Game Resales and Project $10

I’m slowly bouncing back from a period of incredibly hard work, followed by a complete disconnect and resting period. I should hopefully be back to posting regularly again now that the game has gone gold and we’re moving on to the next project. I still have some emails in my backlog of things to reply to — if you’ve been waiting for an answer, I’m sorry about the delay.

Anyway, retailers have spoken out against the so called “Project $10″, saying it will cause consumer rage:

“The person you’re pissing off the most is the consumer,” McCabe told GamesIndustry.biz. “This affects [them] directly – they pay the same amount of money and yet the resale value is much reduced. From a retailer’s point of view, they’ll just readjust [the price] bearing in mind you have to buy the voucher.”

This is an interesting development. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, the $10 project essentially puts a code in the box to unlock additional content online for the game. The code can only be used once, which means that buying the game new has additional value over buying the game used.

Consumers who buy a used copy can still choose to buy the online content, but for a fee (one would imagine $10, considering the name of the “project”, but I think it’s actually $15 for the current titles). It’s been done with a few recent games including Mass Effect 2 this far (awesome game by the way, I’ve been having a blast with it), and will be done for future titles, including Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

“EA’s project $10 move is aiming to stifle pre owned games sales, but what they don’t factor in is the damage this could have for them in relation to new sales,” said Day.

Wow, what a complete misunderstanding. This has nothing to do with publishers wanting to stop resales — it’s simply a business model where publishers can earn some money off of resales.

There are interesting parallels to be drawn for me, between the console and PC markets. Pre-owned games pose much of the same problem on the console market as piracy does on the PC market. The end result of both is the same: people play our games without a single bit of money ending up with the people who made the game. In the worst case, we end up paying a lot of money to keep servers online, while getting no money at all from the sale.

There has been a lot of whining from publishers and developers about both issues. Those of you who know my stance on piracy should not be very surprised that my stance on pre-owned games is very similar. Whining about it or blaming people for it is not going to help — yet you cannot deny that the fenomenon in itself is causing major problems for publishers and developers (just as piracy is) — there is no getting around that.

However, trying to “clamp down” on used games sales or piracy is pointless. Piracy is illegal, but unenforcably so which means that it doesn’t really matter. Resale is simply a business choice. While you might think that it is a bad business choice and that retailers would be better off long-term by staying clear of business practices that will kill their providers, they are making a ton of money short-term. There is no way they wouldn’t fall for that temptation, and in the end, any business choice that works for them is a valid one. Whining or arguing about it isn’t going to help.

This causes an interesting problem for publishers. One way would be to move to direct online sales only, but this excludes large chunks of consumers who can’t download large games or who aren’t connected at all. Another version would be to require online activation and to bind the game to a certain console or live/psn account, which simply wouldn’t be fair to the consumer and would cause a never-ending stream of problems and well-earned gamer hatred.

The middle ground, then, is to sell a full game to people through retail, but to provide extra value with unlockable content to people who buy the product new. It should come as no surprise that retailers dislike this — it will certainly cut a chunk of profitability out of the resale market. It will lower the value of a game for resale, which means it’ll be worth less to trade in. Will this annoy some customers? I’m sure it will.

Many people seem to be taking this as the publisher wanting to be paid twice, which I think comes back as the default gamer response to anything developers or publishers do to earn money being horrible and bad. It sometimes gets to me to see this kind of attitude with gamers. We can’t make games as a charity, and making these games on bleeding edge tech is extremely hard work, and the people in the industry are incredibly dedicated to their art.

The other side of things is that buying the game used will be cheaper, creating a much better “try before you buy” environment, where you can potentially buy the game used and try it. If you like it, you can buy the DLC that you would’ve got from the new version. This is sort of a win-win situation for the publisher and the consumer, but of course not that great for retailers.

To publishers, this is the option that provides the best value to consumers while moving to a new business model that allows us to actually start making proper money from games again, which could halt the current trend of studios closing and developers being fired.

I’m sorry if that takes money out of retailers pockets, but I really do think that the talented people who sweat blood making these games deserve the money more than people who only know how to push people to buy used instead of new. It may have been a good dream for you, but it was still a dream and now it’s time to wake up.

And yeah, retailers claiming to stand up for the consumer is nothing new. But just as with music labels claiming to speak for artists, they are simply middle men that are slowly losing their value.

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