Gaming sites across the Internet are reporting rumours first shared by Kotaku suggesting that the next XBox console “may not play used games”. It rears an ugly and, in my opinion, pointless argument about pre-owned game sales and their effect on the video game industry.
I can categorically prove that pre-owned games actually boost developers' incomes. I would never have paid full price for Mass Effect. I knew nothing about it at its release; I was abroad and missed the launch PR drive, and it simply didn't appear on my radar. A friend tried to convince me to buy it, so I purchased a pre-owned copy at a reduced price.
I became hooked on what is still one of my favorite games of all time. It lead me to buy the second game at launch and my pre-order for the third instalment of the series sits in the system of my local retailer. Bioware didn't lose £20 by my pre-owned purchase; it gained £90. Pre-owned games aren't killing the industry; they supplement and boost it.
The argument is in vain, though. Despite the awesome buying power of gamers (we spent $1 billion in 16 days on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3) we do not wield our influence effectively to prevent changes to the industry that we, as consumers, don't want. The pre-owned games fiasco is one example. EA is dominating the war against the secondary market, implementing online passes as a way to double dip.
Most of EA's flagship titles utilize online content and gameplay. Without multiplayer access, the FIFA, Tiger Woods PGA, and Battlefield series are just shells of games. Having to purchase a pass after buying a title from the pre-owned section negates any financial savings. Gamers might as well buy new. EA is winning that battle.
With multiplayer in games such as Halo and the Call of Duty and Battlefield series being such a huge draw, businesses are noticing a potentially lucrative revenue stream. Developers are flirting with the idea of subscriptions and pay-to-play. The first steps have already been taken with Call Of Duty Elite, a subscription service for more dedicated CoD players. The service isn't compulsory or even necessary to have a great online experience, but it is a move towards what industry experts like Michael Pachter discussed two years ago.
Pachter felt that multiplayer is such a huge segment of the industry that unlimited access to online gaming is directly detrimental to new sales. You'll excuse me if I chuckle, but if I pay for a game and an annual subscription to Xbox Live, I'm quite certain that I don't want to spend more money for the game's online component.
Video-game sales may not be what they were in 2008 but nor is housing or anything else. We are still in the throes of a global economic crisis, and consumers have less disposable income. This doesn't mean that gamers should be punished for finding cheaper ways to enjoy their chosen pastime. Nor should they be milked for more cash to supplement the industry's coffers in these bad times. We should take steps to prevent irreversible changes to how we access and pay for gaming.
Gavin Lowe is a staff writer for the UK based web publication Game Kudos and keeps his blog at The Gaming Gentleman. He also tweets now and then @GamingGentleman.