There has been a lot of “hate” tossed out at the Xbox One since it was unveiled the other day, and you could argue that some of that “hate” will likely be applied to Sony’s Playstation 4 as well after more details are released. However, there is really just one aspect that truly bothers me: the attitudes towards the used game market.
I have been reading several opinions on this topic, but nothing sticks out to me more than some comments from Ben Kuchera at Penny Arcade:
Without the used market sucking up all those sales and all that consumer money, it’s very possible we’ll see Steam-style sales on older or bundled games on the Xbox One. It’s not a sure thing, but killing used games is going to free up a ton of money for companies to try new ideas in terms of sales and pricing. The people who get innovative and take advantage of this structure will thrive. The rest are likely to slowly choke on the new economics of game development.
It needs to be made clear, if all the studio closings and constant lay-offs haven’t made this explicit: The current economics of game development and sales are unsustainable. Games cost more to make, piracy is an issue, used-games are pushed over new, and players say the $60 cost is too high. Microsoft’s initiatives with the Xbox One may solve many of these issues, even if we grumble about it. These changes ultimately make the industry healthier.
The reason these comments stand out to me is because this seems to be the general thought process within the industry itself. Companies are losing money and, in an effort to combat it, have used day one and on-disc DLC, micro-transactions in full priced games, and online-passes used to deter resale of games. It’s not surprising; the publisher and developers do not see a single cent from a game bought secondhand. What they do see is the loss of a potential new sale, and I can grasp why they view this as a problem.
However, used games seem to be something of a scapegoats in the industry… as is piracy. At least with piracy it’s understandable – pirates don’t pay anyone for the games they play, so no one sees any money from it – but this really isn’t as big of a problem with console gaming. That’s why the console front has become much more focused on the whole “used game” aspect.
I just can’t see how this is really the issue at hand. While it’s undeniable that used games aren’t good for publishers and developers, it’s not like consumers aren’t there.
Take the logic of ballooning budgets. Many developers claim they have to balloon it because otherwise no one will buy their games. Except, the winner of every console generation since the NES has been the console that was the weakest of the available options. But if graphics matter so much, why did the Wii feature 20+ million more sellers than the 360 and the Playstation 3 combined? Why are Dishonored‘s 2 million sales a success and Tomb Raider‘s 3.4 million a failure?
I can tell you why, developers: because you refuse to look in the mirror and realize the problem starts with you. Why aren’t you making a lot of money? Because you’re creating an environment that isn’t friendly to the consumers.
Nintendo is probably one of the last remaining beacons in this regard, because they take an entirely different approach to the used game spectrum. You don’t combat used games by making it harder or impossible for people to sell them (and conversely, for people to buy them in the first place) – you just make the games so good people don’t want to sell them to begin with. That’s some pretty solid logic. Don’t believe me? Here’s Reggie and Scott Moffitt on this very topic:
Scott Moffitt: It is a reality in the marketplace. We haven’t incorporated any features that will discourage used game sales at this point. We’re not trying to circumvent that.
Reggie Fils-Aime: More and more retailers are experimenting with the used game model. We don’t believe used games are in the best interest of the consumer. We have products that consumers want to hold onto. They want to play all of the levels of a Zelda game and unlock all of the levels. A game like Personal Trainer Cooking has a long life. We believe used games aren’t in the consumer’s best interest.
(Credit to GenGame for looking up these quotes)
Don’t even get me started on the massive overspending the industry is always doing. Fans didn’t demand that you spend more money or give them the most realistic visuals. Sure, there are some people who want that, but you shouldn’t listen to the vocal minority simply because the internet exists. Sales figures are all you need to tell if you’re doing it right.
Skyrim has nothing on the latest Gears of War or Halo in terms of its visual fidelity, but do you know what it does have going for it? Being a vastly superior game. It’s just a great game, so it’s no wonder it had 10+ million in sales. Great games sell because they are great, not because they look like cinematic experiences.
And Square, stop right there – I know what you’re about to say: “Tomb Raider is a great game and it still didn’t sell well!” Excuse me? It sold amazingly! The reboot of a long standing series, one which has spent over a decade giving its fan base terrible games, became the 4th bestselling Tomb Raider game of all time. Square, you achieved the once-high sales the series originally garnered in the 90’s – that’s a fantastic accomplishment considering how badly the series has gone downhill. You should pat yourselves on the back and take a nice long weekend in the Bahamas.
…Oh, wait, 3.4 million didn’t make you much, if any money?
I’d like to say I feel sorry for you, but you really didn’t need to have “that many extra details” in the engine. No one would have cared in the slightest if there were less grit or fewer details. Why? Because the game itself is great. It was that greatness, not little details or a multiplayer no one wanted, which gave you so many additional sales. Only one Tomb Raider has ever sold over 5 million, and with the decade of awful we’ve had from the series, 3.4 million is astounding.
Now, I do not doubt that the cost of making games has risen. But if you stopped blowing money on “details” and “features” that no one ultimately cares about or asked you for…you might find that 3.4 million sales can make you a lot of money. Don’t blame consumers for your poor decisions, and don’t blame used games either – trust me, they didn’t hurt that bottom line enough to be noticeable.
It’s hard to look at the gaming industry these days, as the environment has changed so significantly in recent years. People used to make games in this industry because they loved to share their imagination and creativity with the world. It wasn’t about 60 fps, 1080p, or using all 5 billion transistors available in the hardware. It wasn’t about realistic graphics, cell shading, or if the game was an FPS or a platformer. It wasn’t about the paycheck and the company’s stock prices. It was just about making the games they actually wanted to make – and nothing screams “quality gaming” more than a team creating something they feel passionate about.
This is where the real issue with the video game industry stems. Single player gaming is not dead. New IPs are not unwanted. Gaming companies just stopped giving them to us out of fear that they wouldn’t sell well enough. The industry needs to stop with the stupid decisions, stop making things a hassle for those who buy games (as, really, that only promotes piracy), and return to being passionate about their work and spending wisely on features that we players actually care about. Most importantly, they must stop using used game sales as a cop-out for what’s wrong and why they can’t make any money. Honestly, companies, you can’t tell consumers what they want – sit there and tout about how single player gaming is dead all you want, but the people who bought Tomb Raider, Skyrim, Dishonored, and…pretty much any Nintendo game seem to be speaking an entirely different language from you.
Wake up, guys! If used games were really the big problem you make them out to be, you would have crashed and burned 30 years ago. Used game sales have been a thing from the beginning, and just because it’s easier to buy and sell them now doesn’t change anything. You want people to stop selling their games? Give them a game that’s so good they don’t want to sell them. Learn from your own mistakes rather than finding a way to justify them, and I promise, consumers will reward you for it.