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Green Man's Gian Luzio & Paul Sulyok

New distribution start-up explains how pre-owned digital sales can work

As a new digital games retail business, Green Man Gaming might not have received as much attention as it did last week had it not casually dropped the news that will be the first retailer of its kind to offer customers the option of buying pre-owned digital titles.

The term pre-owned is, of course, synonymous with the games industry. There are few other markets in which a retailer displays new and used products side-by-side, yet in games retail pre-owned sales contribute significantly to the profits of high street giants such as HMV, GAME and Gamestop.

During the first half of 2009, a quarter of GAME's profit came from pre-owned sales – a 12 per cent rise on the year prior. GameStop made an estimated $2 billion from sales of pre-owned games in 2008. It's a market that continues to grow while others struggle – new boxed software sales dropped 12 per cent in the UK in 2009 by comparison, while boxed PC software sales were down 26 per cent.

But pre-owned has not, to date, been a term associated with digitally downloaded sales. The nature of the install process and – particularly with PC games – the DRM systems protecting the software appear incompatible with such a model. Importantly, why would game publishers want to partner with any company offering to act as a middle man to such transactions when the move would surely cannibalise its more lucrative new product sales?

According to Green Man Gaming there's a simple reason – by distributing PC titles through its service, and allowing customers the option of trading those titles back in once they've finished with them, publishers will continue to earn money from their games long after the initial sale.

Green Man plans to offer publishers a percentage of the profit from every resale – a solution that it says taps into the 'grey market' currently comprised of price sensitive customers obtaining second hand PC games through eBay and BitTorrent sites.

And not only will its model ensure publishers benefit from sales that it otherwise would never have obtained a penny from, it will also re-energise the PC gaming market, encouraging existing gamers to try games they might have otherwise faltered before handing over their money for, it adds.

"We're not aiming at cannibalising the new game market," the company's CEO Paul Sulyok told "If I am a price sensitive customer, if I've got £20 to buy a £34.99 game, I will get that game for £20 be it on eBay or be it on a BitTorrent website. What we're doing is targeting the second hand grey market."

"It's using a very simple high street retail model – we're just going to apply that into the digital build," added COO Gian Luzio.

How the system works is simple – at least for the consumer. The site offers games for sale as other digital retailer does, with the difference being that as soon as a game is purchased, the consumer can see how much that game would be worth to them - at that moment - as a trade-in.

"We sit in the middle as a market maker and we always offer a price on the game. We always allow people to sell it back to us," explains Sulyok.

That price is calculated using a patent pending algorithm which works on location pricing and demand. As with traditional retail, that price is likely to remain high as long as the game is new, then drop as more second hand product becomes available. Once a customer has traded in a game, its sale price is credited to their account, and can be used against the price of subsequent games whenever they choose.

And importantly, at least in terms of getting publishers to sign up with the company, a percentage from each resale of a game – and research has shown the average console game is traded 6-7 times during its lifespan – goes to the publisher.

That means, says Sulyok, publishers can expect to generate an estimated 194 per cent in additional revenue per SKU.

Using an average £34.99 game that is resold twice per quarter as an example, Sulyok says that while the traditional retail model would earn the publisher approximately £22.74, the additional revenue Green Man would generate for the game would be £44.10 - £66.84 in total – over a three year period (accounting for the game's drop in resale value).

Furthermore, the argument that those sales would be to the detriment of new digital product sales doesn't hold true, says Luzio.

"When a new game title comes out you'll see a massive spike in the number of games that are being returned to people like GAME and HMV, and publishers still make money on the new game sales," he says.

"Despite the unhappiness that they're not getting money on the trade in, they are making money on the new game's sales because it's allowing customers to go in. Those customers are going to be price sensitive customers – they're not going to be rich and they do want to play all the latest games.

"The problem that digital has so far had is that you've got to be very particular about what you buy – you won't just give it a shot – which is stifling digital sales. Once you've bought it, it's worth nothing. Unless we can get over that, digital sales will always be second to physical sales because you'll only be going for a very niche market and what we need to do is encourage a larger, wider audience. We want PC gaming to go out to the masses."

Publishers understand that, says Luzio, adding that the company has distribution agreements with the majority of them.

A further incentive for them is Green Man's ability to deliver CRM data on how their games are being played. Specific information – such as the length of time a game has been played before being traded in – will be fed back to the publisher by the company.

Indeed getting them onboard hasn't actually been the difficult part, adds Sulyok – the tricky bit was ensuring compatibility with the company's technology and the DRM of the products it will be selling.

With that tackled, the site is set to launch towards the end of March in the UK, shortly followed by Europe, then North America a little later. The products offered between Europe and the US will vary depending on the licence agreement it has with a publisher, admits Sulyok, but, theoretically, it could roll out worldwide in the future.

On launch day the site will offer over 400 games, with the names of those games and their publishers due to be announced in the coming weeks. A significant marketing strategy is also set to kick off – targeted at the hardcore gaming audience and casual market alike.

The client consumers will download to use the service will be discreet, promises Sulyok. Unlike other clients, it will enable games to be played offline as well as online.

Overall, it's a service that could benefit the flagging PC games market as a whole, he continues.

"It's going to massively grow the current PC market. It's not coming from a technical standpoint – it's coming from a how do we grow this in order to get more people playing PC games. We know there are all those PCs out there – so how can we engage with those customers? We know they've got broadband, so we want to get it out there and get it to people and encourage them to try new games."

And it's one that will also compete with giants like Steam, he adds – not just because of its pre-owned business model, but by providing a good overall experience for its customers.

"We will have products and some will be the same as Steam and some won't," says Luzio. "We hope that our customer service – people will be able to speak to someone technical personally – there will be a number of unique selling points as well as trading in games. Just as Steam is one retailer, there are other retailers such as Get Games and Metaboli and every one of them delivers a unique customer experience. They've got their business model and we've got ours."

It's simple logic, according to Luzio – the business model is already working for traditional retail and is one of the key factors holding back the digital market.

"Our solution is is to make sure publishers get their slice of the pre-owned action while, at the same time, encouraging gamers to buy new games and try new games in different genres and not feel like they're throwing their money away."

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Latest comments (3)

Jarl Ostensen Director, Global Online Developer Relations, Europe, Electronic Arts11 years ago
So, if I understand this correctly there needs to be sufficient spread between bid and ask prices to allow a percentage to be given to the publisher *and* a sufficient retainer for GM to make a profit. Unless GM is willing to slash their margin per sale so that the total spread matches what a GAME, say, has on their resell of boxed products, why should the consumer purchase from GM? Is it just for convenience?

The idea of being a market maker in this way has an allure to it, but market makers are not alone and if this works then why shouldn't publishers enter as market makers of their own? Could GM hold up against the Sony's, Microsoft's and EA's...?

A "GamEx" anyone?
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Jason Avent Studio Head / Creative Director, TT Games Publishing11 years ago
This whole concept isn't helpful and I don't think it'll work. It's a parallel market where one isn't really needed.

Comparing it to BitTorrent is silly. If you're going to pirate games, you're not going to pay anything for them. Cheap isn't really an alternative to free. What's more, if you pirate the games, you can make hard copies of them if that's your thing - and sell them to your friends without Greenman's help. Ridiculous.

The digital revolution will come and when it does, I hope that the price of games goes down to a level where the volumes can grow to compensate and the second hand market becomes irrelevant. It'll get rid of rentals too which can only be a good thing.

(Hi Jarl btw!)
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Roydon Wagner11 years ago
Jason I am glad I am not the only one that finds this entire idea completely ridiculous.

Stardock was talking about doing this as well awhile back with their Impulse system and people (mostly the Journalists reporting the news) saw absolutely nothing wrong with it and in fact awaited its revolutionary arrival to the market. This is absurd.

Digital game licenses cannot be "used", period. It is by virtue of their medium completely impossible. So to call them "used" firstly is simply a lie/illusion/sham whatever you want to call it.

An infinite amount of digital licences can be created out of thin air and they will never deteriorate. People need to stop thinking about games as products because they are more like services. Just because it ships on a plastic disc doesn't mean that what you really paid for was a product. You pay for the right to use copyrighted software afaik, aka a software licence.

So lets throw away all the pretences of it being anything other than a completely new digital licence. So then what is any customer losing out on by getting a resold digital licence? Is Greenman going to dog ear the PDF manual? Generate artificial skipping and graphic glitches?

If its exactly the same why wouldn't every customer just buy the resold licence? I can already predict why. There will be a limited amount of them of course (an arbitrarily tracked number by Green Man). Because every user will select the cheapest digital licence when they are at the checkout the only thing this system will result in is random customers getting discounts.

So you may as well just throw away the pretence of inventing a used digital game market and call it what it is, Super Lucky Random Discount Market.
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