Pre-Owned Mercenary

Capcom takes aim at the second-hand market - or so the Internet wants to believe

"The Internet is for porn", Avenue Q famously declared, and it certainly had a point - but it doesn't take much reading around to draw an even more depressing conclusion. The Internet isn't just for porn - it's also for conspiracy theories.

As long as humankind has existed, there have been soi-disant intellectuals convinced that their own warped mental pathways and peculiar beliefs chart a far straighter path to The Truth than any number of facts or any application of conventional logic ever could. With the advent of the Internet, they've been put in touch with a vast flock of people endowed with the seemingly contradictory qualities of being simultaneously suspicious of what they're told, and utterly gullible.

Worse yet, the increasingly break-neck pace of internet news reporting - and the feedback loop it often turns into - has turned even some of the more wacky conspiracies into an odd kind of accepted wisdom. Monday's left-of-field interpretation of an event becomes Tuesday's "well, obviously!" comment on a thousand blogs (each just parroting the last, but none willing to admit it), and by Wednesday it's enshrined on Wikipedia as historical fact.

As conspiracy theories go, it's not exactly on the same level as AIDS denialism or telling people with a straight face that September 11th was the work of the international banking conspiracy, but this week's amazingly rapid acceptance of malicious intent in Capcom's actions regarding Resident Evil: Mercenaries 3D follows precisely this classic path of the Internet conspiracy theory.

If this storm in a teacup has passed you by - perhaps you're a coffee drinker who has precious little engagement with teacups - then here's a rough summary. Capcom has released a game for the 3DS, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, which packages the multiplayer component from Resident Evil 5 up for Nintendo's new handheld. It's designed to be played co-operatively, and it's entirely mission-based - there's no storyline, and what progression there is comes in the form of unlocking new characters and upgrading their skills.

The furious tempest threatening to overspill onto the saucer and moisten the digestive biscuits, however, comes from a sin of omission on Capcom's part. The game saves progress data to the cartridge, as is standard with 3DS games - but doesn't have any option to delete that data and reset to factory settings, so once you've unlocked something in the game, it stays unlocked no matter what.

For most players, this isn't even something they'll notice - I've been playing RE: Mercenaries 3D for a couple of weeks now without ever realising something was amiss - but one consequence is that if you buy a second-hand copy whose former owner had played the game a bit, all the skills they unlocked will be available to you.

Occam's Razor suggests that this is a slightly silly but not terribly damaging oversight on Capcom's part. Since the game doesn't support multiple profiles or anything like that, there was no requirement to build a save system - but as a result of not doing so, they ended up without a data reset option. Daft, but understandable.

A handful of online commentators, however, have a different explanation. This, they reckon, is a secret and sneaky conspiracy by Capcom to reduce the second-hand sale value of RE: Mercenaries 3D, since you'll be lumbered with someone else's save game (although that has arguably minimal consequences on the play experience itself). Far from being a silly omission, it's a deliberate assault on the second hand market, long the bete noire of game publishers.

Capcom's devious scheme is hardly devious and barely even a scheme. If this really is a conspiracy, Capcom really ought to hire a better plot-hatching cabal.

As conspiracy theories go, it's not entirely nuts, but it's still unproven and completely unsupported by any solid evidence. Moreover, it makes some startling leaps of non-logic - starting with the assumption that a large number of second-hand buyers are the kind of people who read online forums to find out about relatively obscure game features or drawbacks before making their purchase. If that were true, Capcom might indeed have a devious scheme on their hands. Since it's patently not true, Capcom's devious scheme is hardly devious and barely even a scheme. If this really is a conspiracy, Capcom really ought to hire a better plot-hatching cabal.

What's interesting to note, however, is the reaction to this conspiracy theory in two key quarters. Firstly, there's the online gaming news establishment, which took all of about twelve hours to go from reporting this as a slightly wacky theory to stating it as solid, unquestionable fact in stories about the game. No further evidence emerged to support the theory in that time - indeed, the only recent development is a slightly bewildered comment from Capcom stating that it doesn't think this will impact the second-hand market at all.

Rather, what happened was a classic example of the kind of problem that's come to define the games media in recent years. A few blogs picked up on the story, and ran it questioningly and hesitantly. Then dozens more picked up on those original stories, and ran them more stridently. A few rounds of thinly veiled copy and pasting later, and all nuance has been lost; now you have blogs, some of which are plenty big enough to know better, posting innuendo as fact. The original posters of the theory, seeing the popular blogs post their theories as fact, post again to say "look, told you it was true!", and the cycle begins anew.

That's a well-understood news cycle, and it's a poison that afflicts the media outside games as well - as a phenomenon, it often gets labelled as "churnalism", and it's an inevitable consequence of the insistence of publications to try to be first with the news, and to obfuscate the sources of their reportage, rather than striving to be accurate or insightful (which wins a modicum respect, but not a whole lot of traffic from Google). In this instance, the net result is simple - for every article saying "hang on, there's no evidence of a conspiracy here", there are a dozen accepting the now-widespread "conventional wisdom" that Capcom are plotting against the second-hand market.

The second interesting reaction is from, as it happens, the second-hand market. In the UK, retailer GAME has barely batted an eyelid at the controversy, saying that it'll continue accepting trade-ins of RE: Mercenaries 3D in spite of the problem. HMV, on the other hand, has announced that it's going to bar all second-hand trade-ins.

In a way, it would be interesting if GAME had followed suit - it would be a good experiment to check and see what the actual impact of second-hand sales is on new-product sales, although it's not exactly a new experiment. Most retailers stopped accepting trade-ins of PC games many years ago, after all, and look what happened there - far from a huge upsurge in first-hand sales, the retail market just imploded upon itself (there were, in fairness, other factors at work here as well).

HMV's response, though, is interesting in another way - in that it's an oddly reactionary knee-jerk from a huge retail chain, and it illustrates, I believe, just how nervous stores like HMV are about the prospect of losing second-hand sales. As online retailers, supermarkets and digital distribution have steadily eaten their way into the hegemony of the specialist stores, second-hand has been the lifeline that has kept them afloat, for the most part. Even a whisper suggesting that a publisher might have done something to damage that market provokes a strong response - a protective instinct that speaks volumes about where retailers are really making their money, or where they hope to make their money in the lean years to come.

The reality is that publishing has an uneasy but not entirely negative relationship with second-hand. Publishers don't like seeing their wares sold second-hand for five quid less than the brand new copy in the next shelf along

Yet in this instance, the whisper is really just that - a whisper - and the evidence for that is simple. I referred to second-hand as the "bete noire" of the publishing industry earlier in this column, and although that's certainly true, it doesn't tell the whole story. The reality is that publishing has an uneasy but not entirely negative relationship with second-hand. Publishers don't like seeing their wares sold second-hand for five quid less than the brand new copy in the next shelf along, a week after launch - certainly, that's true. But I've yet to speak to a senior publishing exec who says outright that he wants the second-hand trade dead.

There's a good reason for that - economically, everyone knows that trade-ins are propping up the first-hand market, and are helping to expand and sustain the industry's reach in younger, lower-income and less committed segments of the market. Publishers want second-hand to change, certainly. They want to see a cut of the revenues, absolutely - that's what things like EA's Project Ten Dollar are all about. But do they want to kill the second-hand market off? No, they don't.

That's why the Capcom conspiracy theory makes no sense to me; it implies a hidden objective which I simply don't think any publisher holds. Like every other publisher, Capcom would like the second hand market to serve it better - that's a given. But let's also not forget that like every other publisher, Capcom also sometimes makes mistakes - and unless solid proof to the contrary emerges, it's only sensible to treat the sin of omission in Mercenaries 3D as precisely that.

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Latest comments (19)

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 10 years ago
Great piece Rob, but everybody knows it were the clockwork elves :P
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany10 years ago
I already lost my trust in Capcom. Not only they are sexist and over-capitalistic, now they limit your freedom inside in-game so they can keep shelling us the same game 5 times in two years?

If this is true, I'm not buying capcom again
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Antony Johnston Writer & Narrative Designer 10 years ago
"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."
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Show all comments (19)
Stephen Woollard Online Infrastructure Specialist, Electronic Arts10 years ago
I am reminded of a similar situation that arose when I was working on Timesplitters: Future Perfect some years ago. I was sitting at my desk, testing the split screen multiplayer components on the GameCube and perusing a forum dedicated to the Timesplitters series.

There were a number of posts asking if the NGC version would have online play, which it didn't. However, a number of people stated categorically that it indeed did have online play. I posted with an anonymous account to the effect that the game "as far as I was aware" did not have anything other than split screen, only to met with a barrage of vitriol from various people calling me n00b etc and informing me pointedly, with many 'rolleyes' emotes, that "everyone knows" the game had online multiplayer.

That was a perfect example of wishful thinking becoming reality in the minds of a number of misguided individuals which then spread as "fact" around various communities, which is very similar to what happens here.

The moral of the story is - don't believe stuff you read on the interwebz... (as if anyone with more than two brain cells needs to be told that)
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Matthew Millington Programmer, Dark Energy Digital10 years ago
This, they reckon, is a secret and sneaky conspiracy by Capcom to reduce the second-hand sale value of RE: Mercenaries 3D

In some cases this may actually increase the second-hand sale value, since people may be willing to pay a bit extra for the game with everything unlocked from the start. How many people have bought high level MMO accounts to avoid having to do all the low level grinding?
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Joe Winkler trained retail salesman, Expert10 years ago
The question is: "Why do people play games?". To kill time and/or to achive something. Get new weapons and gear is in such a game the motivation. Unlocking new levels and maybe some speedruns. But where is the motivation in playing a game wich is already through the whole unlockables?

I won't cheat at battlefield, just to play the last level without completing the previous ones. And I won't buy a game in wich everything is already "done". Therefore I can understand the misery their in. And I also understand why Game and other reitailers (EB GAMES Australia) won't buyl and return such games.
I don't think Capcom did this on purpose, it was just a feature they forgot.
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Paul Shirley Programmers 10 years ago
Did Capcom actually state they didn't do this deliberately? Remember that 'a slightly bewildered comment from Capcom' is not the same as a denial... because unless they did, your theory is just that, another theory, just one without the conspiracy aspect!

Given the number of NDS save games I've seen corrupted it seems like a balls up not having a reset option even if you ignore the resale story. Personally I'd also want reset to allow more testing of production cartridges but maybe the devkits are now more trustworthy than I remember ;)
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 10 years ago
I have played Resi 5 extensively over the last couple of years, and one of my favourite aspects is replaying levels to build up the credit and buy or unlock cool weapons like the Hydra or infinite-ammo Magnum. Potentially taking this away seems pretty mean on Capcom's part, whether it was deliberate or otherwise.

I have a question though: can 3DS games be patched? Because if so I wouldn't be surprised if they removed this restriction due to all the negative press this week. After stuff like the DRM in Final Fight: Double Impact and horrendously overpriced costumes and DLC in their various Street Fighter & fighting games, they could probably do with restoring a bit of consumer faith.
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David Long a bit of this... a bit of that... 10 years ago
I suspect you've never dealt with a publisher or publisher/distributor or even a distributor. If you had, you'd know this truth: The only thing they consider, their very basis for existing, is the extraction of as much money as possible from productions. However that can be done.

There single focus is volume of money. NOTHING else.

To this end they completely and absolutely control how a production is.

Suggesting Capcom had something to do with the removal of a feature as normal as a save game reset is the only logical conclusion to draw. It's not something accidentally "overlooked" during development of a game by game developers. It's not something dutiful testing and publisher and distributor analysis of the final product would overlook.

Take a look at a contracts deliverables to get a vague idea of how thoroughly anal they're about all that a production should be to and for them.

And, as previously stated by Paul Shirley, Capcom has not denied deliberately not including a save game reset. Despite the size of public conjecture. At the very least this is either incompetence or an indication that somewhere there's a paper trail capable of indicting them on this matter. Otherwise the logical view of the world, that you seem to subscribe to, would suggest they'd be smart enough to nuke negativity, bad press, bad sentiments and any other downsides they could, as best they could.

That they haven't, while acting "bewildered", says more than saying nothing at all.

Incompetent or Conspiracy? Who cares? The outcome is the same. But I'd put nothing past them.

A doorway to a possible nullification of the second hand market has been shown to the game publishers of the world. That, in and of itself, is a big deal, with huge ramifications for the gaming public. If you're naive enough to think this will not instigate clever efforts to further nuke the second hand game market, by publishers and distributors, then you're living in a conspiracy theory of false love and consideration of gamers and consumers by publishers that's never been, and never will be.

On 9/11 conspiracy theories... I ask you only this. Do you have a logical or rational theory for Building 7?
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Nick Ferguson Director, ID@Azure, Microsoft10 years ago
"On 9/11 conspiracy theories... I ask you only this. Do you have a logical or rational theory for Building 7?"


[link url=
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 10 years ago
I was truly pissed when final fight and Bionic Commando rearmed 2 had that feature that required you to be online to play. That resulted in me simply not purchasing two games I otherwise would have paid money for. they keep doing this stuff to prevent piracy and it only encourages it. Anyway, CAPCOM does things that truly suck.
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Steve Sawyer Editor In Chief, GameGavel.com10 years ago
I am dead serious when I say that if you are a developer or a publisher of retail console games, then I have figured out a way for you to not lose money at the second hand market, and not alienate your customers at the same time. I'm just waiting for a high powered executive to actually take the time to listen to me. Because once someone does, this idea of mine is just going to destroy Gamestop once and for all. Hell our auction site is already going to take a huge stab at ebay this summer... while they raise fees to an overall 10 percent, we are going unlimited. Make no mistake the second hand market is currently designed to hold you upside down and shake your pockets loose and people like myself are your best hope for a physical media future.

Also for the record, is the ONLY videogame organization that supports the Video Game History Museum. Not a single publisher or a developer or even other gaming based website has ever offered help, money, or even mentioning us, even if it translates into a better future for all gamers, or leads to us preserving gaming history. If that's not an indication as to the state of this insanely selfish industry, then I dunno what is.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 10 years ago
I'm with David Long on the lack of a "reset saved data" feature; there clearly is some sort of "save system" (as the article terms it) since they can store data in the first place, so a reset is an obvious feature that's very unlikely to be completely forgotten by developers, studio testers, publisher testers, and Nintendo's testers.

I don't see how HMV's response could be a reaction indicating that they're worried about losing second-hand sales: if that were the case, why would they play right into the publisher's hands and stop selling things second-hand?

I find the argument that publishers are willing to accept second-hand sales in order to "[prop] up the first-hand market, and [help] to expand and sustain the industry's reach in younger, lower-income and less committed segments of the market" quite plausible. It makes sense. But if that's the case, what they want is the maximum possible differentiation between new and used goods in order that they might encourage as many people as possible to spend the extra money to buy new. Removal of the save data reset feature seems to me to help quite well with that aim.

So perhaps this isn't a conspiracy theory after all, but a simple experiment to see if they can use a new technique to swing the balance slightly more to new sales, while still leaving a used market in place.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 10 years ago
Nice article... I ignored the whole thing as a "news" item on my blog (I just ran the latest commercial and made a generic comment about the game) as I saw right from the start where this was leading once the message board denizens got their dander up. That said, Capcom has done a few not so smart things with a few of its games previously, so this is yet another one of those dings on the door by their own shopping cart...
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Mike Arnold Editor 10 years ago
Firstly, every news has to be proven, hearsay will not be tolerated
Secondly, every company is interested in return of investment and then in their customers
Thirdly. instant gratification is the bane of the late 20th and the early 21 th century
Fourthly, having said this, no one cares about it


do not preach to the deaf and do not depict to the blind, it is arduous and in vane

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I think the arguement is overwrought. The extreme conspiracy theories which these Capcom consumer kids were unsubtley lumped in with above involves the headspinning connection of many strands of truth and lies to create a brand new story - usually obnoxious or poisonous - that plays to prejudice. Whereas what the forum kiddies are doing here seems to me at most making a snap judgement on a single action by a company. Prejudiced maybe, but as consumers it's their right to call it as they see it and does not condemn them to be compared to Truthers or any other obsessive nut-jobs. And presupposing Capcom to be friendly sausage fingered fools seems to me just as silly as deciding that they're out to kill gamers with murderous intent. Without any evidence on either side, on face value it *does* seem a lot more likely that it was a planned move by capcom - any dev will tell you that. Forums kids can be loud, Capcom can be subtle - doesn't mean either of them are stupid.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus10 years ago
Normally, I would believe the same thing: "c'mon, guys. This is just a stupid decision by a company that's made a lot of them recently". Unfortunately, a lot of Capcom's stupid decisions revolve around their desire to shove DRM down gamers' throats, the most recent one being for Super Street Fighter IV Arcade. For God's sake, they put SecuROM on Dark Void Zero, a $5 game!

Everything that Capcom has done, no matter how good their American PR guys are at spin, indicates that the company is trying to maximize profit in every single thing they do, damn the consequences, and that they're being run by clueless suits who have no clue about how gamers feel or what they want; this is the mindset that chased off Keiji Inafune. So when this came across, I certainly felt "yeah, I can see it".

(P.S.: I've seen a lot of people defending Capcom on the "it hurts Gamestop, so it's good" mindset. News flash: Gamestop will adjust. They're already preparing for the next step with their huge push into digital. They don't care about used games sales, they only care about profit. If trafficking children was profitable and legal, publicly owned companies would do it, and use PR drones to spin it to the public that doesn't approve. It would make no difference to their bottom line. In the zest for people to hurt Gamestop, they are in a real hurry to see individual consumers' rights vanish)
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Joshua Wordlaw CEO & President, Runic Raven Entertainment, LLC10 years ago
Nice article. I think it's rather ludicrous to believe that this is a scheme by Capcom, but rather just an oversight. Still, the Internet will try and make others believe what they want you to believe.
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Jed Ashforth Senior Game Designer, Immersive Technology Group, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe10 years ago
I'm certain Nintendo will have TRCs covering this for 3DS. Even if it escaped Capcoms internal QA requirements, it would have fallen foul of the TRC requirement. I'd be surprised if it was possible for this to have got out into the retail channel by accident.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jed Ashforth on 5th July 2011 2:22pm

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