While I have no doubt that this has been on developer’s minds much longer, for the past two or three years there has been a public on-going debate over how much used video game sales are hurting game developers (or if they hurt game developers at all). The debate resurfaces periodically after a developer makes a comment about it.
This time, the comments come from the lead combat designer for Fable 3, Mike West. In an interview with Eurogamer, West stated that used game XBOX 360 game sales were hurting Lionhead Studios more than piracy while speaking about the recent release of Fable 3 for PC.
Following the interview, Tom Magrino at Gamespot published an insightful article detailing the current situation after some major video game developers have begun charging gamers to access online content in their games if they choose to buy used games instead of new games.
Read the article for yourself: Used Games Are Not The Same As Used Underwear
There is nothing wrong with the developers wanting to make money off of their games, but punishing customers who choose to buy used is not a good solution to this problem. Instead, developers need to learn from the behavior of their customers.
The primary reason that buying a used game is more appealing than buying a new game is the price. I can buy an almost-new copy of a game that came out last week (and was then traded in shortly after) for five or ten dollars less than the new copy. Plus, many used game stores guarantee their used games to work, so if I run in to a problem I can just bring the game back and get a new copy.
The new schemes to punish customers who buy used games aren’t going to solve the problem. Instead, gamers will learn which developers are doing this and then quit buying their games.
Developers Need to Lower Costs
Tom concludes his article with a statement I couldn’t agree with more:
“Publishers are aggressively attacking secondhand sales because the vast majority of games do not sell enough copies to justify their exorbitant development costs. To make up for that deficit, publishers have resorted to punishing the consumer. Perhaps it would make more sense if these publishers reexamined their own method for creating games and worked within their financial constraints to create a sustainable business model instead. “
Gamers buy used games because they cost less. I am very aware of the situation and try to buy new when I can, but I don’t have the money to regularly fork over $60 for a new game I may or may not enjoy for more than a week. If developers want more sales they should be working harder to lower costs. This is something only the developers have control over, but also something that could ultimately decide their fate.
Ideally, I think console games should cost $30 and handheld games should cost closer to $15. We’ve got a long way to go to reach those prices. In the mean time, cheap cell phone and tablet games are continuing to game market share. Part of the reason is the cost. Why should I pay $20 for Tetris on the Nintendo DS when I can get it for $5 on an iPhone (there is also a $5 of Tetris available as DSiWare now). Why should I pay $30 for any handheld game when I could potentially get 10 games for my iPhone for the same cost?
Developers like Rovio, the makers of Angry Birds, have created a successful business out of selling a $1 game. Developers of console games need to take a look at what they are doing and adjust accordingly. Unfortunately, there is also the threat of developers not adjusting to the market and instead using download-only games as a way of stopping players from selling their games or buying used.
While it is very possible that we are moving towards a download-only industry, choosing not to change would still be a terrible idea that could ultimately hurt the industry a lot more than it helps a single developer. With cheaper games available at the same time, consumers will continue to choose them over the expensive console games.
It is in the best interest of game developers to begin adjusting to the new market before they are left behind.