Should we stop the sale of used video games?

Video game publishers say the sale of video games is bad for everyone. Should used games get tossed?

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

Used video games play an integral part in the lives of the gamer: instead of spending $60 for a new title, they can save some cash and get the same game used at a discounted price. But from a developer's perspective, every used game that's sold yields no revenue, and that has created a divide between publishers and gamers over whether or not used video games should be sold at all

Two Atari executives--CEO David Gardner and President Phil Harrison--shared some gripes about used video game sales earlier this week at an Atari event. And as far as they're concerned, used games are hurting us all.

"Second-hand game sales represent consumer choice and desire," Gardner said at the event. "Obviously, it has economically been extremely painful for the industry (and) the publishers don't benefit."

Harrison echoed the CEO's sentiment saying, "there's no doubt that second-hand game sales have a macro-economic impact on the industry and a lot of people get miserable about it."

Harrison went on to say that his company is focused on developing more games with incentives like post-release content built-in that discourage used game sales and coax more owners into keeping their games.

I'm all for incentives that increase a game's viability, but simply adding more post-release content to a title doesn't strike me as something that will kill used game sales. In fact, I don't even understand why the video game industry would want to kill the sale of used video games.

Developers may not make money off used games, and it's easy to measure the impact that has, but what about the hidden revenue each developer makes because of used games? Doesn't it stand to reason that if more video games are available at a discounted price, more people will buy games, and thus be more inclined to pick up more? And doesn't it make perfect sense to believe that those who are just getting into gaming would be more likely to buy cheaper titles to test the industry out before they spent $60 on a new game? More gamers means more revenue for all parties.

There's obviously no way to measure the revenue each developer sees from the sale of used games, but I think it's substantial. Some people buy used games because they're not sure about a title and they just don't feel they want to spend $60 to find out if it's worthwhile. But maybe after they play, they realize that the game is outstanding and once the developer offers up a sequel, they're first to stand in line at Gamestop to pick a new copy up on launch day. Sure, it would have been nice for developers to collect cash off both iterations of the game, but without that used title, they wouldn't have incurred any revenue from that gamer.

But there's also one more important point that should be made in the defense of used games: they were new games once. In other words, someone bought the game new and decided that once they were done playing, they would return it to Gamestop or another video game boutique to get some of their money back. In essence, the consumer has found a way to spend, say, $30 for a game instead of $60 by knowing they will sell it back once they've completed it. And in the process, developers have created a compelling argument for consumers to buy new games--the possible return of some of that cash.

It's easy to look at raw used game sales figures and say that developers are missing out, but I think that line of thought is too simplistic. The used games market provides value to the consumer, makes them want to own more titles, and creates an environment that reduces the cost of buying a game. And in the process, it increases the number of gamers worldwide.

Call me crazy, but I think that's something we should all celebrate.

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