By Operation Rainfall / May 31st, 2013
Welcome to the second official debate here on oprainfall. While we’ve had articles go out before that have had opinions from multiple sources, our debate articles feature two staff members sitting down to discuss topics of the day.
This will be the first of two debate articles dealing with a couple of issues that came up during the Xbox One reveal on May 21st. The contributors to this debate are Jeff Neuenschwander, co-Editorial Head and author of the Jeff’s Musings opinion series, and Guy Rainey, Assistant Editor and author of the Pretentious Opinionist opinion series.
Three basic rules were agreed upon before debating these topics. First, each contributor will get to make a statement of up to 400 words. Second, after each statement, there will be a cross-examination period where the opposition can ask the contributor up to five questions. Third, and most important, there will be no fighting, name calling, or degrading of any kind towards an opponent, and each contributor will treat the other with respect.
TODAY’S TOPIC: In the weeks leading up to the reveal of the Xbox One, rumors surfaced about how Microsoft would be instituting a fee on used games. While Microsoft has denied that they will charge a fee, details about used games remain unclear. Would you be okay with a game company instituting a fee for used games?
JEFF: Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen publishers come up with what I will describe as “creative” ideas in trying to combat losing money in the secondhand market. These have included things like authorization codes and paid disc-locked content. While both have their negatives—especially if the Better Business Bureau finds you’re forcing customers to pay you twice for everything on a new disc—I have no issues with authorization codes.
The main problem with authorization codes is that they are only designed to be used once. After the code is used, you can’t use it again. There is a solution to that: let the second user pay a minimal fee for use of the product. It doesn’t have to be much; just a couple of bucks, maybe five bucks max.
The thing is…the secondhand market exists to let someone buy goods that they couldn’t get when they were new. If there are no new units of the product you’re looking for, you have a right to buy a secondhand unit.
However, I have issue with the selling of secondhand products within weeks or even a couple of months after the release. That timeframe is the most important for the publisher and developer to make their money back. If used products get put back into the market during that stretch, the publisher and developer (no matter how big or small they are) potentially loses money. A small fee is an acceptable way to help them earn some money for their work.
GUY: Would you have the same problem if a person was selling their DVD, clothing, or, say, a car in the same timeframe? If so, what should be done about it?
JEFF: Perhaps, but it seems sketchy for someone to turn around and sell things like a car, clothes, or a DVD within a couple of weeks or even a month after release in the first place. Somehow, we—game creators and gamers alike—have created this culture where games are disposable after the first playthrough. We suddenly don’t want to own a game after we’ve finished it once, whereas we’d be seen as crazy if we turned around and sold a car after driving it only once.
GUY: Yet, wouldn’t the best solution for gamers and publishers alike be to create content that does not feel disposable? I personally have many games that I love and never want to part with.
JEFF: And so do I. I consider myself a game keeper rather than a game trader. The only time I have ever traded in a game within a week of playing it was with a terrible game called Saint—and for the record, that was when it was nearly four years after the game had come out.
And you’re correct, they should strive for content that doesn’t feel disposable. But even if they did, what constitutes disposable, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. No one can definitively say what is quality and what is disposable.
GUY: Online passes usually go for $10 USD. I would expect that publishers would try to get that much from Microsoft’s rumored program. Would you still support the concept?
JEFF: I’m actually not too familiar with online passes. Are they monthly or one-time fees?
GUY: One-time fees. EA introduced and/or popularized the idea with the announcement of Project $10. For sports games, if a game was bought used, a $10 fee would need to be paid to access the online portion of the game.
JEFF: Well, I think I’m actually in agreement with that. However, I feel that a $10 fee is a bit excessive. If you look at the difference between new and used products at places like GameStop, the difference is typically only $5, particularly for newer games.
GUY: Why should people who buy a used copy so close to launch have to pretty much pay full price to play their game? That $5 to $10 savings could be the only way to afford the game.
JEFF: Because developers have bills they have to pay. The opening weeks are the most crucial to getting enough money together to pay for the game. If you don’t get your money back, you end up like 38 Studios (developers of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning): getting your company held up by your loan shark (in this case, the state of Rhode Island).
GUY: Used products are a natural product of a capitalist society. Not every person wants or needs the newest thing on the market, and some people who do want the newest thing need extra cash to buy the new products. This means that people who would be satisfied with a used, cheaper product can buy them from people who are ready for something new. In most industries, this is a given. Car dealerships take in used vehicles to give credit towards new vehicle purchases. In the game industry, this is considered a travesty.
In the past generation, publishers have been trying to get some money out of used buyers with online passes. While widespread, I believe that online passes have largely failed to gain money from used buyers, as many games that included it (Dead Space 2 comes to mind) have tacked-on, forgettable multiplayer modes that were easily ignored. Now, a new wrinkle is added: Microsoft may be instituting a fee for used games. Under this system, if a used game is detected on the system, the game will be useless unless an extra fee is paid.
Now, I’m against this for the basic reason that its sole purpose is to take a cut out of the used game market. This system punishes the customer who buys used, forcing them to pay more money than the agreed-upon asking price. This system also gives no incentive for buying new, almost as if it is simply what the consumer is supposed to do and that doing otherwise is a moral failure on the part of the consumer. The system also excludes players who may not have an internet connection, as online activation is mandatory.
JEFF: Going with your car analogy, I live in a place where most of the dealerships are affiliated with certain car brands, such as Ford, GM, and Toyota. Now, in a similar situation with the current story that Microsoft is going by, they say that they’ll partner up with traditional stores like GameStop to sell used games and trade licenses in return for a cut of the profits. Would this be an okay solution to you as far as used games are concerned?
GUY: This situation only works to the benefit of GameStop. While GameStop is the biggest used game distributor (by benefit of being a nationwide chain), independent game stores and private people using services like Craigslist or Amazon would be left out, giving GameStop a bigger advantage.
JEFF: But that doesn’t seem rather capitalistic. Shouldn’t the smaller game stores as well as the Amazons of the world be able to reap the profits of a used game?
GUY: The difference would be that GameStop would be able to still sell a game by sticker price, but people without this connection would sell with a hidden (or at least not-included) fee. Unless a used game’s price significantly undercut GameStop’s price, why would a consumer choose to buy from someone else? And if the choice was made to significantly undercut GameStop’s price, private people may be able to take the cut, but independent game stores would need to cut the trade-in value of the game, making people more likely to take the game to GameStop. GameStop is nearly a monopoly, and we should be chipping that monopoly away, not adding to it.
JEFF: Would you agree that there is a difference between industries? For example, isn’t there a difference between video games and produce?
GUY: Yes, I would agree.
JEFF: Would you want to buy a used banana?
GUY: No, because a “used” banana no longer has any value. In that way, the produce industry and entertainment industries are different: once produce is used, it no longer has value. Entertainment mostly does.
JEFF: So, you seem to agree with me that each industry has different standards and practices. Shouldn’t the developers and publishers be allowed to set their own standards? After all, the secondhand market is a practice of the video game industry.
GUY: Yes, but the practices of the game industry already have some advantages. Expansion packs and downloadable content allow a game to make revenue after an initial release, even on used purchases. DVDs cannot be updated to include extended editions. A car cannot be connected to the Internet for paid updates (at least, not yet). Because games have become so tied to the Internet, new methods of receiving money are available to games that are not available to other industries.
Join us next time, when Jeff and Guy discuss whether Microsoft will stay in the console business if the Xbox One fails.
used gamesXbox One