Like it or not, the used game concept and used game market have become a viable market for gamers. Publishers have long been dismayed over the concept, as the purchase of a second hand video game takes away from any potential profits that could have been gained from purchasing that game title, brand new in its shrink wrap. Speaking for myself, I find myself wanting to purchase a title brand new, not just to help fund those that have provided me with a form of media to get lost in, but I’m usually guaranteed that the condition of the product is immaculate. When I do go out of my way to purchase a used game, it’s almost always exclusively based around every generation other than the current one.
With that fact alone, second hand gaming purchases are vital to keeping this growing phenomenon calling gaming, alive and kicking.
While this might seem like a bold claim with no basis to it, one has to really take into account a number of factors that a used game market represents, as well as the rumblings around the next generation consoles locking out a used game from playing. Lets first explore how damaging a new generation of consoles with second hand lockout capability could be:
From a friendship standpoint, this could prove devastating. While I attended public school from the 8 bit era until the emergence of the 32 and 64 bit consoles, I often borrowed games, and even traded them between friends of mine. Lets face it – not all of us could afford the latest Square RPG on the Super Nintendo, especially when a number of retailers were either completely sold out for months, or had them at ridiculously inflated prices (I’m looking at you, $90 brand new Chrono Trigger at FAO Schwartz.) I couldn’t tell you the number of times I borrowed Final Fantasy III on the Super Nintendo from my best friend in grade school, while I let him borrow a few of my more cherished action titles on the very same system. There were times I spent allowance on a game that an acquaintance sold to me. Now imagine your kids growing up in today’s world, if Sony, Microsoft and/or Nintendo had a lockout system for any game that was previously used on another console. Little Suzy takes a copy of Call of Duty 2015 home to play on her Play4Station that she gave $30 to a friend of hers to purchase, and it will not play whatsoever, because it was licensed to the friends console only. Though console makers shrink their units somewhat years down the line, lugging it around isn’t much of a luxury unless you’re going up two flights of stairs and not across town.
It’s not just grade/high school gamers that would be hit hard by this as well; lending, trading and borrowing a myriad of items has become an accepted part of everyday life. On the subway to work I could find the Wall Street Journal laying on the seat, fully intact and available for me to view. Neighbors “borrow” cups of sugar. Classmates lend each other pencils. CCG players trade cards between themselves. I haven’t even mentioned the used car market either. While there will always be a more predominant market for a new release or that item to call your own, second hand, borrowing and used items has been, and will likely remain a standard in everyday life for the foreseeable future.
Now think about the number of ramifications brought forth from a next generation console that restricts second hand gaming. Those on a tight budget will purchase video games in a less frequent manner. Though the savings between a new copy of the latest Madden NFL release and one returned to a local game shop and resold as used might be $5-$10 at most, it’s a savings for many who don’t have such a vast wealth of disposable income. It would encourage friends to visit each other and try out games that one friend bought but another is indifferent towards, which is a practice that has gone on as long as the used game market has been alive. But what happens to gaming outlets, especially the mom & pop shops that usually struggle to make ends meet as it is, when compared to the juggernauts like Gamestop? Lets say little Chris Scott went out and bought Monster Hunter 4 for the neXtBOX, and although little Chris Scott is a massive Monster Hunter fan, the game turned out to be a huge disappointment, despite the glowing reviews it was given. He couldn’t go back to a gaming shop and either ask for a refund or trade the game in towards another purchase, because he essentially locked that game onto his console, and in effect, voided its use in any other neXtBOX game console. In the same vein, he couldn’t pawn it off to a friend of his for some kind of financial compensation, or even for another game on that very same system.
What happens to companies that revolve around renting out video games? Gamefly is a well-known video game rental company, mailing out new releases, as well as older titles to those who wish to play them for whatever reason. While they could certainly make money off of renting older titles from previous generations, the rapidly growing new generation of consoles and games would be meaningless to them, unless they flat out sold them, shrink wrapped and all. The end result could be gamers picking and choosing which games they will be spending their hard earned cash on, which again, may lead to an overall decrease in gaming purchases as a whole. Those that purchase used strictly due to budget concerns will be less likely to contemplate spending the few extra dollars to get the game new, especially if it’s going to be tied to that one console, or perhaps one account associated to that console.
There’s one important role that a used game market plays to the world of gaming, and it’s something that I don’t think many people have thought about – preserving its history.
Take a look back at some of the console generations gone by – in fact, if you’re a quasi-collector such as myself, take a good look at the titles in your collection, especially between the 16 and 32/64 bit eras. Looking through my own collection, I see several titles that stand out to me:
Dragon Force (Sega Saturn)
GoldenEye 007 (Nintendo 64)
Die Hard Trilogy (Sony PlayStation)
WCW/nWo: Revenge (Nintendo 64)
In terms of a moderately obscure title such as Dragon Force, the chances that it will land on any console via “classics”, “virtual console” or “XBLA HD Remake” is slim to none (in the US at least). The only way to (legally) obtain and play this often forgotten about title is if one either has a Sega Saturn console or can track one down second hand, and on top of that, find Dragon Force to begin with. Licensing issues have played a key role in GoldenEye 007 never seeing the light of day on either the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console, or as an HD touch up on the XBox Live Arcade roster. Although GoldenEye 007 is much easier to track down than Dragon Force, for about 1/5 the price to boot, imagine if there’s a future in which we couldn’t track down a playable copy of the next ageless wonder, because no one was able to trade them in, due to a systems lockout. Would we dump all those thrown away copies of Assassins Creed 2014 and NBA 2K16 in the same landfills currently occupying ET on the Atari 2600?
There’s always the option of emulation though. This is a slippery slope in of its self, as neither the companies that developed or published the game will receive any royalties whatsoever, nor would the resellers at a retail level, such as the 8 Bit & Up’s. Emulation does provide an alternate means of preserving history however, especially when it comes to the ability to play an extremely rare title that would fetch hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on ebay. On the other hand, there are sites that offer reproduction carts of certain hard to find games, or even some fan translations of titles never seen on western shores.
It’s a awkward situation…I am not here to promote used game purchases over the sale of a brand new release, however the second hand market for gaming is an essential component to video gaming if we want to ensure that future generations of gamers can experience what we experienced when we were younger. Developers and publishers may not be so keen on it, and I feel for them – I really do, but as a gamer I feel that solidifying a games legacy and value long after its retail run will benefit all gamers. I implore everyone that has the ability purchase brand new titles to please do so. If you’re a quasi-collector such as myself, don’t ever feel afraid to purchase older titles on outdated consoles from a used games merchant. Just be weary of the repercussions in a future filled with consoles that lockout previously played titles, or the elimination of used gaming sections in game stores. Second hand gaming markets on current generation titles are harmful to companies sure, but they are also a key to unlocking a long lasting lifespan as well.