Why Games Matter Blog - The Industry Needs Second Hand Games

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By Edward Smith | February 14, 2013 1:52 AM EST

The Industry Needs Second Hand Games - Don't disrupt the balance between art and finance.

Unconfirmed console rumours are like episodes of Law and Order - there are hundreds of them and they're all rubbish. But if the murmurs are right for once and the next Xbox won't run second hand games, well, at least then we'll be finally able to know what we've all suspected for a while, that videogames are consumer electronics and that developers are just factories.

I get that this would be a measure to curb piracy, and as much as anyone at Microsoft, I dislike pirates. The idea that you shouldn't have to pay for something just because it's media or intangible or made by somebody who's rich already is absurd. In the same way that someone made a chair or an oven, someone made whatever it is you're watching and you ought to pay for it.

I get where this idea might be coming from; I get how Microsoft wants everybody who plays something by one of their artists to pay money to that artist. But at the same time, isn't it just sort of...evil? Because not everyone can afford £40 for a videogame, and a lot of eager people who play games will be effectively priced out of their hobby.

And no one is going to take risks. If the latest Halo game launches around the same time as a brand new IP, and they're similarly priced, then people are going to buy Halo because they can remember that the old ones were pretty good and feel confident that they'll be getting something similar.

And people who like racing games will stick with racing games. It's not like they'd be able to pick up a cheaper, pre-owned copy of a game they're not sure of. Once everything has to be brand new and full priced the risk is much greater, and no one's going to take it.

Overhanded

Locking out pre-owned or borrowed games would send a terrible message about this industry. If we didn't have enough evidence already (loads of sequels, Jeff Gerstmann getting fired, this ruddy nonsense) then forcing people to buy brand new games would be the irrevocable proof that money, not creativity, is at the centre of videogame publishing.

It's naive and idealistic to think that money should have no part in the making of art - you need to pay for your equipment, you need to keep the lights on. But I think a lot of people would agree that games are, already, disproportionately business-orientated. Market forces and financial return have a bigger say in what gets made than original ideas and auteurism, and although a few genuinely bright AAA games do slip past the impact crusher, a lot of what we get is just product.

So, the last thing games need is for one of the biggest companies in the industry to start rinsing cash from people in such an overhanded way. Thanks to the occasional diamond in the rough we do get from the AAA market, adverts, microtransactions and DLC feel just about tolerable; there's just enough of a modicum of worth to mainstream games to countermand, in my mind at least, the corporate bumph that sits on top of them.

But an effective ban on second-hand games would change that. It would tell me that the companies publishing games are less interested in people getting to see and experience what their developers have created and more fixated on turning a profit. It would disrupt the balance.

And let's say they did it and it worked - people dragged their feet and bought Xbox games at brand new prices anyway. At that point, the game industry might as well pack up and go home, because every software and hardware developer that wants to make money, i.e. all of them, would leap on the technology to restrict used games and the idea of swapping and talking about games with people you know, of being able to enjoy games without having to pay bankrupting prices - the whole joy of computer games - would be irreparably changed.

Perception of gaming

Money is an essential lubricant in any art form. But in galleries and literature it feels like profit is a dirty word, as if making money is an unfortunate side effect of producing good work that might, if you don't check it, spoil everything else you do. Not so in games - press releases and official announcements flaunt profits and sales figures like very boring medals. But although it feels like money is pretty much everything to big publishers, enough wonder and purity seeps through the cracks now and then to silence the gnawing suspicion in my brain that games will always be garbage.

If the slurry pit of console rumours does contain a nugget of truth, and Microsoft's next Xbox won't accept pre-used discs, then my perception of what computer gaming is will be changed forever. But I'm sure it won't happen. No company is that mad.

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