As the next-generation of consoles approaches, some have speculated that console manufacturers such as Microsoft may have the power to create an industry without a used games market. Considering that developers and gamers both lose money when used games are sold by brick and mortar stores such as Gamestop, it might be in manufacturers’ best interests to consider implementing methods or options for used games to be unplayable on next-generation hardware. The implications of such an act, however, could send waves throughout an industry that is already suffering from economic difficulties, and whether such waves result in an increase in profits or a decrease in sales is a delicate consideration that must be made.
Although nay-sayers of the used game market may claim that such sales damage the industry in meaningful and significant ways, there are more issues at hand than retail stores turning a tidy profit on reselling old, traded-in titles. Digital distribution is growing increasingly more popular as broadband internet becomes more affordable and accessible by a larger demographic of game-playing individuals, but there are still a large volume of people who have yet to hook their Xbox up to the internet. In fact, roughly half of Xbox Live users have subscribed to Gold accounts, which locks them out of just about every meaningful feature of the service. Would it be wise for Microsoft to deny approximately fifty percent of its fanbase the opportunity to purchase games at their local Gamestop? And how does the Xbox Live Gold subscriber base relate to a next-gen console that denies players the ability to play used games?
Gamestop is a large, corporate entity that makes much of its money from used games sales. Should such a market evaporate, it’s quite likely that the franchise would eventually go bankrupt, especially as digital distribution becomes increasingly popular. No used games sales, no Gamestop, which subsequently means those who don’t have Gold memberships have one less (quite large) place to buy their games. Similarly, gamers looking to get games on the cheap suddenly have such an ability taken away from them, and with development costs constantly moving upwards, less and less people will be able to afford to keep up with the latest titles for brand new prices.
Swapping games with buddies also becomes impossible, and entire businesses built around the concept of trading titles with others will crumble. Unless some sort of authentication process allows the temporary (or permanent) transfer of license ownership to other users on the service, one of the primary benefits of console gaming, trading with friends, becomes completely eliminated. Amazon, Best Buy, and other corporate entities would be forced to refund thousands of dollars worth of trade-ins, and cut several built-in features of their business services to match the destruction of the used games market. It’s not exactly hopeful from a business perspective to support a console manufacturer’s decision to not allow used games to play on their hardware.
Of course, there are ways around this, which are mostly software-based. The Online Pass “feature”, which EA implemented into its games fairly recently, is actually one of the best ways to counter used games without outright destroying such a huge market. Allowing all Xbox Live subscribers, paid or otherwise, to download games is another somewhat decent solution. Developers may or may not profit more from a lack of used games sales stealing away potential customers, but ultimately, the problem boils down to accessibility and price. If everyone can download the latest games for fair, non-inflated prices that have healthy competition, the issue could potentially be alleviated. It’s unfair to hold back the technologically-inclined by appealing to the lowest, non-internet-using denominator, but it’s also an unwise business move to alienate those who have purchased a console by denying them their preferred method of acquiring games for it.
For the time being, there is no clear cut solution to the used games problem that currently benefits some players in the gaming industry while hurting others. If console manufacturers are going to produce next-gen consoles with used games prevention software or hardware, there had better be some sound logic behind it, lest our industry suffer a decisive blow to its already-shaky economic foundation.