According to the rumor mills, the next round of video game systems will prevent the play of used games (go here or here or here for some of those rumors; there are more out there, but those links have good sources, too).
Now I didn’t get a degree in economics. Thank god. But let me tell you, if used games are going to destroy the industry, there is something intrinsically wrong with the product.
Instead of asking questions like, “How do we prevent used games from being played on our systems?”, shouldn’t game developers and publishers be saying, “Why do people keep getting rid of our games for $15 a month after they bought it?”
Money’s tight these days, and book publishers want the Amazon juggernaut castrated because they do some pretty dickish things (go read this Seattle Times article and see if you don’t get pissed), but the argument isn’t about their facilitation of used book sales; it’s about how they’re able to use their corporate power to bully small and mid-level publishers into new deals. Publishers want to fight back, and they want the power to dictate how much the product costs for the consumer, enabling more control over how much of the money gets back to them.
So here you have video games (and I’m speaking of mainstream, mostly console and big budget PC), fighting two wars: one against piracy and one against used games, and I would argue that both of these are essentially the same war. It comes down to access and copyright. Publishers want to control the way that the user is able to access the content and how much they pay for that access.
I get that; I really do.
I was explaining this to my wife last night, telling her that it’ll be a sad day if Gamestop goes out of business (they are essentially the bookstores of the game world), and she finally got it that publishers don’t get any money from a used game sale. When she understood that, she thought for a second, and then said, “Well, why don’t the publishers just sell their games for cheaper a few months after they release them?”
That’s a pretty easy solution, and it’s one that I think is too easy. I’m sure that there are metrics out there, algorithms that could figure out the optimal time to discount games, leading to the publishers’ increase profit potential. They could start to incorporate timed-released DLC that happens only early in the game. They’re probably going to focus on the sustainable narrative aspect, making the game linked somehow to the gamer’s ID (that’s probably the easiest way to combat piracy and used sales).
But beyond and below all of this, it comes down to the fact that sometimes, just sometimes, us readers and gamers don’t want to part with something. Yeah, I could’ve sold my copy of Batman: Arkham City for $25 after I beat it. Did I? Nope. That game is a work of art, and as long as I have a system that’ll run it, I’ll have that game on the shelf. My copy of Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics? Yup, that’s not going anywhere. One of my buddies has all of the Halo games (even ODST) stacked neatly next to his 360. Why?
Sometimes we forget about the transcendental nature of stories, of games. We forget that there are some things that we just have. to. have. I parted with my Playstation a long time before I parted with my copy of FFVII who am I kidding? I still have my copy of that game). And I still have my copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, even though it’s wrinkly as hell and basically unreadable at this point.
Here’s hoping that gaming companies and publishers realize that they should be enabling enriching, quality narratives, ones that are worth more than a fifth of their purchase price. Then they won’t need to waste all of this money on copy protection and other proprietary forms of DRM, and we can go back to finding, enjoying, and sharing our favorites with our friends and families.