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The Price is Wrong

Veteran journalist John Walker explains why used games aren't the source of all the industry's woes - the problem is the price-tag.

Recently within these pages, Mr Richard Browne explained what he believed is the real cost of the pre-owned games market. A doom-ridden tale of woe, explaining how re-selling a game has led to the death of variety, the loss of the AA market, and the refusal of publishers to take risks. There was an unfortunate mistake in the diatribe. When he used the phrase, "Of course, in reality it's pure conjecture without any evidence," he failed to attach it to any of his own arguments. Because there isn't a single scrap of evidence or reason supporting his complaints.

Browne's soothsaying is an attempt to lay the blame of every major failing in the games industry at the foot of the consumer (although pretending he's blaming the retailer, who are of course only responding to their customers). But those consumers are exercising just about the only right they have left when it comes to games ownership.

I'd suggest that the lack of any evidence is because the pre-owned game market has caused none of this, but rather the blame lays with the seemingly limitless hubris of the publishers.

The argument over re-selling games is pretty simple, and not the point of this reply. To get it out of the way, imagine you recently bought a 3DS, but, deciding it's just not for you, you opt to sell it to a friend to fund the purchase of a Playstation Vita. Your friend pays you £100, and off you go. But the next day you find a Nintendo goon at your door, demanding £20 of your money. (Oh, and at your friend's door, demanding another tenner from him before he can switch it on.)

You can take hardware to your local GameStation or CEX, and the manufacturers aren't showing up demanding their tithe, so why should this be any different for software?

You'd tell them where to shove themselves, right? But this is the argument being made by publishers when they require a cut from shops reselling games. You can take hardware to your local GameStation or CEX, and the manufacturers aren't showing up demanding their tithe, so why should this be any different for software? And why should you, a consumer, not be allowed to resell your own property? Rights are being violated all over the place.

The attempt to control - or even entirely obliterate - the pre-owned market is an attempt to prevent people from selling their own goods, to interfere with the free market, and to artificially induce massive depreciation of your own products. And when a game costs quite so much money in the first place - £45/$60 - it is no wonder that most people cannot afford to buy all they want at full price. And that is the point. This is a matter of how publishers behave, not what retailers and consumers do with the results.

With the average console game clocking in at eight hours before multiplayer, and industry figures showing the average gamer only buys nine full-price games in the lifetime of their console, they're getting around 70 hours of gaming over five or six years. If it's someone's hobby, they're probably going to want a little bit more than that.

I'm not saying that the prices are too high - publishers can charge what they like. I'm saying that, at those rates, the industry should expect there to be consequences and find better ways to cope with them.

Richard Browne declares that the homogenisation of gaming is a consequence of the pre-owned market, although forgets to actually say how they're connected. Perhaps he means that the twelfty-hundred billion dollars a year publishers claim they're losing to pre-owned sales is forcing them to only make sure-fire hits, those that are popular with the audience rather than... Wait, no, it doesn't hold up, does it? When you're only going to buy - let's be generous - two full-price games a year, you're going to want to make sure you're definitely getting value for your hefty deposit of cash. So you're far, far more likely to go for something you know rather than take a risk. As ridiculous as it may seem, it's not the lack of risk-taking on the side of the publishers that's the issue - it's the consumer's understandable reticence to take purchasing risks due to the high price of the products.

And of course publishers want to make hits. They exist to make vast amounts of money for their shareholders. If they "take risks" it's because they strongly believe there is good revenue in doing so. They aren't creatives, desperately hoping to please the gamer - they're a business, trying to make money. And they know the big bucks are, currently, in very particular types of games, so those are the games they make.

The reason publishers believe it's impossible to create more diverse games for less money, with smaller sales predicted, is not because someone might take their copy of it to GAME three weeks later, but because the publisher will still insist on charging £35 to £50 for it. An enormous amount of a person's money for a short amount of a person's time, which they'll obviously prefer to spend on War Shooter VIII because they know they loved War Shooters I to VII (apart from IV, obviously - that sucked).

And the reason publishers believe they have to work in tacked-on multiplayer content to combat those reselling their games is not the fault of those reselling the games. It's the fault of the publishers for pretending it's an issue in the first place, and then going to such ludicrous lengths to scupper it.

Blocking the options for pre-owned games is not a valiant attempt to save the games industry. It's a calculated attack on consumers and retailers

To understand the frantic attempts to demonise the second-hand market you need only look at the similarly conspiratorial behaviour of the film and music industries. All are overflowing with money, and all are desperately trying to appear as if they're barely surviving, dressed in rags, forced to sue their own grandmothers for the money to eat. Shareholders see it as lost revenue, they're expected to do something about it, and so they'll do anything they can other than cut costs to the consumer.

Like the arguments against piracy - in which publishers pretend that every pirated copy is a lost sale, without doing any research to demonstrate this (and indeed ignoring all the research that shows it to be utter nonsense) - there is no attempt to prove that games bought second-hand would automatically have been a full-price sale were they not available. Instead, it's just declared to be the case, no matter how obviously flawed such a notion is, and then acted upon.

The real cost of used games? It's enlightened customers to the fact that they're being charged a great deal of money, and so they've embraced a system that allows them to share the price among themselves. And canny retailers have realised it means they can keep selling the same product over and over, each time keeping all the money for themselves. If publishers want to see this stop, they need only lower the price of their games. They need to stop acting like the budgets they spend are imposed upon them by some mad wizard, and spend less on making great games. Or, they can just accept that people have the right to sell their own property, and attempting to prevent this is a grotesque abuse of basic rights.

Pretending that the loss of single-player content, variety, and mid-tier gaming (whatever that means) have anything to do with pre-owned games is a sleight of hand to distract from where we should be focusing our attention. However angry Mr Browne is with his customers for resisting the ever-growing prices he wants them to pay, punching them in the face and shouting "IT'S STILL GOOD VALUE!" is a tactic Tesco rarely employs, and for good reason. Blocking the options for pre-owned games is not a valiant attempt to save the games industry. It's a calculated attack on consumers and retailers that is only more likely to harm their own businesses.

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