Consoles That Don't Play Used Games, And How You Could Benefit
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about rumors that the next Xbox and PlayStation will both have some sort of system in place that keeps them from playing used games. Unsurprisingly, gamers have reacted mostly negatively to the idea of having the new-or-used choice removed from them. But I’d like to play devil’s advocate for a moment, and ask: could gamers potentially benefit from consoles that don’t play used games?
How Will It Work?
That’s the question on everyone’s minds. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but I think we can get a good general idea by looking at console games that already did it in this generation, such as DC Universe Online.
Before it went free-to-play, DC Universe Online was released for PC and PS3 as a disc-based game. PC gamers might be used to concept of MMOs that require a subscription on top of buying the disc, but it came as a shock to console gamers that they’d have to pay $60 for the game itself and one month of play, followed by $15 for each additional month.
But that wasn’t all. If they decided they didn’t like the game enough to continue playing after the first month, they couldn’t recoup their loss by selling it. Similar to online passes, the game came with a unique PSN key that could only be used once. However, PSN keys weren’t sold in the PS Store, so a used copy would be essentially worthless.
I think it’s pretty safe to assume next gen games would work in a similar way, though whether they’ll still require manually entering codes or if consoles will now be able to read a code straight from the disc is another question.
But why would gamers ever stand for this, let alone embrace it?
The Digital Download Factor
Imagine a world where—much like PC games on Steam—games are available to download right from your console on the same day they’re available in stores, and for a lower price, with no more need to disc swap. At that point, the physical copy exists mainly for people who don’t have an internet connection, don’t have enough free space, or are collectors and planned to keep the game anyways.
But you don’t have to imagine it, because Sony’s PS Vita is already doing just that. Some will argue that the price of extra download space to store the games doesn’t quite make up for the discount, but stay with me here. Sony and Microsoft both seem eager to embrace the Steam model, where gamers are regularly purchasing full retail releases as digital downloads, driven by frequent discounts. Microsoft has dabbled with the idea of full retail downloads for years with their Games On Demand program, and Sony recently offered Mass Effect 3 as a download on the same day it was released to stores.
But will they ever be as ambitious as Steam in experimenting with the economics of videogames? Both Microsoft and Sony have clearly come to see the benefit of digital discounts, as they continue to explore ideas with their weekly sales, but both are also clearly far more conservative in their approach.
How You Could Benefit
The reason publishers like the idea of eliminating the used games market is because they perceive it to be cutting into their profit margin. To an extent this is true: if a customer buys a used copy of a new release for $55 so they can save $5, they likely would have paid the full $60 if used games didn’t exist, giving the publisher an extra sale.
But what I think most publishers aren’t taking into account is just how many people who buy a game at launch do so only because they know they can often recoup about half of the cost by being able to sell it. If the ability to resell games disappears, the sales numbers at launch of new games are going to drop significantly. I think it may come as a shock to publishers just how few people are willing to spend $60 on a game without the ability to get any of it back, especially in this economy.
And that’s where you might benefit. Because eventually the pool of early adopters is going to shrink so much, that in order for the average game to move enough units to not be declare a flop, the average launch price is going to have to be readjusted.
There’s no denying that there will be some growing pains at first. Some publishers will be too stubborn to accept the evidence given by Gabe Newell that games may be too expensive. But eventually they’ll either have to embrace the new gaming world they’ve created, or end up closing their doors after too many high priced low selling games. Only those who price competitively will survive.
That is, assuming Microsoft and Sony actually go through with it.