Games are expensive, especially in Australia. I walked into EB Games today and saw Battlefield 3 being purchased at the full retail price of $108 by a kid who’d clearly been saving up for it (and probably wasn’t of age for it, but that’s another topic). The second-hand market is not only welcome, but entirely necessary. It gives games a chance to actually be played, because there’s a huge chunk of the gaming population that can’t afford to buy the new releases when they come out.
Publishers, you’re charging the wrong people.
This practice has been running unregulated for years now. “This won’t do!”, says the big publishers. “We can monetise this!”. And so in waddles the online pass system, a globally adopted term for a method of restricting content (usually online play, but not exclusively) to the first owner of a product, and charging any future owners for the privilege of enjoying that content.
Look, I can see where the publishers stand on this. Servers are expensive to run and maintain. I’ve heard the argument that there’s no equivalent of the online pass in any other second-hand market (like, for instance, used cars). Thing is, it’s not up to the original manufacturer of a vehicle to maintain it pro gratis. Sure, they’ll service the vehicle, but the current owner of the vehicle is the one that ponies up the dough for it. I’m not against the publishers for this practice, but I’m certainly not on their side.
Publishers, here’s where you’re going wrong with this system. You’re charging the wrong people. Think about the second-hand market: who’s actually profiting? Retailers. Retailers make a huge amount of profit on second-hand titles. They’re bought cheaply off customers, and sold at an inflated price. Retailers make far more profit on the sale of a second-hand game than a full-priced, new release.
Considering that the price of games hasn’t exactly shifted southward in the last decade, it’s time for publishers to meet us half-way. Second-hand sales are always going to be there, but it’s time you looked at charging the people who are pocketing the money, rather than the people who are ensuring that your games and IP still have a dedicated fan base years down the track. These are the gamers who could potentially look at purchasing the inevitable sequel to your game when it launches, rather than wait for a second-hand copy.
Now, to the retailers: take a leaf out of GameStop’s books (never thought I’d ever write that) and make sure that when a second-hand game is sold, gamers aren’t forced to pay again to actually enjoy it. And don’t even think about upping the price to factor in the additional online pass payment: that’s just cruel, and you make too much money off the market as it is.
This is a great opportunity to keep everyone involved in this happy, and it won’t take a huge investment from you: in fact, it’d be a fantastic selling point to say that your second-hand games are ready to play. Because ‘ready to play’ is exactly where we, as the gaming world, need to be.
The Online pass system basically forces people with used (or rented) copies of games to pay for an "unlock key" to play online, or sometimes even to access certain singleplayer game content. Examples of games that use this system are recent releases like Resistance 3, Batman: Arkham City, Battlefield 3, and even Uncharted 3.
The reasoning that publishers and developers give to do this is pretty simple. Games cost money, servers cost money, and future support and DLC – you guessed it – cost money! That money has gotta come from somewhere, and used game purchases are a great source of income, as the developers do not make any profit from used sales.
The counter-argument is also pretty simple: One copy of a game is sold, and that one copy should have the same impact to the developer’s coffers no matter who owns the game. Even if it’s traded, sold, rented, or anything in between – both the publishers and developers should only get paid for one copy of the game, because that’s exactly how many copies are involved in the transaction.
Well, I think the developers are right. The online pass is a fantastic idea. I would have no objections if the system was used in every console game from now on. Before you start swearing at me, let me explain. (Then you can start swearing at me!)
I hate the used video game industry. Hate it. Retailers like Gamestop (in the US) and EB Games (in Australia) buy the "preowned" copies for a quarter of the retail price and then re-sell it for $5 less than a brand new copy. Not only are they ripping off customers with these huge profit margins, they’re ripping off the developers by undercutting them. Developers find their sales dropping because the industry is being manipulated by the retailers (who are making huge profits).
Not only are the used game retailers ripping off customers with their huge profit margins, they’re ripping off the developers by undercutting them.
It’s only logical to introduce a system like Online Pass – not only is it a way to monetise used game sales from the retailers, but it’s also a way to incentivise people to purchase a new copy instead of a used one. The used copy (at $5 less than retail) will cost more than the new copy if you want the Online Pass content (usually $10)! It’s an ideal plan, as it’s win-win for the publishers and developers alike.
The only losers are the retailers – and those guys are dicks! If I could, I would pay the developers full price directly for every game I buy. They certainly deserve every cent they can get. Every time you buy a used game, you’re essentially pirating it – at least from the developer’s point of view. And in this case, it’s definitely the most important point of view to consider.
Now let’s be clear on one thing: this is a completely different matter to, say, retailer-exclusive pre-order DLC, which I think is a load of bullshit. But in the case of online pass, I fully support it. Developers deserve to be compensated for every sale of their game, regardless of who sold it.