The Sad Story of Developer Entitlement

I’m getting damned tired of developers whinging about used game sales.

Honestly, what do you suppose would happen if the president of Ford came out and started going off on how used car sales ruin the automotive industry? Or if Hollywood complained that used DVDs were destroying movies? Do you really believe they’d be taken seriously? I should hope not- after all,it’s far likelier they’d simply be laughed out of the room. Why should game developers be treated any differently?

Let’s back up a bit.

I just want to say right out the door that I’m not really a fan of Gamestop’s Buyback program. I mean, yeah, you’ll get the occasional deal here and there, but more often than not, you’re paid peanuts for a game or peripheral you trade in, then turn around and see that peripheral on for more than twice what they gave you. On some level, it does make sense- they do have to make a profit, after all. But to be paid a dollar for a game only to see it on sale for twenty…

It’s a little excessive.

We’re getting a bit off track, though. Gamestop- and other used-game retailers- aren’t the ones in the hotseat here. we’re taking a look at the developers who seem to believe that they’re somehow entitled to the money of consumers. those fine ladies and gentlemen who wholeheartedly believe that purchasing a used game is just as bad as pirating a game. They’re the ones we’re focusing a critical eye on.

And they’re the ones we’re telling to grow the hell up.

I’ll drive the point home, as I often do, with an analogy. Let’s say you buy a comfy chair. You get some decent use out of that chair, but eventually decide you don’t really want it any longer. You go online and sell it on eBay, to gain back at least some portion of what you spent on it. Did the person who purchased the chair commit an act that was akin to stealing? Are they no better than someone who’d go to a retail outlet and rob them of their furniture?

Basic logic says no. Some developers say “yes.” According to them, the plague of used game sales has become so extreme- and is hurting their bottom line so much- that they need to start taking extreme measures just to make ends meet. Some have even gone so far as to claim that re-sellers are actually worse than software pirates.

Wait, what?

Used Games=/= Piracy

This is a pirate.

It’s honestly quite simply to debunk the concept that used games are equivalent to piracy, and I’m not even going to touch the flawed concept that used game sales are worse of the industry than piracy- that’s like claiming pulling up a handful of grass does more damage to a lawn than lighting it on fire. It simply doesn’t work.

Anyway, let’s look at used games, for a moment. If a game is ‘used’ that means that somebody purchased it. The retailer made a profit from the sales, and the developer made money when the game hit the retailer’s shelves. That’s already money in their pocket. If someone else buys a used copy, so what? They’ve already made a profit from that copy. Sure, they’re not going to make an additional sale, but in the long run, who cares? At the end of the day, there’s a good chance that they’ve still made a profit.

This is not a pirate. See the difference?

Contrast that with Piracy. Someone bought a copy of the game. They cracked the DRM, and uploaded it to a torrent site. Now, instead of one person buying the same copy, a thousand people download the pirated version. Even though there’s absolutely no guarantee that any of the pirates would have actually bothered to buy the game in the first place, they’ve still potentially lost more sales than they did in the case of the re-sold copy.

As I’ve already said, it all boils down to one word…


It ultimately boils down to just one thing…

Look, when one of us purchases a game, we should be allowed to do what we wish with it, so long as we’re not encouraging any illegal activity. If we want to trade that game in and put the money from it towards a new purchase, why shouldn’t we be allowed to?  If someone decides they want to buy that game that we traded in, in lieu of having to pay full price for a title…isn’t that their right as a consumer?

To believe otherwise is to assign a completely undeserved and unquestionably invalid level of importance to yourself, your opinion, and your organization. It’s the attitude of a spoiled six year old who thinks he deserves an ice cream cone simply for doing his chores. For an industry that’s so often called out for having ‘entitled children’ as fans, it’s kinda ironic, isn’t it?

Of course, not all developers are just sitting around complaining about it. Some of them are telling their peers to sit down and shut up- to those folks, I tip my hat. If only the whole industry felt the same way.

Preventing Used Game Sales

As a result of the perceived demon that is used games sales, a great many developers have been introducing some rather sketchy business practices into their titles- one example is EA’s “Online Pass.” You see, a new game comes with a special, one-time-use code that allows a player access to online features such as multiplayer. If a player should, say, purchase a used copy of this game, they’ll need to shell out additional funds for a pass.

They’re basically punishing people who buy used games-maybe because they don’t have the money for a new copy- by locking them out of content. Those same customers might potentially have bought DLC, or convinced their friends to buy more copies of the game. Instead, when they hear about the fact that they’ll need to shell out more money just to get the full experience, they might not purchase the game at all.

Just like DRM, developers might well be shooting themselves in the foot with these measures.

Here’s another analogy for you. Let’s say you purchase a DVD at a thrift store. You take it home, pop it into your DVD player, and start watching. About halfway through, a message pops up onscreen. “To see the rest of this film, please enter your purchase code.”

A few more examples- a car that doesn’t let you use your air conditioning unless you contact the manufacturer. A TV that doesn’t allow you to connect anything to it until you key in an access code. A computer that doesn’t let you use the space-bar if you’re not the original buyer.

Think that’s allowable? Think that’d go over well?

So why do so many game developers think they can get away with doing this? Simply because gaming’s a unique, interactive medium, simply because a lot of work goes into games? Do they believe that their medium- that their projects- are somehow special? That they deserve special treatment?

Oh, and just in case any of you are pointing to any of these measures as DRM- DRM barely works, anyway.

The Cost of Gaming and Digital Distribution

The game is a medium that’s very much in a state of transition. Back when I was in high school, games usually went for around $70-$80 a pop. They weren’t cheap- you could see several movies for that price, or buy a small stack of DVDs. The price has dropped since then. New manufacturing techniques might have something to do with it, but I think the biggest impact on games sales might well be digital distribution. Rather than having to worry about the cost of manufacturing their titles, developers can deliver content directly to the end user- true, this deals a considerable blow to the used games market….

But given the convenience of platforms like Steam, it’s a small price to pay.

Of course, a game still isn’t a small purchase. This is particularly true if you’re comparing games to other electronic entertainment- you could get several movies at that price. It’s no surprise, then that so many people prefer to buy used. At this point we could very well go off on a tangent discussing how the gaming industry might well be due for another price drop…

But that’s another discussion for another day.

At the moment, let’s assume that, for developers dropping the prices of their content is absolutely out of the question. How, then, might they mitigate the “horrible losses” suffered as a result of used games?

Final Thoughts

If these developers have such a problem with used sales…why not take the power into their own hands? Why not inform their customers, at purchase, that if they so choose, they can return the title for credit on a future purchase? Would it really be so hard to offer a bit of competition to resellers like Gamestop?

Or, here’s another idea- work out some sort of deal with re-sellers. Try to convince them to give your company a small cut of the profits from used sales. Admittedly, that’s a rather tall order, but hey- it’s worth a shot, right?

Of course, they could also just, y’know…improve the quality and content of their titles.

I’ve been considering whether or not to make this post for a while. There are probably others out there who’ve said the same as I in much more eloquent terms. Still, it’s something I felt bore mentioning- the fact that, in an industry where the fans are often accused of demanding more than they deserve, it’s the developers who are increasingly playing that part.

Image Credits: Games Industry International, Bruce on Games, Gamerant, NPD Group


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