Used games, are publishers and developers really entitled to them?

Much has been said about used games over the years.  Developers have bitched about it to no end.  Publishers have spoken out about it as if it’s stopping them from their huge annual bonuses.  But what’s the truth of it all?  The controversy around used games is now back due to the Xbox One.  I decided that I’d look at this heated argument.

First I’ll point out the obvious reason that developers and publishers are up in arms about used games.  M-O-N-E-Y.  That’s all it comes down to.  That’s what publishers and developers see and they see it being made from their games.  It’s money that they currently have not enjoyed.  They see their intellectual work bringing in millions of dollars for retail chains who employ a used game model.  So the obvious response is “hey I made that game, where’s my cut?”.  I can see the argument from developers.  On one hand, they should be paid for their game.  But on the other hand, they already have when that initial sale was made didn’t they?

What they don’t consider is that the used game market is often a gateway to their games and other purchases.  I often trade in games to buy new games.  We all do.  If I don’t have that ability anymore or if it becomes too much of a hassle, then that’s potentially 2 or 3 games that I’ll never buy because I can’t trade my games in.  And then there’s DLC.  That used game is also an avenue to downloadable content for a person who couldn’t buy new.  Not all games have additional content but the one that do have new streams of possibility with that used game.  The downloadable content is a very valid way to continue earning from a used title.

My question is how much entitlement to a game do these publishers and developers have?  They develop and produce a game to be sold once.  Let me repeat that.  They develop and produce a game to be sold once!  They’re not sitting in meetings saying hey we’ll make ‘X’ amount of money off of initial sales and then when Johnny trades it in to Becky we’ll make Z amount of additional money.  Well, that wasn’t the discussion before but now all of a sudden it is.

Publishers and developers have basically become a bit greedy and a little arrogant if you ask me.  Listen, I understand the hard work and the millions of dollars that go into developing these games.  Trust me I do.  I’ve sat on a number of panels and gone behind the scenes in a number of studios to understand that it’s a passionate business filled with awesome people.  But does that really justify them wanting to make second, third, fourth and fifth streams of money off of the same product?


When a game is purchased from the store, I’d argue that the entitlement to that game is over.  They’ve made their sale.  They’ve made what was intended for that one purchase.  If I loan my jeans to someone, do you think Old Navy is going to go to their door and ask for another payment?  If I loan my car to a friend, should Nissan get a car payment from my friend?  I know it’s an extreme example but you get what I’m saying.   At what point is the developer’s ” percentage entitlement” to that game over?

Now they want to be paid again if you decide to trade that game in or let someone borrow it.  Gamestop was ahead of the curve on this and reaped the benefit of used games for years.  For years we heard nothing of used games affecting studios.  Some say rising development costs have forced this and I say that’s likely only half true.  The last time I checked games were increasing in price.  The last time I checked we had season passes and DLC.  Did that not offset costs?  I think a studio can enjoy more revenue if they simply create what gamers want.  However, what these publishers and developers saw was an opportunity to get more from consumers simply because someone Gamestop has been for a long time.

I’ve always said that instead of publishers crying about used games for gamers that they should strike a deal with Gamestop on its used games.  It seems like they listened to me but they’re going about it in a very confusing way.  They could have left the current system in place and simply made a deal behind closed doors with retailers like Gamestop and Best Buy.  Instead, as my man Mase said .. the more money we talk about, the more problems we see.

The Xbox One is said to be employing a new way for gamers to trade in and sell their games.  EA has already stopped its online passes.  Was this because of what the Xbox One and PS4 will introduce?  I don’t know.  We’re going to see something different though make no mistake about it.  The minute it was confirmed that Xbox One game discs were nothing but installation devices, I knew things would change in the used game arena.

On the flip side of this are the games we see that don’t get their deserved sequel and studios we see closing down because of poor sales.  I’ll use one of my favorite games, Alan Wake, as an example.  I loved the game as did many other people.  There hasn’t been a sequel because it didn’t sell well enough at retail.  However, Remedy mentioned that although it didn’t sell what was expected at retail, the game actually had millions of players.  This was because of used game sales.  Alan Wake needed a sequel but its retail showing didn’t speak to that.

With that I can understand developers wanting to do something about it.  I’m all for developers getting whatever they can from their hard work but it has to make sense to me as a consumer.  Publishers don’t account for used games sales much like television studios don’t account for DVR viewers etc.  So if this new system gives them some form of sale from a used game then perhaps we won’t see so many studios shutting down.  I’m not saying that is definitely the case but an argument can be made for it.  Some of these studios and some of these games have an entire population of used game sales that never got reported.  Is it fair?  Nope, but then life rarely ever is.

But hey, if game prices go down because of all this madness then I say great.  Let them give developers and publishers a cut of the used game pie as long as they adjust the game prices.  I can’t fathom continuing to pay between $60-$65 for new games and then only $5 less for used games if this thing shakes out.  Used game prices are already new game prices if you ask me.  I mean $54.99 for a used game is absurd.  It might as well be new.  So if you want to redefine the used game market and give everyone a piece of the pie, you better adjust the game prices.

And that moves me to one crucial element of this whole used game drama.  Prices and the quality of the games are more than likely the first, second and third reason used games are here.  Let’s just say it shall we?  There are several turds that are no where near worth $60.  Developers who are making games that are quite the awful experience should wake up.  If you make an outstanding game, gamers will buy it and they won’t want to trade it in.  I still have my copy of the first Gears of War.  I still have my copy of PURE.  As good as Alan Wake was to me, it had its shortcomings.  Those shortcomings I can understand didn’t lend itself to a wider audience.  Making every game multiplayer just to cash in on the online craze isn’t the way to go either.

The bottom line is that if you build it, they will buy it.  You don’t have to have the budget of a Halo or Call of Duty either.  Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls franchise is a single player experience that doesn’t look like a high production game yet it continues to sell.  Do you know why?  Because it continues to be a great game.  If gamers are treated to a great game, they’ll buy it.  Hell, they’ll tell people about it because they’ll want their friends to play it too.  I told countless people about Gears of War when it released.  Quite a few of my friends switched to Xbox because of Gears of War.  Four games later, the Gears of War franchise is one of Epic’s most successful.  Make good games people … scratch that … make great games people and your Christmas bonus won’t suffer.

In closing I ask are used game sales crippling the industry the way people are saying?  And are developers entitled to a second, third or fourth sale from the same game?  Would making a better game help?  You don’t see big studios complaining because their titles are making tens of millions.  So should they just concentrate on making better games?  I could go on and on with this because there are many angles from which to view this whole mess.

What say you?

Deacon About Deacon
They call me "The Velvet Voice". I like sunshine, games and large amounts of money. I'm a Microsoft Xbox MVP and an Author. Check out the book about my journey through the gaming industry Press X to Reload and The Terribly Terrific Travels of Timber Timmins on Support the site and buy 'em. Take a look at my About Me bio for more on me.


  1. I think you’re correctly looking at it from both sides of the coin. The developers and entrepreneurs are looking at “tightening the loop”, while consumers want the cost-effective choice.

    You correctly pointed out the fact that I’ve bought new games based on trading in and purchasing used games. That opens the market for games I otherwise wouldn’t spend money on.

    The correct answer will, of course, be market-driven. If developers “close the loop” too tightly, they’ll find that they’re fashioning their own nooses. They’ll have effectively priced themselves out of my market.

    Now they lose my business and word-of-mouth advertising. That would be HUGE! I would say that my games and my friends’ games have at least a 40% “crossover”. I bought one because they had it and liked it; and vice versa.

    The Market will determine where all this shakes out. It always has and always will. If there are no “used games” to be had and the market falls precipitously? The old disc will cost MUCH LESS, over time, to install on another box. Consumers will learn to “play the game” and wait for “Install Reductions”, which will surely follow.

    What this does to GameStop is anyone’s guess. I don’t know if they’ll survive, but places like Craig’s List and Ebay will abound with games that sell for WAY less-than retail. If the “Install Fee” is exorbitant, you may only get five bucks for re-selling a new title, however.

    I’ll be watching this closely, seeing as I’m one who may be “priced out” of the market. I have other hobbies and my entertainment dollar may very well be spent on good tickets to sporting events more often.

    As with any huge development, the market will settle where it should be. Water always levels off. Gravity is the law. The Free Market works. If the developers over-reach, they’ll feel it. Quickly.

    -There is the probability that developers will learn to ride the market-waves. Perhaps two months, (or so), after a release, the “Install Fee” will drop almost universally. Dev’s will ride the waves of each form of consumer. The “basement price” will never be as low as it was before, but bad-selling games will be able to react quickly, based on bottom-line forecasts.

    “Grades” for games like Alan Wake will be readily available after six months. “You made a forty-dollar game.” That would have been the price-point where I would have bought/installed/downloaded that particular game. I can get it used for around fifteen bucks now. The “bottoms” will never be this low again, but Dev’s will garner a bigger portion of the used game market by lowering the “Install Fee” to twenty-five dollars after a year. That’s twenty-five dollars more than they would have had through GameStop.

    You’re right, Deac, when you say that sixty-plus dollars is too much. I pay that once a year for a game with “Halo” or “Elder Scrolls” in the title. That’s IT! If they don’t return to the fifty-dollar price-point, I’m going to attend MANY more baseball games.

    …that’s just my two-cents. I could be wrong.

    -Your Friendly Neighborhood Slapweasel
    -Now with 12% more “Slap”!

  2. *meh*

    I wouldn’t call it “well said” as much as I imagine it akin to a retarded child finding the quarter he dropped under the Pepsi machine.

    -The kid “gets it”, but he wears a diaper for a reason.

  3. I can see why the Devs are doing this, most PC games/software is tied to a particular account and not allowed to install more than once or has to be deactivated to reinstall. So it could be a simple fix to have you enter one of those codes like you do with Xbox Arcade games, its a one time use code and is tied to the gamer then. I’ve bought some used Xbox games and the only thing I miss is the extra stuff that requires a code and in some cases MZ has ways to buy this DLC stuff afterwards in this case.

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