Skip to main content

Tuesday Pontificat’n – The Ownership is Overrated Edition

Gamestop Used Games

So, a few more cards are now on the table. I’m not going to write much (this time) about the console themselves. Matt already did a fantastic job assessing each company’s sales pitch. Do go read it, if you haven’t yet. (What I find interesting is that in a generation where both platforms are based on x86 architecture, they’ve certainly found ways to wholly differentiate themselves. Bravo!) What I’ve found fascinating to watch since the initial One unveiling and in the wake of Monday’s E3 press conferences is this love affair we all seem to be having with game “ownership,” now that console gamers everywhere are terrified of losing it.

Right now, the One’s current feature list has precisely one deal-breaker for me. The once every 24-hour check-in required for me to keep access to my games library is a non-starter. It’s a poison pill that will kill the console and I’d be shocked –SHOCKED!– if this policy doesn’t change by release (or within the first year). Take that away, however, and much of the vitriol directed towards the Xbox One has to do with the fact that it’s a blatant attempt to end the era in which we “own” our games, thus killing off the used game market as we know it. This is troubling to people who feel they’ve done quite well by its existence — Gamestop, people saving $5 on a used game, people spending $60 on a game knowing they can get a chunk back for their next purchase by turning it around right quick. It’s been a decent ride for you folks and Sony is shrewd to make continued embrace of this model a marketing point for the PS4. It’s still all going to end, though. It’s a matter of time.

Let’s pretend for a minute that the PS4 flops and when it goes, the used game market evaporates with it. (I do not think the PS4 will flop.) Do I feel for you that it’s going away? Not really. I’m a PC gamer, man. My hobby has all but already transitioned to this whole license purchasing thing. Yes there are solid alternatives, like GoG, but Steam owns the PC gaming roost and, with it, we stopped “owning” most of our games quite a while ago. And you know what? We’re all getting on just fine that way. In fact, our platform of choice is thriving, thank you very much.

Take away the check-ins and the only thing particularly new about what the One is purported to do is that it still wants the disc to be a part of the equation. I realize that’s important to your Gamestops and Best Buys, but why on earth would I buy the disc just to install it on my console and never touch it again? Why wouldn’t I just download the game as I do on Steam? (Yes, yes, exceptions for gamers not living in a broadband world. The One’s already bending you over anyway.)

Whether the One’s model works or not will depend entirely on the same thing Steam’s model relies on — offering value. Steam isn’t the harbinger of doom. It’s not an enabler for a draconian future of oppressed gaming. It’s a service that successfully offered PC gamers a trade-off. I agree to ditch the cardboard box and plastic disc and tie my games to a personal account that Valve owns and in return I get convenience (purchasing games from home), easy access on any PC device I own, and dirt cheap bargains on existing catalog. This is all good enough for me (and a hoard of others), even if I do still miss good manuals… but those went bye-bye a long time ago.

(Please note that this post has nothing to do with game quality and the impossibilities of AAA game development. That’s another story, one I’ve been railing about for quite some time. Games shown off for the One at the E3 presser that I care about? Zero.)

EDIT: Check that. One. Witcher 3. Which I’ll play on the PC.

What it comes down to is that I can’t muster up much Internet-rage about finding ways to preserve the Culture of Ownership. More and more I feel like it’s mainly out of habit that we care so much about having ownership of such highly disposable products. For most of my life (and yours too, I’d imagine), media-based entertainment has required the acquisition of things. Music on cassette or CD (or vinyl or 8-track). Games on floppy or optical disc. Movies on cassette or optical disc. You bought it, you owned it forever or until you sold it or gave it away.


There was something comforting in that fallacy. And make no mistake, it is a fallacy. Media gets damaged or degrades. Tech gets abandoned. It all goes eventually. And that’s okay.

I’m about to be 39 years old. When I was a wee lad playing Starflight, Wasteland, and earlier Ultimas all the way until my relatively recent adulthood I have believed that my life would be incomplete if I couldn’t go back and access these games whenever I wanted. What if 65 year old me wants to become the Avatar One. More. Time? What if nobody ever makes another good fantasy D&D game like Baldur’s Gate II? I want my kids to have these experiences! I need these games to be a part of my future! AHHHH!


Sure, it’s nice to have a few choice titles on the shelf to be nostalgic about, but we don’t need to carry this stuff with us. None of it. Ownership of our media is overrated. And console fans should know that better than anybody. When was the last time you fired up a game for the original Xbox or Sega Genesis? Console games have always come with expiration dates. Not owning discs is not going to destroy gaming any more than the rise of legally downloadable MP3s destroyed music. What’s really happening right now is that the ecosystem surrounding how you purchase and play games is changing.

I remember a period in my young adult life when I would go to music shops with my buddies and pour through the used CD sections. Most of those stores are gone now and of those that remain, I really couldn’t be less interested in browsing all those scratched and cracked jewel cases. It wasn’t the apocalypse. Apple came along with the iTunes store and I thought it sucked so I ignored it and then Amazon came along with a better offering (MP3s and legitimate deals on whole albums) and I thought, “This works for me.” And it worked for a lot of people, so much so that iTunes adjusted their model too. I ended up buying and downloading a whole lot more $5 albums, at far better value than the new or used CD market offered, than I ever had in my life. And then Spotify came along and my album buying habit has all but ceased because I can pretty much call up whatever I want, whenever I want, and it doesn’t cost me a dime. True, I could lose access to all that stuff on Spotify tomorrow, but if I did, what have I really lost? The music isn’t going to go away. It’ll come out in some other form or factor and if the value proposition is good enough then I’ll adopt it. If it doesn’t, I’ll move on to something else.

And, you know what? Most people know and understand that. This isn’t really about the sanctity of the used games market. It’s about value. What really bothers people is that used games have been the place for console gamers to get value in a market that pathologically overestimates the value of games. I get it. Just don’t confuse the two. Getting value isn’t tied to the existence of used games. The Xbox One? Maybe it’ll provide a good value proposition for gamers and maybe it won’t. It probably won’t right away. But if it doesn’t, something else will and people will flock to that. Nature abhors a vacuum.

We talk all the time about how publishers need to “get with the times,” but there are times, and this is one of them, when we, as gamers, need to do the same. Yes, absolutely lobby for your rights to get good value for your gaming dollar! I’m not advocating that you throw money at bad value. (Read: the host of “shitty” dudebro games MS expected us to salivate over at the E3 presser.) Just don’t make the used game corner of your local outlet the rallying cry for your rights as a consumer. That’s a red herring. The days of you going into said shop, saying “hey” to the friendly bloke behind the register, and grabbing something off the new release shelf or browsing the used games collection? Those days are ending, just as they are for music and film purchases. And, yes, there are good things we’re going to lose when it goes, but no one ever said change was a wholly positive thing. There are costs and benefits to all change, but ideally the benefits outweigh the costs. Most often, they do. It’s precisely what motivates this sort of change.

The world is moving on. And if the world of gaming evolves into something that doesn’t interest you? Big whoop. You’ll find something else to be interested in. One thing we’re not short of in modern society is diversions. These aren’t things that require outcry, merely an even-minded assessment of the value of your entertainment and an understanding that times change. In the meantime, I’m casting off the shackles of ownership. There comes a point where having possessions means that they start owning you instead. Tossing all my game boxes and plastic discs, all this “stuff,” to the side in favor of on-demand versions of the same products that I can access where and when I want, even if I don’t truly “own” them, doesn’t make me feel repressed. It makes me feel free.

Tuesday Babbling – Returns on a Wednesday Edition


I’ve had this post, half-finished, in the hopper for about three weeks. I call it being fashionably late to the party. Regardless, there’s been much ballyhoo about the Xbox One in the weeks since Microsoft disappointed gamers everywhere by not making them center stage at The Grand Unwrapping of 2013. Why we seem to care so much about this is rather beyond me.

Folks, this one wasn’t about us and that’s neither a slight, nor a problem…

First, this is not about the presentation’s aftermath, which has been something of a mess of mixed-messaging and rumor-mongering beyond the point of usefulness. This is not about whether or not I think the console will be great when it comes out. This is about the 1-hour event itself and the weeping and gnashing of teeth that followed.

Personally, I saw three things in that presentation:

– Stuff I don’t care about (most of it)
– Stuff I do care about (a little of it)
– Dark Matter (stuff that is out there, somewhere, but we don’t get to see it yet; this is the stuff on which I’ll be basing my own buying decisions)

The people who are upset with the presentation are upset because Evil Microsoft didn’t devote 10 minutes to featuring their pet issue. Indie developers are upset because they didn’t address indie gaming. People who want to buy used games the same as ever are upset. People who want to know just how often the console must be online are upset. And so are the people that want to know how much they’ll have to pay. People who want to know about games that aren’t Call of Duty or EA Sports, us basically, were totally left out in the cold.

To all that I say, remember that Microsoft wasn’t courting you last month. They’ll get around to you eventually, probably beginning with E3 next week, because they know you’ll still be paying attention, both next week, through the summer, and later this year when this giant black box comes out. If you’re sitting at home right now saying, “I’m not buying this,” Microsoft knows they have plenty of time to show you something to change your mind, because you’re a gamer and you’ll be watching. Gamers are always watching for the next cool title that they have to play.

The Grand Unwrapping was Microsoft’s play for the people who don’t care what happens at E3 or in the fall. They were playing for the widest possible audience, an audience they want and probably desperately need to include non-gamers. They wanted their tiny slice of the national new cycle and you don’t get that by talking for fifteen and change about what you’re doing to support indie games. Answering any of the aforementioned questions isn’t on Microsoft’s radar right now because those answers are either A) only important to a vocal niche or B) aren’t going to make you happy (see: games, used).

What Microsoft wanted out of the event was for there to be B-roll on CNN, nightly news, etc., of a few pretty games and a dude controlling his TV with voice and gestures. They wanted to show utility and to that end I thought they actually did a pretty bang up job. I’m not defending Microsoft’s tactic here as a gamer, I’m just saying I know when an event isn’t about me and this? This wasn’t about me, so I took what info they offered and got on with my day. There’s really no point in being outraged about the lack of game focus because we still don’t know anything, even weeks later, about the kinds of games coming to the console. But we will. (I’ll write, maybe next week, why I just don’t give a fig about the timed expiration of the used game market).

Publishers aren’t going to just sit on the sidelines. They’re making games and they’re going to want you to know about them. Wait for E3. Wait for the end of the summer. And most importantly, wait for six months or so after the console’s release. Then you’ll know if Microsoft has offered you enough carrots to justify whatever ungodly price they’re going to extoll (both in treasure and silly little things like privacy). I’m still convinced the slogan on this beast should be Privacy Not Included (I’m undecided how much I care about this), but I suspect I’m the only person who finds that bit of wordplay remotely amusing. But hey, what’s amusing to me has always been my guiding star so I’m cool with that.

In the meantime, if you want some more reasonable takes on what we do know, there have been a handful of articles the past few weeks that are worth a read:

Wired: Xbox One Revealed (This has better technical details than most of the detritus out there.)


PAR: Xbox One Will Kill Used Games and That’s Great


“It needs to be made clear, if all the studio closings and constant lay-offs haven’t made this explicit: The current economics of game development and sales are unsustainable. Games cost more to make, piracy is an issue, used-games are pushed over new, and players say the $60 cost is too high. Microsoft’s initiatives with the Xbox One may solve many of these issues, even if we grumble about it. These changes ultimately make the industry healthier.”


PAR: Why the Xbox One Backlash Doesn’t Matter


“The second thing we have to remember is that a hashtag and a few blog posts isn’t a backlash. No one at Microsoft or Sony cares about what you post on the forums of your favorite gaming website. I hate to be the bearer of bad news in this regard, but right now the reaction to the possible used game restrictions amounts to a fart in the wind.

What matters is consumer behavior, and we don’t have any data points to show us how things have changed.”

Gizmodo: You Don’t Hate the Xbox One, You’re Just Jealous (They’re troll baiting with the premise, but the point is legit.)

“There is absolutely no downside to a gaming console widening its berth and bringing in a larger audience. Creating content for a console, or any platform, is not, despite whatever alarmist fears circulate, a zero sum proposition. A team spending time on the Kinect’s voice commands does not mean the controller gets shortchanged. Adding a whole side of the OS dedicated to apps and non-game content does not necessarily mean your games are being shortchanged—especially with all the lengths Microsoft has gone to ensure performance. (The static RAM on the CPU/CPU SoC is a bigger deal than it’s being given credit for.) Microsoft is a very large company. There are seven thousand people on the Xbox team alone. It can work on more than one thing at once.”

The Crytek Backpedal

This is one of those times when you have no alternative but to take a person, or a company, as its word and move on. But if you don’t recall the brazen comments from Crytek’s Rasmus Hojengaard regarding used game blockage on the next wave of consoles, here’s a recap:

“From a business perspective that would be absolutely awesome. It’s weird that [second-hand games] is still allowed because it doesn’t work like that in any other software industries, so it would be great if they could somehow fix that issue as well.”

As you can imagine that caused quite a ruckus. Well on Monday Crytek played the, “What? You took that seriously?” card.

“My comment made in the interview released on the 24th of April, touching upon ‘blocking sales of used games’, was not intended to be taken seriously nor representative of the opinion of Crytek.”

I have no choice but to give Hojengaard the benefit of the doubt here because I know how interview quotes can be misinterpreted because you don’t always hear the tone and the inflections and the whatnots, but you’ll excuse me if there’s a sliver of me that sees this as damage control.

Anyway, this all comes courtesy of CGV, so thanks chaps.

The War on Used Games Continues

First off, yes, every time I write about used games I am using that image because I think it’s awesome.

There is going to come a time when people who work (or worked) for large public companies will learn to shut their face when it comes to topics that tend to piss off the buying public. The customers. The reason for their working existence.

This is one of those times.

Richard Browne, a former THQ Exec, former Eidos developer and a veteran of the gaming industry of over 20 years, has unleashed his anger on used games in an op-ed piece on GI Biz. It’s worth a read. Here’s some of the juicer bits:

A colleague of mine brought to light how bad this has become just the other week. He went into his local GameStop and was point blank REFUSED the option of buying the game he went to get new. After pressuring the sales assistant for a few minutes he finally got his new game – but only after the assistant got his manager’s approval to sell it to him. That’s the state of retail today, and it’s not healthy for the consumer at all.

This is the type of stuff one would expect to see on a 24 hour news channel on a slow news day. There’s no way to prove what Browne says here, but as someone who has spent his fair share of loot at game stores, including GameStop, I have never heard of such a thing. Have you ever read an anecdote by someone who is “in the games industry” about how they went to a game store and the dumb as a stump store clerk didn’t know anything, and that person had to set the customer straight. That’s what this reads like.

An employee refusing to sell a new game and the manager being called out?

Come on.

The real cost of used games is the death of single player gaming. How do I stop churn? I implement multiplayer and attempt to keep my disc with my consumer playing online against their friends. It works wonderfully for Call of Duty – no doubt it can work wonderfully for me. The problem is, at what cost? Countless millions of dollars would be the answer. Let’s take a great example, one of my favorite game series released on this generation – Uncharted…

Browne goes on to talk about how adding multiplayer where it’s not needed is damaging. On this I totally agree. We have said as much here at NHS on countless occasions. But again we go back to expectations.

Used games have been around for DECADES. The gaming industry has survived so many waves of new pirating tactics and the evil that men do…so much so that these companies had the ability to go public and make shareholders some coin. Lots and lots of coin.

But it’s not enough. Laying the issue of tacked on multiplayer that damages single player gaming at the feet of used game sales makes absolutely no sense. It’s shooting in the dark.

This all started to crash when developing budgets went through the roof. The cost to make a blockbuster skyrocketed and thus did the expectation for the return on investment. Prices jumped to 60 bones. And for what?

Take Browne’s other scapegoat: Tim Schafer

The real cost of used games? Let’s take someone like Tim Schafer. Tim works his genius in the video game medium primarily through selling fantastic stories in fantastic worlds, and primarily these experiences are single player games. Tim walks into publisher X and puts his latest, greatest piece of work on the table with a decent mid-range budget. It doesn’t stand a chance.

Used game sales are the reason Tim’s games aren’t being made by huge companies with huge budgets? No. Schafer’s games are niche products, as brilliant as they are, that will not appeal to a mass market where selling 300,000 units isn’t enough. It has nothing to do with Joey NoJob buying a copy of Mass Effect 3 for $45, used.

Browne is so adamant about this that he supports the idea that Sony and Microsoft should not allow used games to work on the new machines. He calls it “the Nuclear Option”. Oh, it is that, Richard, it is that.

And when THAT doesn’t fix the industry’s bloated, self-important miasma? What then? What will be the next thing that “is killing the industry?”

Because right now, according to Richard Browne, it’s you. It’s you and your cheap ass ways during a monstrous recession that’s making companies fail, people to lose their jobs and corporate CEOs to have to explain how it all slipped away.

You and your habit for cheaper videogames.

Way to go. Nice job, gamer.