Experinced Points: Bargains are for Cheaters

By Shamus
on Aug 27, 2010
Filed under:
Column

Problem: Games industry is experiencing competition that is undercutting their prices!

Solution: Erect a bureaucratic system of controlling access to game content on an itemized basis. Then tell gamers they’re cheaters for shopping elsewhere.

I admit that I am not a businessman, yet I remain convinced that there is nothing wrong with this industry that couldn’t be fixed by just one person with an MBA and average-level intelligence.

Yes, I’m very much aware that I’m shouting into the hurricane here and nobody is going to listen. But what the heck, right? It’s a living.

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  1. Irridium says:

    I’m going to predict that in order to combat loss of money, they’re going to start charging more for games, then complain no one wants to buy a stupidly expensive game.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      Surely they’ll complain about piracy and then put the price up again?

    • Heron says:

      They already *did* start charging more for games, at least some publishers have. $50 for PC games used to be standard; a lot of them go for $60 nowadays, even when they’re not console ports (e.g. Starcraft 2).

      • pneuma08 says:

        To be honest, Starcraft 2 probably deserves to be at that price point. I’ve heard record little complaining about how it’s too expensive. I paid up front and it’s been very much worth it.

        SOME games – which shall not be named – do not deserve to be priced like they are, but in the blockbuster-centric nature of the industry it’s either go big or go home, and (like movies) it’s near-impossible to tell the value of a game before it’s release.

        • merle says:

          Count me as a complainer! No LAN support on an RTS game? I mean, seriously now.

        • JKjoker says:

          are you insane ? here SC2 costs 240 us dollars (us region locked import) or 30 + 6/month (local region locked) … and then its the same freaking thing than SC1 but without features like lan, complete campaign/story, the custom map making/distribution screwed up and without the balance SC1 got after all those years, i also cant play with my local friends and international friends with the same copy (or at the same time) … wtf, its expensive as hell, even at the us price

          • Ace Calhoon says:

            “but without features like […] complete campaign/story”

            Although it may not have been as long as originally intended, the SC2 campaign is very much complete, both in terms of length and content. I think detractors would be better served focusing on the other issues with the game.

            • Drue says:

              also, you can make custom maps and even custom games. the lost viking mini-game is supposed to be an example of that.

              • JKjoker says:

                actually, no, i know the tools are very powerful i wont deny that, but by putting a size limit to the maps (greatly limiting what you can do with it), incredible stupid rules on what you can write or not (since because of bnet2, Blizzard is now responsible of all the user created content so they are going batshit over things that look like dicks and anything that could be considered racist or an insult) and restrictions on the distribution (many map makers dont feel comfortable with Blizzard having unquestionable absolute control over their creations, you know they reserve themselves the right to pick up any user created map, erase references to the maker’s name, put theirs and then release it as paid DLC whenever they want right ?) they screwed the whole community up

                they overcontroled the whole thing into a stand still

          • pneuma08 says:

            Okay, 240 dollars is pretty excessive, I will agree with that. But that’s not exactly the price point we were talking about, is it?

            Addendum: I hear people complain about the features all the time (only Terran campaign available; lack of LAN; forced sign-in), just very little about the price specifically, especially among owners of the game.

          • Kdansky says:

            “Experinced Points”, eh? I found a typo in the header!

            Well, 240 USD is a bit much, but it’s also +300% more expensive than it would be normally, and you probably live in a country where your wage are lower too. Games are 80$ here, and that bothers me too. 1 Euro is not 1 Dollar!!

            That said, SC2 offers good enough value for pure single player alone. The campaign is nearly as long as the original Starcraft (30 missions divided between factions, SC2 has 29 Missions too), and more importantly: The levels are actually fun! And on top of that, you get Bnet multiplayer, but even if you don’t have that, it’s worth the (standard) price easily.

            Also: Steam (again) does it correctly: They mark down tons of games, and often by ludicrous amounts (Plain Sight was -80%, so 1.80€ this week, and it’s a great game).

      • Irridium says:

        Yeah, they saw how great MW2 for the PC sold at $60 USD and thought “Hey, it worked for them, so logically it must work for us!!”

      • pkt-zer0 says:

        Starcraft 2 is the worst possible example, as Blizzard’s games have retailed at $60 for the last decade.

        • Lise says:

          Exactly, and they can also get away with it on name alone, even if the game is crap (which, to be honest, SC2, if you don’t want to play multiplayer, is – mediocre, one dimensional, nonsensical writing, very little innovation in the campaign and the lack of the other two factions is just sad). I was not impressed with it at all. I count Starcraft 2 as $180, to be honest, so it’s an even worse example for this blog post.

  2. ToastyVirus says:

    How’s your eye?

  3. Jarenth says:

    Interesting article, Shamus, but I have to ask: what role do you think the retail stores themselves play in this cycle?

    There’s a few game retail stores near where I live that are notorious for keeping high prices – launch prices, usually – for games that have been out for months, or years even. Now, I’ll readily admit that I don’t know exactly hów the video game sales industry works, but it seems to me that if developers lower their suggested price (or whatever), and the retail stores don’t want to follow suit, there’s not a whole lot developers can do about it.

    On Steam, right now, I can see Dawn of War II, plus expansion, on offer for €55. I can guarantee you that if I try to find that game in a store, it’ll probably be around €80 instead – €50 for the original game (‘full price’) and €30 for the expansion (‘full price’).

    Thoughts?

    EDIT: Also, it’s probably the eye infection at work, but you titled your post ‘Experinced Points’.

  4. Ace Calhoon says:

    It’s weird. Games USED to come down in price… I know that several games I own were purchased specifically because they crossed a $30 price-line. I wonder what happened in the current generation… Is it because stores are keeping fewer copies on shelves, or a conscious effort on the part of some faction in the games industry?

    • Irridium says:

      A combination of greed, increased development costs, and a bad economy.

      • pneuma08 says:

        Actually, greed should serve to balance out prices. If someone overcharges for their good, less people will buy it, and although they make more money per sale they make less money overall (and indeed if they make more money by charging more then their good was underpriced to begin with). The trick is figuring out if a good is overpriced or underpriced.

    • A Different Dan says:

      Shamus is wrong on that point, for at least a portion of the industry: I bought games two years ago and last year that have dropped in price significantly from their original release levels.

      Or look at Bad Company 2 today (release MSRP $49.99 for PC, $59.99 for PS3/XBox 360). I’m seeing prices of $30 new (once you exclude the $25 new offer from eBay).

      • Blanko2 says:

        well in the case of some games, yes, but other…
        i went to buy C&C red alert 3 a little while ago, it cost NZD90
        which is the price it cost when it came out, the game was already like two years old.
        WHAT.

      • Tizzy says:

        “Shamus is wrong […]” Heresy!

        Kidding aside, I see what you mean. That passage was worded a little bit too strongly, but Shamus’s point remains valid nonetheless: the fact that some games do not go down in price is compounding the demand for secondhand games.

        • Soylent Dave says:

          I think all games do go down in price.

          It’s just a matter of when. And that certain retailers don’t seem to ever drop the price (the supermarket retailers in the UK a good example of this – but they aren’t dedicated game retailers).

          Modern Warfare 2 might still be full price everywhere (although actually it’s never reached full RRP on either Amazon.co.uk or the UK high street, as far as I can tell – because £55 for a game is ridiculous (the price point in the UK is £40 – £50, and that’s still silly money), and these retailers know it) – but it will eventually drop.

          (Actually, I’ve just checked and MW2 is £25 new on Amazon at the moment, so it’s ‘already’ hit its half-price point)

          edit: Xbox 360 prices, incidentally.

      • ccesarano says:

        Some games drop drastically, yes, but the reason why isn’t for the reason Shamus is suggesting (though comparing it with music is a bit flawed: if it’s a big name it’ll stay the same price forever. I can’t find an Iron Maiden CD under $15 in a store).

        The big central issue is that the industry judges a game’s overall worth based on how much it sells in it’s first week. 500,000 units means you were a success and it’ll take a few months before price goes down. Failure to achieve that success means prices will drop drastically in order to clear shelf space. If you’ve sold millions in your first week, then good luck finding a dropped price. Typically the only thing that can influence that is an upcoming sequel (see Halo 1 being $50 until a few months before Halo 2 hit shelves, and Modern Warfare being $50 until MW2 was about to hit shelves).

        What frustrates me further is studios for music and movies don’t just stop printing albums or films on CD/DVD after a year or so. Were you waiting on a price drop for Kameo: Elements of Power? Good luck finding it new. Project Sylpheed? Ha! Too Human? Hell no. I wish I could find new copies of Phoenix Wright games, but Capcom decided “it’s a niche title so I won’t bother”. This is like saying Clerks was a niche film so after the first year on DVD you wouldn’t be able to find it anymore.

        Part of the reason developers aren’t making money is simply due to the fact that they judge a game’s success by its first week and don’t even hope to make residual long term sales. They want it to be paid back NOW, and if it isn’t, well, that’s a failure! 10 or 12 months time the only copies you’ll be able to get are Used.

        GameStop has taken advantage of this to no end. When you get right down to it, every game released is a Limited Edition, which only makes actual limited editions pretty damn ironic. Unless you manage a mega huge blockbuster title, then you’re getting one or two disc pressings and then you’re done. Whatever is on the market is all there is. But GameStop will always be there with Used copies! How do you know there will be used copies? Because every other week I’m getting an e-mail with a coupon telling me I can get an extra 10% or $20 credit if I trade any two games in for big-new-release.

        The industry has done a damn good job of sabotaging itself into GameStop being such a huge money maker.

    • Primogenitor says:

      I have noticed a U shaped price curve, particularly among online retailers (not digital distribution). Dragon Age and Borderlands both followed this, and thats just because I was paying attention to them.

      First off, its new and expensive.

      Then the price drops (1-4 months), special offers kick in, sales, etc. Presumably this is excess stock that wasn’t sold initially, possibly bought from other retailers rather than direct from manufacturer.

      Eventually (6+months), they sell the bulk of their stock but a few linger around. No longer important enough to go on special, the go back up to publisher-prescribed price point.

      Finally, clearance sales come in and they are reduced again to “dirt cheap”.

      This doesn’t cover special editions, such as GOTY or Gold, which follow different paths. Also, I pay zero attention to flashy multilayer so MW2/SC2 are invisible to me.

  5. Amarsir says:

    You know another wacky way to fight resales is to make games that players want to keep. Perhaps this is on publishers’ to-do list somewhere below “petition the UN to impose sanctions on regions that permit GameStop stores.”

    Focusing on GameStop is wrong too. They’re just doing centrally what anyone can do on eBay or Cragislist. Maybe the game industry has been fielding calls from Washington long enough that they’ve been lured to the “demonize the opposition” school of problem solving. But other industries don’t hate on resales like this. Carmakers go the complete opposite route and say “buy a Toyota, it has high resale value!”

  6. guy says:

    What’s odd is that the starcraft battlechest was 15$ before SCII came out.

    • Aldowyn says:

      man, that game is from 1998. Most games from that era are that cheap. Pretty much anything from before 2005 or so is like $20.

    • PurePareidolia says:

      I haven’t checked but I’m pretty sure JB Hi fi here still sells that for closer to $50 Same with the Diablo 2 and warcraft 3 ones.

      Of course games are $100+ when they come out here…

      • Ernheim says:

        And JB are the more reasonable ones usually… EB will often ask $120 for a new game with a straight face.

        Although they do drop their prices… most games more than a couple of years old are only slightly more than other countries would have payed new! Bargain!

        • Blanko2 says:

          bought the saboteur at JB for 90NZD which is about 60 USD which is standard retail price. its still RIDICULOUS
          but at least in that case it wasnt overpriced. like SC2 and COD:MW2
          and almost every other game. hell even COD 4 is still overpriced and its what… three years old? more?

      • Lanthanide says:

        Presumably this is someone else from NZ here.

        EB price Diablo and SC battlechests at $50, however they also frequently have 50% off (marked products) sales. Many titles never get the 50% off treatment, but the battlechests *always* do. So if you want one, just wait till a sale then buy it, that’s what I did.

  7. Jeff says:

    There’s another side to this, of course. Shamus has a point in that they’re being very stupid in trying to maintain revenue (as opposed to increasing profit). They’ve also been very stupid in increasing their costs for little to no gains.

    …but this is nothing Shamus hasn’t covered before.

  8. Silfir says:

    It’s official. Shamus Young is smarter than Penny Arcade.

    I guess you’d have to replace “It’s official.” with “I think” in your minds, given that I am not currently holding an office that would allow me any kind of officiality on this. But I am quite serious about the sentiment.

    Every cent of what you’re currently making from Experienced Points is well earned, and I guess some more would also be well earned, but sad as it may be I also do not have sufficient muscle in the Escapist management to lobby for a significant raise. But I figure if I stare in the general direction of their offices for a while and contemplate their inevitable fates they’ll break eventually.

    If you’re currently in pain trying to read this, I apologize. Get better and keep up the good work.

    • winter says:

      At least on this particular issue.

      I don’t understand how this is so hard. We’ve had the whole “first sale” doctrine enshrined in law (in the US) for a while now. Clearly the idea that people might want to prevent others from reselling their goods has come up before–i bet GM and Ford would love to kill all used car dealerships–but we’ve explicitly protected the used goods markets.

      That fight has already been fought.

      What surprises me is that, just because the goods are slightly different, suddenly everyone thinks the market is totally different. Sorry, but no, used goods are not going to kill manufacturers.

      Now this is a totally different issue from the question of whether or not Gamestop is a vampire, which it clearly is. Gamestop is bad for both players and makers, but that’s quite a different question than “are used games evil”, or whatever.

      Really this is pretty straightforward, i’m very surprised that there’s even a debate.

      • Daimbert says:

        Actually, maybe at first they’d have liked to get rid of selling used, but right now their business model depends too much on being able to sell used, and from every maker. Most dealerships have a significant used section, so they’re the ones making money off of resales. Additionally, trade-ins won’t work without the dealers being able to sell used cards; otherwise, what the heck would they do with the cars they take on a trade-in? And the very best sort of trade-in is where you pick up a competitor’s car for one of yours, since that means that you might be converting a customer.

        Additionally, they get service deals and all sorts of other things that only helps their business.

        Being able to sell used benefits the major car companies enough that even if they lose so money on resales, the additional options make it more than worth it.

        Then again, few people who buy a used car would have bought a new one if they couldn’t (since the price is far more of a factor), so that comes into play, too.

        • Simon Buchan says:

          This raises the question of what they do with a competitors car? Just eat the loss? Or is it better to sell it to a competitors dealership, in which case why would they buy it?

          • McNutcase says:

            They detail it and sell it to someone who wants a used car, just like almost anything else they take as a trade-in that’s not already scrap. I’ve lost count of the cars I see with “Future Ford” plate frames that aren’t Ford brands, and ditto for every other dealership around here.

          • Daimbert says:

            They sell it on their lot. I bought my old car — a Ford Taurus — from a Honda dealership.

            If they can’t sell it, they send it to auction to get some money out of it. They make enough on selling you the car that you traded for that if they get something out of the trade-in, they still win.

            You do have to be careful buying a car from one dealership that’s a different make than what the dealership normally sells, because them buying from a different company implies that they didn’t like that car or company. But when I bought the Taurus we asked why it was traded in, and the salesman said that the person had wanted a smaller car because he couldn’t fit it in the garage with his riding lawnmower. Not only is that excuse too bizarre to be false, Ford at the time didn’t make very good small cars, so you could see why the person would go to Honda to replace the Taurus.

  9. Mari says:

    Strangely enough, I recently purchased a paperback book. When I opened the book and thumbed past the copywrite and title pages I came upon a note from the author, lambasting people who buy books from used bookstores for cheating her and her publishers out of money. I’ve no idea if the book was any good or not. It got me riled enough to pack it away in the car and the next time I was in a mid-size city I sought out a used bookstore and traded it in, unread. I don’t usually deal with used bookstores, not because I have anything against them but because they’re not convenient for me, being a 65 mile drive away and all. But I was just that annoyed. On top of that, I won’t be buying this author’s works anymore except from used bookstores.

    I actually rounded up the handful of THQ games we own for the same treatment earlier in the week. Except for Conan, which the hubs bought used from GameStop late last week for $10, making it an “eh, what the heck?” kind of a purchase.

    It’s childish and contrary, but there it is. That’s what publishers and developers have left me.

    • Adeon says:

      Eric Flint said pretty much the same thing in one of his essays (I’m to lazy to figure out exactly which one).
      http://baens-universe.com/columns/Salvos_Against_Big_Brother

      One of the reason I like Baen Books (besides the fact that they tend to publish authors who write the sort of stories I like) is that they have a VERY relaxed attitude towards second hand distribution.

    • Gilmoriël says:

      This is the very first time I’ve ever heard about an author being against this kind of thing. Imagine what that kind of mind thinks about libraries! A person who hates libraries should not be in the business of writing books.

      • Mari says:

        That’s exactly my thought.

        I admit, the book business model works pretty much the same way as the games industry. Authors are paid once per initial sale of a work. So if the video games industry is complaining, I guess it’s legit for authors to complain too. But frankly I think they’re both starkers.

        The nearest I can tell, about the only “industries” that aren’t paid on that model are finance (banks sell you a loan once and get paid a small amount of interest monthly over the life of the loan, anywhere from 12-360 months) and government (politicians sell themselves once at the polls and get a percentage of your income for the rest of your life). Yet, somehow, only “soft goods” producers are complaining about the deal; musicians, authors, games developers. Of those, it seems to me that games developers probably have the best deal of all since the planned obsolescence for a video game is rather shorter than the obsolescence for a book or music album. But here they are, complaining yet again that they can’t manage to make a living wage unless I pay them monthly for the rest of my life.

    • Steve C says:

      I wonder if that author would also like to stomp out all public libraries too? All those people going into libraries and reading don’t give her a dime.

      Good for you Mari. Before driving 65m I think I would have attempted to return it to the store it was purchased from or failing that, mail it back to the publisher asking for a refund for full purchase price.

  10. Maybe people will listen if you are shouting “THIS IS NO ORDINARY STORM!”

    I know that some games go down in price, but that is because they aren’t the top selling ones, but I don’t know if there is any actual system to it. And some of the popular games get the greatest-hit releases for cheaper, so it’s not a completely unimplemented idea. Of course it could be better though.

    I used to mainly not buy used because I only trust myself with game discs, but nowadays I am very much into the supporting the developers deal.

    • Zekiel says:

      Interesting. I live in the UK where game prices do go down over time, even for quality games. Doing a quick search on Amazon.co.uk nets prices such as:
      Dragon Age Origins – £12
      Bioshock – £6.50
      Batman Arkham Asylum – £9

      This is compared to new games (e.g Starcraft 2) being ~£35

      Never realised how privileged we are compared to our American cousins!

      • Ian says:

        I agree. I always get confused by this sugestion till I mentally kick myself and remember where I am and they are.

        Supermarkets here are another great source (for console games). They carry limited stock so your choice isn’t great but also because of that they need to get rid of older games and the make the price drop substantially.

        I picked up Dead Space for £10 and Fuel for £6 for the 360.

      • I think the real lesson here, is that I should order from amazon more often hehe. Those are still nicer deals you have going over there.

  11. evilmrhenry says:

    So, someone buys a game for $60, plays it, then sells it for $40. that person plays it, then sells it for $20. That person keeps it. Each person pays $20, including the person who bought it new. Now, (and this is important) would person 1 have bought the game without the ability to resell it? (In essence, paying $60 instead of $20.) How likely is he to use that $40, and buy another game? How likely is he to buy the game on release day instead of waiting for a review, now that he is risking $60 instead of $20? In short, used games indirectly drive sales of new, by splitting the cost over multiple people.

    • Veylon says:

      The game publishers imagine that they’ve been cheated out of $120 because each of the three people should’ve spent $40 more. I know, I know, but that’s apparently how they think.

      • Steve C says:

        They think that way because they are monopolists. They can’t stand competing products to their own and for copyrighted works they view used sales as competition to be stamped out.

        There’s a reason why monopolies are illegal the USA. Monopolies are bad.

    • Klay F. says:

      But you are assuming that a place like Gamestop would actually sell a used game for what its worth (they don’t). Often Gamestop does almost everything they can to rip their customers off. Buying back games at only a fraction (often 50% or less) of their worth? Check. Selling back that used game for a ridiculously marked-up price (often 95% or more of the price of a new game)? Check.

      • ccesarano says:

        True story. A friend of mine took 3D Dot Heroes back to GameStop two weeks after having purchased it and they were going to hand him $10. No joke.

        However, IF the above scenario is really how it worked, I think the REAL lesson should be taken is people are more willing to spend $20 on a new game than $60.

  12. TehShrike says:

    This was the email I sent to Gabe:

    I’m a developer (business software, not games), but this is more of an
    economics issue than a software issue.

    A strong secondary market (things being sold after they’ve already
    been bought once before) improves the primary market (buying things
    new). I buy a ton of games on Steam, but I would buy even more if
    there was a chance I could re-gift them to people.

    In many markets (practical objects like brooms or cars, or more
    intellectual ones like art or software) there’s a tendency for
    manufacturers to be unhappy about the secondary market. But the
    creators shouldn’t be unhappy – demand is being met that wouldn’t be
    met otherwise (there are always people who are interested, but don’t
    want to pay list price), and overall market demand will generally
    increase because of it.

  13. Matt K says:

    [Disclosure: I’m a game developer who doesn’t have a problem with what GameStop is doing.]

    Shamus, I completely agree with your views on games being overpriced, and I wish that those prices would come down. However I also see a way for developers to increase sales without touching the sale price.

    The problem here is that publishers are upset that people are re-selling their little plastic discs. The solution is to brainstorm ways to get people to hang on to their little plastic discs.

    Publishers, here’s a really easy one: take all that digital download content you’re begging people to buy and give it away for free, on a monthly (or dare I say weekly?) basis. Look at how often Left 4 Dead 2 is releasing mods and scenarios and what-not. If I owned L4D2 on a disc, I would have a very good reason not to get rid of it, namely, that next month or the month after that some new feature or map would be added to the game that I want to try, probably because all my friends are enjoying it. (I’m a sucker for peer pressure; that’s why I play WoW).

    The best part is that, in sacrificing your small-change download transaction sales, you’d be encouraging more people to buy and hold onto a copy of the game, which would increase your ridiculous full game-price sales!

    Games need to drop in price. But if you’re upset that I’m quickly turning around and selling your game, just give me a reason not to do so.

    • FatPope says:

      I agree wholeheartedly!

    • Mewse says:

      The thing you’re glossing over, of course, is that creating that new content to add to the game isn’t free (and most companies never even make that new content at all). To do it, you need to be keeping a couple of artists and programmers, plus at least one designer on the project after shipping it to create that content, and all those folks are all on salaries.

      The real question here is which is most profitable:

      (1) Pay employees to create lots of free content post-release in order to put pressure on the used market.
      (2) Pay employees to create paid content post-release, so you can earn a little cash even from people who buy from the used market.
      (3) Just go and create another game.

      Most companies are doing #3, and a rather small number are doing #2. And Valve is doing #1.

      It seems to me that #3 is probably the most profitable option in most cases, unless you’ve made a game that a whole lot of people are really passionate about. Both #1 and #2 require you to have a big hardcore audience for them to be cost-effective.

      • Nidokoenig says:

        There’s a difference between “lots” of new content and “enough”. Valve’s class updates for TF2 are usually a few weapons, a new map or two and maybe one game mode, if you’re lucky, and they come out with months in between. They may well agonise over it and analyse trends for months before they do anything, but it isn’t a vast amount.
        Having your devs knock out a new map or weapon each month is not a herculean effort, especially with the sunk cost of making the game in the first place, and if it makes new sales go up, good. You could even use it to hype the sequel, release tasters of the new game’s content in the old one, for instance.
        And if hanging onto the game until the next one comes out is improving the publisher’s bottom line, surely the people sitting on it that long should get a discount, just access the online portion a month or two before the next game’s release and get a discount code, linked to your copy. If I can expect to get £5 discount for keeping the game, why would I sell it for only a fraction more?

        • Wing Commander, before it collapsed for having “only” 700,000 units ship (and the last title was incomplete, with significant portions of scripted material not getting shot or otherwise in the game) used to have a pattern of original release and two supplements. One would buy all three, but keep the OR in order to have it when buying the supplements.

          On the other hand, I just bought Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri in the Sold Out release version. Even shipped from England it ran around $10.00. Will I play it? Maybe. Someday. But I’m glad to have it.

      • HeadHunter says:

        If #3 is the most profitable choice, the developers would have no basis to complain over what’s done with the games they’ve left behind, now would they?

    • ccesarano says:

      Personally, I think the primary issue is that publishers and developers are relying 100% on the disc for their revenue and profit. Why not look into other ways to make money?

      I’m all for product placement, for example. Sure, not all games are going to be fitting for it, but what games are I think you should. Plus, all it takes is a little imagination. Seeing dented Coca-Cola machines and ruined billboard ads for Abercrombie in Darksiders or Fallout 3 wouldn’t really kill the setting. If anything it would help it feel more real. Modern Warfare 2 has you fight in a fake TGI Friday’s, a fake Denny’s, so on. Why not use real locations as product placement?

      With the Internet, there’s even greater potential. Mark the sections where you’d have ads (let’s say an open world game like Grand Theft Auto where you walk by a theater with movie posters and a big “what’s playing” sign), count up the average number of players that month and use that to determine ad costs. BAM! Next month they are getting more money and the only change is what movie posters are being advertised at a fake theater or on fake billboards.

      I think a lot of people are too afraid that any product placement is going to be like the Verizon commercial in Alan Wake (which is so easy to miss it’s hardly worth bitching about). Me? I liked seeing Verizon billboards and the Energizer logo on the batteries. I wouldn’t mind seeing some sci-fi settings recreating modern franchises with a futuristic appeal, a la McDonald’s in The Fifth Element, either. It just can’t be in my face. Television and film are all about product placement, so why not games when you can fit them? (Besides, considering how big a deal Coca Cola was back in the day, would you really be bothered to see retro billboards and posters for the product in Mafia 2? I think it would sell the setting even better).

      Then there’s also merchandising. I’d love a Big Daddy bobble head, Brutal Legend t-shirts, a plethora of posters, and heck, why not a Metroid, Zelda or even Mega Man action figure for my niece? Not everything needs to be a McFarlane collectible (though those don’t hurt, either).

      Plus, let’s consider that the only source of revenue for GameStop IS used game sales. No wonder they urge consumers to buy used whenever possible! But what if GameStop had t-shirts and other products to sell as well? Why can’t I go to a music store and find any game soundtrack I could ever want? People may hate this idea of consumerist culture, but God dammit, if nerds love anything it’s having useless trinkets they don’t need to decorate their fandom. Why isn’t the games industry taking advantage of this in full?

  14. Raygereio says:

    The gamer who buys used is going to have to make two transactions: One to buy the game and another to buy the rest of the game. And everyone has to muck about creating accounts and typing in registration codes and dealing with the added DRM infrastructure that manages all of this. Note the only person who isn’t punished by this system: GameStop.

    I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one, Shamus. In fact this is probably the one thing EA has done right in recent history. Namely, treating the paying customer like a frigging customer (off course they immediately went and screwed it up by using that ridiculous ET-phone-home-constantly DRM, but I digress).
    Someone that buys the game new doesn’t have to make two transactions as the code you use is right there for you to use in your box. Someone that buys the game used does have to make two transactions as it’s pretty damn likely whoever owned the game before him already used the codes that came with that box.

    Let’s take Mass Effect 2. I put in the code to this whole Cerberus Network thingey on BioWare’s social site: this is no more annoying then it is to type in a CD-key. Then set ME2 to auto-login to my account and I’m done. Voila!
    There are two persons punished by this system. Gamestop; because someone that buys a used game not only doesn’t get access to the free DLC, but also has to pay an additional 10 buck to get access to non-free DLC. Thus there’s less incentive to buy a used game. And secondly the pirates (yarr), as getting the free DLC as a customer is painless (at least it was for me), while someone that pirates the game has to jump through hoops to get it.

    My experiences with DA’s DLC were similar; utterly painless. Yes, I know of the reports that when ME2 or DA failed to phone home you couldn’t use the DLC anymore. However, while my games sometimes failed to log in, I could still use the DLC; so I’m completely ignoring those stories.

    I do fully agree with your point about pricing though.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I am one of those who had the phone-home problem with Dragon Age.

      I won’t be using that system any more, and will be using my money to fund indie games instead.

      My choice as a customer.

      Oh and when you said “someone that pirates the game has to jump through hoops to get it”, I’ve read quite the opposite, that the pirated copies come with all the DLC and lack any requirement to activate. Yet again the pirate gets a better service than the customer.

      • Raygereio says:

        Huh, it is somewhat odd that the same system works completely different for two people.
        The real question is for who does it works as intended? You or me?

        • Sigilis says:

          The DLC activation may work fine for most people, but if you happen to be accessing the internet through something with a high latency there is a very annoying pause as the games that use that “re-activate all DLC every start” go through the laborious task of individually ensuring that you are authorized to use those twenty DLC packs. After purchasing the game on Steam and all the DLC (which were murder to install, stupid Compatibility Assistant) I found it to be unbearable.

          There is a means to permanently activate the DLC and prevent it from trying to call those servers readily available on the internet. But that something is available from a third party to bypass an annoyance does not make things square between the publisher and myself. I wish there was a way to specify that I hate this method and still legally obtain the DLCs. Or some way to levy an annoyance tax on EA.

          They are lovely games. I hope that someday in the future they take advantage of the Cerberus network idea and make the ME2 core game “free”, having people pay for DLC content or something. Probably not going to happen, but the mechanism is there for them to make a bit more money out of the game if they wanted to, bypassing the used games channel entirely.

      • Irridium says:

        When I had these problems I just set my options to “don’t log in on startup”.

        That basically fixed the problem in Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age.

      • Raygereio says:

        I’ve read quite the opposite, that the pirated copies come with all the DLC and lack any requirement to activate. Yet again the pirate gets a better service than the customer.

        I did some research and… erm… tested a pirated version of DA. Yes, it does come with some of the DLC (I couldn’t find a pirated version of the latest two releases yet) and you don’t have to activate anything.

        However a lot of mods won’t work properly or at all and I’m seeing some issues with importing saves.
        So this is a rare case where the pirated version isn’t better/

        • JKjoker says:

          your research sucks, the game works perfectly, mods work perfectly, all patches up to today had their corresponding fix released, all DLC and collector’s edition bonuses were released (even the new ones) on date or several days before official release (in case of Return to Ostagar, several weeks before release), same goes for Mass Effect 2, altho in that one you have to suffer a 30 second hang when you run the game when it tries to call home before the main menu

          the pirates got the real deal and nothing of the hassle (other than the 30 seconds of waiting in me2)

          • Shamus says:

            Your tone sucks. Really, there is no reason not to be civil. Games can be capricious beasts even when dealing with full commercial products, nevermind the roughly cobbled devices of game crackers and the products that flow from their anarchic torrents.

            If Raygereio got such results, perhaps other pirates did as well.

          • Raygereio says:

            This was my attempt at being a DA-pirate (yarr, matey).

            -Commence the google’ing!
            -“Ooh, a release for Return to Ostagar, and it was uploaded way before the release date. Let’s check that one out first. … And it’s nothing but junk data and some viruses. Figures, I wonder how many idiots fell for that one.”
            -“Heh, some poor schmuck is being accused of being a pirate on BioWare’s DA forums because he got RtO a few days before the release date due to a screw up on that Xbox marketplace thingey. Poor guy.”
            -“Ah, a full release with all the DLC (except for the Golems DLC, but that one’s pretty recent). Commence the downloading!”
            -*40 hours later* “Well the core game installs and runs fine. Let’s see about those patches. Oh, the crack for the 1.04 patch is the cracked executable from the 1.03 patch. That’s… stupid. Well, never mind, what about the DLC? Oh the installer the cracker supplied is broken as it’s trying really hard to install the DLC into program files. That’s even more stupid. Well, I’m a semi computer savvy guy. I can install the DLC manually. How hard can it be? “
            -*2 hours of tedious copy-pasting and xml editing later* “Phew. Okay, I got everything installed; DA thinks all the DLC is authorized. Okay, we’re good. Let’s try some mods. Simple texture mods seem to work fine. Oh, mods that new scripts won’t work in the not-really-authorized DLC’s. Gentle caress this, let’s get rid of this junk and boot up my legit copy.”

            JKJoker; maybe you found a release that works flawlessly on some public or private tracker. Good for you. However, while the releases for Dragon Age: Origins (the core game) work fine, I did not find a release for the Awakening and the DLC that did not had some issue with it.

            True, there are fully working releases for ME2. But that doesn’t really count as ME2 is pretty darn DRM-light.

            • JKjoker says:

              ill keep my tone down, sorry about that

              Raygerio: i think you are basing yourself too much in the forum posts and comments, keep in mind a lot of pirates are kind of dumb and fail to read the instructions (to be fair sometimes they just dont get the instructions with the game) , they try it, doesnt work for whatever reason (usually they forgot to copy the files or put them in the wrong place) so they go and post “it doesnt work!”, then you get the ones that run an antivirus on the crack, most cracks will give you a “generic virus/trojan” because of the way they work so they go and post “it has a virus!” and then you have the official game bugs that are confused with the crack not working so they go and post “the mods dont work!, it crashes!”

              ppl reading those forums tend to ignore those saying “it works” and focus on the ones that couldnt get it to run

              because of this ill have to agree with Shamus’s statement “If Raygereio got such results, perhaps other pirates did as well”, true, many definitely did

              also there are usually many groups releasing the same game (one might work, other might not) and then they tend to screw up the initial release and forced to release a fix (many never get this fix)

              and there is a perfect Awakening release (that has serious issues, official serious issues just like the real thing) i would give a link as evidence but i doubt Shamus would like that

              if you had to mess around with the XML files you got the initial “not from the scene” releases, there are ones that install in one step

              Me2 has its DRM with the DLC, if you cant authenticate them the savegames wont load, its actually worse than DA, DA will let you turn them off and keep playing, not Me2 (as far as im aware, there might be a way editing the inis)

              • Raygereio says:

                Raygerio: i think you are basing yourself too much

                Heh, I just had an assesment today at work where they told me I was far to critical at myself.

                First of all; I’m not exactly a stranger to “the scene” as some people to call. In fact I always download a cracker version of a game I buy as a back up. So when I say I got a virus, you can pretty much trust me on it that I tested it ona virtual machine and that it was an actual virus.

                Secondly; yeah, a lot of the – yarr – pirates are not the sharpest arrows in the quiver and reading the manual is not something they tend to do. Granted this is also a serious problem with non-pirates.
                So that whole part where I said I had to install the DLC manually? Yeah, the cracker described how I had to do that in caase the installer failed. But I’m willing to bet the vast majority of the people that downloaded never bothered to read the readme, so they would have been stuck there as you said.

                Thirdly; I forget to add some information to that poor excuse of a narrative. I did not check who released the torrent.
                Yeah, the big boys like skidrow, or razor1911 have released almost fully workening cracked versions. I say almost because you will still have some issues with certain mods. It has to do with some xml file, somewhere, whatever. Point is there is no way around that, but you can play the DLC itself fine.
                What I did was grab the first result a torrent search engine gave me (the second link I got was oddly enough that forumthread I described – not sure how that works), which I would think is something the vast majority of people looking for some hot pirating action would do.

    • Adeon says:

      I don’t consider DLC activation to be anywhere near as painless as entering a CD key. It means another user name/password combination I have to deal with. It means I can’t use the game under certain situations (such as if I don’t have internet access). It means someone else has control over my ability to play the game.

      I don’t support video game piracy. but when the pirates are offering a superior product I don’t feel any sympathy for the publishers either.

      • Bodyless says:

        But the reality is, that you do not need to have internet access to play. all you have to do is simply logging out. the game will not try to phone home and will not stop you from using any installed dlc when you are logged out. but they dont tell you that for some reason.

        the only downside of logging out is, that you wont get any fancy features like tracking your progress and achievements on the bioware social site.

        also, you only need one account for all EA games.

        • some random dood says:

          You are assuming I *want* an intrusive company to know every game of theirs that I own, and how well or how far into them that I play, and possibly even to be able to analyse my play-style. I happen to have bought both Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2, and not registered for the “free” DLC because I do not trust the company behind the scheme. So it is certainly punishing this paying customer.

          • Raygereio says:

            Oh come on. Now we’ve crossed into tin foil head territory. Yes, yes, EA is the devil incarnate, whatever. But please tell me: what friggin malicious thing can EA do by allowing you to use the portrait of your DA character as a forum avatar, or by showing the whole world what achievements you have unlocked in ME2? Hrm?

            And to repeat Bodyless ; you don’t have to have the game phone home. It’s only nescecary to authorize once.

            • Kdansky says:

              So I only need one account for EA, one for THC, probably eighty for Ubisoft (plus my firstborn), one for Blizzard, one for Steam, one for Bethesda, one for Bioware, one for Mythic, …

              Do you see my point? One account may be fine, but one per developer is decidedly less funny.

              • Raygereio says:

                More like one per publisher. I somewhat see your point, but it’s not much of a problem for me.
                How is it different then seperates accounts for steam and impuls? Seperate accounts for different MMO’s?

                People already tend to have a lot of different account everywhere. Heck; between personal, junk and work adresses, I’ve already got 5 email accounts to keep track off. I’m pretty much used to managing a lot of different accounts and I think a lot of people are as well.

                But if you’re not; fair enough.

        • Adeon says:

          It depends a lot on the game. I recently purchased DoW2 through Steam and according to the information available to me I only needed to sign up for a Microsoft live account if I wanted achievements or to play online (neither of which concerned me). However when I loaded it lo and behold I discovered I couldn’t play the single player campaign without signing up for Microsoft Live. I was not amused.

          In any case none fo this addresses my main issue with the whole system which is that in any case where the game has to phone home someone else can cut my access off at any time.

    • pneuma08 says:

      Gamestop actually isn’t punished by the system because they simply have to lower their prices (both buying and selling) to compensate for the lack of $10 DLC.

      Case in point: Madden 11. It’s $47.99 instead of $54.99. Curiously, this means that if someone doesn’t intend to use the DLC (in this case, online play) they can get the game for much cheaper used, which is a disincentive for them to buy new. And with a little tweaking on the trade-in price, voila, same percent revenue.

      That said, it remains yet unseen how this will impact the industry as a whole.

      • Raygereio says:

        Erm, I don’t know. Being forced to lower your prices counts as being hurt in my book.

        • evilmrhenry says:

          That’s only really true if the buying price remains the same, though. In this case, they can go “no DLC? Lower trade-in” and be basically unhurt.

          • Raygereio says:

            Okay. Let’s say they go with the “no DLC? Lower trade-in” method and still resell the game at the usual rate. Why would you as customer then buy that game? Because you would know (or if you didn’t you probably would found out quickly) that you won’t have access to the DLC and have to make another purchase.
            Something that you wouldn’t have to do if you bought to game unused.

            Granted, the DLC is not part of the core game. Silly conspiracy theories that can by summed up as “Durr, EA is teh evil” aside; no part of the game is being held hostage behind the DLC. You can play ME2 without DLC and not miss anything. So Gamestop can still sell their game to the people that don’t care about the extra stuff.

            But Gamestop has to seriously lower their prices for people that do care about the extra stuff to make it worth their while and buy a used game. I don’t have any number, but I figure that a pretty significant numbers of people. It will still hurt Gamestop.

            • A Different Dan says:

              I think you’d misunderstood the sequence of events: If the DLC is not packaged with the used game GameStop is selling, they lower the asking price to account for the extra money their customer will have to shell out. They then lower the price they are willing to pay for the used copy of that game by the same, or greater, amount. The percentage margin for GS remains essentially unchanged, though the overall revenue drops in proportion to the absolute numbers.

              The only clear winner in this case is the original game publisher, who manages to capture some revenue from the secondary market.

              • Raygereio says:

                I’ll concede that point. But the only losers are then the people that want to resell their game and the people that buy used games.

                But then how will this negatively affect the people that buy the game new? And why should EA care about the people that stop being their costumers and people that aren’t their customers respectively?

    • Roll-a-die says:

      Wha, pirates actually luck out very much compared to actual customers. Crack and copy, then your done. You’ve got you DLC and your game, with no hassle.

  15. Neil Polenske says:

    What I find most insane about the discussion is the idea that the producer can directly dictate the behavior of the consumer. Am I the only one that finds this concept completely disconnected from reality? Has there EVER been a business model that has this as a viable strategy?

    Here’s a little heads up THQ, it’s my money and I’ll spend it however I want. I’ll ‘cheat’ you out of your goddamn house and home. Is it a dick move on my part? Will it shoot me in the foot by making you go out of business? Doesn’t matter, it’s completely irrelevant. Wanna know why?

    IT IS MY FUCKING MONEY!

    If Jerry Holkins doesn’t want to purchase used games out of a personal moral prerogative, more power to him. Having publishers/developers ask me to do the same is ridiculous.

    • ehlijen says:

      Without actually wanting to defend publishers here, I have to jump in:

      Yes it’s your money, but your money is only one part of an economic system. If people don’t use their money to support those parts they want to keep, those parts (ie the games industry) might go away completely, according to how someone explained capitalism to me once. Yes, you have full authority over where your money goes and noone should tell you otherwise. But you should also take full responsibility for the consequences of the purposes for which you use your money. Every time you decide to pay someone something for goods or services you are saying ‘these goods or services are worthwile to society’ and every time you don’t you say ‘these goods or services are not worthwile to society’. Then everyone’s votes are tallied up and companies grow or decline accordingly.

      In short: it’s natural to want the best deal for your money, but shortsightedness can destroy companies accidentilly.

      Yes, the games industry is largely at fault here, but noone in this play is completely blameless for the current situation.

      • Aldowyn says:

        Best example I can think of: Consumer choice causes stock market crash, especially in these days of internet trading. Sure, it falls due to the housing market or whatever, but it plummets because people panic and pull out- thus lowering the market further and further.

      • Adeon says:

        I agree with the general sentiment. But I’ll also point out that if enough people vote with their wallets that the company goes out of business then society as a whole did not want the product being provided int he manner that it was being provided.

        If people buying second hand games is an issue large enough to drive gaming companies out of business then what it really means is that people are unwilling to pay the price that the company is asking for their product.

        Assuming the sale price adequately reflects the costs of making and distributing the game (with a suitable profit margin for all involved of course) then the problem is that society as a whole is not willing to pay that amount for the game. There are plenty of ways they could do that such as making games with simpler graphics (which cuts costs and allows them to sell to a wider audience due to lower system specs). Or they could do what Shamus suggested and try to sell more units at a lower price point. The video game industry as a whole seems to be trying to strongarm customers into buying the game (whether with DLC, DRM or some other means) and in the long run I would say that is counter-productive since it’s pissing off legitimate customers without really affecting non-customers (i.e. pirates).

        Video games are an art form (despite what Ebert says) and art forms often have unusual methods of payment. Assuming that society considers the art to be beneficial it will come up with some way to cover the costs of creating it. The problem with video games is that unlike other art forms they have a combination of three factors that contribute to their current problems. They have very high development costs (probably higher than any other art form except for movies), a copied or second hand version of a game is basically indistinguishable from the original, and the size of modern development teams means that gamers rarely feel a personal connection with the artist.

        Most of the video game industry seems to be focusing on number 2 (probably because like all large companies their first response to a problem is to throw money at it) but except for MMOs (which can legitimately claim to offer a superior product) their efforts seem to mostly annoy consumers while making their product inferior to the copied product instead of the other way around.

      • Silemess says:

        I’ve got to jump in on this.

        Yes, if you don’t support something, it goes away. But note that there are Indies out there who are willing to start up their idea and bring it out to the market. So if we don’t support the big companies and they can’t maintain their payroll, they go away. We lose the triple A games until the next time a company grows big enough to redevelop them.

        The game industry isn’t going to go away. Too many people want to play games. It just may not look the same if these changes happen.

        • ehlijen says:

          Of course it won’t ever go away permanently. Even if it did for a time, sooner or later the demand would rise again to the point where it becomes worthwile again.

          It’s just that with fake competition like this (ie people using your own product to compete with you), the consumers can easily get used to a price so low the industry can’t maintain it, which could mean that a company making a product people want goes under. It’s a problem of handling ownership rights, not of money values. Once the industry figures out how to handle digital rights in the internet age in a workable and effective manner, the price will eventually settle back where it should.

          My comment was supposed to merely address the notion that people can spend their money any way they want (which is correct). I only wanted to be clear that that privilege entails responsibility as well.

          • Neil Polenske says:

            Except that’s wrong. First off, it’s not a priveledge, it’s a right to spend my money how I choose. Second, that carries with it consequences, NOT responsibility. I’m not beholden to ANYONE to be responsible with my money except myself. As I said before, I would be shooting myself in the proverbial foot, but it is STILL my choice to make.

            As such, it still stands that producers thinking they can dictate consumer behavior directly is…it’s just plain silly.

            • uberfail says:

              The businesses are the ones with the responsibility to keep themselves afloat. Not the consumers. End of story.

              • Well, hold on. If we find that there’s some market arrangement that makes something good (video games, say) unviable, then there can be a legitimate social and/or government and/or institutional response to it.

                My problem is that the trend has been to screw consumers and empower producers far beyond reason.

                If it was JUST the DMCA, or JUST publishers yelling at me for exercising my rights, or JUST invasive DRM, I’d tolerate it.

                The fact that they get it ALL and we as consumers have gained nothing is the problem. Legislation is being dominated by powerful corporate interests.

      • HeadHunter says:

        Let’s be honest about one thing, though:

        Game developers don’t give a damn about the well-being of their customers. ALL they want is our money.

        Sure, the best ones may be passionate about making (and playing) games, and they may make an effort to create games we like… but the bottom line is expressed solely in dollars.

        If dollars are all that matter to them, then we have every right to look at our end of the equation the same way.

      • Steve C says:

        If people don’t use their money to support those parts they want to keep, those parts (ie the games industry) might go away completely, according to how someone explained capitalism to me once.

        Then you were explained capitalism wrong.

        In short: it’s natural to want the best deal for your money, but shortsightedness can destroy companies accidentilly.

        True. But it’s the shortsightedness of the companies that destroy them. And oh man do they need glasses in this industry.

        Capitalism works because it’s an efficient allocation of resources. Inefficiency gets replaced by a process of competition. When competition is denied the system falls apart. By stamping out legal and fair competition of the used market through unhanded tricks the industry will reap gains in the short term by destroying it in the long term. You can’t purposely inject inefficiencies into a monopoly market and have good things come from it in a capitalist market.

    • Lovecrafter says:

      Well, technically a monopoly could do this, but even those companies tend to try keep customers happy (or at least limit the amount of unhappy cusomers).

  16. radio_babylon says:

    for me, the solution to this pricing problem was simple: stop buying games. (and no, thats not secret code for “start stealing games”)… when the last generation of consoles rolled around (360/ps3) i thought about getting one (or both) and finally decided against it. this was a pretty big deviation in behavior for me, as up until then i had bought pretty much every console that came to market since my first 2600 (and theyre almost all actually hooked up and still played, imagine the cable mess!)…

    it wasnt the cost of the consoles that turned me off (although that was part of it), and even though theyre both considerably cheaper than release at this point, i still have no interest in buying one. why? because it isnt enough to buy the console, you have to FEED it with games… and the games are just too goddamned expensive. somewhere around the point where games were regularly releasing at over $40 was the point where i just… stopped gaming. the average overall quality was declining, and the price increasing (and staying higher longer, as you point out), and that just didnt sound like a good business proposition to me. i found i had better things to spend that money on. so, i moved on. the pricing practices of the market turned a customer that regularly spent $1500-2000 a year on games (id typically buy one a week) to a non-customer that has spent zero for the last 5 years or more. its not a lot of money on an individual basis, but those numbers add up, and im sure im not the only one that dropped the hobby.

    fortunately, something HAS gotten me back into gaming over the last few years… steam. beginning with their first ridiculous xmas sale a few years ago, i started buying games again, because i saw i could buy quality (if older) games for $10-ish… and their regular discounting has put a lot of pressure on the other DD retailers to follow suit, which equals a lot of gaming for not a lot of money for me. it also means that a lot of developers are now seeing that “long tail” of sales where they continue to make some (maybe not a lot, but some) money off of their older games that would otherwise make them nothing at all.

    console game publishers could learn a lot from the very aggressive tiered layers of price-cutting that the digital distribution market is using so effectively to capture sales across all levels of interest (and financial means) in the pc customer space. that “long tail” of sales could go a long way towards propping up their sagging profits… a lot further, i suspect, than the “$10 extra” method will…

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Yes, this. This runs parallel to my other post a quick scroll down the page: Throwing $10 at something is easy. Throwing $5 at some DLC that I already own is easy. Throwing 5x that at something is HARD. If you never want your game to sell for less than $40, I’m a sale you’re never going to get. Ever.

  17. Malkara says:

    Shamus, you going to comment on the current Stardock fiasco?

    • radio_babylon says:

      “2: Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.”

      so much for stardock’s “gamers bill of rights” eh? not like stardock has ever really managed to hit that one…

      • guy says:

        Well, it’s hardly their fault retailers think contracts are for other people. Admittedly it sounds like elemental was due out pretty soon, but i do not really mind zero-day patches that much.

        • Malkara says:

          Even after the 0-day it’s practically unplayable. They had a choice between an August launch, and a February one. They chose August despite the game being, by all accounts, horrifically unfinished.

  18. Eltanin says:

    Thank you Shamus. You’ve hit it out of the park again. There are other viewpoints and more aspects to be discussed, but your clear thinking has yet again re-molded my own thoughts on the subject. I bow to your brain.

    But I give the rottenness in your eye the finger.

  19. pkt-zer0 says:

    Lack of re-sales can be pretty awesome. See: Steam sales with 75-90% discounts.

  20. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Sometime, some whizkid is going to come up with the idea that playing through a game a second time is cheating too. There’s about 70 console games on the shelf, and I’ve played … 60% of them, at some point or another. Maybe three are ones that I’m *done* playing. I’ve got about 40 titles purchased through Steam, and I’ve only bothered to install about 10 of them. I’ll get to the others in due time. I’ve got 300 anime discs, chosen for longevity and amusement. I’ve watched… about half of them, I’d say. None are ones I’d not watch again given half an excuse to. The point I’d like make with all this is that *I can be done* any time. I will not be at a loss for entertainment out of the library I’ve got *for the rest of my life*. There is no drive to buy anything more, and and anything I buy for the next 40 years will be contending for my attention with some pretty stiff competition. I bet I’m not the only person with this kind of pile of stuff and a willingness to revisit. Which brings us to the deep crux: Anything I buy in the future not only has to be worth the price on the sticker, it also has to look about that price BETTER than something I already own for amusement value. Tossing $10 at something I may never get around to playing is fairly easy. $20 maybe. $60, well… probably not. If this industry wants to continue extracting ANY money out of people that buy and think like me, steep discounts are going to be one of the very few ways that they can even get *considered*.

    • Veylon says:

      I can actually imagine this. In fact, this was an argument the movie industry made in it’s war against videotapes. Why would any go to the theaters if they could watch movies for free at home?

      I have the feeling we’ll here from the industry on this subject if OnLive catches on in a big way.

  21. Aldowyn says:

    To illustrate the point (Thanks to the lack of hardcore games in the Wii library), I recently went to a retailer, and I saw Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2, right next to each other on the shelf for the EXACT same price. $50. SMG1 isn’t the only one, either. I know that SSMB is the same, and maybe Twilight Princess as well. (I think they can do this because there are many Wii gamers who just don’t know how old some games are, and what that means for the cost)

    My solution: Some publisher starts a structured system for it. Say, $5 decrease every 6 months. In this way, it’ll get down to minimum shelf price ($30, maybe $20), in 3 to 4 years, while going down steadily in the meantime.

  22. Or to put it another way, publisher feel that those who buy used games are no better than those that copy them for free (aka casual pirates) in either case they see no money coming their way.

    Kinda silly when you think about it as digital distribution is ideal for long tail sales (prices start falling more the less people are buying) and support (can be semi-automated or community forum based).

  23. Meredith says:

    This discussion actually does come up in reference to used books and libraries a lot. I’m a major reader and make heavy use of public libraries and used to shop in used book stores often. I do feel a bit guilty that the authors make no money from my enjoyment of their works. Sometimes, though, I’ll borrow a book and then buy it later so I can read it again and again (I also do this with dvds). However, a paperback book costs about 1/5 as much as a new game.

    As far as used games go, I’d have to think their sale still funds purchases of new games in some way. Say Person A takes a stack of games to Game Stop and trades them in for a couple of brand new, full price games. Then Persons B,C, and D come along and buy the used games. Maybe Person A couldn’t have afforded all or any of those new games without the ability to trade. Now four people are happily gaming and the publishers are selling at least one extra copy of the new stuff. Is it perfect? No, but it may drive at least a few sales. Persons B,C, and D might not have bought those games at all if they didn’t get them used, so it’s really no loss — it’s the same way most pirates wouldn’t buy a game regardless so they don’t count as an actual loss of money.

    I really think it’s the retail stores keeping the prices inflated so long after release. I see a lot of games going down in price on Steam, and not just in the awesome sales. The first Mass Effect was priced around $20 the last time I looked and a few more recent titles are hovering around $30. For me, that’s about the price point where I’m willing to start buying games. I like to wait a year or so, make sure people actually liked the game after the hype wore off, get a deal, and then play it (putting me somewhere in the middle of Shamus’ ladder of interest, I guess). With Digital Distro. I also can’t resell it or buy it used; I think it’s only a matter of time before the stores become obsolete in this industry.

    For a while, I had a GameFly account and it was a good way to try console/handheld games. Most of them were so terrible I never finished and I’d have been seriously pissed if I’d spent $40-60 on them. When there’s no guarantee the game will be good, or even playable, many people just can’t justify parting with that much money. I suppose renting is cheating too, but the alternative is I just never play your game. On the other hand, maybe I rent it, love it, and then either buy it or decide to buy the sequel/your next game because I’ve learned you make a good product. There are just so many sides to this issue.

  24. FatPope says:

    I’m going to address just one small aspect of this argument, rather than the whole thing; but I really feel this needs to be said:

    I’m just flabbergasted at the atitude some devs, and even penny arcade it seems, have toward this issue. Since when are developers charities? Since when are we supposed to be motivated by guilt to support them? Does anyone buy a ferrari because they want to ‘support’ the manufacturers? Of course not! They get money from us and prosper because they are offering a product for a price people are willing to pay.

    These are companies operating in a free market economy, the only reason we should give them money is if it benefits us, the customers, to do so (i.e. spending money for goods and services). There is no obligation on any consumer to give these entities money just for the sake of it! In fact that is the antithesis of what a free market is. Strong companies who are able to profit in an environment by offering what the consumers want survive, the ones that can’t die off. This is a good thing!!! It results in better quality goods and closer attention to consumer needs. Without this the whole industry would stagnate.

    The very idea that we ‘owe’ these companies our loyalty is laughable. This industry is not special. It is not unique. It doesn’t go by different rules to every other industry on the planet. The consumers only need to think of one person – themselves! Because ultimately that’s the only reason this entire business exists – to serve their needs. Otherwise they’re feeding a phantasm, a consuming machine that needs constant nourishment and serves no purpose other than its own existence.

    I realise this comes across as very die-hard-capitalist, and I’m aware that I’m only addressing one specific issue rather than the whole argument but the point still stands: No matter what occurs or what companies do to make money under no circumstances should the consumer ever feel guilty for their choices!

    • Keeshhound says:

      Die-hard-capitalist? Yes. But you’re also right, and I think that’s a very strong point that needed to be raised within this discussion. I might not like that my favorite company went under, but in all honesty, they went into the market knowing the rules, and if they couldn’t hack it, that’s their own damn fault.

      • Aldowyn says:

        I understand your point, but brand loyalty definitely exists, and is DEFINITELY a factor in modern video game economics.

      • ehlijen says:

        The problem is that people tend to put their own good NOW before their own good tomorrow.

        Sure, everyone thinking of themselves is supposed to keep the free market going. But everyone thinking for themselves now and not caring about tomorrow is what has created several major economic crises so far.

        If you don’t want to pay for a game today or want to pay less, that’s fine. As long as you fully understand that that could mean that the company at made the game won’t make a sequel and leave you with nothing but Shooty MacShoot: The Shootening to buy next year.

        The Free market is not independent of people’s intentions regarding its success, merely somewhat resilient. Too many people with too much money are quite capable of destroying it for their own temporary gain.

    • Slothful says:

      Well y’see, this is an issue to which most of the standard free-market mumbo jumbo doesn’t apply, because the whole “free market” argument was written up about commodities like corn or furniture, things that any company can make. Only one company at a time can make modern warfare 2, you see.

      What they’re trying to do here is either enforce market scarcity by trying to get people to avoid reselling their product, for the sole reason of making oodles and oodles of theoretical cash that they’re theoretically losing. Only there’s no real numbers that they can get, so they’re just guessing.

      That being said, they’re trying to put pressure onto their consumer base by reminding them that if the company goes down, there will be no more shiny things to consume, as well as trying to pull on their consciences. That strategy actually makes a bit of sense, considering that a lot of people who buy their products in the first place already are eschewing the “free” pirated version of their product in favor of paying down oodles and oodles of cash. Nerds are a very odd consumer base.

      Additionally, the companies spend a million billion dollars on every game they make, so they are then forced to try to milk every single drop of money they can get out of each game. Maybe if they didn’t do the former, they wouldn’t be forced to do the latter.

      At least, theoretically.

    • Steve C says:

      Well said FatPope. ehlijen take note of why things go away it’s a good thing under capitalism.

    • I’m a die-hard socialist/anarchist and I think you’re spot on. It’s not that I don’t think that another arrangement wouldn’t be more legitimate. It’s that, when a for-profit company like THQ guilt trips me, I wonder what make them so special. Yes, if I really like a company, it is in my best interest to support them. But that isn’t a moral obligation. They’re trying to get me to pay them more, right? Why is THAT not selfish but me trying to pay less is?

  25. ngthagg says:

    Your article is right on, Shamus. Maybe it’s because everyone’s been spooked by piracy, but when an industry’s response to customers wanting to buy their product is “You’re cheaters!” you know something is wrong.

  26. Antwon says:

    I feel kind of weird pointing this out, but felt it was worth mentioning:

    The MSRP of the XBOX 360 version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is $60. It’s not like the used version of it is appreciably lower than that, though: go to GameStop’s website itself and you can see them plying their used copies for $55. (And Amazon isn’t even charging full MSRP; you can get a new copy there for less than GameStop’s used price!) Months-old game notwithstanding, I’d have to assume that its still is sufficiently robust demand that it can support that kind of price point.

    Relatedly: I know I’ve seen a lot of people spout “the price of new games never comes down!” rhetoric… but this never seems to mesh with my personal experiences. Honestly, just about every XBOX game going seems to have its price degrade at about the rate that I’d expect. Day-one, everything costs $60; some months out, once the shine is off the apple, the price drops to $40; further out still, once the game is in many months later / a sequel has been announced / what-have-you territory, you see to new-in-box price drop to $20 or below.

    Top-tier A-list full-freight games in massive demand, yeah, they come down in price a lot more slowly than lesser, less well-received games. Rock Band 2 was still going for over $30 a solid 18 months after release; Rock Revolution started getting discounted within weeks, hitting $20 within a couple months and available for $5 new-in-box a few months after that. But either way, the new game and used game price always seemed to taper down in about the fashion that I’d expect. (You almost always have to pay a small price premium for new, but that’s in line with expectations as well.)

    Are my experiences anomalous, seeing games pricing operate in pretty much the fashion one might expect? Are people seeing the same tapering, but just wish it would happen more rapidly? Or are there sections of the games market that really don’t operate in this fashion? I’m honestly curious.

  27. Shishberg says:

    I was thinking this over in the shower (TMI?) and thought there were a couple of other points worth mentioning.

    * A game that I know I can sell later is a more valuable product. That means I’d be willing to pay more for it. If I knew in advance that I could get, say, $20 back on a game with the publisher’s blessing, I’d be willing to pay maybe $10 more for it in the first place than if I knew some DRM shenanigans made it impossible.

    * GameSpot is a customer of the publisher here too, and a game that they can resell is more valuable to them as well. If they know that some proportion of the new games they sell will come back for resale, then they can take a lower margin on the first sale. That means some combination of (a) lower shelf prices, meaning more people buy it, and (b) higher profit going back to the publisher.

    * I’d bet dollars to Mentos that when someone goes into GameSpot and sells back a used game, 90% of the time that money is spent before they leave the store. Possibly on a game they wouldn’t have bought if they didn’t have that money, or if they weren’t, you know, standing in GameSpot when someone put money in their hand. Possibly even another game by the same publisher, since they’ve just finished one of their games and have fresh memories of how much they enjoyed it. (If they didn’t, then that’s a different problem.)

  28. Factoid says:

    An MBA and average intelligence? Hey I fit that description! Game publishers call me! I will repackage shamus’ advice in flashy powerpoint presentations for you and you can pay me a lot of money!

  29. JKjoker says:

    another thing helping the gamestop deal is the duration and general lack of replayability of new games, 15 years ago i sat down to play master of magic and im still playing it, today i pick up a game and 5 hours later im done, sick of the repetitive gameplay, regretting paying for it and wanting a new game

  30. Blanko2 says:

    i agree with this article so much that it has created some sort of agreement singularity, as this much agreement crammed in the space of one brain becomes so dense that it makes me agreeable as a whole.
    if agreeability was a tangential thing would have enough to make the entire chinese population agree with anything for over a month.

    i think you’re right is what i’m trying to say here.

  31. omicron says:

    This is standard practice in various “Non console” markets (EG the PC market). Jewel Cases, slow $10 price drops, and the eventual literal bargain bin were very common in PC games ~8-10 years ago.

    Nowadays, the only place you get this effect is through digital distribution (EG Steam) and certain online stores (Amazon, GoGamer as examples). Steam keeps its prices high, but (here’s the crucial thing) it has a lot of discounts. These create the stepped market in question while adding the time pressure of “Oh no, if I wait five days it’ll cost $35 again!”
    Similarly, the Amazon store acts as a long-term price-stepping service. Long after games are gone from the physical market, you can find the games on Amazon for $10-20 new (less used, but that’s bypassing the developer again).
    GoGamer is a third interesting tenet in our mix: their “48 hour madness” is an amazing source for bargains, but it’s being run from the perspective of the retailer who bought this stock and can’t sell it, so is willing to do anything short of giving it away. Their 90-cent games, mixed in with higher-price discounts, are quite difficult to resist – and do a bit towards recovering capital for the retailer.

    Thus, there are solutions out there, in effect right now… and they’re on PC, which adds a bit of value to a commonly-scorned platform.

    • Steve C says:

      on Amazon for $10-20 new (less used, but that’s bypassing the developer again).

      Let’s be clear here… it bypasses the publisher. Not the developer when you buy used. Buying new or used bypasses the developer either way. Why? Because the developer already contracted the publisher to be between themselves and the retail market so the developer could focus on developing and the publisher on selling.

  32. porschecm2 says:

    You know, Target actually seems to do the graduated pricing, at least to a much larger extent than most retailers. However, theirs takes the form of clearancing. I frequently find games in the 3-9 month old range on clearance at Target, even many fairly high profile games. There have been many games I’ve picked up precisely because of the “aww, it’s only 15 bucks” mentality. And I’ve discovered a few jewels doing that, and will now be purchasing the sequels for full price day of release.

  33. David says:

    I buy a lot of console games used because GameStop has an actual return policy for then. You can give them back for a full refund within 7 days of buying them, whereas a new game cannot be returned once it’s opened.

    The price difference between new and used is small enough that I don’t really care about it, otherwise. But $60 is still enough money that I don’t want to just waste it on game which it turns out I don’t like very much. And so very many games lack demos… especially RPGs. So buying used makes a great deal of sense.

    • David says:

      This is pretty much a rephrasing of Shamus’ argument, on second thought. I’m not quite willing to take a risk on a $60 game, but if I knew that game was going to go down to $20 in a pseudo-reasonable timeframe then I’d just buy it then.

  34. DGM says:

    Shamus,

    While I agree with you that games should get cheaper over time, you seem to miss that this is already happening. Games that started out at $50-$60 eventually become $20, or $40 with expansions bundled (example: Civilization 4). And Good Old Games has some real old material for dirt cheap.

    Granted, it takes a lot longer for games to get cheap than it does for movies. And being able to get them really cheap (such as through GOG) is somewhat new, so we’re still in the early stages of this system being fleshed out. But what you want is coming to pass.

  35. eri says:

    This article is a little misleading. A single sale to a consumer does not contribute to a publisher’s bottom line in the way you suggest. Rather, stores pay the publisher for copies of the game, usually ordering based on initial sales as well as pre-release hype and other incentives the publisher can offer (like retailer-exclusive content). It’s then up to the stores to draw a profit from the games sold. Retailers usually realise they’re going to overstock, and profit margins on games are low, so they try to keep prices high for as long as possible; that’s also why they promote used games instead, since the profit margins are much higher and you can essentially resell the same game (theoretically) a dozen times over.

    Whenever you see games on sale, or at reduced price, it means that either the publisher’s sale price has been lowered and the savings get passed onto consumers (in order for the retailer to stay competitive, they usually comply), or it means that the store itself has decided to take a loss, either in hopes of selling more games along with it that it normally would not have, or for the sake of clearing inventory (stocking old games wastes space and employees’ time in keeping track of them).

    So, bottom line, when it comes to physical media, your individual purchase does not have much say in things, and the money doesn’t go directly to the publisher. Rather, sales influence future purchases by retailers – if a game is selling, they’ll order more copies, which means more money for the publisher. This is why the success of a game is determined during launch week or month – if you ship a million copies, and it takes a year to sell them, then the game will be deemed a retail failure because there is no incentive for retailers to ask for more copies (see Alpha Protocol, which has sold at least 700,000 – if projections had been lower it would have been called a success).

    Some publishers do take the “slow burn” effect into account, but this only works if you ship low numbers and then manufacture/ship more to meet demand, since you haven’t lost anything in that case. Some publishers, such as Atlus and Konami, will even deliberately limit their shipments to build extra demand for a game, as well as sequels.

    Obviously, this all goes out the window for digital downloads, but yeah, there you go. If you’re going to buy a game and want to support the publisher, and, by extension, the developer, you should ideally buy a game at launch if you can. That’s what makes or breaks things. A new model like Shamus proposes could definitely help to break this cycle, and I hope publishers consider it in the future – though the large chains that publishers rely on, like GameStop and Best Buy, may be forced to radically rethink how they do business, and it’s the fear that they might push back that, in part, keeps publishers gridlocked.

    • ngthagg says:

      One addition to your comments: stores will discount games and other products because their inventory is not bought with cash, but with loans. This means that games that sit on shelves is actually losing them money, since they must pay the interest on the loan used to buy them.

    • Jarenth says:

      Thank you, that was indeed was I was asking. I can understand why the games market grew this way, but it also seems to indicate they’re in even worse shape than I thought.

      On a side note: it is incredibly annoying to have to Ctrl+F for your specific name on a page with over a hundred replies. That is all.

      • Steve C says:

        I like the threaded comments but I’d also like to be able to sort them by date/time. The RSS feed doesn’t really work well enough for that. I’d ask Shamus to add that functionality but I feel bad for his 8 day work week and one eye.

  36. Felblood says:

    You know, developers used to do that, and it really sold games to me, when I was a kid.

    Often, as a kid from a rural area, I’d only have $20 to spend as I pleased for the whole year. At the prices of my tender youth, I could either score a two hour movie or a twenty hour game with that same money, IF I was willing to buy the game that I really wanted last year, instead of the game that you saw an ad for yesterday.

    At a time when this sort of mathematics seemed like a good indicator of value (Oh, the folly of youth!) I’d walk past the VHS tapes snd DVDs and go straight to the discount games shelf. –and you know what, buying stuff I had a long term interest in, instead of Instantly Forgotten Blockbuster Game #49 (an EA product ;P) I typically got better products than whatever was on the “real” games rack.

    Now, I know I’m just crotchety old man, bemoaning how much better things were back in the old days, when Civilization 3’s $50 price point was considered strange and pretentious (perhaps we just weren’t ready to accept the writing on the wall).

    –but nowadays, you’re lucky to see a title discounted to less than $30, except at the much vilified GameStop. These people are only filling a demand that has been artificially left unsatisfied, by people attempting to keep the price of obsolete goods artificially inflated.

    It isn’t wrong, mind, to want to sell your product at the best price possible. What’s wrong is trying to guilt people for using demi-questionable tactics to sidestep your fully questionable tactics.

    • Jarenth says:

      I remember Instantly Forgotten Blockbuster Game #49. It was clearly rushed out for an early Christmas release. Too bad, I hoped it would live up to the hype.

  37. Warlockofoz says:

    Looking at the question ‘how much money, in total, does the game industry get from me?’… discounting works. Looking at my purchases so far this year I’ve spent £70 on full priced games (to wit, the new releases of Civilization and Starcraft) and two or three times that on discounted games – usually Steam sales. Half of those discounted games I’ll never play (or at least not play for longer than I would have done a demo) – and I’ve bought them despite knowing that beforehand. I’d love to see Valve’s statistics on the percentage of games sold that are unplayed.

  38. Darazel says:

    Instead of participating in the discussion of the actual topic, I’d like to point out that on the second page you used the picture of a german GameStop-store. Not like this is of any importance, I just noticed it (maybe because of me living in Germany and stuff). I’m pretty sure it doesn’t make any difference, since I imagine that all of their stores look alike. Not that the picture would be of any relevance for the article anyway.

    So, now all of you know and I’m feeling quite clever.

    Thank you for your attention. I’ll get me a cookie myself, don’t bother…

    PS.: Love your Experienced Points articles. Keep going! Hope your eye is better…

  39. rofltehcat says:

    I don’t buy full priced games, simple as that. I am too spoiled by digital distribution and the only games I buy on discs are budget releases of older titles.
    I keep an eye on the sales of different digital distribution services and I think I bought like 4 or so full price (50€, if they want 60 they are just insulting PC gamers and won’t get anything) games in the last few years. The last one is the steam preorder for RUSE because I like the game’s concept (played the beta) and because they decided to switch their DRM. Note that during that time I bought countless titles on Steam for a total amount spent that is much higher than what I spent on full price titles.

  40. Captain Obvious says:

    Too lazy to read all the comments… I recently bought a few games that are a couple of years old. Neverwinter Nights 2, Mass Effect (as in the first one), BioShock and a few more. I paid roughly £5 each for them on Amazon. About two years ago, I bought Far Cry for £1.99. None of these games were used, they were all brand new. I don’t know what things are like over in America, but in the UK the price of computer games drop off quite significantly. And hey, I guess it really works! Between Amazon’s bargain bin and Good Old Games, I’m buying more games than I ever have done before.

    • Raygereio says:

      It is my understanding the used game market is targetted first at people that buy a game new for the full price when it comes out, play it once, and then want to get rid of it.
      Second target are the people that can’t wait a year – or even a couple of months in some cases – for the price to drop from something obscene to something resembling decent and really want to play that game now.

  41. Tizzy says:

    Dear Shamus: When you get better, will your next column be about game rentals? What place do they occupy in the games economy?

  42. GTB says:

    I want to know where you all think steam fits in all this. I picked up a crapton of older games for 10 bucks and under the last time they had a big sale. More, actually, than I should have.

  43. Steve C says:

    By not giving the same value to someone who owns a used copy of a game, a publisher is the one cheating consumers. In a very real, very legal sense:

    The Right of First-sale is a limitation on copyright that was recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1908 (see Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus) and subsequently codified in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 109. The doctrine allows the purchaser to transfer (i.e., sell or give away) a particular lawfully made copy of the copyrighted work without permission once it has been obtained. This means that the copyright holder’s rights to control the change of ownership of a particular copy ends once that copy is sold, as long as no additional copies are made. (wikipedia quote)

    Preventing gamers from selling their games (by removing multiplayer or whatever) the publishers are illegally cheating us.

    • Raygereio says:

      That only holds true if the game you’re trying to resell is truly inferior. I’m going to take ME2 as an example. Play the game without DLC and you will not notice you’re missing something. The free DLC and access to the non-free DLC is presented as a free service to EA’s customers. If you buy the game used, you’re not EA’s customer so why should they give you that service for free? Again for emphasis; a used copy of ME2 – without DLC – is still the full game.

      If at some point a game comes out where when you’re half way into it and you get a pop up saying you need to register the game and download DLC to see the rest of the game. You have a real case and I’ll be the first in line to crucify whoever thought that was a good idea. But I seriously doubt that will ever happen, EA and the other big boys do some measure of intelligence.

      Also, if you’re talking about stuff like hiding multiplayer behind (non-)free DLC. Then colour me unimpressed; I don’t care about multiplayer. If we’re talking about a singleplayer game then that really is just some extra stuff while the singleplayer part is the real, full game. Now if we’re talking about a game like Team Fortress 2, then the multiplayer is the full game, so you’d have a case again.

      • Soylent Dave says:

        How about in Dragon Age?

        You can encounter the quest giver / start point for their ‘free’ DLC – but trying to begin the quest brings up purchasing options (unless you’ve already entered the code (or paid your money), obviously).

        This rather highlights the fact that there’s something missing from your game, rather than marketing it as additional content.

        (especially when the start points of subsequent DLC addon packs don’t appear in the gameworld for people who haven’t bought them)

        • Raygereio says:

          It still not part of the full game, they are nothing but non consequential sidequests. You can not do them and miss nothing.

          What you do have here is a case of really, really shitty advertising. This is basically akin to instead of having product placement in a movie, the actors occasionally look into the camera and say “buy product X”.
          But you still have a full game without the DLC. Just a full game filled with advertising.

          • Jarenth says:

            It’d be more like the movie pausing halfway, and the movie director walking into the theatre and saying “Ok people, my movie has this cool, but ultimately superfluous action scene next… so we’re only showing that to people who bought the Extended Movie Viewer’s Pack. If those people would just come with me, to the other room, we’ll show you the scene, and then you can come back here and the regular movie will resume. Those of you who didn’t pay for the EMVP, kindly just sit here and wait until the movie starts up again.”

            • Axle says:

              It’s more like adding extra deleted scene to the “extended DVD pack” of a movie.
              It’s something that you do besides the movie, it’s optional and you don’t have to watch it or buy it.

              The example you gave is interrupting the movie in the middle and making people wait. This is not what the DLC are doing.

              Even so, it’s still quite wrong to advertise this way

              • Atarlost says:

                Your analogy has a serious problem.

                You see, those extra scenes on the DVD also fall under the right of first sale. The purchaser of that DVD can legally sell or give it away and they stay on the DVD.

              • Jarenth says:

                I equate the annoyance of having to wait in an empty theatre with the annoyance of walking into the Dragon Quest DLC vendor every time I went to camp.

                Hence.

          • Soylent Dave says:

            From the perspective of someone who knows about – has bothered to research – Dragon Age (and the DLC), or the perspective of someone who has completed the main story, you’re exactly right. The DLC doesn’t impact on the main storyline.

            But from the perspective of a first-time player, you don’t know that when you hit the quest-giver. You just know that there’s a part of the game you can’t access unless you pay some money (because you didn’t purchase the game new).

            If nothing else, it’s bad marketing. It’s been said before, but it certainly feels nicer when you ‘get something extra’ for buying a game new, rather than ‘having something removed’ for buying it second-hand.

            And that really is just a case of presentation.

            (for the record, I quite like the idea of ‘free’ DLC for people who buy the game new – provided (as I said above) it feels like a bonus that I would want, rather than something I feel like I need to enjoy the game properly. I also wish that ‘Project $10’ items didn’t cost me £10 (~$16), but that’s a side-issue)

    • Steve C says:

      Raygereio, what I’m hearing is that it matters more to you how much you are cheated rather than the fact that you are being cheated. If it’s a core part of the game or a part that you value then it’s not ok, otherwise it’s a non-issue to you.

      Here is the rub. Value doesn’t matter. $1 is the same as $100 on a legal basis. Regardless if you purchased that DLC as part of the original game or as a separate purchase, it makes no difference in the eyes of the law. It’s still copyrighted material. It is treated exactly the same as every other copyrighted work such as a movie, picture or book. And that means you have the right to resell it as part of the First Sale Doctrine.

      Regardless if (for example) multiplayer is an “important” part of a game or not those parts have value. A real dollar amount can be assigned of the missing value by comparing new, used and DLC prices to each other. So if a new game is $60 when new, $40 when used and only $30 when missing the DLC then it can be said that the DLC is worth $10. If you are sold copyrighted material then you have the right to transfer or resell it. The author/developer/publisher etc might not like that, but it’s a fact of law. And it’s a good thing it is.

      If a someone sells me something and then prevents me from reselling it through a trick then he’s breaking the law. I’m being cheated. To you it doesn’t matter if you are denied that $1 token content. But to me it does. To me it really doesn’t matter if you cheat me out of $1 or $100. I’m just as upset.

      (And yes I know they claim it’s “licensed” but it’s not a license unless you agree to a license contract. And you can’t do that when you buy a console game off the shelf at Walmart or GameStop. There are many precedents where the seller claims something is a license but it’s deemed to be a sale because it looks like a sale, quacks like a sale, so it’s a sale even if it has a sign that says “license around it’s neck.)

      • Raygereio says:

        No. It really is matter of whether I’m being cheated to me. With ME and DA I don’t have the feeling I’m being cheated.
        Also I don’t resell my games to begin with. So until a game comes out where the part of the full, complete game is hidden behind DLC – free or not – it basically is a non issue for me.

        If a someone sells me something and then prevents me from reselling it through a trick then he’s breaking the law.

        Well, you aren’t being prevented from reselling the full game. So let’s see what you can’t resell:
        1. The free DLC EA gave it’s customers as a thank you for buying the game new and not used.
        2. The non-free DLC.

        When it comes to number one, it should come as a no brainer that you’re not allowed to sell it (not resell because you never bought, it’s free). Don’t make me weep for the fate of mankind’s intellect and ask me to explain why.
        Now number two is somewhat tricky. Technically you are within your right to resell something you bought. This is also true in Dutch law and I can’t think of an example where it isn’t allowed by law and while I’m no programmer I imagine it isn’t impossible to set up a system for reselling DLC.

        I’ve thought about it for some time and I agree with you: you are really within your right to resell DLC you bought. But here’s the part where I start to have issues with people that complain about this. Why aren’t you complaining about the fact that you can’t resell a steam game? Why aren’t you complaining about certain games requiring unique registered CD-keys for multiplayer? Moving away from games; why aren’t you complaining that you can’t resell music you bought through Itunes? (Note that it’s my understanding you can’t do that with Itunes. I never used it).

        Personally I think that this is related to the fact that a lot of people still see DLC as something new, scary and evil and most importantly an attempt at selling you parts of the game that should have been included at release. But that’s just me. Again, until a game comes out where the part of the full, complete game is hidden behind DLC – free or not – it is a non issue for me.

        • Steve C says:

          Why aren’t you complaining about the fact that you can’t resell a steam game?

          I =am= complaining about Steam. I know that Shamus at least dislikes it, but I hate it. I won’t use it for the reasons above. Do a search for Shamus’ posts about Steam for full info. (I’m more opposed to it than him since he’s softening in his old age. BTW Happy Birthday Shamus.)

          Why aren’t you complaining about certain games requiring unique registered CD-keys for multiplayer?

          Sometimes I complain about that, other times it’s ok. It depends on how it’s implemented. If the CD-key is included at sale and you don’t have to ask for it from the publisher at install time then I have no issue with it. Also you have to be able to transfer ownership if you so desire without having to jump through hoops. If those two conditions are met then I have no issue with it. I would love to get Starcraft 2, but I won’t because those 2 conditions are not met. I have a legal copy of WinXP with receipt but I downloaded a crack to install it. I refuse to ask permission to use my own property.

          Why aren’t you complaining that you can’t resell music you bought through Itunes?

          I do complain about iTunes. I won’t use it, nor any other Apple product because of the locks they put onto it. However with the recent ruling that Jailbreaking is a protected consumer right I have significantly less problems with it. Because now I’m guessing that you can buy stuff from iTunes and then transfer it off a device that has been Jailbroken. (I don’t know that for certain though.)

          people still see DLC as something new, scary and evil

          The reason why I think that some feel this way and others do not is that at some level consumers understand they have a Right of First Sale. They may not understand it as written but they get the distinct feeling that their rights are being trampled. They can’t put a finger on the consumer right they just lost so it get’s defined as simply “Evil”.

          • Raygereio says:

            Clarification. I used “you” as a general “people that are complaning about DLC”. That was somewhat unclear, my apologies.

            You sir, are the very few non-hypocritical complainers. I’m sure there are more of you, but you lot are a rare bunch. Well, that or you aren’t as loud.
            I do still think the majority of the people that are in arms over this fall the “DLC is content that should have been in the game to begin with and the fact that I’m getting it for free does nothing to douse the flames of my anger”-crowd. But that’s just a feeling I have from reading comment sections like this and fora.

    • Tizzy says:

      Steve: I see your point, but rest assured that game company lawyers could argue why what they are doing does not fall under right of first sale until the cows come home.

      To address more generally Shamus’s remark: the industry could be fixed by a moderately intelligent guy with an MBA, possibly, but they don’t want to fix it, partly because of historical reasons. They got away with murder back in the stone age, when the bulk of the legal framework was drawn up for software before anyone understood what software is (e.g. you buy a license to use the software, etc…) It’s not all bad, btw, but the potential for abuse appeared early on and people got so comfortable with it that it shaped their worldview to this day.

      The guy-with-MBA’s challenge would be to convince *anyone* in this industry that changing something would be beneficial. (And once he did, he would have to deal with: “OK, we’ll do it, but only after so-and-so does”).

      • Steve C says:

        I’m sure game company lawyers would argue that, and probably already have. But I wouldn’t put it past them to argue that kittens need to be curb-stomped too. They are bereft of moral high ground here.

        And you are so right that early abuse shaped their worldview. That’s what we are stuck with now. That is also why we absolutely MUST squash the tiniest abuse now. Otherwise the abuse will perpetuate and grow until consumers have no rights. The original software contract was to protect VisiCalc (first spreadsheet program) if a company lost their entire accounting records or something. Which was a reasonable limitation. Microsoft took that reasonable idea and tortured it until it’s the horrible mess now.

        Remember Microsoft’s PlaysForSure? If you bought anything off MSN Music you were screwed. Sucks to be you but you deserved it for trusting MS. Now imagine it’s so common practice that it’s the same for everything. All music. All video. All games. All of it gone because someone flips a switch somewhere in a corporate headquarters.

        The slow steady decline of our rights is the greatest threat. Honestly the best thing that could happen right now is that an important company goes crazy and does something like turning everything off. The backlash of consumers as their Blackberry emails are lost, their Apple products brick and WoW players go into a nerdrage like never seen before would do wonders for long term consumer rights.

  44. Volatar says:

    Shamus, you haven’t posted the latest Stolen Pixels here on Twenty Sided. It came out 4 days ago and I only just found out about it now when I finished reading this Experienced Points and saw it at the bottom of the page.

  45. susie day says:

    When I buy a game new, I expect to keep it forever. When I buy a game used (or rent), I can take more chances, buying games that may or may not be any good. Then, I can trade those crappy games back in for more used games until I find one that is good. If that developer is still around, I am likely to buy their next game(s) new, because I know I will like them.

    The big exception is when a new game costs too much. I don’t play MMOs because of the monthly fee. No game is worth that much money to me, not even WoW.

    Looking at my actions, it doesn’t seem like it makes sense…

    I wouldn’t say that used games and new games have ever been “identical”. The manual might be missing (remember those!), one of the discs might be bad, there might be a scratch on the CD, someone might have barfed on the box, or more often, the case is missing, and you just get the generic cover … etc.

    How are used game sales different from buying a used book? The words in a used novel don’t magically erase after each sale, there might be some creases in the cover, but nothing serious – you wouldn’t buy a book where a chapter was missing, would you? The only differences are cosmetic, the content is identical.

    I buy used books for a different reason than I buy used games. Publishers stop making new copies of books after a few months unless a book is really popular. If I want a specific book, chances are I’ll ONLY be able to find it used. With games, either the older, and obscure games cannot be bought anywhere for any amount of money, online or off (and I have to torrent them, or get them off of a abandonware site), or I can get them better than new at places like GOG.com, etc.

    When games have been around for hundreds and thousands of years, then we can expect people to be more sane about them.

    • Daimbert says:

      That was one of my first thoughts, too: other than maybe price point, books and video games seem to be exactly that same on this. So why do used book stores work for books and not for games?

      And I think a big part of the answer is that, currently, video games have a terrible business model. We wouldn’t feel any sympathy for their “lost sales” if they were doing really well, but some people feel a bit worse if they think that those lost sales might cause the companies and the industry to die out.

  46. Jep jep says:

    That was probably the most sensible argument I’ve heard in a long time on the subject matter. They really SHOULD lower the prices. It would make buying games a lot more affordable for many a people. Most people who I know who do second-hand shopping, do it because they simply don’t have the income to spend 40-70€ on new games regularly. If there ever was a remedy for all this “piracy”, it would start here.

  47. Axle says:

    Great post and discussion.

    I’ve been thinkung a lot about what I read here and these are my (not final) conclusions:

    – Steam was mentioned as a company that happily gives its customers free stuff aevery now and than, which is contrary to other companies who try to squeeze every other cent from their customers wallet.
    The result – Bobby kotick is EVIL, Gabe Newell is the second coming of Budha. But I think its got more to do with thae fact that Valve/Steam is not a public company which sell their own products (They are also ro distributers), than the Gabes or Bobbys characterizations.

    It’s much more difficult to give away free stuff when you don’t need to explain your generous move to youe stock holders…

    – It was mentioned that if we won’t buy first hand games at full price, companies will have to produce more Shooty Mcshoot clones and less original and new games.
    Well…. Let them produce their shooty games as much as they want.
    I don’t care.
    I will finaly have the time to go through Baldur’s Gate 2 a second time (or even get the expnaion from GOG) or play more with my daughter. I bet she’ll likes that…
    Not to mention all the money I will save by not buying 60$ games.

    Maybe after the companies will sell much less new games, they will probably figure out that they are doing something wrong and we will start to see better games for less price…

    – I am very pasimistic abput what I said before… If millions of people willingly piad 60$ for MW2 and even added 15$ to get a couple of lousy maps, than I can harly see that wometing is going to change soon.
    MW2 is still in the top 10 chats of Steam without any price reduction….

  48. Atarlost says:

    The games industry doesn’t even matter anymore. There are enough people out there either making games for their own benefit (open source) or as art (free closed source or indie) that anyone willing to accept a decline in graphical quality doesn’t need major developers at all.

    Retro games are free if you go for a open source clone. All it waits is for artists and writers to find them. It has happened for Battle for Wesnoth, which has single player campaigns of professional quality and art that is better than what AAA games had when AAA titles had 2d art.

    If the big publishers commit economic seppuku it’ll leave more money and shelf space for indie games. Some of them will eventually become big, but it’ll allow for another generation of Richard Garriots and Sid Meyers to produce games that are actually interesting.

  49. Nick says:

    Should be fun when the car manufacturers get wind of this.

    “Oh, you bought a 3 year old Toyota for $15,000? Since it’s second-hand it will only travel 10km per day, you can travel an unlimited distance if you like, all you have to do is pay us $10,000.”

    As for the MBA + average-level intelligence, I think you could probably leave out the MBA.

  50. Leviathan902 says:

    Shamus, I think the problem lies with your last statement there. “Someone with an MBA and average level intelligence.”

    As someone who works in business and graduated (years ago) with a degree in Business Management, in my experience, everyone I know who went through with getting an MBA completely lost touch with consumers and the consumer market.

    MBA school trains you to think of customers like enemies you’re engaged in combat with. In other words, exactly like these schemes. I wouldn’t be surprised if this garbage came from someone with an MBA.

    Drop the MBA part of it and I think you’ll be good ;)

  51. mixmastermind says:

    I just want to chime in and say that this is why I love the hell out of Steam and its ridiculously awesome sales.

    It’s also why I love the hell out of GOG.

  52. Drew says:

    My thoughts on the matter:

    1) Anyone using the “used car” analogy, please realize that it’s not any kind of reasonable analogy. A 10 year old Honda with 150,000 miles on it is not the same as a brand new Honda off the lot. Sure, they both have 4 wheels, but the used car is likely to have a substantially higher annual repair cost, less likely to last as long overall, will generally have a smaller set of features, and will almost always come with a substantially smaller warranty package. So while you spend less, you’re also getting less. Whereas a 3 year old copy of Metal Gear: Solid is precisely the same as a brand new copy, even if the previous owner put in 8,000 hours of gameplay. Unless of course they scratched it up, but let’s not consider that.

    2) I don’t think the term “cheating” is appropriate, but at the same time, I don’t really have a problem with the idea that a publisher should treat a customer who purchased a new copy of their game differently than a customer who purchased a used copy. One of those customers generated revenue for the publisher. The other did not. You’ll often see this kind of thing with non-transferrable warranties and the like on “hard” goods, and I really can’t see why I’d have a problem with it.

    3) From my experience with GameStop, the difference between a new game ($60) and a used game ($55) simply doesn’t drive me to pay for the used game. On the other hand, the eBay market is a lot more enticing, where you can pay a lot less for a game, and the seller can get a lot more for it. It’s hard for me to understand the continued success of Gamestop in light of the eBay market.

    • Steve C says:

      Anyone using the “used car” analogy, please realize that it’s not any kind of reasonable analogy.

      In some ways you are correct, but in many other ways a “used car” is a very reasonable analogy.

      Software is a copyrighted work of art. Software is participatory entertainment. Often it is a tool to accomplish some sort of work.

      A car is a copyrighted work of art*. A car is participatory entertainment. Often an automobile is a tool to accomplish some sort of work. Modern cars include software that directly controls how they run. (And sometimes run uncontrollably in the case of Toyotas.)

      Now imagine if the new user car owner buys a car with the software needed to run it included as “a bonus”. It’s a special thank you for buying new and supporting the company’s ability manufacture new cars! If you sell the car to your friend Larry down the street, the firmware on the 1000 components throughout the car deletes itself because the thumbprint of the person the car was sold to has been on the steering wheel this month.

      So Larry has the option to remove all those components and install new ones running different software or replace them with mechanical components using tech from 1980. Either way it won’t run exactly the same as it used to, and it will cost time and money. Larry also has the option of buying a car from a car dealership. They also include the software in their used car sales as a special bonus for dealing with them and supporting the manufacturer! No matter what happens, Larry isn’t going to give you same amount of money.

      This is where we are headed. Once they can do it in games, they can do it in software. When they can do it in software they can do it everywhere software is used. Software is in everything.

      *In case you question that a car is art, just think of a beautiful prototype at a car show. Now imagine if a competitor took a set of detailed pictures of that car complete with laser scans. They never see inside the hood but they see and copy all the aesthetic elements to the car. If the competitor tried to manufacture that car it would a copyright violation. Not patents, not trademarks, not contract… it would be copyright.

    • Jon Ericson says:

      Whereas a 3 year old copy of Metal Gear: Solid is precisely the same as a brand new copy, even if the previous owner put in 8,000 hours of gameplay.

      That’s an excellent point at least for older (or classic) games.

      Oddly, publishers seem to be excited about making their games degrade over time. It’s not just the first-time-buyer DLC, but online multiplayer (network effect decreases after a time) and annual re-releases (why play the 2010 version now that 2011 is out?) tend to make games depreciate even faster than automobiles do.

      In addition, some games seem to be designed to catch onto the current fashion or trend of gamers. For several years, every new game was a clone or upgrade of Pong followed by Space Invaders followed by PacMan followed by Mario and so on. Metal Gear games might be worth playing in a few years but the Call of Duty clones probably won’t be. The difference is that one is worth playing on its own merit and the other is feeding an obsession. To illustrate, I have two kart racing games: “M&M’s Kart Racing” and “Mario Kart Wii”. One is worth $5 and the other is worth $20 if I sell them back to Best Buy. One is the Ford Pinto of kart racers and the other is the Mustang. Even if both cars were in perfect working order and totally reconditioned, there’s a decent used market for one and not the other.

  53. The thing that makes their refusal to lower prices, or put games on sale, or anything (aside from Steam’s brilliant sales), so galling is that they have NO REASON not to.

    You can’t tell a supermarket that’s not selling its apples to cut down apple costs by 30%. Apples have a fixed per unit cost.

    But the fixed per unit cost of a video game is nowhere near $60. They subsidize everything else with that money: Advertising, development, etc.

    That’s WHY movies did what they did in the first place. They can print a DVD or VHS at bargain bin prices. Do that with video games too.

    Drew: Then maybe it’s more like used movies and music. Which are almost exactly like games in that they come on discs nowadays. (Games also get damaged over time, entropy DOES kick in). But the used market for music and movies is nowhere near the used game market.

    The problem people are having is not only the insult to fans (if not “customers” per se – and remember, if I buy 10 used THQ games and 1 new one, I am a “customer” by the logic of every customer service training system on the planet) but also the idea that they are going to create special content available only to original buyers. They’re slamming consumers rather than slamming Gamestop.

    • Drew says:

      I may be wrong when discussing movies and music, but I think both markets differ from the video game market because they both have alternate income streams separate from the sales of media.

      For movies, there are theatrical releases, which often make up a substantial portion of the income for the movie on the whole. Take a film like the Dark Knight, which brought in $533 million in US box office (and another 500 million in the rest of the world). They’ve currently sold about $235 million in DVDs. That’s no slouch, but the movie grossed about a billion dollars in theaters. That’s where the bulk of the money came from.

      Now for music, the recording companies probably make the bulk of their money selling recordings. There’s no question of that. But the artists tour the world putting on concerts, which is the alternate revenue stream in that business. As an example there, U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” sold 3 million+ copies in the US, and it looks like about 30-40 million copies worldwide, based on “platinum certifications”. The tour to support the album, the “Vertigo Tour”, brought in $389 million in revenue.

      At any rate, the point is that video game companies don’t have alternate revenue streams. Perhaps they need to come up with one, though every time they do (in-game advertising and the like) they are roundly criticized for being greedy.

  54. Jon Ericson says:

    I’ve only bought one game used ever: Metroid Prime Trilogy which came in a lovely metal tin which was probably the reason Nintendo has not done a subsequent printing. My reason for not buying used games is that it’s not usually worth the discount. I saved $5 buying Metroid but I gave up some Nintendo Club points (nerd!) and the case is slightly damaged. I would have gladly bought new if the option were available. Obviously, other people find this a good deal.

    But I do find that games can get cheaper if I wait and dig around the bargain bins for hidden treasures or watch Amazon. My son was looking at Samba de Amigo (overlooked game) in GameStop for something like $25 used, but I had noticed it sold for $9.99 new in a Toys R Us ad. How can that be? I think most game purchases are impulse or unresearched buys. The used game scheme works in part by setting the used price in context of the higher new price. $45 (or $55) looks when placed next to $50 (or $60).

    Publishers who squawk about used game buyers are missing something important: it’s the used game sellers (i.e., new game buyers) who are really in competition with them. GameStop rakes in big profits not because they sell used games for a $5 discount, but because they buy used games for a fraction of the price they pay the publishers for inventory.

  55. Zak McKracken says:

    Something that seems to be overlooked:
    How many people buy games thinking “I’ll play it through then sell it”?
    How many would be discouraged from buying a game if they knew they couldn’t sell it again?

    In the car market, even though cars degrade over time, some (new) cars can be sold at a higher price because the manufacturer knows they’re still going to make a decent price in three years in the used market. The same thing holds for games, even more so: I’m more likely to buy a new game if I know I’ll be able to sell it in a year for half the price (or sooner if I don’t like it). That really reduces the risk involved in buying a game, doesn’t it?
    => The used market can actually make money for the developer/publisher/whatever of a game!

    That doesn’t make gamestop and their practices any more or less likeable, but it’s not cheating. Game companies who spend money to remove features from games are cheating.

    Also: Who says games don’t degrade over time? Maybe not the game but it’s value surely does! Who wants to buy and play through 10-year-old games today? If a game’s value would not decay over time, there’d be absolutely no business in selling new ones today.
    I think game companies should embrace the fact that if they’re selling a game, they’re selling it. Who calls copying a game theft, should also call selling a game giving it away to someone for money. For good.

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