out great for me and I didn’t even have to leave my house to go to the closest GameStop, wait on any lines, or be upsold on anything.
Now, imagine if the customer paid $60 for a retail game thus paying the publisher their money, and then when I went to sell it on eBay I had to give them more money from my sale? Sounds absurd, right? Do you think that you will still get the measly amount you already get from retailers? GameStop would absolutely offset the money they have to share by taking it from the cost they buy the used game for. In everyone’s rush to say the developer deserves money for the used game sale, the customer is the one who is getting even more taken advantage of.
Make no mistake, if developers worked out a way to get a cut of used game sales, private sales would be effectively dead. No longer would we have control over how we sell our games, to whom we sell our games and for how much we sell our games for.
The woes of gaffers and grips
I’ve seen the analogy of the film industry having other revenue streams such as DVD, streaming, TV rights, box office, and so on to make up for used sales. As someone who has worked and still occasionally works in the film industry I can tell you in no uncertain terms, the people who help make a movie don’t see one dime after production wraps. For those that don’t know there are two groups of people in a film production. Those that are “above the line” and those “below the line.” “Above the line” refers to the creative department of production. The director, the screenwriter, the producer and the actors, generally. “Below the line” is everyone else. The grips, the gaffers, wardrobe, the Director of Photography, etc. I make this distinction because once principal photography (the actual film shoot) is done, everyone below the line has collected their pay and move on to their next project. They don’t see a dime from DVD sales, streaming, TV rights, box office, and so on. And in most cases, neither do most any one above the line unless it’s Stephen Spielberg or Robert Downey Jr. and they’ve made a deal to share in profits. The only people that see the money from all of those extra revenue streams are the producers and the movie studio.
Why did I digress for a brief lesson on how film making works? Because unlike film developers generally do get a cut or every new sale and merchandising if they licensed properly provided they weren’t contracted for their work on a particular game. They also collect from DLC, and the like so if they want more money, then they need to create more lucrative revenue streams, but they certainly aren’t entitled to any money once that game is sold into the hands of a consumer in a physical medium anyway.
Find a better way but leave me out of it
I am well aware that this may put me on the side of being “against the developers” but I can assure you that I’m not. I think the creators of games deserve every bit of money they earn for their hard work. That doesn’t not mean, however, that they should keep making money from every sold copy of a game once that copy is sold and quite frankly, I think it’s absurd to think so. I am not going to pretend I have a solution because I don’t and it’s not my job to. I will, however, speak as a consumer and clearly state that what I’ve bought is mine to sell, break, burn, loan, trader or use as a coaster and there is nothing anyone other than me can or should say about it.