As most gamers have probably figured out by now, used game sales are the bane of most developers' existence. Why is this? Well, because buying a used game doesn't net the company any revenue. So if you bought, say, Skyrim used rather than new, GameStop—or whatever retailer you purchased the game from—would make all the money, and Bethesda wouldn't see a penny from that transaction.
Now, here's the thing that I think game companies don't often consider: Most consumers think of a game disc as a physical object like anything else they would buy at a store. For example, if I buy a new coat, that coat is mine. I can sell it to a friend if I want to, because that's a right I am entitled to by purchasing the item. However, game companies don't see the game disc as the thing you are buying, but the intellectually property thereon. Unlike a physical object, buying intellectual property doesn't come with the same set of rights.
To protect their revenue (or sometimes just to be straight-up evil), several game companies would prefer it if consumers weren't allowed to play used games at all. So they've set up a slew of countermeasures to prevent the sale of used games. The most common is the online pass, which blocks certain game features (usually online play, but not always) until a player redeems a code. This code is only redeemable once, and therefore anyone who buys a used copy has to purchase this code if they want to access this content.
Now, I've already gone into detail about why online passes are a terrible idea, so I won't bring that up again. Let's just say I hate them and move on.
There are some other methods of preventing used game sales that are currently being considered by the industry. One of the most controversial (even though we can't even be sure if it's real) is the next-gen consoles not being able to play used games. That's right, there are rumors going around that claim the PS4 and Xbox 720 won't be able to play used games at all.
This is just ridiculous. For one, how would this tech be implemented? Would new games come with a passcode (similar to an online pass) that must be redeemed before the game is playable at all? Would the console require an always-on Internet connection so it could validate your copy of a game? Either way, this sort of functionality could lead to a lot of technical issues that would ultimately punish those who purchased the game legally. Blizzard proved how badly games with "always-on" requirements can suffer just last week with their Diablo III snafu.
Additionally, some gamers buy used games because new games are too expensive. These people could potentially be cut out of the market, perhaps to the point where they would simply stop buying games altogether, satisfied with the consoles and games they already own rather than being encouraged to buy the latest and greatest.
I had a chat with a friend a while back, which brought up another major drawback to a new-games-only console: historical preservation. For the gamer who truly cares about the history of gaming, this is a huge issue. For example, I dare you to try to go out and buy a brand new physical copy of Mirror's Edge, Metal Gear Solid 4, or the original BioShock. It's not entirely impossible, but it would certainly take a good deal of effort at this point. Now, imagine if used copies of games like these were unplayable. It would be an absolute shame to see important games completely erased from the market due to a console generation that was completely unable to run used copies.
There are ways to discourage used game sales without upsetting paying customers though. The first is to do away with on-disc media altogether, offering all titles as download-only. But there are currently several problems with this approach. For one, it cuts customers without Internet access completely out of the equation. Secondly, major triple-A titles take up an enormous amount of hard drive space, and hard drives aren't big enough (or, the ones that are aren't cheap enough) for hardcore console gamers to not run out of room. And that's not even mentioning how obnoxious the download time would be.
One note though: This method is actually working quite well for indie developers, who are cutting production costs by not making physical game copies, while their games are generally small enough that they don't take up a lot of hard drive space.
A better way for triple-A developers to discourage used sales of their games is to increase the value of these games. They can do that by making an experience that is worth spending a lot of time with (like Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption), an addictive multiplayer component (like Halo or Call of Duty), or simply by promising free DLC down the line (like Starhawk or Portal 2).
My point is that if a company wants to cut used games out of the equation, they need to do so in a manner that doesn't destroy the legacy of their games or make paying customers angry. And really, we gamers are a pretty easy bunch to piss off.
Editor / News Director
Date: May 21, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*