What Can Be Done about the Used Games Market?

June 29, 2010 Posted by zachary

Here are some interesting thoughts. The used game market is complained about by the suppliers of games more than any entertainment market out there. There are stores that sell used music, used videos, used books, used comics, used toys etc. Very few individuals from those industries complain about their used market and any that do are not as vocal as those from the games industry. So why does the games industry complain so much and so loudly? What can be done to alleviate their concerns? Let’s talk.

First, Why do they complain? Well the first reason I can think of is that the used game market does not add any money directly in the pockets of those who create them. This can be concerning for those who are struggling to profit or are barely breaking even. From what I have read and heard, the used game market is often put on the same level as piracy. After all, if you are not putting money in the pockets of the developers you are essentially stealing. At least that is what they want you to think.

So, why don’t they get any money from used sales? A little thing called the “First Sale Doctrine” is in effect in the US. The idea behind the first sale doctrine is that once a manufacturer, printer, publisher etc, sells their product the first time, they lose control over its distribution completely. They can make suggestions on what is done after that such as the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) or they can make deals with retailers to get their product special treatment. But beyond that it is no longer in their control. So when it comes to the used market, they fell a bit helpless as there is nothing legally they can do about it.

So how does this equate to piracy? It doesn’t. Piracy is stealing a game plain and simple. The used market is what happens when someone tires of the game.

Why is the used game market so prevalent in the industry? It is one of the only avenues of protection for consumers. Too often a game is over hyped and unwitting consumers can be led to believe that they are getting more than what it provided. Often there is no demo or the demo doesn’t give a good representation of the overall experience. I don’t blame developers for that, it is mostly the responsibility of publishers. That aside, if there is limited avenues to sample a game before purchasing, you increase the risk to the consumer. The used market can solve that. By offering a way for consumers to get a game at a lower cost they will feel more comfortable with the purchase. Also it provides a way to recoup part of the cost when purchasing a dud. So it clearly benefits the consumer.

The used market clearly benefits consumers, but can it benefit developers? Perhaps. The first benefit that comes to mind and is currently noticeable is the ability for consumers to afford new game purchases. If a consumer is short $20 of the price of the game they want to buy, there options are limited. But the used market allows them the bring in games they no longer play and receive credit to fill in the gap in their budget. They are now able to afford a new game when they were unable to before trading.

Next is loyalty. If a customer is unsure of a franchise and how well they will like it, the used market allows them to try the franchise at a lower risk to their pocketbook. If they don’t like the franchise, they can trade it in and recoup some of their cost. If they do like it, they will then seek out other games from that developer or franchise. They are a customer for life and will more than likely buy new in order to support those games.

Those are two clear benefits currently established by the used game market for developers. Why complain? The answer is still money. While a new game purchased is money in the pocket of the developer, used games whether they bring in new fans or not brings no money to the developer. What can be done to make the used market more profitable for the developer? I have two answers and I think that many more can be found.

Number one is down loadable content. With the increased connectivity of consoles and PCs today, developers have the power to expand the life of the games they create by adding content after the game is made. They can create new levels, characters, stories, weapons, armor and other items etc. They can breath new life into games that may have otherwise been left to gather dust on the shelves in living rooms and used game stores. This DLC is completely immune to the effects of the used market. It is available to buyers of new copies as well as used. Every time a fan buys new content, that is money in the pocket of the developer. This is a growing trend and I hope to see more of it.

My second suggestion is for the stores that sell used games. Share your numbers. Share the number of used copies traded in and sold with the publishers. NPD puts together wonderful information every month telling us how many new games are sold. We get a great incite on the level of success of these games. Yet, no one knows how successful a game is after printing has ceased or even when sales slow down. Most used game stores have easily compilable and publishable data on used game sales. Using these numbers publishers can better determine when a price drop is needed to boost slowing sells or when an out of print game needs a reprint. The potential for increased shelf life of games is enormous. Why hasn’t this happened? I have no clue. It could be due to the publishers not asking for it or used game stores unwillingness to actually share this part of their business with the world. Either way, it can change.

In the end, the used game market benefits more than it hampers, but it can be improved greater benefit both consumers and developers. Let’s hope that it actually does change.

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