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PlayStation Orbis and Next Xbox: Why Used Games Aren't Going Away

Veteran journalist Chris Morris tackles six reasons why the next-gen systems won't kill used gaming

There's a lot of talk making the rounds these days about used games and the next generation.

The popular theory is the next Xbox or PlayStation 4/"Orbis" might altogether block people from playing previously owned games - something that has the core gamer base feeling a bit backstabbed. But the shock of seeing these reports seems to be causing those same people to lose perspective.

Used games are almost certainly not going anywhere with the upcoming generation of consoles. While an evolution is likely, don't let media alarmists convince you that your days of cashing in titles you've lost interest in are over. Here's why:

No one wants to anger the fan base - While things aren't quite as dire as some would have you believe, the glory days of the console industry seem to be coming to an end. While there's room for continued growth among developers and publishers, with a slew of unexplored options, the next generation of consoles is more a service battle than anything else.

There are plenty of other options for gamers to explore these days - and Microsoft and Sony both know it. Given that competition, it's ludicrous to imagine either would risk angering their loyalist customer base to the extent that they would risk losing them.

"Neither wants to open the door for a trouncing like they got from the Wii in the first part of this generation"

Put simply: Gamers see a value in being able to trade in their games and buying used copies for a bit less. Taking that away devalues the console. And whatever advantage there is for the console makers in terms of making third-party publishers happy, it's not worth the risk of losing market share.

After all, while it might be nice to be able to use your Xbox and PlayStation as a movie and television streaming device, there are plenty of other set top boxes that offer that same functionality.

Why alienate GameStop? - GameStop might be an easy punching bag among gamers, but it's one of the most powerful retailers in the industry, regularly grabbing market share away from big box stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart. While game sales make up the majority of its revenues, it moves a fair number of consoles as well.

Last year, GameStop made $2.6 billion selling used games - representing more than 27 percent of its total sales. That's a figure the company is going to guard ferociously. Console sales, meanwhile, made up $1.6 billion in sales, just 16.9 percent of revenue.

GameStop's not dumb enough to threaten not to sell the next generation consoles. That'd be a breach of its fiduciary duties to its shareholders. But the company (and its store employees) certainly has some influence over the buzz surrounding a system. It's simply bad business on Microsoft and Sony's part to cut GameStop off at the knees.

There's still money to be made - In the past two years, game publishers have finally learned how to make used games work to their advantage. EA's "Project $10" showed that by forcing players to pay a small fee to access content on a previously owned game, they could still make money from used game sales. Most publishers quickly followed suit.

So far, that fee has been largely tied to the multiplayer aspects of a game. As the next generation of consoles ties titles to user accounts, players will likely have to pay to unlock the single player portion as well. As with "Project $10," there will be a brief squawk, then an adjustment period (likely among retailers, which will have to adjust pricing on their end), then it will be an accepted part of the video game landscape.

"For all the tempest in a teacup over used games of late, there's a larger truth being overlooked: Natural selection has already put an expiration date on them"

Calling all pirates - Most people who play used games do so as a way to save money on their favorite hobby. Were used games to go away, most would grumble and simply buy new games, but would purchase several less per year. To a smaller subset, though, a ban on used games would be like shining the bat-signal for piracy.

Undoubtedly, the piracy protection systems on the next gen consoles are state of the art, but if that subculture has taught the entertainment industry one thing, it's that it is persistent and capable - and it will quickly find a way around the roadblocks.

Why give Nintendo an advantage? - Have you noticed that all the talk about banning used games has surrounded Sony and Microsoft? Nintendo doesn't seem to worry about them.

While some people seem to have written the Wii U off, there's still a lot of mystery surrounding that system - and if Nintendo has a stellar E3 this year, it could set itself up to once again be king of the gaming hill for another noteworthy run. Gamers might be ignoring the system for now, but Microsoft and Sony certainly aren't. And while both will focus their marketing efforts on each other, neither wants to open the door for a trouncing like they got from the Wii in the first part of this generation.

Let nature take its course - For all the tempest in a teacup over used games of late, there's a larger truth being overlooked: Natural selection has already put an expiration date on them.

Digital distribution isn't mainstream yet, but it's growing fast. And by the end of the upcoming console generation, it's going to be unavoidable. While that's a huge convenience for players, it's a dream come true for publishers, since it will sound a death knell to used games (or, at the very least, damage them enough so they don't substantially impact earnings).

The choice for console makers (as well as game publishers), therefore, is simple: Fight an ugly PR battle that could anger your customers and retail partners - or wait a few years and let it die a natural death.

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Chris Morris avatar
Chris Morris: Chris Morris has covered the video game industry since 1996, offering analysis of news and trends and breaking several major stories. He was the author of CNNMoney’s 'Game Over' and has also written for Yahoo!, Variety,, and other publications.
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