Friday, August 27, 2010

There was a bit of a fuss earlier this week when THQ released a game that had a 'one-time code' for online play. In other words, if you buy the game used, you don't get to play it online.

This obviously upset a lot of people, but THQ's Corey Ledesma added further fuel to the fire by saying:

"I don't think we really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset they don't get the online feature set I don't really have much sympathy for them."
"That's a little blunt but we hope it doesn't disappoint people. We hope people understand that when the game's bought used we get cheated."

The first reaction from a lot of people was that THQ was 'disrespecting their customers', but I think Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade hit the nail on the head by pointing out that if you buy a game used, you're not the developer's customer at all. They're not seeing your money.

However, taking this to an extreme, some people have gone so far as to say that buying used games is 'legal piracy', in that you're playing the game, but the people who made that game aren't seeing your cash.

Personally, I think that's a load of horse shit. When you pirate a game, a single copy gets bought which is then distributed to thousands of people. With used games, a single copy is bought, and then only one other person buys it used (maybe two or three if they trade it in also). But the biggest difference between buying used games and piracy is that money is changing hands. A purchaser of a used game may not be putting money directly into the hands of the developer, but they're giving money to the retail store who uses it to buy new games to put on the shelf.

Plus, if your game wasn't available used, chances are I'm not going to buy it anyway. I buy more used games than new because $60 is too expensive. There is obviously a huge market for used games, so rather than bitch about getting cheated, why not sell your games for $40 and take away any incentive to buy them used? You'd easily make up the shortfall in volume.

The thing is, developers can whine that used games cut into their profits, but at this point, it's hard to take them seriously. Modern Warfare 2 was the biggest entertainment launch in history when it was released. Not the biggest game launch, the biggest entertainment launch period. It sold 4.7 million copies in its first 24 hours and went on to make well over a billion dollars. The lesson here is simple. Make a good game and even with used re-sales and straight up piracy, you're not going to be hurting for money.

Retailers like Gamestop are filling a gap in the market. They're catering to Gamers, like me, who can't afford to drop $60 on every new release. Rather than whine, fill that gap yourself.

The part that I find most annoying is this is the gaming industry setting itself up as the victim and complaining about how unfair everything is. When a major developer can refer to the sale of used games as 'being cheated', I think it's time they look at how they've been treating their customers.

First of all, they could immediately cut down on used sales by selling games at a more reasonable price point. For a game like GTA 4 with 50+ hours of gameplay, $60 isn't too bad, but there are plenty of games that are over in less than eight hours with little or no replay value. Are those games really worth sixty bucks?

How about the games that arrive broken or full of bugs and glitches. Are they worth sixty bucks too?

Of course, you can point out that multiplayer makes games infinitely replayable and definitely worth sixty dollars… but even without one-time codes, developer tactics have made this impossible as well.

I paid $60, full price, for Call of Duty: World At War, but shortly after launch they released multiple add-on multiplayer maps. This wouldn't be a problem, but they didn't include an option in matchmaking to play only the core maps. So you'd try to join a game, and if the first map in the rotation wasn't a core map, instead of the game starting, you'd get booted out and sent straight to the xbox live store to buy the map pack. Three map packs later and it's just about impossible to play online.

Six months after the launch and I never got into a game without at least an hour of joining, seeing and I didn't have the map and having to back out. I also never managed to play two games concurrently.

This isn't a difficult fix. Just slap an option in matchmaking to play only the core maps or maps from the different expansions. The fact of the matter is that the developer doesn't want to make it easy. They want you to have to buy the expansions to keep playing. In other words, they have your sixty bucks, but to play the game you've paid for online, you have to spend another twenty for the expansion, and another twenty the month after that and so on and so on.

Also, developers are very quickly moving towards micro-transactions to nickel and dime their customers. This isn't an issue when they charge for extra content, but in a lot of cases, you have to pay extra to unlock content already on the disc, or sell unbalanced in-game items that you're forced to buy if you want to stay competitive online.

In other words, this is a two way street. Developers can whine about 'getting cheated' all they like, but maybe if they treated their customers better, this wouldn't be an issue.


Evan 08 said...

I wonder if this mentality will backfire on THQ. Let's pretend that I'm a gamer that buys new and sells the used game when I'm done.

Well, theoretically, there won't be any demand for a used THQ game, because they're crippled by the one-time code. Since I can't sell it and recoup my money, I may very else purchase a different game.

And what happens if my Xbox breaks? Will I have to buy a new copy of the game? Will I have to jump through hoops to prove to THQ that my Xbox broke? Sorry, too much hassle. I think I'll look elsewhere for my games.

Paulius said...

That's a good point, I hink a lot of gamers only buy new games because they know they can get 30-40 bucks back on a trade in...that way, they're still only really paying used prices after an initial investment.

Plus, one other thing THQ didn't take into account, rentals do the same amount of 'harm' as used games (and is WAY more popular)...and the age old practice of loaning and borrowing between friends.